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Starting a new tax and accounting practice is an exciting endeavor. Whether you are spinning off from another firm, purchasing a practice or starting from scratch, there is a great deal of excitement during the launch. Getting to your “why” can be a complex discussion. You have many questions to answer before your launch.
I share answers to these questions and more below. First, it is important to realize that growing a tax and accounting practice is a long game. There are very few overnight successes. The rest of us have to grind it out with long hours and sleepless nights. But if you organize your thoughts and create guidelines for the future, your odds for success will increase exponentially.
1. Develop a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
If you try to be everything to all people, you will have a very big problem with standing out or communicating your message. Developing a unique selling proposition lets you focus your pitch to a target audience that is more apt to respond to your offerings
Step 1 is to realize it is about them, not you. As a new firm starting out, it will be much easier to develop influence and authority around a specific industry or subject.
Simple examples include focusing on expat taxes or veterinarian cloud-accounting services. You will want to develop your copy and content around these spheres of influence. This is also a big step in getting your brand noticed online. It is much easier to rank highly in the search engines when you are competing against a small pool of competitors. In many cases, you can outflank them with better content, a nicer website or more social proof through reviews. You will want to keep your USP about what you are solving for your client. This is not your bio where you talk about yourself. You want a short and concise message that will resonate with your audience.
Focus on start-ups and growth businesses:
[companyname] solves the problems that growing businesses deal with.
Focus on athletes:
How athletic is your accounting firm?
Here are a couple examples of focused tax and accounting brands.
2. Come up with a firm name and logo
What is in a name, you ask?
Well, a lot, including a big-picture discussion of your short- and long-term goals.
For example if you are jumping into the cloud accounting game and want to compete with companies like Bookly.co, you probably do not want to use your partners’ names in your firm’s name. If you are trying to establish a trusted traditional CPA firm, then yes, your partners’ names will help communicate trust and establishment. Of course, depending on your state and designation, you might need to consult with your state board on naming conventions. We have seen many crazy names that are impediments to success. A brand name that is similar to other names in other industries is one great example. It is hard enough to compete with other accountants in search; opening that up to other industries will make the search results even more cluttered.
A trademark might be wise as you are building your brand. Consult with a trademark attorneybefore you get too far down the line.
There are a number of online tools that can help you with naming your firm. Or, work with a small advertising agency to get you started.
Your practice’s name is your audience’s first impression of your brand, so make it a good one.
Once you have established a brand name, it is time to put together a logo. You have to keep in mind that the logo needs to work in the digital world, so using super-fine type, thin lines or tall logos can quickly become a problem online. I am not trying to art direct here, but the end goal is to have a professional logo that represents your brand. Nothing worse for us than building a gorgeous website with an outdated or poorly designed logo.
There are a number of low-cost logo design companies online. No matter what, do not go with a low-quality type or logo treatment. You have just a moment to catch a visitor’s eye. Your logo acts as the face of your business.
3. Choose a Domain Name
Wait, wait, wait.
You mean my brilliant brand name’s domain is already taken? OK, so perhaps choosing a domain and choosing a company name are one in the same. (Secure the domain name first before you spend money on logo design and trademark services. Here are some tips that you can apply to your domain name selection process:
There are many domain name registrars you can use to purchase your domain name, including enom, GoDaddy and Network Solutions. If you use a firm like ClientWhys, we register the domain name for you and renew it as long as you are a client.
4. Establish your online presence
We live in a digital world, where the next best thing is in the palm of our hands. Building a digital presence requires much more than just launching a website; it requires understanding how establishing authority works online.
Here are the first steps for building your brand online:
Once you get the first phase optimized, it is time to start thinking about advanced strategies. These are often referred to as SEO (search engine optimization), but the reality is they are common-sense items that will help your brand rise in the search rankings.
5. Build a referral network
Referrals are the backbone of any successful tax and accounting practice. We have some clients who literally receive hundreds of new clients per year from their referral networks. Current clients, friends, financial advisors, estate planners, lawyers, bankers, realtors and other accountants are just a few of the referral resources available to you. Best yet, many of these professionals are chomping at the bit to become referral partners with you, their most trusted advisor.
In the old days, referrals occurred in a vacuum. Today, your clients and prospects can read what many think of you online by just Googling your name
The first step is including referral language in all of your client communication, whether that be in your emails, newsletters or website. You need to make sure your clients know you will protect their privacy when they refer in a new client.
Realize that establishing your referral network will take time. People will not just start referring others to you because you ask. You need to establish strong relationships. Here are some tips to get started.
6. Attract five-star reviews
According to a study by BrightLocal, 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. In a business built on trust, using reviews from happy clients is one of your best sales tools. Clients will influence referrals and web searchers more than anything else. This will sow the seeds of trust, which will make your job much easier. We use TaxBuzz.com and our soon–to-launch CountingWorks.com marketplace to help manage the reputations of our clients. Reviews really are an asset. They help improve your brand rankings and influence prospects to choose to work with you.
You should be actively pursuing reviews on Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook and other reputable sites. Reviews should be part of your interview process. At the end of a successful engagement, you can send out a review email and even mention it directly to clients at the end of the engagement: “My business is built on referrals. If you think I surpassed your expectations, I would appreciate you leaving a review for me online.”
Still not convinced? Here are more review stats that will open your eyes.
7. Get Social
Social media can open your brand to your target audience. It basically levels the playing field for your practice against companies with deeper pockets. The larger your audience, the more awareness there will be of your brand. Social media can be used to establish your reputation in a specific niche or locale.
According to a survey by Wolters Kluwers, 50% of accountants over 60 are now utilizing social media. So, social media is not just for young folks.
The main purposes of your social media presence should be to:
8. Automate Your Marketing
You are busy. Really busy. And the last things you want to worry about are nurture campaigns, review emails and setting up your next client newsletter. This is where technology can really step in to streamline your marketing efforts. Everything from self-serve online scheduling to automated client newsletters, due date reminders and social media posting can be handled by marketing automation. These tools allow you to cut down on staffing and actually improve the health of your practice.
Marketing automation will:
9. Learn Year Round
Never stop learning. The more you know, the less time you spend researching clients’ questions.
With technology and tax laws changing year round, staying on top of the issues should not be a once-a-year endeavor. Subscribe to a monthly tax update program or check out accounting training videos from the latest cloud accounting software update. Clients can see right through you if you don’t know what you are talking about. And when in doubt, reach out to your peers through an online tax forum or other group for support.
10. Embrace New Pricing Models
Whether you call it value pricing or bundled pricing, consumers are jumping on these new pricing models as being more attractive than the traditional hourly rate. Bundling services is more transparent to the end consumers. They feel they are getting more value for their investment. But more importantly, it allows you to establish ongoing revenue streams that are repeatable through the year. So whether you start packaging tax, cloud accounting or CFO services into bundles, you will gain real advantages against your competitors.
If you adopt value pricing, you will find:
11. Don’t be afraid of technology
There is a lot of talk about artificial intelligence and automation in the accounting space. While software is automating the daily chores of accounting, it is not replacing the knowledge and expertise CPAs and accounting experts provide business clients. I wrote an article for Forbesthat goes over the high-level issues. But bottom line: the accountant’s role might be changing, but it will open up newer revenue channels and better end results through being a business owner’s most trusted advisor. A huge amount of money is pouring into cloud accounting software right now. The Sage purchase of Intacct for $850 million comes to mind. Basically, we are in an arms race, as the migration from desktop software has begun. It is up to your firm to determine your role during this migration. I would suggest following consumer-friendly pricing models and providing more virtual CFO services.
You have new Silicon Valley and even overseas competitors. You are uniquely positioned to combat these threats with the proper business model, so don’t let the fear drive you into complacency. The time to tweak traditional accounting models is now.
I know it is hard to think long term when starting out, but building authority and online visibility takes time and patience. BUT… you will see your digital footprint expand if you are consistent in your approach over time. This is an evergreen asset, since content, reviews and blog posts you published years ago continue to deliver inbound traffic and leads year over year.
Once you start implementing some of the ideas covered in this post, you will start to see what works best for your practice. If you need help, feel free to schedule a free marketing consultation with one of our experts.
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