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I’m fortunate to get to travel the country and meet with leaders of CPA firms. I speak at conferences with CPA Managing Partners and have a chance to interact with them. As I listen to CPA leaders, I hear common themes.
Chart Your Course To New Heights Of Success
Most of these firms want to experience double digit growth year after year. They want to acquire great new clients, attract and retain top talent and build a business of inherent net worth. Many CPA senior partners are looking at retirement and hoping their business will be of strong transferable value.
I believe the mid-size CPA firm has never had a better opportunity to grow than now. But the strategies and tactics you’ve used in the past probably won’t work today or in the future. If you want to grow your CPA firm, here are five strategies that really work.
A COMMON CPA MARKETING STORY
Here is a fairly common story for the types of CPA firms I see today. Many CPA firms got their start with a single entrepreneurial founder. This individual often had a solid personal reputation and a strong network before they started their business. In short order, the firm took flight and grew, often as a result of the energy, focus and network of the founder.
But soon after this, the firm plateaued. The founder’s rolodex was no longer a source for new clients. So the founder began to bring in other CPAs and maybe even acquire other practices. But this led to a new problem. Not all of the firm’s partners had a common vision for who to serve, what clients need and how to go about positioning for those clients.
Sound familiar? To address these issues, many CPA firms bring in marketing and business development people. They expect these people to fix the unity issue among the partners, build an attractive and professional brand, tell the firm’s story and queue up a steady stream of new clients coming through the door.
But these firms are often disappointed. Usually this is not the fault of the marketing or business development staff. I’ve worked with numerous wonderful people in these roles who have the best of intentions and who are perfectly capable. But usually they do not have enough influence at the senior level to effect real change or enough experience in the process of reigniting growth.
To stimulate meaningful growth, you need a leader who can effect real change at the senior-most levels and someone who can implement a process and methodology that actually works. After working with numerous firms facing these situations, I’ve come to identify the five practices that most impact growth:
- Get clarity on your why.
- Build a detailed profile of your ideal client.
- Add high-value services beyond tax and audit.
- Uncover the unique insights in your team and build them into a content marketing program.
- Leverage a best-in-class digital-marketing stack: CMS+MA+CRM+SMM.
Let’s explore these a bit.
MOST CPA FIRMS HAVE TOO MANY CLIENTS THEY COULD BE SERVING AND TAKING ON THE WRONG CLIENTS STUNTS YOUR GROWTH
GET CLARITY ON YOUR WHY
Simon Sinek wrote a great book called Start With Why. The thesis of the book is that people don’t buy products and services. They buy your why – why you do business in the first place. In my experience, after working with dozens of professional service firms over the last 20+ years, this is absolutely true.
If your firm is struggling to grow and to attract the right clients, I would wager that you have a why problem as the root cause. Until you can clearly and persuasively articulate your why, no one will really understand why they should do business with you instead of the CPA firm down the street.
There are dozens (if not more) of approaches and ideas for creating competitive differentiation among CPA firms. But the simplest approach, and the most effective, is simply to answer this fundamental question – why do we do what we do?
This is the reason founders are successful while others struggle to produce similar results. It’s not just that founders are more passionate or better at selling or have a bigger network. That may all be true. But what really sets them apart is their clarity about why they started the firm in the first place. Most founders never question this. They know why they started their firm.
As new partners join the organization, the why get diluted. If you want to reengage growth at your CPA firm, start with why.
BUILD A DETAILED IDEAL CLIENT PROFILE
An ideal client profile is a description of who your firm is ideally suited to serve. Most CPA leaders I speak with are confident that they understand who they serve and why those clients buy services from them. But when I probe a little deeper and ask them a few questions, they become less confident.
I believe an ideal client profile is crucial for CPA firms for two reasons. First, you have too many potential clients you could be serving and taking on the wrong clients stunts your growth. Second, an ideal client profile helps you clearly understand what services, beyond tax and audit, you should be offering and how those services make an impact on your ideal client. Let me explain why I say this.
First, regarding client acquisition, the CPA industry is unique. Of all the professional service channels we serve, the CPA industry is the only one where federal and state government agencies create demand for a core offering – tax returns. No other industry we serve has this built-in demand. This is a good news, bad news scenario. The good news is that federal and state governments are not likely to stop demanding tax returns any time soon. This means you get repeat annual business.
The bad news is that nearly every working adult in the US needs tax advice and services. This means it’s very challenging to narrow your focus on those few clients where you can have the greatest impact. It’s easy to become complacent and just work with whomever walks through the door.
But the marketplace is beginning to understand that artificial intelligence (AI) is doing a lot of the number crunching and analysis on tax returns. As one person said in a recent interview: “I don’t need a CPA to take my data, run some numbers and then tell me how much I owe. That’s not valuable.”
An ideal client profile helps you focus on and serve those clients who get your why and who need what you offer – your unique capabilities. A well-defined ideal client profile contains demographics and psychographics. Demographics include a description of external characteristics such as age, race, education, annual income, industry vertical, years of experience and other factors.
Psychographics include the big three drivers that cause prospective ideal clients to connect deeply with your why: goals, opportunities and challenges. Goals are those things that absolutely must be accomplished. Challenges are those things that block goals. Opportunities are those things that excite the imagination and that ideal clients would like to see come true.
When I ask CPA leaders to clearly describe these elements of their ideal clients, they really struggle. Take a moment right now and ask yourself this question: Can I list the top 5 goals, opportunities and challenges of our ideal client? If not, this is a key step to take to start stimulating growth at your firm.
PROSPECTIVE IDEAL CLIENTS WANT TO TRY BEFORE THEY BUY THROUGH SAMPLING YOUR CONTENT MARKETING IDEAS
ADD HIGH-VALUE SERVICES BEYOND TAX AND AUDIT
Tax and audit services comprise a big chunk of the revenue streams of many CPA firms. That’s okay, but not nearly enough. This is especially true since AI is handling so much of the work that humans used to do. If you don’t have a plan to add high-value services beyond tax and audit, you need one.
My recommendation is that you allow the ideal client profile process to help you define what additional services to consider. We recently completed this exercise for another CPA firm. We built a detailed ideal client profile and out of this process identified a number of unmet needs where the CPA firm will offer high-value services.
UNCOVER INSIGHTS FROM YOUR TEAM AND BUILD A CONTENT MARKETING PROGRAM
In the past, a CPA firm could throw out a shingle, join the chamber of commerce, network at the country club and watch clients roll through the door. In the digital age, those tactics may or may not work. But they are not enough to really grow a CPA firm consistently.
These days, prospective clients expect you have to have a great digital presence. But more than that, they want to try-before-they-buy and they do that through content marketing. Prospective ideal clients want to know that you have great ideas for them, ideas that will help them achieve their goals.
This is where content marketing comes in. Many CPA firms have blogs. But do those blogs speak to what matters to prospective ideal clients? I see many “canned” pieces of content on these blog sites that are written for the masses and that show up on the websites of multiple CPA firms, sometimes even in the same territory. That won’t work.
You’ll need to pull together your best and brightest minds and ask them this question: what’s our best advice to achieve the top goals of our clients? Out of these insights, you can create meaningful content marketing pieces that prospective ideal clients will not be able to resist.
LEVERAGE THE BEST-IN-CLASS DIGITAL MARKETING STACK
CMS+MA+CRM+SMM. That’s the acronym we use to describe the ultimate digital marketing stack today. CMS stands for content management system – the software that allows you to quickly update your website. MA stands for marketing automation, middle-ware that tracks and scores the behavior of prospects.
CRM stands for client relationship manager. The most popular CRM is Salesforce. SMM stands for social media manager. Our clients have deployed these technologies and this has given them insights and opportunities that they could only have imagined just a few years ago. If you want to grow your CPA firm, you need the best digital marketing stack.
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