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6 email marketing tips for accountancy firms

Mar 18, 2016

No, email is not dead.

As a matter of fact, it’s more alive than ever: if it’s done well.

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There may still be a temptation to look to email (and websites) as “a cheap way of doing marketing”.  Email is free, right? And you can throw together a simple WordPress website for a few hundred quid. Job done.

But, as with all elements of marketing – particularly content marketing, which is our passion here at the Profitable Firm – if you’re doing it because it’s cheap, or you’re trying to find the fastest shortcut to new leads, it will either fail spectactularly, or else work in the short term and disappoint you in the end.

And on the flip side, when it’s done on a drip feed, one small step at a time in the right way – you will find email marketing to be one of your absolute must-haves, and the one that delivers new leads to you.

Here are my 6 tips for email marketing for your accountancy firm (with a bonus tip at the end).

1. Permission, permission, permission

The principles in Seth Godin’s book “Permission Marketing”, which was published over 16 years ago, still apply.  Godin saw ahead to a time when the email market would be so glutted, so full, that people would get frustrated and even angry if you emailed them out of the blue.

Permission marketing, Godin explains, is not the technical, legalistic permission – the little tiny box in light grey at the bottom of the page that says “You may or may not be subscribed to a series of emails that may or may not be applicable to you. If you do or do not want to receive these, tick or untick the box.”

That’s not permission: that’s cheating.

“Real permission works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went.”  – Seth Godin

It’s even more true today.

It is far better to have a list of 40 people who love to hear from you (and are disappointed if they don’t) than a list of 40,000 that you’ve purchased and who feel that you’re pushing your business down their throats.

Remember our root principle of content marketing: the slow drip feed of helpful, relevant, educational content that allows your buyer to come when they are ready.

Email marketing is a brilliant way to allow your buyer to come when ready.  You offer them a helpful download.  You publish the registration link to a webinar, or a live event.  You share information that is custom-crafted for a unique niche, like tips for property owners.  (Maybe you even “ultra-niche”, so it’s tips for overseas property owners who have more than three properties in the UK.) Whatever you offer, they discover it’s worth giving their email address.

And once they give it, you treat them well.

  • Send what you have permission to send (and no more)
  • Send relevant, helpful information (nothing else)
  • Send it often enough that they miss it when it’s gone (and not more than that)

When your email marketing is based on permission, you don’t have to worry about your chances of success, or your open rates, or click-throughs.  They love to hear from you, and they’ll do business with you when they are ready.

2. Use Mailchimp if you have nothing

Most accountancy firms I talk to are still mulling over this concept of a CRM system.  It’s very similar to content marketing: those accountants who are investing in it will absolutely clean up  compared to those who don’t.

In fact, they already are.

When you’re using Infusionsoft or Hubspot or a similar high-level CRM system, you’re going far beyond email marketing. You are integrating all your marketing together, so that the entire lead to sale process (and beyond) is supported.

If you’ve thought about it and are still dithering, do so no more. Now is the time.

But if you’re still not ready, at a bare minimum get Mailchimp and start using it.  One of the Infusionsoft experts I know groans every time I say the word Mailchimp, but if you have no way of emailing people, or your current email system sends really ugly emails, this is a great place to start.

  • Mailchimp is free. If you want to remove the Mailchimp logo, or add the automation capability, you’ll need to spend the pricely sum of about $10 a month (depending on the size of your list).  But otherwise, there’s literally no cost.
  • It allows groups and segments. You can take your list of 500 clients, and split them into creative agencies, property owners, clients, and Xero users. You can also keep splitting, so you can send email to a client who is a creative agency and a Xero user, but not a property owner, and customise the content accordingly.
  • You can build in autoresponders. One of the most powerful forms of email marketing is the autoresponder, which sends emails on a drip feed – the kind that you would forget to send yourself.  “Got our proposal last week? How’s it going?” or “Remember attending our Xero event six weeks ago? Did you want to go ahead with setting that up?”
  • It produces simple, clean, pretty emails. You don’t need a rocket scientist or a graphic designer.  I would strongly recommend some good graphic design such as a well-designed email header, but you can’t really go wrong. Even if you have absolutely zero graphic design skills, Mailchimp makes it almost impossible for you to send an ugly email.
  • The drag and drop interface is incredibly easy to use. Again, no expert skills required.  Anyone on your team can do it.
  • There’s plenty of support and a knowledge base for the DIY’ers. If you do decide to set it up yourself, Mailchimp has been built to support you with any questions or issues.

Mailchimp is easy to use, and definitely a DIY option.  But as with almost all elements of marketing, your choice is time, or money.  You or someone in your firm can figure it out and spend some hours setting it up, building email templates, and all the rest.  Or you can ask us, and we’ll take care of it all for you.

3. Segment it

Just as it’s better to have a list of 40 people who want to hear from you than 40,000 who’ve never heard of you, it’s also better to send customised content to people in the right categories than one generic email shot to everyone.

Say for example that you have a few niche areas – creative agencies, property owners, and people with multiple businesses.  Say you also put most of your clients on Xero, but some of them aren’t using it yet.

If you send a one-off email announcing a Xero event, you’ll get a few people clicking and registering.

But what if you send segmented emails to everyone in a way that is targeted to them?

To the creative agency who is already using Xero: “Already using Xero? Could you be using it better? Join our event…”

To the property owner not using Xero yet:  “Did you know if you combine Xero with PocketRent, you can reconcile rent automatically? Join our event…”

To the business owner with multiple businesses, one of which is a creative agency and another which is a property business….

You get the point.

Segmenting is incredibly powerful – and makes your email marketing more effective.

4. Keep announcements short & image-heavy

Some emails are full of content. My marketing tips, for example, include the entire content of the tip in the email.  (This is done on purpose so you can read the whole thing uninterrupted, even if you’re on a train or the wifi cuts out).

But if you’re sending out an announcement of some kind, keep it short and sweet.  Get to the point, so they can take action.

Examples would be:

  • Upcoming event: Use a good graphic, give the basic details (when and where), and include a button to register now.  Job done.
  • New website launch: Capture a screenshot of your new website page, link it to the new site, and send them to go look at it.
  • Tax notification: Highlight the issue or update, include a link to a blog so they can read more if they want, and send them to it.

If you have something to announce, go ahead and announce it, and then move on.  Time is precious.

5. A/B split testing

Split testing is one of the most powerful tools in your email marketing arsenal.  It means that you send one email to your full list – but you make slight changes for different audiences to see which one gets better results.

Here are a few quick points on split testing:

  • Test very small things. Change the subject line by one word.  Change the colour of the call to action button.  Change the font size.  These things matter!
  • Don’t split test more than one element at a time. If you change the subject line for one group, but also change the call to action or the button colour, how do you know what worked?
  • Split test within segments. If you’re sending the email to property owners, do your split testing within the segment. Don’t send different emails to non-property owners.  You already know who you’re writing to and what about: you want to discover what encourages them to take action.
  • Let your CRM system do the work. This is not something you have to cook up in your marketing lab.  Email marketing systems offer this capability as standard.  Again, Mailchimp can help you with split testing, or presumably your CRM system can as well.

6. Forge links with strategic partners

The single most effective way to build your email list is to forge links with partner companies who will send out an email to their own list, directing them to your free offer or helpful download or upcoming event.

To use our example above, if you’re running an event on how to make the most of Xero for property owners, consider who you can talk to about sharing that event link.  Organisations for UK property owners? A LinkedIn group on technology for property owners?  PocketRent themselves?

To make it easy on your strategic partner, consider the following:

  • Do they know and trust you already? If you’re contacting them out of the blue, be aware that this probably happens to them all the time. Don’t “use” them for their list.  Begin the process of building a strategic relationship, even if you don’t get access to their list straight away (or at all).
  • Is what you’re offering genuinely helpful to their contacts or clients? Again, this is not a sneaky way to get more clients for yourself.  Partnership doesn’t work that way.  You need to ensure that you have a genuinely helpful offer or idea or product or event, and you’re simply giving them the opportunity to explore it.
  • Is the offer free or discounted? If it’s free AND helpful, they’re far more likely to consider it.  If your event is a paid one, give a special discount to their readers.  Again, think about them: not you.  How would you respond if this sort of offer landed in your inbox?

Bonus tip: Automate the repeatable emails

As a final bonus tip, anything you find that you are constantly writing and re-writing, or forgetting to write, needs to be automated.

Here are some examples:

  • Drip feed of emails following a proposal or quote. Something like “It’s been a week since we sent your quote – do you have any questions?”  or “Did you know we include a free Xero subscription for all our clients?” can go a long way, especially if you don’t have to remember to send it.
  • Reminder emails before deadlines. This is particularly useful for accountants, and I’m surprised more accountants aren’t taking advantage of it.  You know the VAT deadline, your client’s year end, their birthday, their self assessment requirements, all of it.  Think about emails around these.  “Only six weeks until your tax year end: have you arranged your year end review with us yet?” or “VAT is due in four weeks! Have you set aside the cash for it?”  This will not only streamline your own processes, but your client will love it.
  • Automated payment reminders (or thank-you’s). This is something that Chaser does particularly well (the Xero add on).  You can set it up to send out reminders to pay invoices after 7 days, 14 days, 21 days, and onwards, until your invoices get paid.  (This works for your clients, too.)  On average, businesses using Chaser get paid 26 days faster than non-Chaser businesses.  That’s money in the bank a month earlier.   Why wouldn’t you set this up?

By the way, we’re currently working with Chaser on a ‘Chaser Marketer’ programme that will give you all the marketing resources you need to get more of your clients using Chaser, and getting paid faster. Oh, and you can get paid faster too. Win win.

Tell me about Chaser Marketer!

And have a great Friday!