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Your accounting firm’s journey to a full marketing team

As a creative agency providing outsourced marketing services to accountants, you might expect the last thing we’d suggest you do is hire a marketing person or marketing team.

Actually, that’s exactly what we want you to do. No matter how much an outsourced agency can help you, there’s no substitute for someone (or a group of someones) “on the ground” in your firm, entirely integrated into your culture, meeting your clients, listening to the conversations the team have about the challenges your clients face or the systems your firm uses. Seeing what it looks like for someone to walk into your offices, or show up to an online event. Feeling the vibe, the emotion, the energy.

So yes, we want you to build a marketing team.

BUT NOT YET.

Hold fire.

Pull back on those reins.

Because if you leap in to hiring someone without having gone through the full process, it WILL fail.

We’ve (sadly) seen disasters happen for accountants time and again when they decided on their own they were ready to hire someone – whether a marketing assistant, a marketing manager, or multiple members of a marketing team.

Unless you already have a marketing team (and all of these things can also happen if you already have a marketing person or team, so stay alert), you’re in one of two situations:

You’ve been investing in marketing for 1-2 years, and you’re starting to wonder if you’re ready to bring someone in house.

or

You haven’t been investing at all in marketing, but you know you need to.

This comes about because:

  • The firm is doing more marketing and you want to be able to react quickly
  • There’s a lot of administrative & detail work which is more expensive to outsource. You feel this could be done at a lower cost in house
  • There’s great potential, and you want someone who can take what you’re thinking and dreaming and sketching and imagining, and bring it to life
  • You don’t have time for all the marketing you want to do (or any marketing), so hiring someone seems like a win win
  • You have someone on the team who is “interested in marketing” or who got their degree in marketing a while back, or knows someone who did, or watched at least three YouTube videos about marketing. Give them the job!
  • It feels like you could get more for your investment when you compare outsourced monies with insourced monies.

Most of those are positive reasons. There are some challenges you’re facing too which lead you to hiring someone:

  • Difficulties finding the right marketing person (you’ve tried a few times but it “hasn’t worked out” or they “didn’t have the right skills”)
  • Difficulties in hiring/closing the deal with the marketing person, showing them this is the best place for them to work
  • Not sure where/how to advertise – don’t want to spend lots of money on a recruiter
  • Struggling with writing the job role and job description – what will this person actually DO?
  • Considering social ads or another high level lead generation opportunity, but not sure how to do it well for a good result

So you look at all these challenges and opportunities and you think “I’m not going to be held back anymore”. And you do it. You seize the day. Carpe Marketing! You find and hire The Person! They’re going to make it all happen for you. It’s going to literally be magic.

They start. You give them a pile of things to do. All the things. They get going, you go back to what you were doing before (or new things), and everyone is happy.

For a time.

Then the problems start to creep in.

We’ve seen the same problems happen in this scenario time, and time, and time again – so often that it would be comical if it wasn’t so disastrous for your firm and the person (or people) whose jobs are made so difficult. And many of these problems result because:

  • The marketing manager or person is expected to be an expert in All Things Marketing: you want a designer, developer, SEO expert, copywriter, strategist, analyst, social media expert, and Anything Else You Haven’t Thought Of, all in one
  • There is no clear, detailed marketing budget (by category and in the areas defined in their job role – ie events, design, copywriting, website maintenance, printed materials, gifts and swag, training and learning…)
  • They are not given the connection between their marketing budget and the firm’s financials (ie the marketing person needs to know the profit and loss of the firm, and needs to both understand and contribute to how those make sense)
  • Expectations are extremely high (no long game: you want results in a few months at least – you want to see leads just pouring in)
  • Marketing goals are not clear (their remit is “just get us more business”, and they’re more or less left on their own to do this)
  • The entire accounting team is not truly with them – they see the marketing person’s job as separate, as ‘other’, and want to just get on with their accounting work. Sometimes this same approach occurs with the partners and directors. Maybe you’ve even gone with that approach.

These are disastrous for you, your firm, and for the marketing person you’ve brought in to save the day.

Ultimately, marketing is YOUR responsibility. The buck stops with you. You’re the one who is responsible for marketing to work: which means you need to be learning, understanding, working together with your marketing person or team. You don’t need to become an SEO expert or even a copywriter yourself, but you do need to understand how these things work so you can understand who to hire, whether to hire, when to outsource, and what you and your team (surprisingly) are capable of, yourself. (It’s actually a LOT more than you realise!)

After a few months, here’s how things feel for you and for the marketing manager:

  • Owner/directors :
    • Feel like you’ve invested a lot and are not getting results as fast as you’d like
    • Hesitant to invest more in any other areas of marketing because you’re spending so much on this person
    • Wishing the marketing person or team would just do everything (budgets, planning, campaigns, detail work) without you having to input too much
    • Not sure how to lead & direct them
    • Work is being done but you’re not sure how it’s all working together
    • Unclear about when results can be expected and where they come from
  • Marketing manager is…
    • Unclear as to what tracking & analytics they’re to be doing and why
    • Frustrated and discouraged – gets swamped after a few months with everything thrown at them and too much to do
    • No support/assistance – they have to do everything from tiny little detailed work to strategic/big picture work, on little to no budget
    • Owner/directors not investing time in leading & directing (just leaving them to it)
    • Feel alone – no one to go to for marketing expertise
    • Not as skilled in every area of marketing (there are some things they’re brilliant at, and some things not so great at, and others you still have to outsource)

After 12 months or so, one or more of these things happen:

  • The marketing manager leaves because things aren’t changing
  • You’ve spent a lot of money and haven’t gotten more than you were getting before
  • You’re disillusioned on both outsourced and insourced marketing and don’t want to spend anymore on it for a while
  • You still keep getting leads so you figure everything is fine, why were you spending so much anyway??

So that all feels fine. You’re good. You’re a little frustrated, but you’ve proved the point that everything is okay as it is, and marketing managers don’t really help that much, and after all you’re an accounting firm. Back to accounting.

Within 12-18 months, however, the impact of your decisions has come home to roost, and the firm IS feeling it, and so are you:

  • Your consistent marketing has dried up – you’re not producing regular, original content, posting daily on social, staying on brand
  • You start looking at the cheap/quick/easy wins – “Look, if we work with this company it’s only £x per month and we get ALL THIS”
  • You get fewer leads (or the same number of leads but they’re not as good) because your consistent content has dried up
  • Your marketing keeps suffering

And so you decide to go back to either outsourcing or hiring again and….

…the cycle continues.

That’s NOT the cycle you want.

And it’s not the cycle you have to have. There’s a better one, and I’m going to describe it for you. Sometimes it’s a bit like a snakes and ladders game: you think you’re making great progress, and then you slide back down a bit to a previous stage and have to climb back up again, but that’s okay. That’s how the journey to a marketing team works, and it’s healthy and creative and goes up and down. Unlike accounting, there are no hard and fast rules to follow perfectly. It requires creativity. It requires doing it yourself.

Stage 1: Do it yourself

This is where everyone begins, and it’s right and healthy to do so. In order to understand how marketing works FOR YOU and for your firm, you begin by playing a bit with marketing. This is called creativity (remember, accountants are creative too!), and it involves:

  • Trying things to see what works
  • Doing marketing at a low level of pressure and responsibility
  • Moving from one thing to another because you want to or for the variety
  • Figuring out where to invest marketing monies once you get to that stage
  • Listening to others, reading, absorbing, being curious about “what works”

Most accountants start here because you’re not ready yet to invest in marketing – whether in a small way (a one-off project) or a longer term significant way (outsourcing your marketing, a full brand or website project, hiring a marketing person). Again, this makes sense. Without a full understanding of how marketing works, and works for accountants, you would be at the mercy of anyone with a method or plan or Ground-breaking Forward-thinking Progressive Modern Blueprint Knowledge Model (GFPMBKM).

A little mockery for us there, since you’re literally reading about the Accountants’ Marketing Journey and we’ve shared previously how your clients follow the Buyer Progression Model…but whatever stage you are in, and whatever GFPMBKM you are reading about, remember there is no model or method or blueprint which will DO MARKETING FOR YOU. Marketing is your responsibility, and that of your team. If you abdicate it or try to shortcut it or look for the quick wins, it will either work for a little while or it won’t work at all. You’ll get frustrated and give up on that model and try another.

What I’m recommending is to understand the long-term, big-picture approach to marketing: the one you know deep down works for every hard area of life.

Want to lose weight? Eat less, exercise more.

Want to write a book? Put words on a page or screen every day.

Want a relationship? Meet people, go on dates, spend time together.

Want to get good at [guitar playing, snowboarding, running, whatever]? Practice. Put in the work. Do it every day, or at least consistently. Fall. Get up. Hire a trainer. Try again. Cry. Get angry. Celebrate. Succeed. Fail. And do it all over again, day after day.

That’s how everything works, and it’s how marketing works.

So any model which encourages you to Get Quick Wins Fast or Get Rich Fast or Get Leads The Easy Way™ will probably frustrate you in the same way your quick easy diet frustrated you. Or those two weeks where you were determined to be a guitar hero, or that evening after you watched Chariots of Fire and decided you were going to start being a runner, for reals this time….

That’s the good news of the accountants’ marketing journey. Yes, it’s the long game, but deep down you know it works. Because that’s how new things work. Always.

So do it yourself for a while, until you realise you need a little direction. This moves you to stage two:

Stage 2: Direction

You’ve either tried a lot on your own and it hasn’t seemed to work very well, or it’s working TOO well and you are getting more and more busy. So you get some direction. This could include:

  • Taking a marketing course
  • Reading recommended business or marketing books
  • Joining a coaching group
  • Joining a community of other people (or other accountants) who are in a similar stage to you
  • Hiring a mentor, consultant, or business coach

Again, this is healthy and makes sense at this stage in your journey. You may only need a little direction just yet: you’re still happy to do some of the marketing yourself, including writing blog posts or posting on social media or preparing for an event. You’re busy, but you can handle it.

Until you can’t anymore.

All these great ideas you’re getting in the course or coaching group, or from the mentor or other accountants, are starting to pile up. You’re excited, which is good, but you’re also overloaded with all these ideas, and the pressure is building. You genuinely aren’t sure whether to use that half day you set aside for marketing, or to work on your firm’s systems, or to do more planning for hiring, or the thousand other things vying for your attention. You could be doing so much more, if only you had a little help. So you move (sometimes quite quickly) to stage three, and outsource some of this to release the pressure.

Stage 3: Outsourcing

This is where many accounting firms come to PF for help. They’ve moved through stage one and two, and figure “okay, now i need to outsource this”. Again, good and healthy and a natural part of the journey…but it’s not the only part of the journey. It’s only stage three. As you’ll see from the journey graphic, even hiring someone isn’t the end of the journey. You’re barely halfway there.

That’s because of all the challenges I mentioned at the start of this blog. If you leap into hiring to solve your busy-ness and pressure without giving it proper thought, it will perpetuate the cycle. The same is true for outsourcing. If you look at outsourcing as a magic wand to solve all your marketing problems, both you and your agency will become frustrated. A good marketing agency won’t let you start getting outsourced help on day one, either: they’ll work with you to set the stage and understand your brand (and help you understand it) and help you build the foundations and THEN work collaboratively with you on the outsourced marketing.

As you’ll already know from outsourcing anything else, and hiring, it doesn’t work to hand a pile of things over to the new person or company or agency and leave them to it. Good delegation involves:

  • Planning and preparing so you and the outsourcer understand and are agreed on where you are, what you want, and how you’ll get there
  • Learning more about how this area works, so you and the person/agency can learn together
  • Being open to new ways and approaches of doing things
  • Sharing ideas, thoughts, opinions, and questions
  • Working collaboratively together so the best of what you know is transferred to them (and vice versa)
  • Being personally involved in the activities and outcomes
  • Taking responsibility for the ultimate outcomes (and not putting blame on someone or something else)
  • Giving (or working together on) clear guidelines and goals, and revisiting these often
  • Meeting together a LOT in the early days (heavy involvement at the start which only tapers off as trust and results are built)
  • Involving the rest of the team where it will help the work reflect the whole firm better
  • Communicate victories and failures and learnings to the whole team, so everyone is part of the learning process and is not isolated from it or feel it doesn’t matter to their job

This applies to hiring new team members (for any role), hiring an outsourcer or an outsourced agency, and hiring a marketing person or team.

If you haven’t taken this approach before, and you’re starting to think this feels like a lot of work for something that’s supposed to save you work, you’re absolutely right. It is a lot of work because marketing (like anything else massively rewarding in life) takes a lot of work. Far more work than you may have ever known or imagined, perhaps. And while that could feel disappointing (“ughhhh, i just wanted to be told what to do and do it and get the magic results”), deep down you know it’s the best way. It’s the way that brings a better quality of reward in the long run, and for the long run.

Stage 4: Hiring

So you’ve been outsourcing for a time, and now it’s time to hire. Unlike our previous discouraging story, where you get frustrated and the cycle continues, this time you know what you’re getting into.

You’ve learned from the outsourcing experience, you’ve recognised marketing is ultimately your responsibility and you’re willing to take that on, and you’re ready to hire and hire well.

You plan and prepare, including:

  • Identifying what you know, and what you don’t, about marketing at this stage
  • Reviewing your personal goals for the firm, and the firm’s goals (broad areas such as sales and profit margins, and also details like number of team members and average buyer cycle in days)
  • Identifying what kind of marketing and which actions will help you achieve these goals
  • Preparing the analytics (or the systems for these) so you and the marketing person can work on and review them together
  • Clarifying your brand, so you and the marketing person (and the whole team) are all clear about who you are, what your values are, the kind of people you work with and don’t, your approach, your tone of voice (see chapter 4)
  • Building a role description for the person who can help work with you on all these things, and reviewing it honestly for plausibility (are you trying to hire the “I Do Everything Marketing Unicorn”?)
  • Setting up a weekly meeting for you and the marketing person to review work, check status, revisit goals, share ideas
  • Setting up initial trainings and regular meetings with the rest of the team so they can share client and prospect questions, stories, victories, failures, ideasHiring a marketing person does not mean you get rid of your outsourced marketing work. You don’t finish with the people or agency you’ve been working with on day one, and replace them with the new person you’ve hired on day two. You need a transition period. And you will still need your marketing agency to continue being a support to you and your marketing person or team.

It’s time for the Bridge.

The Bridge is your transitional period to bring your marketing person on to the greatest success they – and you – could possibly have.

Stage 5: Support

The Bridge period usually lasts at least six months, and involves you, your new marketing person, and the agency who has spent all this time getting to know your firm. How you work, who you are, how you speak and write, what works and doesn’t work so well for you.

Here’s how we do it at PF. Every firm gets a dedicated Client Marketing Manager (CMM) who knows the firm and holds the primary relationship connection, working together between you and your team, and PF and our creative team of designers, developers, writers, analysts, and more.

Pre-hire: Get help from your marketing agency to:

  • Update careers page
  • Scope out and write role description
  • Create content which is appealing to future employees (an example might be a blog post on how the firm is growing & why, or a video from the whole team)
  • Plan social media posts to draw in the right kind of person

Months 1-3 (first 3 months of hire):

  • Every month:
    • Co pilot & tracking report monthly
    • CMM works with your marketing manager (MM) on tracking numbers monthly
    • Co pilot call 1x/month with MM
  • In month 1 or 2:
    • Strategic direction call with you and MM
  • In month 2 or 3:
    • MM joins the Accelerator coaching group to add to their learning about marketing for accountants and understand how all the elements work together
  • In month 3:
    • Review call with MM: how are they finding things? Are they happy? Are they stressed? What’s working and not working for them?

At PF we use “marketing credits” which can be used for custom content, design, and other marketing work exclusively for your firm. We suggest keeping the credits at the same level for the first 3 months, then reducing it month by month as they take over. This reduces pressure on your new marketing manager, ensures your marketing continues seamlessly, and doesn’t set unrealistic expectations.

Months 4-6 (next 3 months of hire):

  • Co-pilot & tracking report moves to quarterly basis with PF
    • Co pilot call 1x/quarter with marketing manager
    • Marketing manager now meets monthly with you/owners
  • Strategic direction call at month 6
    • Review results (what wins? What struggles?)
  • Marketing manager joins Mastery coaching group (next level after Accelerator)
  • Review call with marketing manager: How are things going since month 3? Are they happy? Are they stressed? What’s working and not working? What results are they delivering and how are expectations being managed?

Months 7-12 (next 6 months of hire):

  • Marketing manager takes responsibility for documenting all tracking & analytics
  • Strategic direction & review call at 9 months:
    • Ensure tracking is happening consistently
    • Review results
    • Give strategic advice & support
  • Consider stepping up high level areas such as:
    •  SEO work
    • Social media ads

Month 12: full review and transition complete

  • Review tracking (is it still happening consistently?)
  • Review copilot & tracking report (are they being produced regularly? Are you using them/meeting even on your own?)
  • Review results (what wins? What struggles?)
  • Consider strategic/expert areas such as:
    • Higher level SEO work
    • Higher level social media work/ads
    • High level marketing training on specific areas needed (ie half day, full day workshop)

Now that you’ve successfully transitioned your marketing person into a full time role, with a solid 12 months of training, reviewing, victories, learnings, and analytics, you’re ready to look at building your marketing team further.

Stage 6: Full marketing team

Building your in-house marketing team can be an entire team of people who are employed by your firm and work full time for your firm only, or it can be a combination of employees and outsourced support. Neither is “better”: it merely depends on what kind of firm you have, and what season you’re in at the time.

At this stage, you and your marketing person and the agency you’re working with will all go through stages 1-5 again, in varying degrees and at different speeds, until you figure out what works. You’ll have a full marketing team, or an integrated one, which is working together with the actual people who are serving the clients (your team) to communicate who your firm truly is to the very people you wish to help.

That’s in the future, though.

Right now, armed with all these stages and buyer progression models and encouragements to remember you are creative and to start small, start safe…you’re ready. Ready to begin marketing properly.

You may not feel ready.

Matter of fact, you could feel less ready than ever before, more overwhelmed, and feeling like just going back to what you were doing before.

Think about it for a moment, though. Before you pack it in and go back. That feeling – of overwhelm, of how much there is to do and how it’s not as simple as a list of a few marketing actions – can actually help you. If you listen, and lean in, that feeling will help you get to the most profitable marketing there is. The most honest, the most real marketing which truly and fully reflects the actual firm you have: not an imagined one with some “professional” words and a few stock images, and some random posts and content you throw together in your spare time. Lean into that feeling of everything being a lot to take in right now.

“If everything’s under control, you’re not going fast enough.”
– Mario Andretti

I always share this quote with my Accelerator coaching group members in session one. The moment you feel you’ve got it all under control, you’re being too paced. Too careful. While careful consideration and professional scepticism are valuable and needed for your work as an accountant, they hold you back in marketing. Because marketing doesn’t follow all the rules. It bends and weaves and turns and just when you think you’ve got it together, drops you to a previous level. Or presents to you an opportunity you didn’t think you were ready for.

So if you feel you haven’t gotten it completely together yet and this marketing journey is going to challenge you and move you along a little faster on a different road than you originally expected….good.

Let’s go.

And always, always begin with who this is all for: your audience. Because marketing is not for you. It’s for them. Join Accelerator to confirm your audience and work through your journey with help from the PF team.

 

Here’s Karen sharing some of the pitfalls, dangers, and successes of building a marketing team