Overheard in the pub: “Hey, you seem like a nice person. Want to get married?”
Actually, I haven’t overheard that in the pub, but if I did, I would immediately know it was a bit odd to say the least. And creepy. What’s wrong with someone who wants to leap from “I’ve never met you before” to “Let’s build a relationship””?
Unfortunately, for many accountants, this is what you’re trying to do with your marketing.
You want to move all those prospects and leads and potential buyers from a place of never having heard of you before, to a situation in which they are trusting you with their financial and personal information, and most likely a significant amount of money as well.
Building a relationship follows the same principles regardless of the type of relationship it is. Whether you’re getting to know someone at the pub who seems like a pretty cool person, or you’re connecting with someone who could eventually become a client of your accountancy firm, you can’t rush things.
There’s a process.
So for those of you accountants who are doing everything you can to be visible and build awareness, but you’re simply not getting leads, it’s time to revisit the relationship process.
Content marketing is indeed a slow burn. A drip feed. Perhaps you’ve accepted that, and you’ve invested that time – and some money, as well. You’ve been blogging, sharing a few videos, being more visible on social media, perhaps run an event or tried some social ads.
But in spite of all your efforts, you’re not getting that drip feed of enquiries that you were hoping for – or which you were promised.
Why is that?
You’re missing a few elements from your progression model.
Accountants are in a massive position of trust: and the content marketing model means that you are building that trust with your prospective buyers. Showing that you are the expert, the authority, and you’re worth investing in.
This is the simple progression model which will help you move from general awareness to a regular pipeline of leads:
Your buyer needs to move through a process, and there are several steps in that process to take them from “I’ve never heard of you before” to “I’m ready to hand over my financial information and spend a significant amount of money with you”.
General awareness is the first step. This means you’re appearing on their radar from time to time – and the more often you appear, the more likely it is that they will move to the next step.
This is where most accountants currently are when it comes to marketing. You’re revamping your website, revisiting your brand and logo, setting up social media accounts, starting to write blogs. There are basic elements of marketing you haven’t been addressing for years, but you’ve started addressing them now.
Know that succeeding at this stage can be a short or a long process – it simply depends on how much time and money you wish to invest. If you throw yourself into this fully, no holds barred, you will build awareness extremely quickly. If you decide to go a bit slower, it will take longer. But either way, it will happen: and one day you will realise that you have a lot more people on your database, or following you on social, or recognising your firm name at an event.
Some of the ways you can build awareness of your firm and your expertise are:
- Regular blog posts: I’d recommend one per week. Write them yourself, or involve the team, or outsource the work. But get building that content.
- Social media daily posting: Have a presence on all the basic social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus), and be posting on a daily basis. Ideally you will be posting personally, and your team will be involved as well: but you can also outsource some of this so that if you’re busy or travelling or on holiday, social awareness is still happening for your firm.
- Speaking engagements: These are extremely powerful for building trust and awareness at the same time. Choose events at which your target audience will be present; but even less-than-ideal events can still help to build general awareness.
- Guest content: Write blog posts for other companies who have an audience that matches your target audience. Most of them would absolutely love to have some additional content (as long as it’s good content that’s relevant to their readers), and it gives you more exposure to the people who need what you have.
With any of these, please don’t make your content sales-y. Awareness is the very first step: there are many more to come. Be friendly and personable – and be yourself. But rushing the prospect puts pressure on them, and they may give up entirely on bothering to get to know you further.
Now that your potential buyer is aware of you, it’s time for something that requires nothing – or very little – effort or investment from them. They still don’t know for a fact that you are trustworthy, so you are building on the awareness level by being helpful.
The key at this stage is to indeed be helpful: and to be helpful simply because it’s the right thing to do, and because you have expertise that people need. If you are being helpful so you can “monetise” your audience, or so you can make lots of money, that will come across in your marketing, and your prospects will run the other way.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to an area such as Facebook ads. I was speaking to the marketing manager of an accountancy firm recently, and the owner of the firm got all excited about Facebook ads. “Someone in this group I’m in told me that they did some Facebook ads and they got 2 new leads per week! Let’s do Facebook ads!”
This “shiny object syndrome” is classic for accountants when it comes to marketing. It’s hard, and it’s discouraging, to press on day after day with writing blogs and attending events and sending emails and being visible on social. You want RESULTS, and you want them FAST.
The problem is that when it comes to the best kind of marketing that places you in front of the highest quality prospects and leads, it always takes time. (Anyone who tells you different is selling something.) You can accelerate that process by spending more time or more money or getting support or involving more people, but at the end of the day you are going to have to go through the hard slog for a little while.
So for this firm who was looking at Facebook ads, the first thing they did was to push people to a form asking for name, company name, email address, phone number, and to arrange a meeting.
Unsurprisingly, they got a grand sum of zero leads from that Facebook ads campaign.
That’s because they were trying to skip steps within the progression model. Going from zero awareness to sharing personal information. Back at the pub, that’s like saying “Hey, let’s get drinks”, and then asking for their credit card details. Bit creepy, mate. Think I’ll go move over here.
What worked better for this firm was to run a new Facebook ad, and when the visitor clicked on the ad they would go to the firm’s website to read a blog post. No information required, no investment at all at this stage. Simply experience good content, get to know the firm, spend a little time on the website, and create trust. They then went back and re-targeted those same people with another an invitation to a webinar on a similar topic as the ad they clicked. At that stage, registration asked for name and email address. As a result of doing this, their re-targeted group is now sitting at 800 people.
Notice that there are several levels of free things. The general principle is that the more you give, the more you can ask for.
If you’re running a full hour’s webinar with two guest speakers and a free checklist download afterwards, you can ask for name, company name, email address. Possibly even phone number, depending on how familiar they are with your firm.
But if you’re only offering a 15 page ebook on “Growing your small business”, email address is about as much as you can ask for. You’re not giving much, and it’s not specific, so you can’t expect them to be willing to give a lot back.
For a full list of free things you can share, download our 29 Content Ideas for Accountancy Firms here.
Now we’re really getting somewhere. Your prospect has gone from being unaware of you at all, to vaguely aware, to building a little bit of confidence and trust. They’ve downloaded a few things, attended a webinar, registered for an event, spent time on your website.
Bear in mind that the ‘free things’ stage could take a long time. Months, if not years. Don’t rush it.
But when they are ready to move on, your biggest mistake is to try – again – to skip stages.
You want them to go from a little bit of trust to a position of huge trust: and sign up for a few hundred (or thousand) pounds’ worth of services from your firm every month. Accounts, taxes, payroll, management accounts, plus a big tax planning project as well.
Easy there, killer.
Back at the pub, you’ve been chatting to the same person for a few hours. You get on brilliantly, know all the same film quotes, and even like the same drink. They’ve let you buy them a drink or two.
It’s not time to break out the engagement ring. You want to move on to something that goes beyond the pub, but isn’t full relationship level. With a personal relationship, this involves spending more time – going out on Saturday afternoon, hanging out with a group of friends, getting dinner, whatever. They’re committing to some more time and they’re trusting you with themselves in a small way.
With your prospects, you can do the same sort of thing by offering a small paid thing. A little investment on their part, but they can still back out if they’re not ready.
I know very few accountancy firms who have something at this stage. You want people to sign up for accountancy services, with monthly payments: and some people will indeed be ready for this. But what can you offer for those who aren’t quite ready yet?
A great example is our client Bespoke Accountants, who ran a free event last month. He did everything right when it came to content marketing – created a website landing page, embedded a video, shared social media posts, sent emails, made phone calls. He built awareness and then offered a free thing.
What he did next was to go properly through the progression model: he didn’t skip from the free event to asking people to sign up for a monthly accountancy package. He offered a small paid thing: a planning session with himself, charged at £300.
Out of the 65 people who attended the event, 33 of them signed up for the £300 paid session.
Now, it’s pretty much a guarantee that some of those 33 people will end up signing up for more services eventually. And some won’t. But he’s letting his prospects follow the progression model and sign up for what they want, when they want, when they feel comfortable.
Some of the small paid things you can offer are:
- A one-on-one workshop or planning session: This needs to be structured and clear, with a defined deliverable. Your prospects need confidence that you aren’t simply having a chat for a few hours: they’re going to come away with something, no matter what they end up doing next.
- A paid event: You could invite them to a bigger free event, and then the call to action at the free event is to purchase tickets for a follow up event that is more intensive and focused. For example, you could run a general event about Xero online accounting, and then invite attendees to sign up for a group or one-on-one Xero training session to get it all set up for their business.
- Consultative time for a niche: If you have expertise in a particular area, you can open your calendar to a certain number of paid sessions with those who need advice relating to that area. This could be tax planning for property owners or a profit review for IT companies. Charge for your time, and give them the benefit of your expertise.
Longer term paid things
Now, at last, it’s time for what you were hoping for from the beginning.
The monthly services. The annual accounts, the recurring fees, the client relationship.
You’re no longer in the pub. You’ve spent time together, gotten to know each other, and it’s clear that something is really happening here.
The key at this stage is to continue to be patient: and not to get lazy.
We all know that it’s exciting at the start of a relationship. You’ll do anything for them and they for you. And then time goes by, and life happens, and you argue about the dishes, and the boiler needs to be fixed, and no one wants to take the bin out.
In this stage, you want to continue to be the person you were at the beginning. Be helpful, be supportive, have a laugh, be generous, enjoy their company.
The same applies to your clients. Go beyond the basics that every accountant provides, and look for ways to help your clients, providing events and training and advice and helpful resources.
Some of the longer term paid things you can offer are:
- Bookkeeping, credit control, payroll – embed it into the monthly services so that they rely on you entirely for everything.
- Administrative support – what is weighing on your clients and preventing them from getting things done in the business? Even if it’s not technically “accounting services”, you’re in a position of trust to help them in this way.
- Masterclasses and coaching – offer high level support and training so that they are continually being educated, and so that they get accountability to implement true change in the business.
Wedding day has arrived.
The person has gone from a stranger you met down the pub to the person who is ready to trust you with their entire life. And your prospect has gone from someone who never knew your accountancy firm existed, to a place where no matter what happens in their business, you’re the first one they come to.
This includes mergers and acquisitions, legal support, investment and funding, building new systems, buying property, major tax planning. Whatever they need, you’re the one they’ll come to for the rest of your business relationship, and for the life of their business.
This is where most accountants shine. You’ve already got the relationship and you talk to them regularly, and it’s so easy to sell a big project because it’s not even really selling. They mention a need, you tell them how you can help, they buy. Job done.
But as we talked about in the previous stage, don’t get lazy. Because they may need…
In essence, this stage means that you’re bringing them right back round to the beginning – back to awareness.
But instead of general awareness of your firm, they need to be made aware of everything you are doing at the firm. What new services are you continually offering? How are you revamping your monthly management reports? Who have you hired in a particular area of expertise which might help them?
It’s important that your clients know you really care about them. You’re not only interested in the next shiny prospect: you want the best for your existing clients because you value the relationship you’ve had for many years.
Here are a few ways you can continue to build awareness for your existing clients:
- Send emails specific to niche areas or people types
- Run client-only webinars or events
- Provide extra free stuff that only your clients have access to
- Take them to dinner, or lunch, or a fun event
- Send specific gifts – something relating to what they care about, not a generic mug or coaster
- Create a Facebook group or Slack channel or forum
- Ring them up and ask how they’re doing. Really listen to the answer, and take some sort of action afterwards
- Look for businesses or people to refer to them
There you have it. The progression model, from nothing to everything, in its stages.
Most importantly, let your prospects go through that progression at their own pace. Some will leap directly from Awareness to a Big Project. Others will stay at Free Things for years and years before they move on.
It’s their call.
Oh – and there’s also a social media progression model, too.