Is it really cheaper to get your marketing work done by a client?

Cheap Flights

When it comes to marketing for your accountancy firm, going to one of your clients – who is a website designer, a graphic designer, a consultant, a videographer – can seem like the best solution ever.

You already do their accounts – or perhaps they’re not a client yet, but they’re about to be! So a service swap is the perfect solution. You get the benefit of high quality marketing support or advice, and you don’t have to pay a penny for it.

Like all things that you “don’t have to pay a penny for”, this is fraught with difficulty.

It can work – and on rare occasions it does. But in my experience it can also cause a lot of frustration, or poor marketing, or delayed marketing…and none of these are what you’re looking for when you are excited to get good marketing done.

Here’s why.

(These principles can also apply to hiring friends and family.) 

You want to give them the work because they’re a new client.

This is called “pity work”. You’ve seen their accounts. You know they are struggling a little (but of course they’re really quite a genius, and many people don’t appreciate this).

You want to encourage them that working with you as their accountant is the best decision ever, and giving them more work will of course look good in terms of sales, as well as boosting their ego.

Unfortunately, pity work means you made your decision in an ‘untested’ manner. You’re doing this because they’re a nice guy, a single mum, a bourgeoning artist….but you haven’t done the full QR to ensure they’re the right person.

You are choosing the client to help them, not to help yourself. And in marketing, it’s critical to ensure that you’ve helped your own accountancy firm: because you’re the ones who will receive the benefit – or the lack thereof.

So feel free to be generous, be charitable, and be helpful, but don’t do so at the cost of your own marketing.

You don’t want to hurt their feelings because they’re a client.

This is the most dangerous element ever. Sometimes, hiring a client – or a family member – is brilliant at the start. They do better than anyone else because they’re keen and eager. They have loads of time, and they’re actually quite good at what they do.

And then trouble hits of some kind.

They work on their own, and they have a family crisis or a health issue or a cash flow problem. They’re swamped. You’re swamped. The two of you can never get a meeting. And time begins to tick by.

At first you don’t mind. It’s no problem – you’re understanding and these things happen.

But as it happens again, and again, and again, you look around at others who are getting websites launched and infographics designed and blogs written and videos published, and your heart sinks a little.

Because you realise that you would never stand for this if you’d paid thousands of pounds….so that means you’re giving in because of potential hurt feelings.

The way to avoid this is to treat them like any other supplier when you take them on.

Ask to see their work, consider whether it’s worth the full value, decide if you like them as a person.

And most of all, actually take the physical cash out of your bank account and either pay them, or (if it is a service swap) set it aside in your savings account. You can put it back once the work is done if you like, since a service swap still requires hours of your and the team’s time. But you’ve got to feel the hit in terms of payment out the door, or you won’t act accordingly.

You’re not truly valuing your own accountancy work.

When you hire a client because you can do a service swap, sometimes this is because you feel like you’re getting marketing “for free”.

Of course, you know it isn’t really free – you’ve got to spend a little time with them, or your team does, but you convince yourself that it’s saving you cash.

But is it?

Nope. Of course not. Because your time is worth cash – lots of it, for many of you.

And in my experience, when you work with someone on a swap agreement, unless you’ve done it properly as we noted above, with the full prospecting, proposal, quote, on boarding, and follow up procedures, you’re likely giving away far more than you usually would.

It’s a dangerous belief held by businesses and organisations and freelancers all over the world – most especially freelancers and charities, who see time as “free”, and paid services as “cash”.

Both are cash.

One is cash that you physically see leaving your bank account; the other is cash that you never see arrive in your bank account.

Either way, thinking you are getting marketing for free means you’re not valuing your precious hours of time. And when you work with a client, often those precious hours of time are far more than if you work with someone else – because every conversation is going to cover two topics (yours and the client’s) instead of one (just yours).

You’re giving them services they don’t need.

The other situation that can occur is that you give away too much – far more than the client needs.  Because they’re giving you £4k worth of website design, you “throw in” management accounts, a strategy session, a profit improvement session….”hm, what else can we add in here to get it up to the £4k mark?”

That’s not how you quote a new prospect – or at least, I hope with all my heart you don’t. You find out what they need, and you look at what you’re able to deliver, and you quote them for that. If they aren’t sure, you keep the quote low to start because they can always add more later.

And if your quote ends up being £2k, and theirs is £6k, you need to fork over the difference – not “make it up somehow” with services they don’t want or need at this time.

Good, fast, and cheap: You can’t have all 3

You’re probably familiar with this concept.

When it comes to having something good, fast, and cheap, you can’t have all 3 – only a combination of two.

It can be fast and cheap – but it won’t be good.

It can be good and cheap – but it won’t be fast. (And sometimes, it won’t be good, either.)

And finally, it can be good and fast – but it won’t be cheap.

So, as you’re considering “saving money” by working with a client, think about these things. If you can truly treat the client as you would any other supplier – perhaps even have another member of the team liaise with them, get quotes and provide them, and discuss it all with you once it’s put together – and you’re absolutely convinced they are the right person regardless of the relationship, it might work.

No matter what, make the best decision first and foremost for your business, and your marketing. Not theirs.