Your marketing is not for you.
Your website, your emails, your social media posts, your team, your systems: none of them are for you. They all exist, as does your accounting firm, for the people and businesses you serve.
Everything you do in marketing will come back to this. Building a website? Make sure you’re crystal clear who it’s for. Sending an email? Know exactly who you’re sending it to, and why. Deciding on a social media platform? Base it on where they spend their time – your buyer, your target client, your audience.
As Donald Miller says in ‘Building a Story Brand’: your client is the hero.
You’re the guide.
You’re still someone important – you’re Dumbledore, you’re Gandalf, you’re Yoda. But every moment you spend thinking about how your marketing is going to help YOU, and grow your firm, is a moment lost on thinking about your clients. What they want. What they need. Why they would read this email or sign up with you as their accountants.
Make everything about them: so much so that when they see your content, they think, “Oh! That’s me!”
You want to be so specific they’re almost shocked. “I didn’t know it was possible to find an accountant who gets how I feel.” “Wait – is this an accounting firm? They’re so helpful and understanding. I didn’t expect that.”
Accountants have historically been all things to all people. You do your accounting work (and maybe some advisory and strategy) for anyone who needs it. Maybe after a while you stopped working with smaller or startup businesses, or stopped doing tax returns only, but you’ll still take anyone who wants to work with you or is ready to pay you money. And you’re almost afraid of doing marketing which will send people away.
The very best marketing DOES send people away.
That’s its job.
Good marketing divides. It draws in to you the very best clients for you, and it sends away – literally is unappealing – to the sort of clients you don’t want.
The key here is the very best clients…for you. For your firm.
You could end up sending away really good clients. Lovely people. Amazing businesses. But they’re not YOUR kind of clients, because they aren’t the ones you know best or are best placed to help.
For example, at PF we not only work exclusively with accountants (so anyone who is not an accountant is sent away), but we also work with a particular kind of accountant, which we’ve defined as:
- Ambitious accountants
- who serve with heart
- are excited to be involved in their own marketing
- and have lots of marketing ideas
- but are still getting clients of the kind they don’t want
For us, it’s not about the size of the accounting firm. We work with one-person firms and larger firms with hundreds of employees. But we work best with those who want to be involved in their own marketing – because in our experience that’s what delivers the very best results. When you seek help with your marketing, but don’t relegate that to someone else. You want your marketing to reflect YOU – either you as the owner, or you and the team as the summary of the firm.
So what audience do I need to focus on?
The simplest answer is, be as specific as possible. Make it so your perfect client (the very best kind, the one you wish you had more of) will say, “It’s like this website was written exactly and only for me!”
The more specific, the better. We know it’s a risk. What if you’re so specific that a really amazing client would leave, because the message isn’t targeted to them?
The only way that would happen is if your message wasn’t created for your really amazing clients. It’s still too broad, too generic, not specific enough. When your message is for the really amazing ones, it will ALWAYS appeal to them. You could even say “Accounting solutions only for dentists”, and you’ll still get a few people or businesses who say, “I know you say you work only with dentists, but i really love what you do and your style, and wonder if you’d work with me?” (It happens to us at PF from time to time, although the longer we keep saying no to anyone who isn’t an accountant, the less it happens.)
You have two choices:
- You can try to appeal to lots of people, and market from a place of fear
- You can appeal to ONLY those you absolutely want, and no one else, and market from a place of confidence.
Your audience wants you to choose the latter option. They want you to be confident. They want you to know who you serve, and they want to feel they’re critically important to you – not simply “another client”.
Sending people away is a good thing.
Before you panic about sending people away, ask yourself whether that could be a good thing.
I spoke with the owner of a firm who wanted to get into content marketing and social media, but felt he didn’t have the budget. At the end of the conversation he mentioned he’s spending almost £1k per month on Google PPC ads (pay per click). He said he got a lot of leads from it.
So I asked how many leads. “About 20 or 30 per month,” he said. “And are they the best kind of the leads? The highest quality clients? People who like you and your firm and are ready to do work with you and pay you the money?” He said, “probably 1 or 2 of them are that kind of client.”
If you’re so worried about sending people away, you’re still accepting everyone. You’re so open that you get tons of leads, but they’re not the good ones.
Wouldn’t it be better to invest your marketing budget in a way that delivered 3-4 really amazing leads to you every month, most of which converted to clients, rather than wasting your time on 20-30 leads that are not a fit?
Your specific, targeted audience is like a bouncer. A security guard. Its job is to protect your business from the riff raff, the time wasters, those who are banging on the door hoping to be let in but are only going to bring chaos to you and your team.
Let your marketing do its job, and qualify people out for you.
Not perfect but visible: Let the buyer decide.
People don’t read every piece of marketing material you share.
This is one of the biggest mistakes accountants make in marketing. You spend hours and hours on that blog post. You take and re-take the video until it’s absolutely perfect. You spend well over a year editing every tiny word and letter and colour on your new website.
Then you publish. And you wait in eager anticipation.
And you forget that your amazing piece of content is simply one of a million messages zooming past your buyer in a day.
They’re flicking at top speeds, on their phone, on the go, while doing about six other things. They skim. They forget. They save it and never go back to it.
Don’t panic so much about alienation when your bigger concern is simply being seen.
Let your audience filter through what you share and see the big picture of who your firm is. Your brand and style. Your people. Your niche (or focus areas).nThen you let them decide whether they want to work with you. It’s as simple as that. Rather than worrying about whether you alienate people with your niche marketing, turn the question on its head. Ask yourself, “HOW will this alienate people? WHO will this alienate?”
Make sure your content alienates some people and wins over others. That’s its job.
You cannot be all things to all people. No one is, and no one ever succeeds with that philosophy.
Be who you are. Share what you want. Alienate those you don’t want and win over those you do. And let them decide if they like it or not.
Remember, your content and marketing does not have to be perfect. Embrace the imperfection with “Not perfect but…”
Is your audience exclusive? Or are you in the testing phase?
Unless you have an exclusive niche, you’re going to be sharing marketing content for a variety of audiences.
Yes, you may have a landing page for dentists, and a guide for them. You may share a few social posts relevant to dentists.
But unless every single piece of content you share, every marketing message you send out, every social post, every video is exclusively and only for that niche, you’re simply sharing good content. Some of it is relevant to dentists (or whoever), and some isn’t.
You will only alienate people if that one and only niche area is all you ever talk about. If you have an exclusive niche, then that alienation is a win. (If you only work with dentists, why would you want an enquiry from a freelance designer?) And if your niche is not exclusive, share content for other areas too.
Starting out: Be more clear about defining your audience
If you have an existing bank of clients (at least 50-100 of these), you’ve got a great starting point to review and look for patterns. Review your client list with these three questions:
- Likability: How much do you LIKE this type of client? Do you really enjoy working with them? You can scale your clients from 1 to 5, with 1 being “I wish they would go away tomorrow” and 5 being “I wish every client I had was like this one”. Ask yourself:
- Who’s your favourite client right now? Why?
- What is it specifically you like about them? Think about things like…
- Personality traits
- Motivation/way of doing business
- Trust level
- Results: What kind of clients have you gotten GREAT results for? Think about:
- Goals achieved
- Tax savings
- Growth, scaling, pivoting
Then ask yourself the characteristics and qualities this client has, which contributed to their achieving those results.
- Profit: Which clients are the most profitable to you? No matter whether you have the experience, expertise, likeability, and results…the work still needs to be profitable to you. You’re not a charity. Focus on the clients who are the most profitable, and think about:
- How do you calculate this profitability?
- What services do they get from you?
- What services do they not get?
- How profitable is this client’s business?
- What makes it difficult for this client to be profitable? (In their business or to you) (Qualities)
Now, look for patterns in the list
Once you’ve done this, you can review your client (or ideal client) list, and look for patterns. This could include:
- Type of business
- Products sold
- Number of owners
- Number of employees
- Product lines/complexity
- Qualities of owner
Once you’ve found patterns in all of the above qualities and characteristics, pull them together in a list. And now you have a list, you want to choose the very best ones. Those which represent the kind of clients you absolutely love. The ones you want more of, or you wish every client was like this.
To streamline your list, you could play “winner stays on”. This means you look at the first two on your list and say “If i could only have one, which one would I keep?” and strike out the other. Then take the ‘winner’ and compare it with the next one on the list and ask the same question…and do this over and over all the way down the list until you are left with the very best list, the very best clients, the people you absolutely want to work with above all else.
This resulting list of qualities is sometimes called your ideal client, your avatar, your buyer persona….it doesn’t really matter what you call it. It matters that you are absolutely, specifically, crystal clear about who you will work with – and who you won’t.
Compile the “other” qualities in a list, too
Similar to your Audience list you can also have a list of the Undesirables – the clients you won’t work with, no matter what. If you don’t feel strongly about this yet, then it can simply be a list of qualities that aren’t your favourite.
It can take a while to create that list – and you may feel a little badly when putting it together.
Remember YOUR undesirable could be someone else’s perfect client. Undesirable doesn’t mean they are bad or horrible or you’re saying something about them as a person or their type of industry. All you’re saying is, we choose not to work with these kinds of clients. Whether by industry or quality or personality trait, it’s entirely your call. You get to decide: and you get to change your mind, too. If later you find out you were wrong, you can add them back to your list. (Although our experience is, usually your list starts bigger and gets smaller and smaller and more specific all the time, rather than the other way round.)
Being clear on your audience may not happen overnight: it may take years (and that’s okay)
The process of discovering exactly who you want to serve (and who you don’t) can take years.
Don’t rush it: and equally, don’t put it off. Being all things to all people only works at the very beginning, when you’re desperate or don’t know who you are yet. Now that you’ve got an established accounting firm, and every month or year you’re working with more clients, you have more clarity about the type of people you love to work with. Focus your marketing on them.