Recognising the responsibility you hold for your accounting firm’s marketing is one thing. Starting to create content, or be more involved in it, is another.
Involving your team is a whole different question.
How much do your team members really want to be involved in marketing, anyway?
After all, they’ve been hired as an accountant, or a bookkeeper, or a payroll specialist. They weren’t hired to write blog posts and record videos and post on social every day. When you’ve brought up the opportunity, only one or two people (if any) expressed any interest at all, and that interest faded rather quickly. You feel badly asking an accountant to write a blog post when it’s not in their skillset and they have so much work to do. Or asking a quiet team member to record a video.
Even asking the team for involvement (in social media, or another area) meets resistance. The team members don’t want to do social, they want to do accounting work. They don’t want to record videos, they feel more comfortable sending emails. They don’t want to write blog posts, they want to do the work they were hired to do.
In one sense that’s correct. You haven’t hired them to be marketers, and one of the worst things you can do is place the burden of marketing responsibility on people who haven’t been trained for it, don’t understand it, and would be taking it on in addition to what you originally hired them to do.
However, just as you the accountant have recognised your responsibility for marketing, so too your team need to learn they’ll have to have some involvement in marketing.
Marketing isn’t a thing set aside separately for a marketing team to do, in isolation. It must be connected to everything and everybody in the firm, so it is more accurate and more authentic. Your marketing flows from the work you’re actually doing with clients: and who’s doing that work? The team. The more involved they are, the more accurate it is, the better reach you get, and the easier it is for people to recognise patterns. The values you’ve created for your firm are not to be words on a website page: they’re meant to be lived out by people. You, and the people who work with you.
I used to tell accountants every single team member must be involved with marketing, and that was that. No question. Had to happen for good marketing. It’s still true, but over time I and the accountants we’ve worked with have recognised the level of involvement in marketing will vary.
This does not depend on the person’s initial interest, or whether they “feel like” doing marketing. It depends on what you’ve helped train them to do, and the expectations you’ve set when they join the firm. Or the new expectations you re-set for those who have been with your accounting firm for some time.
I’ve summarised it in the Concentric Circles of Team Involvement in Marketing.
The Concentric Circles recognises not every person in the team has the same responsibility or involvement in marketing, and that’s okay. It also recognises every person in the team does have SOME involvement and responsibility in marketing, and that’s mandatory.
The concentric circles of team member involvement in accountancy firm marketing
Here’s what each level of the circle means:
- Leader: that’s you. Marketing is ultimately your responsibility, and you must own that. You may be in the early stages of understanding that, or you may have known it for a long time. The buck stops with you. You don’t abdicate responsibility for marketing, you delegate it: and that means you’re involved at the very heart of marketing. You care about it. You listen, suggest ideas, write blog posts, record videos. You talk with your marketing manager and team. You review the numbers, the tracking, the analytics, and you look at it over the big picture. And the responsibility for the return on investment (ROI) is yours too. It’s yours because the business is yours.
- Creators: These are the people who are excited and willing to actually create content. Write blog posts, record videos, share on social. This could be one person or two people to start, but eventually you do want more people moving from other circles into this one. That takes time. There’s no race to push someone from thinking “I’m an accountant” to “I’m uniquely and daily involved in marketing” within moments. Your firm and brand will instruct the level and speed to which this happens. If you have a fast growing firm which changes often and quickly, you can introduce this quickly and move people fast. If you are a slower paced firm and change takes time, you can introduce it in stages and let people move more comfortably. It’s your call. But at the beginning, you need at least one partner in marketing who will be on your side. I see this all the time with larger firms. There are 8-12 partners or directors, a marketing team of one full time person and one or two part timers, and hundreds of accountants. Often there is one director who has been tasked with “marketing”. Maybe one person and one partner working together. Everyone else simply does their thing. Eventually you need everybody moving into circle 4, but if you have at least one other person you can make a lot of progress, and start to see results. These results will encourage others to move circles.
- Contributors: This represents those who are not actually creating the content yet, but are actively contributing ideas, questions, observations. When the firm posts a blog, they read it and may comment to you about it. When the new website is shared, they have ideas and suggestions and want to be heard. Those who are in this circle are generally people who want to be in circle 2, as a creator, but don’t have the confidence yet. Or they aren’t sure what kind of creating they want to do yet. Let them contribute and listen to what they have to say. Encourage contribution with specific questions and meetings crafted for it.
- Collaborators: This is everybody. Every single person who is part of the firm. From the admin assistants to the payroll specialists to the bookkeepers to the receptionist to the IT department to the partners and directors. Everybody. Every single person in the firm needs to have some sense of what marketing you’re doing, who your audience is, what the firm’s brand is and why, and how they are a part of the whole marketing picture. Ideally many people will be moving from circle 4 to a more active contributor role in circle 3, but again it’s okay for that to take time. Some people will never move out of this circle, and that’s okay too. It’s not okay if they do it out of fear or boredom, but it is okay if you have given them every opportunity, every training, every direction, and you both have discovered this is the perfect circle from which they can best be a part of the firm’s marketing.
When I first created this asset, it was to more easily express this concept which I’d been talking with a group of our clients about. The accountants on the call saw this graphic and said oh, yes, that makes sense, I understand what you’re saying here.
I asked them to identify where they were on the graphic right now.
They took a moment to think about it, and one of them said “I’m in that white area outside of the circles.”
This call was with owners and leaders of accounting firms, and I realised I’d been expecting them to see themselves in one of the circles. I hadn’t anticipated the feeling of barely getting started, not being organised or ready, merely thinking about things instead of at least some level of collaboration. I admired the honesty, we agreed his first goal was to move into the outside circle, and talked about the progression from one circle to the next. How long that might take, what kinds of things he could do to move more quickly, and where the rest of the team were.
The team will follow your leadership. If you as the leader hang about at the outer edges, or in the white spaces in no circle at all, they will too. If you begin to move to the outermost circle, they may come a little closer. As you move deeper, they will too. Your job is not only to be involved in marketing your own self, but to encourage involvement from the rest of the team.
An example of how to apply this is in the area of social media.
Involving your team in social media is not as simple as asking them to post once in a while. One of the worst things you could do would be to tell your team to post, or to reshare the company’s posts, with no direction and no training and no idea what they’re doing or why. They’ll either copy other accounting firms (which means they’re not on your brand, they’re on someone else’s brand); or do what works for them personally (which may not work for your firm at all); or be salesy and spammy with their posts, even unintentionally (which is not how social media works best).
They need to understand why they’re being involved. How you want them to be involved. What kinds of things to share. Who your audience are and how to talk to and with them. What connection and community looks like.
Here’s how you can begin to support your team in their involvement in your firm’s marketing, specifically using social media as an example:
Create a brand book for the whole team to know and use.
At a minimum this brand book includes your style, imagery, tone of voice, audience, and purpose. You are welcome to create a social media book for your firm, too, outlining the types of things you share and say (or don’t). Make sure to be very clear about how they can be themselves and still represent the firm. It’s good for team members to share things with their own personality (you want that), but you want to make sure the core messages, the core values are reflected across the board.
A brand book is a summary and reflection of who you are as a firm, which always includes your people. Don’t merely create this book and hand it round to the team commanding them to follow it whether they like it or not: involve them in the process. Build their care and enthusiasm into it. Reflect who they are because they reflect who the firm is. (If that doesn’t match, you have more branding work to do, because you may have a false belief in your brand which isn’t reflected by the people who live it out.
Be clear about whether they’re posting from their personal social media accounts, or the firm’s, or both.
Help them work through what is best for them and best for the firm. Some team members will be very uncomfortable about connecting their personal life to the firm’s. Instead of simply accepting this as normal, ask questions.
Think about the people who are resisting this. What is it they don’t want to be connected to? Do they hate their job? Do they have a sense of “work-life balance” which, when interpreted, means they look at it only as a job (something they start at this time and end at that time and literally never think about otherwise)? Do they have a sense of the type of clients you all as a firm are seeking? Most of all, are they excited about the future of the firm and do they want to be a part of it? Are there other solutions which will result in the same success, and still allow the team member to have the life they want to have?
At PF, everyone has at least one personal social media account they use to share both personal and PF content. It’s their choice which one that is. Some people love Instagram personally, but would rather not use it for their PF related connections. Some almost never use Twitter personally and so they choose that as their PF account. Some use every single social media platform for both personal and PF posting. We have conversations about it. We discuss it in the team members’ regular check-ins. We talk about it as a team, and the team create their own targets and goals for socials. We review the analytics together as a team to see what they’ve contributed to. One of their favourite statistics is the “most popular social media post”, because if it’s theirs, they can literally see the impact of something they created out of their own head.
Invest actual cash in their marketing skills.
This is one of the most effective ways to help team members be part of your social media and all your marketing. Look for ways to help educate them about WHY they are doing this.
It’s not about re-sharing posts the accounting firm has shared. (That’s obvious and looks desperate.) What’s the ultimate goal for the firm? How does this help them? How does it make their job easier? Let them discover, as you have, how content marketing saves them time and brings the firm more of the best kind of clients. How it sends away the hard, the difficult, the ones who aren’t a fit for you. How it makes their job and life better. It’s taken you months or years to begin to see this impact on your own life; it will take them time, too.
Buy the entire team a copy of They Ask, You Answer (TAYA) and encourage them to read it, think about it, share their perspectives on it. Hold regular Question Sessions so they can contribute the questions clients and prospects are asking, and feel part of the firm’s marketing.
The more you involve your team, the better your marketing is. Every time. It’s more authentic, it’s more accurate, and it’s more enjoyable. Investing actual cash in your people shows you value them and their input, because when you’re ready to really do something, you’re ready to pay. Sign them up for the PF Accelerator – better yet, join them yourself, so you’re all working through it at the same time, as a team.
Share the social numbers so they can see the impact of their involvement.
At PF, we create a Marketing Copilot report for our monthly marketing clients, so they have a summary of all the marketing numbers for their firm. It’s like monthly management accounts for marketing. We gather, on your behalf, the numbers related to social media – as well as website analytics, proposal numbers, client and prospect numbers, sales, net profit percentages, email data. There are some core numbers every firm needs to be tracking, but every Copilot report varies depending on your own firm’s unique marketing goals.
You don’t randomly track website analytics because everyone else is doing it: you track the specific numbers your firm needs to know, because they reflect progress towards the goals you identified at the beginning, in your Foundations Workshop. As your firm goals begin to change (and they will), the numbers you track will adjust too. Sharing this report and the summary results with the team helps show them the impact of their involvement (or lack thereof) on the firm’s overall marketing – not only your social media. No one marketing effort stands alone. Integrated marketing means you may have had a flurry of activity on one particular social platform, or a lot of views on a particular video, but you don’t put all your hope into that one piece of data. You look at all the marketing numbers together, and see how they integrate, and make decisions for the firm based on the bigger picture. You’re not blown about by every wind of data, or distracted by the success of one popular blog post. That could send you off on a tangent and prevent you from achieving the very goals you said were so important.
Track the numbers, look at how they integrate, share them with the team, and talk about what they mean.
None of this will work unless your firm is a safe place to work
Finally, none of this will work unless your firm is a place of psychological safety.
This means it is a safe place where people can live and work and mess up sometimes. A place where you can make mistakes, and not be terrified about what will happen to you. Where you get praised when you do great work, and called out when you do something not so great. Where everyone is human, and admitting that isn’t seen as weak (but that weakness isn’t used as an excuse). Where people are allowed to be curious and get things wrong without punishment. Otherwise they’ll try once and give up out of despair and you’ll be worse off than you ever were before. (Because now they’re not going to try anything, out of fear of reprisal.)
A place of psychological safety is really tough to build.
The most important factor of all is, you as the leader never get to say whether your workplace is safe or not. ONLY your team members and clients get to say that. You can say you want it to be a safe place. You can say you’re working towards a safe place, and be open to listen when someone says (or hints) it’s not. You can (and need to) work on your own transparency and vulnerability, because that’s what encourages others to do the same. You can look carefully at how you and the rest of the firm respond when someone does make a mistake. You can own up and take responsibility when you fail. You can share failures and learnings together, and focus on the learnings.
Building your firm into a place of psychological safety is hard. Is personal. Is full of vulnerabilities and fears and failings. But when the team feels safe, you know the company is safe with them, including your brand and social media and marketing. And when everyone who works in your company feels safe, they do their very best work and reflect the company well.
Start by joining the Marketing Accelerator as a team
The best place to help your team to understand how the elements of marketing matter to them – to their job, to their role, to their life – is to join the Marketing Accelerator as a team.
This way, when you start reconsidering the specific audience you serve, and talking about the clients you love and want more of, the team gets to have input to that too.
When you discuss the issues those clients are facing, your team members know the answer, because they talk to the clients every day.
When you look at your brand, you all consider together the values your firm has, and how you will live those out. In the blogging and video sessions, they begin to see how answering client and prospect questions ahead of time makes their job easier. Saves them time. Helps the firm attract the kind of clients they really enjoy working with.
The more your team members understand how marketing affects their actual life and their actual job, the more involved they will actually want to be. Which makes your job so much easier, as you invite them into the circles of involvement.