Strategy is about your clients

I don’t need more strategy; I just need marketing to get done.

Strategy is about your clientsStrategy.

It’s not quite a buzzword, but it’s one we get a bit weary of.

For many accountants, ‘strategy’ means “putting off the real work, again”. You spend more time in meetings, getting reports, analysing data and brainstorming. And meanwhile, blogs aren’t getting written, your website is (still) waiting for that overhaul you’ve been promising for years, and all the other accountants are Doing Things. (Great things. Marketing things.)

I know how you feel.

Recently PF applied for a grant that would give us support in business growth and strategy. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as the time got closer to the initial meeting I had arranged to kick things off, I started to dread it a bit.

What was this grant even about? I wondered. Why am I setting aside three hours on a Friday to have a strategy meeting when I could be actually working on our new onboarding system which I’ve been wanting to finish for ages? Will it actually even be useful?

I went ahead with the meeting – and it was absolutely excellent. I met with Isla from Ruby Star Associates, and she was personable, and real, and a human being. She asked good questions and challenged me on some of my thinking and encouraged me in all the good things she saw me, and our business, doing.

The meeting was a bit like a brain dump and a storytelling time, and by the end I was starting to feel somewhat wrung out – and was sure that Isla was as confused as I felt.

She wasn’t.

We paused for coffee (Isla and I both are fuelled by copious amounts of coffee), and she said, “Well that is really helpful! I see a real plan coming together!”

And for the first time I started to feel a little of what my clients have told me they feel when we go through our Content Strategy Plan process, or a pre-website build meeting.

It’s that feeling of realising that someone outside your firm, someone objective, is able to look at what feels like a complete mess of information and ideas and questions and thoughts, and turn it into a structured plan.

One of my clients, Jen from Gerrard Financial Consulting, told me that this week. “It’s like marketing magic,” she said. “We had this two or three-hour meeting and I was completely exhausted by the end and felt like none of it made sense: and out came this incredibly detailed and structured plan, which did make sense! It was amazing!”

I hadn’t known how that felt before.

So if you’re dreading strategy of any kind, or tempted to skip the strategy on the way to getting marketing things done, here are my tips for why that’s not a good idea:

True marketing strategy focuses you on your audience and message. Not you.

Starting with strategy doesn’t have to mean six months of meetings, or long detailed reports.

It’s a time to focus your mind not on yourself, or your firm, or your goals, or your turnover: but entirely on your clients.

What do they want? Who are they? What do they care about? What questions do they ask you? What do you have that they need?

This doesn’t have to take long. It’s all in your head, and the right process will bring it out.

Our content strategy process involves a solid two-hour online meeting with the accountant: and that’s it. You go on your merry way and we take care of everything else. Sifting out the information, focusing on the audience, identifying the marketing actions we discussed that will be most useful and in what order, and deciding who’s going to do what.

The best marketing strategy produces a clear deliverable.

In the process we use, we hurry along as quickly as we can to the next stage of your content strategy process, which is a specific plan in three parts:

1. The priorities

There are hundreds of marketing actions you could be doing. Yes, you need a long list of all your marketing ideas. But before you start assigning those ideas, you step back and make sure you’re clear on the areas and people you’ll be focusing on over the next 12 months, and in what order.

For example, you might come up with focused areas or campaigns such as these:

  • Services review campaign
  • Bookkeeping
  • Xero training
  • Management buyouts
  • Dividend/salary remuneration planning
  • Construction businesses
  • Live event
  • Charity organisations

Before we build a content plan or any campaigns, the first discussions would be surrounding focus and profitability. Which of these areas is the most useful for your clients? Which will help add to your profitability the fastest?

Prioritise your focus areas (either a service, or an industry, or a topic, or a marketing event) before assigning all the marketing tasks.

2. The foundational content plan

These are the items your firm needs to be doing every month, like clockwork, no matter what. A few blog posts, at a minimum. Email updates or newsletters. Social media posting. Analytics reports. Updates to the website.

The idea is that marketing is happening (either by your team, or ours, or whoever) no matter what else is going on. No matter how busy you are, or aren’t. Whether you have lots of leads, or none. It keeps happening, day by day and month by month, so you don’t wake up one day and realise you haven’t changed your website in two years.

Some of the things we include in a 12 month content plan are:

  • Blog writing & publishing – 1x/week
  • Design & build new website page – 1/month
  • Email update to all contacts
  • Segmented email update to niche area
  • Daily social media posting
  • Events – email invites, follow up
  • Video creation – 1x/month

3. The campaigns

If the foundational content plan is the big picture, the overall battle plan, then these are the detailed campaigns that will help you achieve success along the way.

You need both, and they fit together. But a campaign is short-term and focused, with a start date and an end date.

An example of a campaign could be a live event you’re running, or a resource for a niche area such as dentists or family owned businesses.

Some of the elements included in a simple campaign are:

  • Free resource (ie downloadable guide)
  • Website landing page with info and link to free resource
  • Facebook ads to drive traffic to free resource
  • Email series to drive clients to this information
  • Social posts sharing resource or landing page
  • Graphic design for resource, social images, etc

Marketing actions do not necessarily equal good marketing.

What we’ve learned going through this process for countless accountants over the past five years is that without your strategy session, and a focused mindset, none of these great marketing actions will do you any good.

I’ve seen far too many accountants “doing marketing” and getting absolutely nowhere – because there was no purpose or focus. Random Facebook ads, then switching to writing a few blogs, then creating a website page, then running a webinar. Then getting discouraged because “none of it works”.

I’ve written before on the two-bucket rule of marketing: you can’t try one marketing action, see nothing, and give up on it. There are so many elements that come together that evaluating one at a time doesn’t work.

You cannot simply sail into “getting marketing done”. You do need a plan first. A focus. A strategy. One that is 100% focused on the people you’re going to serve.

When you pour your efforts into that kind of strategy first, you’re not delaying your marketing actions at all. You’re finally arranging those marketing actions in an order that is most effective for your clients – and for your firm, too.