The first question you need to ask yourself is,
Is my marketing budget actually small?
Accountancy firms have only very recently begun to accept that marketing expenses are as required as anything else – employees, cloud software, computers, a website, clients.
The days of getting all your business from referrals and word of mouth (with no additional spending required) are over. If they’re not over for you yet, they will be very soon, and you need to prepare yourself for it.
But the connection between “I don’t have/need a marketing budget” to “I need to get new clients” means that it’s time to figure out what you do now. What you do differently.
So first, ask yourself if your marketing budget IS actually small (or nil)?
The problem with a zero marketing budget is the mindset. In the same way that we all have the same amount of time to use (24 hours per day) and the question is how we will use it and where we will invest it, you also can have a marketing budget of some kind.
It may be hours of your own time. It may be a little cash. It could be hiring a freelancer or asking your teenager to help. But you do have a marketing budget.
What is the balance of your marketing budget between time and money? And when will the scales begin to tip more one way or the other?
Here are a few scenarios:
1. Startup firm with very little cash for anything
You’ve only just begun. You can barely pay yourself, much less invest in marketing, you think. You don’t have offices yet, or employees. A logo your friend’s nephew put together. No website.
My challenge to you is: set a budget now – even the smallest one you can possibly afford – and commit to increasing it every time you get a new client.
The mindset shift is the biggest one that will win you clients over the bigger firms right now. Some of them don’t have a marketing budget at all. Others have a marketing team, but all they’re doing is sending out tax newsletters and running an event once in a while. It’s very old school.
Starting with even the smallest marketing budget means that you are planting yourself right from the beginning. You’re sowing seeds of marketing investment that will grow in a big way as your firm grows – and you will be glad you started well.
This is how Paul Barnes from My Accountancy Place started. Right from the beginning he knew marketing had to be key: and he invested a small amount of his very hard-earned money into content marketing from day one. Now, five years later, he’s building a marketing team within his own firm. He started small – but he didn’t start with nothing.
2. Your firm has never had a marketing budget before, so that’s why it’s small
Accountants have historically not ‘had’ to have marketing budgets, so if the firm has built up over the years without spending actual cash on marketing, it’s tempting to think you can keep doing this.
You can’t, though, and you know it.
You’re starting to lose some of the prospects you would have won a few years ago. The quality of the enquiries you’re getting is low. You may still be getting a high number of enquiries, but they’re not the right kind of people or companies. Or your firm has moved beyond the point of taking anyone and everyone.
The only solution here is to pretend you’re a new startup again, and do exactly what I’ve encouraged them to do: set a budget, no matter how small, and commit to increasing it every month, every time you win a new client.
There are also some time-investments you can make, which I mention below.
3. Your firm does have a marketing budget, but you’ve never increased it
Having a small marketing budget that never changes is also dangerous. Not only do times change, but marketing opportunities change as well.
Remember the days when people said “you can get more business from social media and it’s free – you don’t have to spend a penny!”. That’s actually never been true. You have to spend either time or money (and time is worth money as we all know). And now more than ever, it’s best to invest at least a little cash in social media, if you want to move faster than several years of effort per social media platform.
The marketing budget – rather like the budget for employees, or for equipment or office space or even coffee – has to continue to rise as your firm rises. You can’t get away with capping it at a thousand pounds a month no matter how many new clients you bring in, and wonder why things are stagnating a bit.
4. You’re willing to increase your marketing budget but you don’t know where to start
If you’re spending a little on marketing, but don’t want to spend any more, it’s probably because you don’t know where to spend it. You’re worried you’ll spend it in the wrong place. There are so many options you don’t know where to begin. You’ve been promised things by marketers before and been let down.
Here’s the thing: you WILL spend some of your marketing money in the wrong places. You are already spending some of your marketing money (and time) in the wrong places.
I know it’s a mind-blowing concept to get your head around, but there are no rules with marketing budgets for accountants. I can’t give you the checklist because there are so many variables and factors when it comes to marketing that what works for this firm doesn’t work for that one. It’s not merely about the money: it’s about the mindset.
I’ve seen one-person firms do incredible things with content marketing and a simple website they built themselves, because they bought in to what true marketing is. Committed themselves wholeheartedly. Went all in.
And I’ve also seen big firms with big budgets get very little results because they’re still expecting the marketing itself to do all the work.
Now, here’s how to address your marketing budget.
Spend a little time to make sure you understand content marketing better. This will help direct your marketing budget when you have one.
If you’ve never reviewed the marketing budget for your accounting firm before, or up until now you haven’t thought you needed much of one, the first step is a mindset change.
No amount of money in the world will help your marketing if you’re still in an old school way of thinking. We’ve learned at PF not to work with firms who are ready to throw money around, but aren’t ready to commit personally.
I would rather work with an accountant who had £100 to spend and was enthusiastic, willing, ready to invest personal time, and listened to good advice. I’ll take this accountant any day of the week over a big firm with £10k or £100k to spend, who wants someone else to do all the marketing, questions everything, and refuses to try new things.
(Of course, if you have the enthusiasm and willingness AND the marketing budget, you’ll go further faster. No question.)
Here are a few ways you can build the enthusiasm for setting a marketing budget:
Read “They Ask You Answer” by Marcus Sheridan. I get almost daily emails from accountants telling me they’ve finally read the book, and they ‘get’ how marketing works – and where to invest their time and money – at long last, after many years of trying. I cannot recommend it more highly. Here are some quotes from the book.
Watch these videos about the marketing mindset:
Get some quick wins that will enable you to invest in a marketing budget.
If you want to invest in marketing but genuinely feel like you don’t have a spare penny to move around, get some more pennies fast.
One of the best ways you can do that is by using GoProposal. The stories we read in the GoProposal Facebook group are incredible. Almost every day an accountant is saying, “Wow! Another win! This client signed a proposal that increased their monthly fees from £250 to £750” or “This proposal would have been £600/mo a year ago, but today it came out at £2k/mo and the prospect accepted it!”
That’s direct profitability for you (you’re accountants, you get this) and it’s a perfect opportunity to re-invest that money into marketing.
Full disclosure: we get NO referral fees from GoProposal. We mention it simply because our clients always talk about it. Whatever the accountants we know and trust recommend, we recommend.
Take small marketing actions that don’t require much money
Whether your marketing budget is genuinely small, or you’re simply not ready to start investing yet, here’s where you can begin:
1. Make sure you have a website you can edit.
One of the things that holds back accounting firms is having an old or outdated website that you can’t change. If that’s you, get that site moved over to a new WordPress template or to the Rocketspark platform.
If you’ve got nothing at all right now, or your site is so rubbish you wish people wouldn’t go to it, use Rocketspark and build a few pages yourself. You don’t have to be a designer, you can’t really make it look worse than it is already (or worse than nothing), and it costs the grand sum of £16/month, including hosting and SSL.
2. Start creating regular content (blogs, videos, social, etc) for your target audience
Ideally you will create at least one new content piece per week, but at a bare minimum create one per month.
Base it on the They Ask You Answer philosophy, and answer the questions that your clients and prospects are asking you.
This post you are reading is a perfect example: it’s the result of an accountant asking us this very question about how to do marketing on a small budget.
3. Start tracking everything
If you’re going to increase your marketing budget in the future, you want to know where and how to increase it. And the way to start is by figuring out what’s happening now.
Track things like:
- Website pages – visit rates, bounce rates, popular pages
- Emails – number sent, actions taken, number of people in your database
- Segments/niches – number of clients & contacts in your niche areas
- Social media – followers, likes, shares
- Enquiries – how many, what date, length of time between enquiry & quote & acceptance
- Quotes – number sent, average quote value, percentage accepted
There are hundreds of other things you can track, but even starting that small is a start. Use something like Neatly which will bring in data from Google Analytics, Xero, Quickbooks, Facebook ads, Buffer, all your social accounts, Mailchimp, and more.
4. Join a community to get accountability and encouragement
There are so many of these to choose from – these are the ones we recommend:
Content Marketing Academy – for those who are serious about creating your own content and seeing results. Not for accountants only, but that’s a benefit as you’ll see a variety of examples of companies doing marketing well.
Thriveal – particularly for firms in the US & Canada, but any firm would benefit. A truly creative group of accountants.
Accelerator – this is our 12-week course for accountants who want to learn content marketing in the right order, and begin taking action on it. You also get to connect with other accountants who think like you about marketing.