Marketing and brand building: It’s not rocket science

  • Practices that market themselves properly are more profitable
  • This makes them easier to sell
  • Generating press coverage is a good way to market your firm
  • Read on for some top tips on how to do this

Being proactive with simple marketing and PR can get new clients, keep existing ones happier and pay dividends, writes Nicola Draper.

It’s amazing how complacent some accountants are when it comes to marketing their practices. As any broker will tell you, it’s those who have been proactive with their marketing that are able to command a higher price when they sell because they are invariably much more successful businesses with more clients and higher gross recurring fees.

Despite this widely known fact, many accountants do little to expand their business and expect clients to find them. Once they have some clients they seem content to just look after them, doing only what they ask and not making an effort to cross-sell any further services.

Getting your name out there, whether through marketing letters, emails or press coverage is second only to personal recommendations in attracting new clients – but you have to be proactive. A small advert in the Yellow Pages may pull in a client or two – enough to qualify the advertising spend – but like all businesses, if no-one knows you exist, it’s not worth it.

Get your name known

Big accountancy firms typically have fancy websites, distribute frequent press releases and newsletters, as well as undertaking email marketing. All of these are costly, but smaller accountancy firms can and do compete. If you want to generate press coverage and good word of mouth, here are a few tips:

  • Get hold of an email database of relevant journalists – a couple of hours on the web will reveal the right names, or look at Willings Press Guide.
  • Speak out on topical issues: If you have something to say on a change in allowances, VAT, accounting rules, whatever it may be, write a press release as soon as you have the information (and not a week after) and send it to them. If sending by email, include it in the main body, not as an attachment as most journalists will not open attachments from people they don’t know.
  • Don’t forget to include your name and contact number (including a mobile number) and mention that you’re available for further comment. Good advice or comments attributed to you in the press (even local press) will raise your profile and reputation.
  • Make sure your website includes a picture of yourself that journalists can easily access.
  • You could go further and write an article, although there is the danger that if you send it to everyone, you might not be very popular with editors who want an exclusive. If you only send it to one person, it might not get used. Don’t expect to be paid but do ask for a byline or at least a credit line at the end of the article.
  • Don’t neglect radio either – there are thousands of local stations with airtime to fill and most have a business/personal finance slot. A call to a producer of the right programme might lead to your being invited on, perhaps in a commentary or phone-in capacity

Position yourself as an ‘expert’ commentator

It’s not difficult to write a few hundred words the day after the Budget (big firms will do so on the same day) highlighting the pertinent points for individuals and companies. Send it as an email to your database of clients and prospective clients (although be aware of data protection rules on unsolicited mailings, giving people the chance to opt out). Ensure an email mailing doesn’t reveal the email addresses of all your clients – I heard of one large accountancy firm where someone pressed the wrong button, so everyone got the email 200 times, with everyone else’s email address as well. Needless to say they weren’t popular!

Done well, an email marketing campaign can be a fast and efficient way to communicate with clients and the press. If you cannot string two words together, find someone in the office who can or hire a freelancer (PeopleperHour, LinkedIn and others all have freelance financial marketing writers).

Be open with your advice

NatWest recently launched a programme where it went into schools to talk to pupils about money management. Naturally, it’s motives weren’t totally altruistic – the classes were later featured on TV adverts and used as part of a brand building exercise to show itself as a ‘caring’ bank.

Accounting firms can take on similar projects in their local areas on a smaller scale. One accountant I know gave a talk about money management at his son’s school. He now has five parents and one teacher as clients and has gone on to offer a nanny payroll service.

Another accountant I met arranged to go to his local university to give a talk on starting a business to students. The room was packed (the Dragon’s-Den effect), and while start-ups may not be very lucrative at first, he got several promising new clients.

It’s all about building your profile and positioning yourself as a trusted source of financial advice – you can do this in your own small way but please do something.

You’ll notice that this article hasn’t yet dealt with the most obvious way of increasing your fees – upping your service levels with existing clients. My next article will address this in more detail.

Nicola Draper runs Draper Hinks, a firm specialising in accountancy practice mergers and acquisitions.

Article written by Nicola Draper from Draper Hinks.

To contact Nicola Draper please email her on