Practice Improvement Tips and Techniques
Gordon Holley, CA, CFP, CPB
& CEO, Bookkeeping Express
Key to Marketing Bookkeeping Services: Create
a Story Worth Telling
In my previous
two articles, I suggested that the keys to creating distinctive value – and
competitive advantage - in the marketplace were as follows:
- Clearly identify your target market
- Specialize to increase your value
- Differentiate yourself from your
professionals try to skip this process and try to market their services without
really being clear about what they are selling and why clients should buy from
them. This makes marketing and selling
uncomfortable, ineffective and frustrating. On the other hand, if you have
chosen work that you are passionate about, have narrowly defined your target
market and are confident in the value that you have to offer to your target
market, then you have the building blocks for a successful and rewarding
practice. As importantly, you will have
developed the makings for a story that prospective clients in your target
market will be eager to hear about.
Think about it
from your prospective client’s perspective. In the case of bookkeeping
services, most clients will assume that you have the technical competence to
help them. What they really want to know
is why they should buy from you rather than your competition. If you have followed the process outlined in
in my previous articles, then you have done their research for them and are in
a position to make their buying decision much easier. Using your personal business story you can
illustrate quickly and concisely the unique value that you have to offer and
why they should buy from you rather than your competition.
The next step in practice
building (marketing) is to create your personal business story and look for
opportunities to tell it. If you have
created "something worth selling”, then this part is fairly
straightforward. If you skimmed through
that part, then this step will likely be difficult and challenging.
Building Your Story
Each and every
professional will develop - over the course of his or her career – a personal
business story. Your personal business
story is your answer to the question:
what do you do for a living?”[i]
Like any story,
your personal business story can be good or bad, and as a result, it can
attract or repel clients. If you have followed the process outlined in my
earlier articles, then you will have all the content you need for a great story
that prospective clients will want to hear.
following two examples of answers to the above question:
- I am a bookkeeper with Acme, Boxes
and Crates, or
- I help restaurant owners sleep
better at night knowing that their bookkeeping is being looked after and
that their relationship with the CRA will be a good one.
Which do you
think would be more likely to generate interest? Which do you think would more likely result
in a follow up question like "that sounds interesting – can you tell me more?”
business story should have any or all of the following elements:
The story can:
- Identify your target audience
- Describe the unique value that you
have to offer your target market
- Describe the unique skills,
expertise, and experience that make it possible for you to deliver this
unique value to your target market
- Provide independent, verifiable
evidence of the value that you deliver such as client stories and
testimonials, or third party reviews of your services.
The next step is
to create and package your story so that you can use it in a variety of
Different versions of your story
To ensure that
have an appropriate story to fit each marketing situation, you need to develop
different versions of your story. You
will likely need different versions for your business cards, your letterhead,
your web site, your fax cover page, articles you write, and presentations that
you deliver. Each will vary in length
and content, but each will carry essentially the same message: if you are in my
target market, this is why you should buy from me.
Perhaps the two
most important versions of your story are your "one-liner” and your "elevator
will generally be your first answer to the question, "So, what do you do for a
living?” This version will likely be
less than 25 words and will be used at every networking event you ever
attend. It is arguably the most
important marketing tool you will have.
If you have a great answer to this question, you will notice a strange
thing starts to happen - you begin to enjoy and look forward to networking
events. If you have an interesting story
to tell, you look forward to sharing it.
Now, when someone
asks you for more detail (as they will if you have a great one-liner), you need
a 30 second "elevator pitch”. This
version builds on your "one-liner”, providing more detail, but still leaves
them interested in more information about your business. Be prepared to provide them with your card,
your website, additional information, or some way to contact you.
Tell Your Story As Often As
professional services - like bookkeeping - is a "contact sport”. The most effective marketing opportunities
are the ones that allow the greatest face-to-face contact with people in your
target market. Every professional will
want to have business cards, nice letterhead, a website, a brochure, and some
nifty handouts - these are great marketing support. But consensus among the experts is that the
most effective aspects of marketing professional services are demonstrating
expertise and building credibility and trust.
This can really only be done by building personal relationships, which
require personal contact.
What the experts say…
In his book
"Managing Professional Services Firms[ii]”
David Maister provided a listing of
Marketing Tactics in Descending Order of Effectiveness:
- Seminars (small scale)
- Speeches at client industry meetings
- Articles in client-oriented trade press
- Community / civic activities
- Networking with potential referral sources
Clutching at straws
- Seminars (ballroom scale)
- Direct mail
- Cold calls
- Sponsorship of cultural / sporting events
- Video brochures
If Maister was
writing his article today, I’m sure most social media would be in the
"Clutching at straws” group, but blogging might be up there in the "first
string”. Blogging is more like article
writing and can help you establish yourself as an expert.
Like any good
strategy, the strategy or combination of strategies that you choose for
delivering your marketing message depend primarily on what you are trying to
achieve or more specifically, the nature of your marketing problem. Setting
specific goals and objectives will allow you to select the marketing methods
that will result in the best success.
In her book "Get
Clients Now! A 28 Day Marketing Program for Professionals and Consultants"[iii],
C.J. Hayden proposes that marketing strategies will have varying success
depending on their degree of human contact.
Hayden generally lists the order of effectiveness as follows:
- Direct contact and follow up
- Networking and referral building
- Public speaking
- Writing and publicity
- Promotional events
However, she also
says that most professionals will require a mix of the above strategies and
that the strategy that you choose to focus on at a particular point in time
will depend on the nature of the marketing problem that you are having at that
At the end of the
day, marketing professional services is more of an art than a science. Different bookkeepers will find different
combinations of marketing activities that work well for them. Ford Harding’s book "Rainmaking: The
Professionals Guide to Attracting New Clients[iv]
is one of the better overviews of most of the common marketing activities used
by professional service providers.
bookkeeping industry becomes increasingly competitive, it is becoming difficult
to succeed in building a practice without a clear personal business strategy
and some level of marketing skills and abilities. Certainly, there are
additional strategies that professional bookkeepers can use to improve their
ability to attract and retain clients.
These include developing systems and processes to improve lead
generation, project management and client satisfaction.
successfully mastering the two main keys to practice building as outlined in
this article is the first step.
- Create something worth selling
(covered in my last two articles)
The first key to
building a successful practice is building a clear business strategy. This requires (1) targeting a specific market
niche or client base, (2) specializing to increase the value that you can offer
your target market, and (3) differentiating to set yourself apart from your
competition through innovation in service delivery and the way that you package
and price your services. If done well,
developing these three elements of your business strategy will provide you with
the building blocks for a successful, profitable and rewarding practice.
- And a Story Worth Telling (covered in this article)
about who you can help and what you can do for them, helps define your personal
business story that prospective clients will be eager to hear.
Once you have
developed your story, you need to practice, and look for opportunities to tell
it often. Focus on marketing strategies
that will give you the most personal contact possible with your target market.
The key to
building a successful thriving professional practice is starting with a
personal business plan that tells a great story. Why not get started now?
Gordon Holley, CA,
Gordon Holley is
an entrepreneur at heart. He’s worked as a CFO advising start-ups, as a law firm
Chief Operating Officer, and as a partner in a CA firm. While working in public practice in small,
mid-size and "Big 4” CA firms, Gordon got a real insider's look at how
bookkeeping affects both accountants and small business owners. In all his
roles, he has demonstrated a keen eye for business opportunities.
President and CEO at Bookkeeping Express, he brings hard-won experience and
insight from more than 20 years in accounting and financial services to his own
bookkeeping franchise company. As a
business owner, Gordon can now focus on the work he enjoys the most, like
connecting with small business owners and accountants, and helping other
bookkeepers grow their own successful bookkeeping businesses.
Gordon is a
Chartered Accountant, a Certified Financial Planner, a Certified Professional
Bookkeeper, a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor and a Simply Accounting Gold
Certified Consultant. He is a member of the Institute of Professional
Bookkeepers of Canada (he is currently President of the IPBC), the National
Association of Certified Professional Bookkeepers (US) and the American
Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (US).
Gordon brings years of experience participating on non-profit,
professional association boards, including the Vancouver Association of Legal
Administrators and the Canadian Society for Marketing Professional Services.
[i] See discussions in The Frog and Prince: Secrets of Positive
Networking To Change Your Life
by Darcy Rezec, Judy Thompson, Gayle Hallgren and Reinventing
Work: The Brand You 50 by Tom Peters (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,