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Key to Marketing Bookkeeping Services

Practice Improvement Tips and Techniques

by Gordon Holley, CA, CFP, CPB
President & 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:

  1. Clearly identify your target market

  2. Specialize to increase your value

  3. Differentiate yourself from your competition

Many 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:

"So, 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.

Consider the following two examples of answers to the above question:

  1. I am a bookkeeper with Acme, Boxes and Crates, or

  2. 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?”

Each personal 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 circumstances.


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 pitch”.

Your one-liner 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 You Can

Marketing 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:

First String:

  • Seminars (small scale)
  • Speeches at client industry meetings
  • Articles in client-oriented trade press

Second String

  • Community / civic activities
  • Networking with potential referral sources
  • Newsletters


Clutching at straws

  • Publicity
  • Brochures
  • Seminars (ballroom scale)
  • Direct mail
  • Cold calls
  • Sponsorship of cultural / sporting events
  • Advertising
  • 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:

  1. Direct contact and follow up

  2. Networking and referral building

  3. Public speaking

  4. Writing and publicity

  5. Promotional events

  6. Advertising

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 time.

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.


Conclusion

As the 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.

However, 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)

Becoming clear 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, CFP, CPB

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.

Now, as 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., 1999)

[ii] Managing the Professional Service Firm by David Maister (New York: The Free Press, 1993) P.122

[iii] Get Clients Now! A 28-day Marketing Program for Professionals and Consultants by C.J. Hayden (New York: American Management Association Publications, 1999) P.9

[iv] Rain Making: The Professional’s Guide to Attracting New Clients by Ford Harding (Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams Inc., 1994)

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