Rick Telberg

Tweak Your Business Plan in Five Easy Steps

How CPAs are updating their sales and marketing strategies. What’s working for CPA firms today? Join the survey; get the answers.

May 5, 2008
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Many accounting firms, already inundated with more than enough work, are rethinking their new business strategies and are turning away from sheer growth in fees and clients to refocus instead on sustainable profit and growing their firm’s enterprise value.

For many accounting firms in recent years, marketing has not been a problem. New clients have been rolling through the doors. In fact, CPAs are working longer hours or even turning away business to handle the surge in demand.

But with the economy shifting into low gear, more CPAs are taking a new look at their marketing and business development strategies.

What are today's best marketing strategies?

Join the survey; get the answers

(Free. Confidential.)

Here are five fresh viewpoints to tweak your marketing strategies:

1. Be selective.

Joe Eckelkamp represents the entrepreneurial breed of managing partner. His mid-sized accounting firm in St. Louis, Mo., relies on some well-tested tactics for landing new clients. It starts with public speaking on specific topics related to the firm’s target markets and, he says, “simply telling clients — in person — that we'd like referrals of specific types of clients or assignments.”

“Our principal objective,” Eckelkamp explains, “is replacing less profitable, more troublesome, less appreciative clients with clients who are a better fit for our objectives as a firm.” Like many practice owners, Eckelkamp is more interested in net profits than in raw growth. “Overall firm size is far less important to me than optimizing these other criteria,” he says.

Still, Eckelkamp sees plenty of new opportunity in leveraging current strategies. “We still have,” he says, “a little of the mindset of ‘let's talk to everyone and see if they are a good fit’ instead of being selective about setting up an appointment on the initial contact.”

2. Maintain momentum.

A partner at a Midwest-based super-regional firm might agree. The firm has several full-time sales and marketing professionals, but the most effective new-client acquisition strategies still start with the most traditional: good client relationships. The bottom line? “Ask for business from current clients.” And yet, too few professionals make the effort. The key to maintaining growth momentum, says this partner, is simply “making sure we are hungry and go after it.”

3. Follow up.

Good growth strategies start with solid systems and good habits. One senior executive at a national CPA firm reports getting good results from a “combination of targeted cold calls and relationship-driven approaches,” the latter of which he calls "high touch." But the day-to-day battles are fought in “keeping client service professionals focused” on generating new business opportunities and leads and then consistently following up.

4. Keep moving.

You don’t need to be a national firm with thousands of CPAs and dozens of sales and marketing staffers to take a professional, more disciplined approach to growth. Take, for example, a two-partner firm in the western United States. “We have an hour-a-week meeting on marketing,” says the name partner. “We follow a ‘Who, What, When, Results’ format to find roadblocks or move on to new challenges.”

It seems to be working despite (or maybe because of) some losses of significant clients. The firm is maintaining revenue volume by assertively replacing lost clients with new ones. New clients account for about 12% of current revenue, for example. Nevertheless, the partner says, “it takes three new clients to replace one great client.”

5. Plan big.

As an under 40-year-old CPA with his own practice, Joey Bannon at Axiom CPA in Bradenton, Fla., is firing on all cylinders. Take a look at his firm’s web site and you’ll find a blog and web videos. He knows the drill: “Define our ideal client, identify prospects that fit the profile and then ask for introductions through our network.”

Now Joey’s ready to take his firm to the next level. He plans to test a new and more focused marketing plan in a nearby larger market.

WHAT ARE THE BEST MARKETING STRATEGIES TODAY? Join the survey; get the answers.

ADD A COMMENT: Suggestions, questions, rants or raves? Contact Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2008 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

Go to the News Center Now

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.