Rick Telberg

Three Recession-Proof Marketing Ideas

Use economic uncertainty to gain competitive advantage. What's working for CPA firms today? Join the survey; get the answers.

April 21, 2008
by Rick Telberg/At Large

With the economy slowing, lending in crisis and the surge in Sarbox work ebbing, many CPA firms across the country will be encountering one of the toughest business environments in years.

Marketing budgets may be the first to get the axe. But if your firm has the resources, a recession may be exactly the right time to add new revenue and build market share, according to Jean Marie Caragher, president of Chesapeake, Virginia-based Capstone Marketing, which is now marking its 10th year of providing strategic planning, retreat facilitation, training and marketing director recruiting services to CPA firms.

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"To ensure smart spending in a slow economy," Caragher says, "CPAs should focus on current clients, develop niche specialties, work their networks and ask for referrals."

In fact, says Caragher, the nation's leading firms are indeed adopting progressive strategies.

Here are three:

  1. Developing written marketing plans. "A marketing plan is a road map, including goals and strategies supporting the overall vision and strategic direction of the firm," Caragher notes. After all, if you don't know where you're going, you can't get there. "Consistent implementation of the plan greatly increases the chances of meeting and exceeding goals," she says.
  2. Hiring salespeople. Managing partners increasingly have identified the importance of getting partners and managers in front of more prospects and referral sources as a priority for their marketing programs. Hiring full-time salespeople as an adjunct to a marketing program will help achieve this goal.
  3. Implementing a niche marketing strategy. "Niche practices help differentiate a firm and eliminate competitors," she says. Good strategy focuses on both a firm's marketing program and on the marketing professionals' activities by providing a foundation for marketing plans and goal setting.

But a niche strategy creates other advantages, too. "It allows CPAs to offer their clients value-added services at premium fees," says Caragher, who writes about this tactic in the April issue of Journal of Accountancy. "It challenges partners and staff. It focuses energies on the greatest opportunities for firm growth."

Of all the initiatives, developing a marketing plan may be the easiest part. Implementation, on the other hand, requires consistent, proactive effort. "Be sure that the plan includes deadlines and that it holds those responsible for implementation accountable," Caragher advises. The marketing plan should be reviewed at least monthly by a marketing taskforce or other group responsible for implementation, for example.

But smart, assertive marketing yields more than just top-line growth. It can also help find and keep good people and increase profitability.

In addition to compensation packages, today's new recruits are evaluating CPA firms for their training and marketing postures. This creates new competitive opportunities for firms willing to add sales and marketing training to their CPE budgets. "Very few firms are addressing soft skills training," Caragher says. Too often, sales and marketing training sessions are limited to once a year. "By today's standards," she says, "that's not nearly enough to attract and retain the best people."

Good marketing also helps attract and retain the right kind of client, as well. Most firms still do not turn away business or fire clients, according to Caragher. The result? Firms work with clients who are inappropriate and unprofitable. "Partners should work with their marketing departments to establish criteria for accepting and retaining clients," Caragher says. The criteria should be communicated to the entire firm, and client acceptance and retention should be monitored on a regular basis.

There are always good reasons for smart marketing. But with economic uncertainty, there are even fewer reasons for not doing so.

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

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.

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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.