Building Your CPA Practice in Today's Constricted Economic Conditions

As a marketing expert I hear this question almost every day, “What’s the best way to get new clients?”

That’s an an exceedingly convoluted question. The issue has been the topic of entire books. It changes according to your practice, your firm’s location, your goals, and your persona. This is just a quick cheat-sheet to get you started. Ultimately you’ll need to construct a marketing scheme appropriate to your aptitudes.

While it’s a long term strategy networking is the most important single determining factor in the long term success of an accounting or CPA firm. Take the time to cultivate prospects. At first the time will feel wasted. It can seem to be frustrating and fruitless at the start, but as the years pass and high quality prospects start calling you’ll be happy you made the time to do it. The most thoughtful, quickest business owners rely on networking to find their accountants. Period.

In the meantime there are a lot of rank and file clients to be had, but there are also a lot of accountants competing for them. When you first get started these people will form the bulk of your client base. These clients are what used to be called “walk-ins”.

Ten years ago direct marketing was very effective, but times have changed. Direct marketing is dieing fast. Spare yourself some grief and just take my word for it, but if you insist on giving it a try don’t waste a lot of time on it. Track down recently issued business licenses in your area and try to contact the owners by phone. I made a good living doing that for years, but times have changed, and telemarketing is a very hard sell. I no longer recommend it.

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Websites for accountants are a vital instrument for your marketing efforts, both in terms of networking and generating “walk-in” traffic.

Get yourself some business cards (with web address and tag line) and network your butt off. Give them to everyone. And don’t forget the tag line. Every time you hand someone your card give them a reason to visit your site. Don’t be shy. Get cards. Just ask for them. Get phone numbers and email addresses. Once you have them, cultivate them. Sign them up for your newsletter. Send them an Email wishing them a happy thanksgiving.

In my admittedly biased opinion the internet is one of the best sources of clients. Get a good website and a monthly email newsletter. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a lot of work and very slow and expensive, but it’s also an AWESOME prospect magnet. For the long term it’s worth investing in. For short term just buy ad space on Google using Google Adwords. Also, get your business on Google Maps and optimize your site for Google Places (Local search). This will probably also require some investment on your part, but local search is a let cheaper and easier to get a good ranking in than old-school SEO. Expect a one-time cost of about $500.

So how can websites help accountants network?

The basic strategy of networking is to identify a prospects need, then to offer a solution to fill that need. It’s all about demonstrating the benefit of your service to the prospect. As an accountant you’re in a unique position to offer solutions to problems that really matter to people. Perhaps they’re buying or selling a house. Maybe they’re saving for their children’s education, or retirement, or maybe they’re not certain if they should buy or lease an expensive piece of equipment for their business.

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Don’t misunderstand the purpose of this kind of marketing. Prospects will almost never be so impressed with that value that they’ll fire their CPA and hire you right there on the spot. It won’t rack up billable hours for your firm. Networking is a long term marketing strategy. The goal of your networking efforts is to demonstrate your value to the prospect. You’re trying to put your brand in front of the prospect and keep it there so that in a year, or two, or five; when the prospect is ready to switch accountants; yours will be the first name they think of.

A good CPA website can significantly impact your networking power. Online financial calculators and a libraray of financial articles will bring visitors back to your website over and over. As we’ve already established, when networking your job is to figure out what that persons needs are and demonstrate your value by presenting a solution. Your website can help with that. Next time you hand a prospect your business card you can offer a solution that takes them to your website, complete with your brand at the top of the page and your phone number at the bottom.

Learn the art of the Tag Line. Nobody is going to call you or even visit your website unless you give them a compelling reason to.

There are still a few stragglers that don’t have, or don’t use, the internet. To round these folks up get a yellow pages ad, but only if you include your web address and a good tag line.

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These “walk-ins” will pretty much take care of themselves if you do a good job setting up your website. Your position in Google is important. Having a good listing in Google is better than having the best office location in town. Keep an eye on your Adwords account and make sure you’re not being outbid, but that’s all you’ll really need to do.

Then network… network… network.

Learn to use online social networks too. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook…

In the end, though, it’s all about networking. Everyone is a potential prospect. Parents, friends, vendors, everyone. Be careful not to judge prospects. That’s a trap. Nobody is too poor for a business card. In 5 or 6 years they may well be standing someplace very different.

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