Your Marketing Plan is an Extension of Your Growth Strategy
How are you going to grow? Where will you focus your efforts? By how much will you grow and how is that potential revenue split amongst niches, departments or team member?
Many accounting firms know they need to grow. However, they don’t know what exactly that looks like. And, unfortunately, hoping and wishing is not a strategy. Neither are random marketing plans, created in a vacuum and not tied back to a bigger strategy. The best accounting firm marketing plans will drive the revenue outlined in your growth strategy. This is especially important when staffing challenges make growth as a whole much more strategic. Today, it’s about smart growth and not growth for growth’s sake. That requires strategy.
Start by Developing a Growth Strategy
Some CPA firms actually detail out a growth strategy as part of the firm’s overall strategic plan. Review this document to see what it may contain about where growth will come from. That’s what accounting marketers need to build plans upon. If it’s not there, then you need to develop a growth strategy.
This is typically a longer-term vision that keeps you focused. Base this strategy on data. Some things you’ll want to review before documenting a strategy includes:
Account for every dollar of your revenue in a matrix where each row is a specific service you provide and each column is an industry or buyer type you serve. Understand what services and industries make up the biggest percentage of your revenue and pay attention to what services are most popular for what industry and vice versa.
Understand how much market share you have in each industry and/or buyer group you serve. Also look at your marketplace as a whole to see the size of any new potential targets. Think regionally and nationally, too, since you can service clients anywhere.
Once you see where you have a strength and where potential exists, make sure you look at the competitors in that space, even those outside of your geography. You don’t want to go into a highly competitive area if there is another area just as strong with less competition.
You spend on what matters. What is that today? And what might you be willing to give up (unless you’re willing to increase your overall budget) to spend on those areas targeted for growth?
This is great data that should give you some perspective about where you should be focusing efforts for growth, but this alone is not your strategy. You have to then compare these findings to the people you have on your team. Do have the right leaders in the areas you want to target? Are these people willing to learn new things and try new ways? Are they willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work and make the sale? This serious inward analysis is needed to solidify your strategy, even if that strategy involves brining new people into the firm to lead. Hence, buy-in of CPA firm leadership to a defined growth strategy is mandatory.
A Marketing Plan Drives Growth Strategy
With a growth strategy in hand, you can develop a marketing plan that works to drive that strategy. No more dabbling in a bunch of different things when you can double-down your focus on those areas that matters to firm leadership.
Think of your marketing plan as a roadmap to firm growth. Start with where you are today and where you want to go in the future (your growth strategy), and use the plan to detail how you’ll get there. Luckily for you, a lot of the homework needed to put together a marketing plan was completed as you detailed your growth strategy.
The main components of a marketing plan include:
- Know what you’re aiming to accomplish from a big picture perspective and make them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound). These get to what you’ll do.
- An objective is the measurable step to achieve that goal. It’s the action you’ll take to reach the goal (and likely starts with an action verb).
- Strategies/Tactics. Strategy is the approach you’ll take to reach the objective; the how and the why. Tactics are the details of the specific things you’ll do. This gets confusing for many people so rather than getting bogged down here, KISS (keep it simple stupid). Focus on the how and why without fretting about what to label something.
If you need help remembering this, just look for a ghost…the GOST framework is what the model is called.
It’s also important to include an implementation component to the plan. That likely includes
- Who owns or will work on each item in the plan?
- What is the timeline for completion?
- What budget dollars are needed?
In some areas you may also want to work in a desired or target return on investment for your efforts. This can be a separate part of the plan or worked into one of the GOST items.
A marketing plan is a one-year document. Be honest with what you can accomplish in a short 12 months. If you have great ideas, add them to a parking lot that you pull from when you create the next year’s plan.
It’s also likely that you have multiple plans for your firm. Perhaps there is an overall plan for the firm that gets into those goals that impacts the entire organization like brand, website, content, etc. You then may have a smaller plan for a target area like construction that digs into the trade shows you’ll attend, sponsorships you’ll make and nurture campaign you’ll launch. This can all be in a single plan, too. Just think about who you’re sharing the different components with and don’t give them more than they need or you’ll it will become too overwhelming for them.
Make Sure There is Accountability for Your Plans
There are well laid plans that never see the light of day. They remain in some long-lost folder on your shared drive with no one opening them. That should not be the case.
Review your plan with some regularity. Better yet, build it into your CRM or any other workflow tool you may have. Since an accounting firm marketing plan does not fall all to one person and probably doesn’t fall entirely on the marketing department either, you need to build in accountability.
Make sure anyone who is named in the plan has reviewed it. Involve people with real authority in the approval of the plan. Document this if it will help. Then talk to firm leaders about how you tie this into review or compensation plans for you as well as partners who have to contribute in order for the plan to be a success. Monitor and report on progress, too.
Most importantly, keep yourself motivated. In the heat of day-to-day firefighting, you probably loose sight of the bigger picture. Take ownership of this plan to move it forward. Recognize those who help and celebrate successes as you see them.
With a sound marking plan built on solid strategy, you have set yourself and your accounting firm up for success. Great things can now happen. After all, as Warren Buffet said, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
About Katie Tolin
Katie Tolin is the president and chief growth guide at CPA Growth Guides. She’s a former in-house marketer having spent time at regional, super-regional and national accounting firms. Today she helps CPA firms drive top-line revenue and profitability through data-driven marketing strategies. She’s a past president of AAM, a former marketer of the year and was inducted into the Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame.
Welcome to CPA Growth Trends — your source for information, insights, tools and best practices to drive growth within an accounting firm.
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