Madtown Fri, 27 Nov 2015 18:32:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why Most CPA Firms are Failing at Content Marketing Fri, 27 Nov 2015 18:25:29 +0000 Content marketing can work wonders for your firm, but only if you do it right. And – make no mistake – lots of firms aren’t doing it right.

Why invest in content marketing anyway, you ask? Well, because it can help you:

  • Build a stronger brand
  • Gain industry authority
  • Get more high quality leads

But not just any content will help you get these kinds of results – content marketing success takes a lot of hard work and must be strategy-driven. So, if you’re not seeing the results you want from your content, start thinking about these four reasons why most CPA firms fail at content marketing:

1.      Failure to differentiate and build a strong brand

The content that most firms produce is often a bit dull, thanks to their failure to differentiate. Instead of actually trying to stand out, they mimic their competition, regurgitating the same content that potential clients have already seen online a million times.

As a result, those clients don’t know which firm to choose. That’s why it’s so important for you to make sure your content is memorable. You’ll set yourself apart – and you’d better believe that the firms that do so are the ones who are making the most money.

2.      Failure to provide content of value to the target audience

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of creating content that other accountants might like, but remember that they aren’t the ones you’re trying to sell to. You need to impress your ideal clients – not your peers.

So, every time you produce a piece of content, ask yourself this:

“Does this content provide valuable information to my target audience?”  To take it a step further, if you don't have a contact or lead that you know for a fact would find the post of extreme value--don't write it.  And I'm not talking about just your target audience you should be able to identify someone down to a name and email that would find the piece of content you're writing valuable.

If you can't do that, don’t publish it. Plain and simple.

To start brainstorming about what you should write about, you need to define your target audience and get inside their heads. Think about what questions they’re asking in relation to your industry. Creep on their social networks and the message boards where they hang out to see what they’re talking about. Or, simply ask your ideal clients what they need help with.

3.      Being too sales-y in the content

Think about it – when you read blog posts or other educational content, do you like seeing tons of sales pitches?

No way. And neither does your target audience.

When you’re producing content (blogs, whitepapers, email newsletters, etc.), your job is to educate your readers – not bombard them with pitches. After all, the whole purpose of content marketing is to create content of value for your ideal customers so you can build trust and get on their radar.

Once you do that, they’ll come back to you when they’re ready to buy because your firm will stick out in their minds as a trustworthy authority.

Bottom line: the best sales strategy with content marketing is to NOT sell.

Crazy, huh? But trust me – when done right, it works.

4.      Failure to blog regularly and promote content properly

While you don’t have to blog to get leads, it can definitely help. But let’s be honest – many accounting firms that actually have an active blog are doing it all wrong and hurting themselves in the process.

And it’s easy to understand why. Creating effective blog content is tough, time-consuming, requires a solid strategy, and can take months (or even years) to generate results. Plus, outsourcing content creation to a good blogger can be pretty pricy – so pricy, in fact, that some firms can’t afford it.

The good news for you? If you can produce and promote effective content on your firm’s blog, you’ll set yourself apart from your competitors pretty easily. That’s because almost no firms are doing it now.

Wondering how to do that? Here are a few tips:

  • Write the way your audience talks. That means no accounting jargon, no fluff, and no stuffy “business speak.” Remember, your readers are people, and they’re looking for content that’s relatable – not content that reads like it was written by a robot.
  • Develop a unique voice. Figure out what writing tone resonates best with your target audience and is true to your personality. Then, make sure every piece of content you produce (even if it’s not on your blog) is written in that tone – consistency is key when you’re building your firm’s brand.
  • Get active on social media. Find out which social media sites are most popular with the members of your target audience, and start interacting with them there. Then, when you promote your blog posts on social media, you’ll be much more likely to see the engagement you want.

But that isn’t all you have to do to succeed at blogging. You’ll also need to create awesome headlines for your posts, break your paragraphs up for easy readability, follow copywriting best practices... the list could go on and on. If you aren’t good at that stuff and don’t really care to learn about it, then hire someone qualified to handle it for you.

And remember this:

If you’re not willing to put lots of effort into your content marketing, don’t create content at all.

You might think you can get away with succeeding by producing just any content. But the truth is… you can’t. So, if you’re going to go for it, really go for it. Otherwise you’ll just end up wasting time and hurting your brand.

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Why Your Firm Needs An Experimentation Fund Fri, 13 Nov 2015 18:28:27 +0000 Let’s face it – if your firm isn’t innovating, you’re screwed.

Why, you ask?

It’s simple: if your business model is outdated, that means you’re still solving yesterday’s problems – not today’s. On top of that, if you fail to update your marketing tactics regularly, you’ll quickly fall behind any competitors who are updating their strategies based on changing demands.

That’s why it’s so important for you to prioritize experimentation. Instead of simply focusing on what has been effective in the past, experimenting allows you to learn how to maximize your revenue and power your business forward.

How Your Firm Can Start Experimenting

We see a lot of marketing departments today setting aside part of their marketing budget for experimentation work (sometimes up to 30%). As a result, they often find themselves using new tactics that help them stand out from the competition, which results in a memorable brand and more sales.

But you don’t want to change just for the sake of change – that would be pointless. Instead, you need to start the experimentation process strategically, thinking about what you could do differently to bring in the big bucks.

If you’re not sure where to begin your thought process, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does my website look like that of every other firm?  Am I using meaningless jargon in my messaging?

Trust me – widely-used filler phrases like “full-service,” “wide array,” and “breadth of experience” won’t help you build credibility and position yourself as a trustworthy authority in your industry. In fact, what those words actually do is make you seem out of touch, pretentious, and just plain boring. (Ouch.)

Your website is your firm’s chance to create a compelling online presence that draws in the clientele you want, but you can’t expect those kinds of results with bad website copy and a design that makes you look as bland as every other firm.

2. What valuable niche is nobody helping?  

Let me guess: you’re way too scared to define a narrow niche for your firm because you think that doing so will decrease your clientele.

Well, get over it, because the exact opposite is true. You can actually increase your profits by helping a unique niche and establishing yourself as the go-to firm for those specific clients. Think about it – everyone prefers a specialist who can definitely help them over a generalist who might be able to help them.

3. When’s the last time you've analyzed the pain points of your ideal client base?  

You aren’t going to win over your ideal clients if you don’t take the time to learn what problems are keeping them awake at night. So, take on the role of physician and ask clients about their symptoms. Then, apply some creative thinking to possible treatments. You may discover entirely new ways to approach client problems that you can use as a selling point.

4. Are we only spending money on the same marketing tactics that we've been using for several years?

If so, it’s time for you to invest in new ideas to determine whether or not they will work. Marketing – especially in the digital world – changes quickly, and you’ve got to keep up if you want your firm to survive. Stop bullshitting yourself into thinking you can get away with using the same ol’ tactics you've been using the past few years – you can’t.

5. What frustrations do clients have with CPA firms, and what can I do to let them know that our firm is different?

Overcoming objections is huge when you’re trying to sell. That’s why it’s so important to understand why your clients might not want to work with you (or any other CPA firm).

Once you do, you can start letting potential clients know that they don’t have to fear the typical CPA firm frustrations when they choose your firm. (Unless, of course, they do have to fear those frustrations while working with you. In that case, it’s time to revisit the way you’re running your business.)

6. Are employee goals based on chargeable hours, or do I reward employees for non-chargeable activities that help my firm succeed?

Even the most motivated employees can become disinterested in the success of your firm if they are not rewarded for their hard work. So, recognize your employees for their contributions and reward them accordingly. In doing so, you’ll encourage a culture of innovation and your most impactful employees will feel empowered to continue helping your firm succeed.

7. What are the capabilities that most client organizations would never attempt to develop in-house, and can we meet those needs?

Successful businesses anticipate client needs and find ways to meet them. Yeah – you’ve probably already done that to a certain extent. But that doesn’t mean you should stop looking for new ways to help your clients.

If you want to really blow their minds, try understanding their business so well that you provide them with solutions to problems they didn’t even know they had. After all, you don’t just want potential clients to feel lukewarm about your firm – you want them to say, “Damn, you’re good!”

Still not sure about investing in experimentation?

I get it – your firm has a set of “best practices” that you think you must follow to succeed. But, consider this: if they haven’t been updated in a while, they probably are dated and old.

And if those “best practices” aren’t helping you get the results you want anyway, why the heck are you opposed to throwing them out the window or at least revisiting them?

My point is this: don’t let your aversion to change get in the way of your firm’s growth. You aren’t going to win the customers of today and tomorrow using yesterday’s marketing tactics, so step up and make the bold changes necessary for success.

If you’re ready to start experimenting and learning how you can differentiate your firm to promote growth today, check out our Complete Business Audit.


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Why You Should Prune Out Your Bad Clients Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:30:19 +0000 What if I told you that you could make more money by firing 25% of your current clients?

Sounds crazy, but I see it work all the time. Just recently, I was working with a firm whose numbers showed that 40% of their client base generated only 5% of their total revenue.

Guess what my advice to them was? Fire all 40% immediately.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about their clients--in fact, they might have been even better served at a smaller, cheaper firm. For the firm I was advising, they were a major resource drain, and the (miniscule) financial benefit of keeping them didn’t remotely pay off the effort. Because, of course, the firm hated working with those clients. (Really!)

Cheap clients are only going to piss you off because every time they call, you’ll be reminded that they don’t even pay you much. Before you offer another discount or bring on another low-budget client, ask yourself whether it’s really worth your trouble.

Here’s another important reality: businesses tend to attract more of what they already have.

So if your firm is currently crawling with cheap, ungrateful clients--the kind who want everything for nothing and still complain about the result--they’ll just refer other cheap clients to you, and the problem will compound itself. When you find sophisticated clients with real budgets, and you do amazing work for them, you catapult yourself into a new playing field. Suddenly, you’re attracting bigger and better clients, naturally--without spending an additional dime on marketing.

Imagine what you could do with all the extra time you’d gain from dropping your lowest paying clients. Not only could you spend more time making your higher paying clients even happier, but you could devote more time to finding new high-paying clients.

Start committing yourself to only taking on high-profit work. I’ll be honest with you: it takes a lot of work (and a lot of fortitude) to constantly push back against unprofitable work, but the reward is worth it.

So just go for it. This year, drop 25% of your lowest paying customers, and use the time gained to look for higher profit work. Then, commit to doing the same thing next year, always skimming off the bottom 25% to make room for higher profits.

Believe me: you’ll be glad you did.

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How Full Service Firms can Cheat Their Way to Differentiation Mon, 20 Jul 2015 13:30:46 +0000 Lawyers, financial advisors, and CPAs are notorious for being boring. One firm, MGO, even embraces this descriptor, actively spinning it into a positive one—they’re “proud to be boring accountants.”

So, boring can be good, if it means you’re so boring that you do your job well. But you’ll notice that the “boring” folks over at MGO have a website that’s anything but.  Instead, it’s thoughtful, clever,  and so bright it looks like a children’s book.

That’s a great website, right? You might even be tempted to call it a branding bullseye.

But you’d be wrong.

Under the hood, MGO is just like every other accounting firm: full service, with toes they’ve dipped into almost every industry. What is their specialty? What is their true differentiation, other than a prettier-than-usual website and some cute language?

The truth is the modern marketplace is up to its neck in large, full service, firms.  But many of these firms are too scared to position and differentiate for real or for some of the big firms it's just not possible at this time.  Here are five strategies to help you cheat your way to differentiation and start standing out in a real way.

Focus your messaging

What is the #1 purpose of the words on your website? To capture attention, with valiant promises and startling proclamations? To entertain, with quirky headlines and punny humor? To describe your services?

No, no, and not even that. The primary goal of your website copy is to differentiate you from the other guys.

Think about how the modern client finds your firm. He types something into Google, opens the first five results, and then goes about comparing them. Assuming they all appear to be relatively competent, what is he going to do when they also all sound exactly the same? He’ll be forced to pick based on some inconsequential detail—more or less, a random selection.

What if, instead, you did his work for him by being bold and upfront about what makes you different? Not by stomping on the competition (“We work faster! We get results!”) but by separating yourself from them entirely. Pick a service out of your ample list—one that’s most weakly represented in the market, that you also happen to do really well—and put that service front and center.

Then, just own the hell out of it.

Everyone knows you cannot be awesome at everything. But you can be awesome at one thing—and in the marketing world, just saying you are awesome at that one thing makes you already better at it than the other guys.

In today’s market, specialization is dominance. Those who “do it all” are about to become obsolete.

Define your reverse target audience

Most firms are entirely too focused on convincing prospects to hire them. They fear losing business so much that their target audience becomes “anyone who will pay us.”

Not only does this approach reek of desperation and poor business sense, but it doesn’t make for the most inspiring work environment—and it doesn’t do the client any favors either. Clients who are seen as paychecks often end up being treated as such, and they can feel the difference.

A better approach: take the time to figure out who is not in your target audience—your “reverse target audience”—and then actively exclude those people. Weave it into the messaging on your website. Be bold, open, and honest about it.

Excluding potential clients does several things:

  • It allows you to focus on your specialization.
  • It shows integrity – you care who you work with and have pride in your work.
  • It shows that you’re not just following dollar signs.
  • It shows that you’re able to recognize your firm’s strengths and weaknesses.

Exclusivity does something very powerful: it suggests that those who are included are special. In the business world, these are the people you are best equipped to serve.

In reality, every business has people they should be excluding. If you have a target audience, then you have a reverse target audience.

Anyone who refuses or fails to exclude is essentially lying to themselves—and, by extension, lying to their customers.

Start an experimental entity

Large firms are notorious for dragging their feet on big decisions. Instead of trying to get the buy-in necessary to change the entire direction of your firm, try experimenting first.

Have the firm start up a small, separate entity, commit a very small portion of the marketing budget to it, and use it as an experimentation playground.

Want to test out a new market category? Build a niche website that speaks directly to that audience, and see how it does.

Have a crazy business model that’s completely new to the industry? Try it out with your new entity and see if it gains any traction in the marketplace.

We’ve helped several large firms start up smaller firms just to experiment, and it’s always been a useful exercise.

When it comes to small-scale experimentation, failure won’t change anything, but success could change everything.

Rename your offerings and categories

Instead of just listing your services, rename your offerings based on outcomes and solutions. Think about what comes after the accounting, bookkeeping, tax prep, or auditing services you give. What’s the outcome of a financial statement with your firm? What’s the outcome of an IT audit?

What would happen if you tried offering clients what they were really after?

As for industry categories, don’t just list them out like every other firm does. Try something different, and perhaps even more meaningful.

Travis Wolff has done an excellent job of reshaping their categories from industries to groups, serving emerging companies, established companies, private equity investors, and successful individuals. While they are still technically full service, they are reshaping how they approach industries in a way that resonates with prospects.

List your pricing

Want to do something extremely bold? List your pricing on your website.

I know—that’s just not done. You’d be one of only a handful of advisory firms in the world who list pricing on their website.

But it’s astounding that so many firms still insists on withholding this information, given that it’s probably the most important piece of information website visitors want to see. Not only does listing your pricing make you look confident, competent, and admirably transparent, but it also helps to automatically filter out prospects who wouldn’t be willing/able to pay your fees anyway (which translates to time saved for you).

Still too scared to do it? Check out this post for more on what refusing to list pricing on your website says about your firm.

Start NOW

Despite the reputation of the industry, firms need to stop being boring and find the courage to start standing out already.  While the only meaningful differentiation is a deep expertise within a vertical or horizontal, a lot are just not ready to make the jump.  If you want to feel what it's like to try and differentiate in other ways this list will help get you started.

Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.

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If You Think You’re Differentiating Your Business, Think Again Mon, 06 Jul 2015 13:30:52 +0000 Tell me if any of this sounds familiar to you:

  • You continually lose business to your competitors, even though you know you could do a better job.
  • You often win or lose business based on price.
  • Your online marketing seems weak, and you know you’re probably losing valuable leads and sales, but you have no idea what to do about it.
  • You’re not sure how to make your business stand out in the market or you’re having trouble communicating it.

Here’s your problem: your differentiation sucks.

The #1 reason clients come to us is to help them differentiate. They know that in order to compete in the saturated modern market, they have to not only be different, but to be able to express that difference online.

Without effective differentiation, you’re just bobbing around in the sea of sameness with everybody else. And since your customers can’t tell the difference between you and the next guy, they just shrug and say, “Well, who’s cheaper?”

You know how that story goes…

Down go your prices. Down go your competitors’ prices. And before you know it, you’re all groveling over peanuts in revenue. Your clients don’t respect you, and worse: you don’t respect yourself.

People: that’s no way to do business. Be better than that.

What Differentiation is NOT

Let me guess: you think a new website will solve all your problems.

If you just got a fresh look and some hot new marketing language, people would see how much better you are than the other guys. Maybe if you had one of those fancy sliders on your homepage, and some messaging that really spoke to your target audience, the business would come rolling in. Plus, it would reinvigorate office morale, and your team would be that much happier and more effective.

Listen. If your website sucks, by all means, get a new one. But that is not differentiation.

People think differentiation is just a messaging function, where they just have to sound different, when under the hood, they’re the exact same company as their competitors.

One of my favorite non-strategies for differentiation is “we’re all about results!”

First of all, you’re kidding yourself if you think your competition doesn’t care about results. Second, that horse has been dead for years—anyone still beating it just looks foolish.

Here are some other phrases my team and I like to laugh about:

  •     We’re full service
  •     We’re your partner
  •     We have a wide range of experience
  •     We provide the best service
  •     We provide value
  •     We’re a small team
  •     We’re experts
  •     We’re strategic
  •     We’re fun, cool, cutting edge, etc.

Most agencies actively push phrases like these because it’s easy to get buy-in on them. They’re soft and safe, and they allow CXO’s to comfortably avoid making difficult decisions about where they actually want to play in the market. (God forbid your marketing should exclude anyone!)

But it’s not differentiation. It’s regurgitation.

You sound like everyone else because you are everyone else.

And let’s face it: those phrases are all meaningless. You might have convinced yourself that, in your case, they truly do set you apart. But to everyone else, they sound like hollow buzz words, and you have to admit that they aren’t doing a damn thing for your bottom line.

Where the Real Money Is

Our most successful clients are the ones taking risks by investing in business strategies that allow them to compete in a market of few.

That’s true differentiation.

They aren’t trying to keep up with their competition—they’re trying to distance themselves from their competition. They aren’t diving into the same tired old marketing segments and struggling to stay afloat—they’re creating new marketing segments, where they’re the Top Dogs. (Which comes with the territory when you’re the Only Dog. And that’s not a cop out—it’s just smart business.)

These clients know what they stand for, who they want to help, and why they’re best equipped for the job. Their websites are meticulously catered to this messaging, which actively excludes anyone not in their target audience and hones in on the smaller subset of people who are.

They aren’t just saying what they think customers want to hear—in fact, they’re saying things that many customers won’t want to hear, because they’re looking for something different. Perfect! Shuffle them over to the competition and hold out for a better fit.

The best part about true differentiation is that, besides being the only effective way to compete in today’s marketplace, it’s where the real money is.

If you’re able to solve a specific problem extremely well (rather than addressing a bunch of generic problems about as well as the next guy) people will ante up big time for that. We see it all the time.

Finding Your Edge

If you’re ready to start creating your own differentiation strategy, here are some key questions to consider:

  •     What type of pricing model can we develop that is not being used in the industry?
  •     What market segment is currently not getting enough attention?
  •     If we had to take our entire service offering down to one thing, what would it be?
  •     What expertise do we have that the competition does not?
  •     What expertise can we gain that the competition can or will not?
  •     What practice or practices in our industry are bad for our customers, that we can actively stand against?
  •     How can we approach new business better than the competition?

And that’s just a whiff of the full differentiation process. We have dozens of thought tools we use to help our clients figure out where they want to play and how to get there.

Our #1 piece of advice is this: be meaningful. If you’re using words that could appear on any website, in any market, find new words.

Here’s the ultimate differentiation test:

Do your current marketing efforts and business strategy scare you?

If not, chances are you’re playing it too safe and you’re not properly positioned.

Being different is always scary at first. But it’s also powerful and memorable, and sometimes…it can make you freaking rich.

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What Your Refusal to Post Pricing on Your Website Says About You Tue, 30 Jun 2015 16:59:24 +0000 Tell me this has never happened to you before:

You’re mildly interested in some new product or service. Naturally, your first question is about price, so you go to the website, and—damn—no pricing.

Your only option is to contact the company directly to find out, which would probably expose you to some obnoxious marketing quicksand.

Ugh. So much work. So much potential for annoyance.

The alternative? Pass.

Now, let’s talk about your business. If you don’t post pricing on your website, you’re in the majority. But what the hell is everyone so afraid of?

I’ve heard every excuse, and almost all of them come from a lack of confidence. You’re scared of missing out on business, of chasing potential customers away before you have a chance to hook them, of competitors underselling you by just a hair.

But instead of looking savvy, guess how you actually look to your visitors? Weak. Insecure. Cagey. (Which is a little too close to the word untrustworthy.)

And most egregious of all: happy to waste their time.

Tell me which of these excuses hits closest to home:

“But I need to make payroll.”

I know: you think you need to be able to negotiate your own pricing to keep business rolling in. And if a prospect sees your pricing online first and bails, you won’t have a chance to demonstrate your generosity.

Here’s the thing: your personal integrity matters. If people can’t afford you, it’s probably not because your prices are too high—it’s because they’re cheap clients. They won’t value your time or expertise, and they won’t respect what you do for them. Why go there?

Very early on, we turned down $50,000+ projects even when we didn’t know how we were going to make payroll the following month. To this day, we don’t regret a single one.

Trust me: if you start out a working relationship with a price battle, you’ll be setting yourself up for a long road of compromise (mostly on your end) that won’t be worth the minor economic gain.

Better to maintain your integrity and trust the process.

“But I don’t want to miss an exciting opportunity.”

This is code for “but I want the ability to compromise.”

You want to vet all potential clients yourself—and you certainly don’t want them taking themselves out of the running before you even know they exist.

Hello! That’s the whole point of your website. It exists to help clients determine whether there’s a good fit between their problem and your expertise. And that includes price.

Your website’s also there for you, to make sure you aren’t wasting time on unqualified prospects. You know damn well what will happen when you drop your standards for a client—all you’ll do is complain about how cheap and demanding they are. Good clients respect your time and work, and they’re willing to pay you good money for it.

So please, get out of the way and let your website do its job.

“If I could just pitch to people personally…”

Well, ya can’t.

There was a time when you could have taken your briefcase up to someone’s doorstep and sat on their living room couch and sold the crap out them. You would have kept your pricing info carefully tucked in your back pocket until late in the game—and you’d get away with it, because no one’s comfortable bringing up money.

But now we have the internet. The rules are so different, we need a new word for “different.”

These days, people come to your website for information. Specific information—not the fluffy stuff, like how results-based you are and how much you truly care about your customers. People want to know what you do, how you do it, and how much it’s going to cost them.

If they don’t find that information (immediately), they’re not going to pick up the phone and say, “please tell me more,” and then wait patiently on the other end.

They’re going to find another website. A confident, what-you-see-is-what-you-get website that tells them what they need to know and doesn’t waste their time.

So join us in the present day, where websites are powerful client filters. It’s time to embrace that reality, and to use it to your advantage.

The smartest firms are devoting their time and energy to prospects who are genuinely interested in hiring them—and that means paying their rates.

So Get Some Courage Already

Look. I know that what I’m proposing isn’t easy.

But believe me: it’s so liberating, dealing only with the clients who know exactly what you’re offering and are still interested. These are people who love transparency, and they’ll applaud your willingness to put it all out there.

We already talked about what not putting your pricing on your website says about you. Now, let’s talk about what clients see when businesses do include pricing:

Confidence. Honesty. Transparency. Competence.

And most importantly: a distinct lack of bullshit.

The modern marketplace needs more businesses that are willing to say, “This is who we are—take us or leave us.”

Believe it or not, it’s what the over-pandered-to client is craving. (Because here’s what the alternative sounds like: “Tell us who you want us to be, and that’s who we’ll say we are.”)

If you struggle to come up with fixed pricing for your website, or if your pricing structure is truly too complex to allow it, then give a range. Most potential clients are really just looking for a ballpark. For example, you might say, “Our clients typically invest around $75,000 per year on our services. Our minimum level of engagement starts at $25,000.”

And remember: if your number of inquiries drops once you post pricing, that’s a good thing! It means your website is weeding out unqualified prospects—essentially, qualifying leads for you—which is exactly what you want.

Imagine if 100% of your website leads both wanted to work with you and were ready to pay you what you charge (and deserve).

That’s called good business. Sounds easy, and yet it’s somehow so hard for so many.

It’s time to show your cards, people. You might be surprised by the response you get.

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CPA Marketing Strategy: How to Position Your Firm for Better Clients Mon, 22 Jun 2015 13:30:58 +0000 Proximity has long been the primary driver of CPA firm marketing strategy. Pursue local clients, because they’re most likely to pursue you back. It’s the oldest play in the book.

But over the last few decades, the rules of marketing have undergone a massive overhaul. And for whatever reason, accounting firms aren’t keeping up.

It’s not that the proximity approach itself is stupid—people really are hardwired to be more trusting of companies that are physically closer to them. And it’s clearly still the best method for some markets (picture the small-time farmer, peddling his produce around town).

But any CPA firm still relying on this old-school strategy is selling itself tragically short. For large, well-established firms, in particular, proximity-based marketing is a dangerously self-limiting approach.

Stop Thinking Geographically

How many potential clients really care what your zip code is anymore? How many of them really appreciate the romanticized ritual of walking into a physical office and sitting in one of your big, leather chairs to talk business?

My guess: far fewer than you think.

Proximity-based marketing can also trigger a waterfall of other bad-for-business outcomes. For one thing, it forces firms into a small competition pool with a high variety of needs.

The result? Endless, identical “full service” accounting firms—jacks of all trades, masters of none. In order to compete on a local playing field, CPA firms are forced to embrace a huge laundry list of services and a vast breadth of expertise as their primary differentiators.

Problem? When everyone has the same primary differentiators, no one is different, and competition suffers.

At that point, clients are controlling the buying process, and firms are essentially competing on price alone, which completely undermines any true value each individual firm might have to offer.

Here’s the reality: modern, sophisticated clients are much more interested in whether you can help them solve a specific problem—and solve it well.

Instead of a breadth of expertise, do you have enough depth of expertise?

The Pursuit of Good Business (vs. Any Business)

Yes, there are many people who, when in need of accounting services, will hop on the internet and type in “accounting firm [my city].” And yes, this might lead them to you.

But you’re savvy. You know that’s not where the real money is.

The big clients with the big budgets are willing to do more than walk down the street to find a true partner. They’re more concerned with finding the right fit, regardless of zip code, and what are they primarily looking for? Deep expertise around a specific problem.

This is illustrated by the fact that larger clients no longer have just one accounting firm helping them solve their business problems. These days, companies might have five or more firms working for them at the same time, each with its own specialty—one firm might specialize in pricing strategies while another is, say, creating financial statements for credit unions.

The specialization prevents undue conflict, and most importantly, it saves everyone from all the humiliating low-brow competition that comes from competing on price.

If you want to be more than just a good regional CPA firm—if you’re ready to tackle big projects and see big dollar signs—you’ve got to start winning new business based on your ability to solve a complex problem better than anyone else.

The New Way

Start here: take a look at your website. Do you see words like “full service,” “wide array,” “measurable results,” or “local?”

If so, your firm has no market positioning. You’re just one of a sea of identical firms, and your clients might as well pick blindfolded. Maybe they’ll like your logo the best. Maybe they’ll be impressed by the fancy slider on the other guys’ website.

In that fickle world of competition, it doesn’t take much.

Remove those endlessly scrolling drop-down lists of services—everyone knows you can’t possibly be the best at everything. Get rid of that Industries tab that lists the 10 other markets you serve.

What is your specialty? What do you do better than any other CPA firm—locally, nationally, even internationally? What would people gladly reach out from the other side of the country to get your help with, even if it inconveniences them to do so?

Your clients aren’t looking for a CPA firm that does it all. They’re looking for the one who does the thing they need—and does it incomparably well.

Firms that Position Get Better Clients

Very few CPA firms position properly, which means there are huge opportunities to dominate a wide variety of untapped market categories.

If you provide a highly specialized expertise, you’ll get only a certain subset of clients—yes. But you’ll get them from all over the country, maybe even the world, and they’ll be exactly the kind of clients you want to work with.

Plus, since they recognize that you’re the best of the best in solving the specific problem they have, they’ll be ready to pay.

In fact, your clients will be so happy to have found your firm that they won’t be able to help but give you their money. And it will be a lot of money.

Leadership needs to get together and make the tough decisions about where they want to play. Either it’s in your backyard, where clients don’t value your expertise or your time, and where you have tons of direct competition.

Or, there’s option two: a solid positioning strategy, in which you have no direct competitors, and an expertise so unique that clients will travel thousands of miles to find out what you know.

Which sounds like better business to you?

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3 Things Top CPA Firm Websites Do Better Wed, 20 May 2015 13:30:36 +0000 CPA firms didn’t always need highly sophisticated, marketing-savvy websites to attract new business. There was a day when print ads, speaking opportunities, and the occasional business magazine mention were more than enough keep the work pouring in. A firm’s website was not much more than a brochure, whose primary purpose was to display contact information.

But the digital era has reconfigured almost everything about the way businesses run. The rules of modern marketing are changing so quickly that most CPA firms just can’t keep up.

They do try, though. They publish sporadic blog posts. They redesign their websites every few years, trying to stay fresh. But the unfortunate reality is that none of it is enough. And perhaps worse: firms are wasting valuable time in the wrong places.

It’s time to get back in the game, folks.

Here are three critical strategies the most successful firms are using to rise to the top:

#1 Thought Leadership

Thought leadership has become an essential tool for attracting new clients in the digital era. The idea is to position your firm as an authority in your area of expertise by publishing regular content that shows off not just your skills and smarts, but your ingenuity and forward thinking.

It’s not about keeping up with trends—it’s about setting them. You want to be the guys that come to mind when people think, “I wonder what they have to say about this?” When potential clients realize they have a new problem, you want to be the first ones there with the solution.

How do you do all that? Here are just a few ways:

  • Keep your finger on the current conversation in your market. Pick out the newest, boldest, most exciting ideas, and see if you can take them a step further. Publish your ideas in thoughtful, well-written blog posts on your site.
  • Take a look at your clients’ current problems. Then, extrapolate them into their future problems and offer up step-by-step solutions on your website. Beating clients to their problems makes them feel safe, but it also makes your firm look wildly progressive.
  • Think of the most common problems your clients come to you with. Identify solid examples of experiences your firm has had in solving those problems, write up case studies describing those specific experiences, and publish them on your site.

The first and most obvious benefit of infusing your website with valuable thought leadership is that it creates more pages and links on your website. This means more opportunities for people to find your site through Google.

Thought leadership also enables prospects to learn about your methods, and to make the connection between their problems and your expertise, without having to actually engage you directly. Remember that in the digital age, “contact us” is much further along in a prospect’s decision making process than it once was.

#2 Valuable Offers

While thought leadership is the primary engine fueling quality traffic on a website, landing pages with special offers are also key for lead generation at CPA firms. Our clients have offered white papers, eBooks, cheat sheets, and consultations, all available via special landing pages on their sites. Typically, the goods are offered in exchange for contact information.

Again, it’s important to realize that most of your site visitors are not ready to commit to working with your firm yet. That’s why it’s absolutely critical to create offers that appeal to visitors in the early stages of the buying cycle. In fact, most of our clients see over 75% of their leads coming from these offer landing pages, rather than the Contact Us page.

#3 Analytics

CPAs are great at analyzing financial data, but they rarely take the time to dig into their marketing analytics. If you want the two tactics discussed above to be of any value to your firm, you have to actually track and measure how well they’re working once they’re in place. This is done with simple backend analytics.

Monitoring where traffic is coming from and where it’s going can help you determine what information prospects are most interested in and which offers are creating the best leads. Not only can you use this information to tweak and optimize your current content and offerings, but you can also use it to inform what comes next.

Still don’t think analytics are that important?

Our team recently reviewed a firm’s analytics and, using only the information we found there, made some small design and textual enhancements that ultimately increased leads by 500%.

What would a 500% increase in leads be worth to your firm?

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Modern Business Strategy for CPAs: What You’re Doing Wrong and How to Fix It Wed, 29 Apr 2015 13:30:15 +0000 In the past few decades, digital technology has changed everything about our world: the way we interact with each other, the way we get things done, the way we conduct business—literally, the way we live.

It’s slammed the door on an entire era of firm culture, dethroning the power of Big Business and rolling out the red carpet for the new guy: a savvy, edgy young tycoon who looks and acts like the kid next door. (And, honestly, what does he know about running a company?)

By now, everyone sees the change. Most have accepted that they, too, need to change to keep up.

Among the last to get on board? Accounting firms.

So many once-booming firms run the risk of becoming irrelevant over the next decade. Many are blocked by a rigid hierarchy of aging leadership, who cling to rusting skill sets while coasting into retirement. The reluctance to make the sacrifices required to be successful in the digital space is putting these firms in a state of complete arrested development, and they don’t even realize it.

But it’s time to face facts: that bothersome neighbor kid isn’t going anywhere. And he’s coming after your market share next.

Why CPA Firms Are Failing

As the demand for specialization and true expertise increases, the full service accounting firm that ruled the last century continues to solidify its spot on the endangered species list. Revenues are stagnating, thanks to dated practices that create astronomical overhead while squashing productivity (shall we talk about the billable hour?) and dated marketing techniques that render businesses effectively invisible.

Most firms think of modern marketing as an exercise in fancy wordsmithing. It’s all about coming up with new and clever ways to say the same old thing, while changing nothing at the core of the business.

I see it all the time: companies dressing up old-school business models with new language, and hoping it’ll be enough. They splatter well-meaning (though tragically stale) phrases like “measurable results” all over their websites, add a little quirkiness to their About page (everyone loves quirkiness these days, right?), and boom! Big business is back.

Except it’s not that easy, is it?

Trying to develop a business strategy that will enable you to continue to function as you did in the 80s and 90s—working with a broad range of clients, under the same clunky processes, and for the same rates—hardly qualifies as proper positioning anymore.

At best, it makes you look out of touch with the modern world. At worst, it makes you look complacent, stubborn, and apathetic.

Why You Need to Change

As you know, the CPA landscape is more competitive than ever before. For one thing, you’re now competing with countless software programs, which put powerful resources into untrained, inexperienced hands for a fraction of the cost of a traditional firm. Services that may have cost $5k-$25k through a CPA firm are available for as little as $25/month. (You can even get accounting tools that are 100% free.)

And that’s just the beginning. With new software, apps, and automations sprouting up all the time, the idea that organizations are going to continue to shell out big bucks at full service CPA firms forever is just nonsensical.

Then there’s the “internal” competition. After the low-cost digital tools gobble up a sizable chunk of the CPA’s primary customer base, the full service firms are forced to squabble over whatever’s left.

And in that fight, cutting-edge marketing is perhaps the most important weapon you’ve got.

See, in the modern world, a certain number of plaques on an office wall isn’t enough to earn consumer trust. Years of experience could mean dependability, or it could mean complacency. You can no longer sit back and allow your work to speak for itself.

There might come a day when your long-term clients notice, seemingly out of the blue, that they have other options. That they’re only with you now because it’s what they’ve always done—and as much as they still like you, your years of history and mutual respect are just not enough to keep the partnership alive. They’ll allude to a competitor of yours, using words like “better fit,” and you’ll have a sudden, painful realization about your own firm…

When you attempt to fit everyone, you actually fit no one.

It’s Time to Specialize and Differentiate (For Real)

Many of today’s thriving accounting firms have ventured beyond full service and localization to find the right clients for them. They understand that the world doesn’t need another full service accounting firm touting business results, or another firm claiming to be for the “mid-market.”

The future of marketing is in identifying where you can make the most impact in the market—most likely, with a certain narrow target market or a specific service—and zeroing in on that specialty. Find a problem no one else solves and own it.

I’m not talking about just tailoring your marketing a little bit. Everyone does that (or at least, they think they’re doing that). I’m talking about going all in—total commitment. Pretend this specialty is the only thing your company does.

Edge Advisors, for example, has tailored their entire business to offering dental practice consulting services in the Midwest. They’ve taken a risk by breaking out of the full service safety net and choosing to become experts in a very unique niche.


That’s clearly the most aggressive approach, but there are plenty of other ways to differentiate yourself. How you brand, price, manage, solve, promote, sound, and look are all opportunities for you to separate your organization from the pack.

Macias Gini & O’Connell LLP (MGO) has achieved differentiation as an accounting firm through branding by marketing themselves as the “Proud to Be Really Boring Accountants” firm. Impressively, they live it through every single message they offer — from their headlines, to their services, and all the way to how they hire.


However, under the hood, MGO is still your typical accounting firm. They even pushed out the headline “We are not jack of all trades, but a master of one”—the one being, disappointingly, accounting. Claiming to be an expert in accounting is not a differentiator, folks: it’s the cost of entry. Clients who pay you for accounting and tax services expect you to be a master of accounting.

Once you’ve found your point of true differentiation, disperse it out to every nook and cranny of your organization. Every single potential customer touchpoint—from your website, to your emails, to your newsletters, and even your physical office building—should scream, “THIS is who we are.”

Don’t Just Keep Up with Innovation—Lead the Pack

Once your firm has clearly differentiated itself at every touchpoint, don’t stop there. The most courageous CPA firms are innovating every 12-18 months. Not only does this approach ensure that your marketing strategy stays hot, but it also staves off the inevitable demon of complacency. Top firms have all but removed that word from their vocabulary.

To stay current, it isn’t enough to just keep up with the pace of market trends anymore. You need to be setting the pace. You need to become a leader.

Companies like Edge Advisors are thriving for now, because they’re still slightly ahead of the marketing curve. But it will be interesting to see if they’re able to sustain that momentum by continuing to reinvent themselves going forward. I haven’t seen much change in marketing or innovation over the past two years—is complacency setting in already?  They are touting marketing material that clearly list dates from 2013.

Other firms, such as Crowe Horwath LLP and Blumer CPAs, are clearly recognizing the power of innovation. They’ve even made it a C-Level job, with Chief Innovation Officers on both teams.

Are you comfortable drifting along, grasping at others’ ideas as they fall? Or are you ready to take the lead?

Save Time and Money: Adopt a Consultative Sales Process

Most mid-sized to large CPA firms still rely heavily on RFP’s and outdated sales processes to bring in new business.

Employing a consultative sales process can completely change how others perceive and value your services. You should be charging up-front fees for initial assessments, wherein goals, challenges, timelines, and budgets are all discussed in detail.

It’s amazing how many firms spend countless hours creating proposals and involving several partners before even qualifying an opportunity. I know one such accounting firm that sent out an RFP for over $200k, but ultimately lost the project because a competing firm’s bid included only part of the engagement, such that their proposal came in at $50k.

If the first firm had spent the time to do a proper discovery and figure out what the client was really looking for, they could have won a smaller engagement first. Once they’d established a relationship through that first engagement, it might have later blossomed into the full $200k project.

Stop Coasting

Modern clients are looking for innovative solutions from CPAs, and it’s time they respond to that call while simultaneously upgrading your tired old business model.

I know most firms will ignore the warnings in this article, at their own peril. They’re comfortable with their current client lists (fickle though they are) and are happily toiling away at hourly work with zero interest in retooling their business models. Certainly, it’s a messy process: the first step in reorganization is disorganization.

But for the firms who have taken the time to properly differentiate themselves, to focus on competing in a market of few instead of the market of many, there is exponential opportunity for growth.

It’s time for CPAs to do something they have never been very good at: bringing bold and courageous experimentation into the workplace.

Wouldn't it feel great to hear from clients: "You don't know how excited I am to have found your firm... We've been struggling with X for years."  Wouldn’t it feel great to not have to fight so hard for new clients? To see your clients get truly excited to have found you, rather than vice versa? To be just what someone was looking for?

Don’t hang your business’s success on the hope that there will always be enough room in the accounting space for you. Make room. Develop your perfect niche—the one others will wish they would have thought of first.

Once you’re ready to innovate and lead in that space, take two doses of Madtown and call us in the morning. We’ll get you started on the right path.

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10 Indicators of Future Website Success Wed, 08 Apr 2015 13:45:11 +0000 Think for a second. What exactly constitutes a successful website? Agencies love to promote metrics like:

  • Boosted ranking
  • Increased website traffic
  • More leads

However, the truth is, relying on those types of measurements means that you’re looking at past performance indicators instead of predicting future success. It’s like staring into the rearview mirror while driving instead of looking out at the road ahead, and it’s a costly mistake that many organizations make.

Why Past Performance Metrics Alone Don’t Indicate Success

Let’s face it. Google’s algorithm can (and will!) change. When it does, both your rankings and your traffic will drop accordingly – there’s no way around it. That’s why your current and past Google rankings aren’t indicative of a successful website. Because of this, it’s incredibly important for you to make sure your website will remain effective in spite of external circumstances like changes in the Google's algorithm.

Not only that – anyone can dish out a chunk of change to some SEO "specialist" who will increase their website traffic. Getting traffic that way doesn’t mean that your website is effective. In fact, it simply means you had the money to hire someone.

10 Questions to Help Determine the Future Success of Your Website

Instead of looking at past metrics, consider looking at your overall business strategy to determine the future success of your website. Check out the following list of questions you should ask yourself when analyzing your website to determine if it is sustainably successful.

1. Does our website focus on making our business extremely appealing to a small set of prospects?

Simply put, if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one. Decide on a niche and stick to it – the people you do appeal to will end up being the ones you actually want to work with.

2. Have we identified our company’s core competencies and avoid terms like “full-service” and “wide array” that would indicate otherwise?

Your website should make your company’s core competencies crystal clear so that your prospects quickly understand what you specialize in.

3. Does our company have a consistent brand identity that is evident our website, and shows through visuals and copy?

Your brand identity is what will make you stand out in the minds of prospects. Make sure that it’s noticeably consistent. For example, pick a color scheme and stick to it throughout your website design, and pick a brand personality and use it throughout your website copy.

4. Is someone at our company able to follow up with website contacts within 30 minutes?

Your prospects don’t want to wait around, and they shouldn’t have to. Make sure that someone at your company can follow up with any leads, sales, and contacts in a timely manner.

5. Do all of our digital marketing initiatives focus on how our company is different?

If your marketing is just like everyone else’s, you won’t stand out in the minds of prospects. The only way to truly crush your competitors is to differentiate yourself, so be sure to do so throughout your marketing efforts.

6. Do we view our website as a core component of the business and look to use it frequently as a sales tool?

Your website shouldn’t be something you put on the back burner when it comes to your business. Start utilizing your website as a critical sales tool instead of thinking about it as simply your company’s Internet presence.

7. Do all parties understand our content management system and can it be used by anyone as needed?

Don’t make managing your website more complicated that it has to be – make sure anyone who needs to can use your content management system so productivity isn’t halted due to a lack of understanding.

8. Are we using technology to identify the hottest prospect and automate as much as possible?

Using technology strategically and taking advantage of automation can allow you to sell more and save a lot of time.

9. Are we actively exploring new tactics on our website that no one else is trying?

Innovation can seem daunting, but it’s important for you to try out new ideas – you can always test them for effectiveness and change them later if necessary.

10. Have we created a differentiated first impression at all points of contact?

Landing pages, emails, social media accounts, website copy – all of these and any other points of contact should clearly communicate your company brand and differentiate you in the minds of your prospects.

For each questions on the list, your answer should be “yes.” If not, then your website likely needs some serious work, and you need to start focusing on using it for future growth instead of focusing on your past achievements.

Yes, it may seem counterintuitive, because looking at metrics is what many typical agencies will tell you to do. They’ll also tell you to look at SEO and social media performance to determine your success, but now you know better.

We’re not like those agencies. Our agency works to build a roadmap for future success instead of just focusing on your past and short-term solutions.

So, go ahead - unglue your eyes from the rearview mirror when it comes to your website and look out at the road ahead. Your business will thank you for it.

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