MadTown Agency Mon, 30 May 2016 17:52:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 An Open Letter to New Clients Tue, 15 Mar 2016 03:06:31 +0000 Dear Potential New Client,

Madtown has been making radical changes again. We want to share with you how and why we’re changing.

First, the why: we’re changing because we’re tired of suffocating in a sea of undifferentiated full service design agencies.. Web design isn’t what it used to be, and whether you realize it or not, your needs as a client aren’t what they used to be.

There was a day when a cool looking site was enough to get your business noticed. When an award for creative design meant something to an agency. Now, there are countless agencies that can get you a cool looking site—but, unfortunately, it doesn’t matter anymore.

What matters now is smart digital strategy coupled with a sound business strategy with a major focus on positioning your firm in a way that attracts more qualified opportunities from better paying clients.

Because of this we’re transforming our entire business, and we want to inspire others to transform theirs.  Truthfully, there’s a ridiculous amount of companies doing website design, and if that’s all you’re after call one of them.  You’ll find them touting business solutions and showing you how many awards they’ve won.

Here are some the ways we’re changing:

We’re Not Building Websites – We’re Positioning Businesses

The only thing that differentiates design shops right now is their design skills, which is highly subjective. And most of these shops can’t tell you why one design is more effective than another. (We actually can and will—just ask us.)

Again, if all you’re after is a good looking website, you don’t need us. With so many fancy templates and design shortcuts out there, any old design shop can pull this off now.

Here’s the problem: an attractive website no longer translates to more online leads. Which means it won’t get you more business. In our experience, a $50k website does not generate any more leads than a $10k website when the only differentiator is appearance.

Honestly, why are you spending all that money anyway? Just to lessen the amount of shame you feel when someone looks at your site? Of course not: you want (you need) ROI.

And that’s why we no longer focus on websites. We’re still making them, of course, and we still care about aesthetics and design principles. But our years of experience in web design have taught us that those aren’t the real money makers. And more than anything, we want our clients making money.

Instead, we’re now focusing on creating crystal clear positioning strategies that transform businesses from the inside out. We’re helping clients determine where they should be playing in their market, by developing the perfect niche, and then showing them how to make that niche wildly profitable.

Instead of butting heads with the competition in the same tired old bidding wars, year after year, we’re challenging clients to separate themselves from competitors altogether. Our clients create their own market categories, and then they dominate them.

Yes, it’s scary. And yes, it works.

After working with us, you’ll have a better handle on how your firm creates value, what opportunities you’re missing out on, and what business models can make you the most profitable. You’ll also have a comprehensive positioning strategy, along with the web design, custom messaging, and digital marketing methods you need to put that strategy in action.

We’re Having Candid Conversations with Clients

You deserve to hear the truth, untarnished by political considerations or mixed agendas, and we have the courage to give it to you.

Most agencies function like incompetent parents, giving clients what they want rather than what they need. In our experience, this approach has a failure rate of roughly 100%, and we refuse to participate in it. We believe that compromise damages results, and it’s not a gamble we’re willing to take just to avoid confrontation.

We understand that change is difficult, and growing pains are inevitable. We know that you’re the expert in your market, not us—but that’s exactly why you need us. We have the unbiased, emotionally unattached, third party perspective your business is desperately lacking. We’ll push you to make the hard choices and to let go of the things that aren’t working. We’ll listen to your ideas, but we won’t be afraid to tell you when they’re bad ones. (We promise you’ll thank us later.)

Our most successful clients not only understand and respect our brutally honest approach—they demand it.

We’re Getting Pickier

We turn down projects all the time. A few of them have been $100k+ projects, which most agencies wouldn’t dream of rejecting. We’ve actually had people get upset with us for turning away their business.

But it doesn’t matter how much money is on the table, who a client is, or even whether we want to work with them. If a potential client isn’t the right fit for us, we won’t do business with them. Period.

The first red flag, for us, is the RFP process. We find this process antiquated and grossly inefficient, and we don’t participate in it anymore. So if you email us asking us to submit a proposal, we’ll instantly walk away. It’s not personal—it’s just a firm commitment to our own selection process.

See, we’re extremely vocal about RFPs on our website, so the fact that you either missed that or dismissed it makes us worry that you aren’t doing your due diligence to find an agency that best fits your needs. Instead, it suggests that you searched Google and fired off emails to the first 3-5 companies you found—and in our experience, that’s starting off on the wrong foot.

Here are some other things that suggest we’re not right for each other:

  •         We ask you about your budget and you’re unable to tell us.
  •         You have a large committee, and no single person is comfortable taking ownership of the project.
  •         You know exactly what you want and just want us to implement it.
  •         You just need a website that looks cool.

We only take on 10-12 new clients a year, which means we’re extremely picky about who fills those spots. We’re looking for clients who are motivated, open minded, and truly ready for big changes.

Here’s the great thing about maintaining a small client list: it gives us more time to focus on you. You never have to wonder if we’re out chasing new business all day (or part of the day, for that matter)—we’re not, because we don’t need to be. Our existing clients aren’t just our first priority, they’re our only priority.

Now, let’s talk about a few of the signs that you might be a good fit:

  •         You want to grow your business and you’re willing to let us do the work to get you there.
  •         You have too much competition and you’re struggling to rise to the top.
  •         You care more about results than cool designs.
  •         You want to behave more strategically and proactively.
  •         You’re courageous and willing to give your business what it needs to thrive.
  •         You’re ready to pay good money to make all this happen.

We’ve spent a lot of time getting this part of our agency right. It’s not easy finding perfect fits, but we believe in our process enough to wait for the right clients.

Because when a fit is right, it’s really right. And one of the results is that our clients are some of the happiest in the industry.

We’re Moving Really, Really Fast

With the average web agency, projects take too long to get off the ground. Teams spend months and months—sometimes over a year—planning and building and hemming and hawing until they’re finally ready to go live. By that point, they’ve spent countless resources and they’re still looking at an ROI of zilch.

To hell with that.

We move insanely fast, and we expect our clients to be ready to move just as fast.

First, we’ll usher you through our diagnostic process, which is completely built out and ready for you. Within 30 days, you’ll understand exactly how your firm creates value, who your best prospects are, and where your company should be playing to maximize revenues.

From there, we’ll hit the ground running. We won’t waste time with countless meetings to appease stakeholders—we’ll do the work, and we’ll do it fast. While we’re building your site, we’ll also be coming up with bold marketing ideas and lead generation campaigns that you’ll be able to launch on Day 1.

Our goal is to get your new website up as quickly as possible so that we can start improving on it and generating ROI. That’s where the most meaningful work comes in. We’ll ruthlessly track your analytics and use insights we uncover there to make the site even better.

Then, we’ll rinse and repeat, until your site is on fire with leads and you’re blasting through your ROI benchmarks.

Are You Ready to Change With Us?

If you’ve made it this far, you must be liking something about what you’re hearing—which means you might just be the next great fit we’re looking for.

Get in touch with us. We’ll walk you through our process, ask you some honest questions, and help you determine whether we’re the right agency for you.

We’re tired of the standard agency business model, with all its inefficiencies and glaring flaws, and we’re ready to break away. We’re taking bold risks, and that’s why we’re so confident that you can, too. So if you’re ready to completely transform the way you do business—to build not only a digital strategy, but a business strategy that leads the market, rather than just keeping up with it—drop us a line. We’d love to talk to you.


The Madtown Team

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Why Rebranding Your Firm Is Not Enough Thu, 03 Mar 2016 14:51:01 +0000 So you want to rebrand your firm. Your competitors’ websites are making yours look like a kindergarten painting project, and you need to act fast.

But I warn you: rebranding alone, or even first, won’t do you any good.

What most firms don’t realize is that you must position your firm before you brand it. This means identifying your unique expertise, separating yourself from the competition in meaningful ways, and narrowing your market.

Of course, nobody likes positioning, and for good reason: it involves purposefully alienating potential clients, in order to zero in on your best fits. Scary, yes, but necessary? Definitely.

The reason most firms will go through rebrand after rebrand, hiring agency after agency, is that they try to bypass positioning. They see rebranding as an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors through personality, without having to let go of any services or clientele. As Blair Enns, founder of Win without Pitching, put it “in the world of professional services, branding is used only by those trading on personality instead of expertise.”

The following examples are regular fanfare in the industry:

  • A firm comes to us for a new website. They say their current one looks dated—that they want to “keep up” with other firms and “look competitive.” What they don’t realize is that before they can make their website more competitive, they need to make their firm more competitive. How do they do that? Positioning. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the core problem is not branding, it’s positioning.
  • A firm comes to us because they want to rebrand their company, to better align it with their new messaging. But their new messaging isn’t that new at all—in fact, their client relations, company culture, and brand promises are all pure boilerplate. They might use different words, but it’s all the same underneath, and ultimately, this firm is selling itself shamefully short. Professional service firms should be differentiated on expertise, not language or design.
  • A firm insists on treating their marketing like fishing: cast a line, hope you reel in a fish. They think that if they just find a new way to be the same firm, their website will start passively bringing in leads. It just doesn’t work that way.

Position your firm first, build your brand second, and then hustle to build relationships, be memorable, and build deep expertise.

What’s the most disappointing is that when these deficiencies and oversights are brought up, they’re almost always dismissed by the firm’s leadership. Leadership is generally open to website changes, but they’re rarely interested in business changes. They don’t want make the tough decisions of deciding what niche they’re in—or dare I say it—what niche they’re not in.

“So many companies are competing against each other with similar agendas. Being superficially different is the goal of so many… rather than trying to innovate and genuinely taking the time, investing the resources and caring enough to try and make something better.” – Jon Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple.

I truly doubt that “superficially different” is what you’re after. You wouldn’t be reading this article if it was.

Yet despite all the wisdom in the industry now—all of it pointing to a better way to do things—so many firms are still settling for easy changes over real changes. New words and new designs over new business intentions.

They pat themselves on the back, feeling courageous for achieving their latest rebrand, and rub their hands together, waiting for the new opportunities to start rolling in. Too bad there’s a high probability that they just wasted their time and money.

Sure, they’ll oooh and aaah over the new brand image, and everyone in the firm will stand up a little straighter for a month or two. But ultimately, the high will fizzle out, and when revenue numbers refuse to budge, they’ll wonder if they missed something.

What they missed, of course, is that a new brand cannot produce excellent results on its own. Design should never be the first or only step in “fixing” a business problem, and it is almost never to blame for poor results.

What really works, according to our experience and research, is this: excellent design paired with a thoughtful, well-informed positioning strategy.

Want to know more? Grab a copy of our free positioning guide.

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.

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.


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.

How to Actually Stand Out in the (Boring) Accounting Industry 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.

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.

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.

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?

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?