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Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg
 

CPA Firms Battle Recession With New Marketing Plans

Two in three firms plan to boost biz-dev efforts. What’s working in accounting marketing today? Join the survey; get the answers.

September 8, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Both because of the business downturn and despite it, accounting firms are largely resisting the impulse to cut marketing spending and business development activities. And a significant number are even boosting sales efforts.

Early results from a CPA Trendlines survey for the AICPA show that roughly a third of firms have increased their marketing efforts amidst the recession, a third have reduced their activities and the other third report no change.

Going forward, however, most firms will be hitting the gas pedal to accelerate practice development activities. Indeed, early responses to the survey suggest 70 percent of firms will be expanding their sales efforts.

What’s working for accounting firms today?

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Many accounting firms are stepping up marketing just to maintain revenue levels. “Clients are closing their doors and we need to replace them to stay in business,” says one small-office owner who is increasing biz-dev efforts just to stay even.

Indeed, these may be times of adversity for some; but for others, there’s opportunity. “Everyone else in the market has pulled back, while clients are more open to cost-cutting ideas than at any time in the last nine years,” according to KC Truby, a widely known QuickBooks trainer for accountants and serial entrepreneur based in Casper, Wyo. “The average CPA firm is growing old and more inclined to just ride it out to retirement.  For aggressive firms, this is a good time to grab market share.”

“We are increasing activity overall only slightly, but we have major initiatives to upgrade our website and to grow a new line of business,” says Joe Eckelkamp, CEO at The E&A CFO Group in St. Louis. “The Web site is remarkably successful.” And, he says, new business is flowing from “letting people know you are growing the niches, like audit, that others are leaving.” It’s “been a home run,” he says.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., Prangley Marks CPAs is increasing spending, but carefully.  “Receipts and billings are falling, so we need to increase both,” says partner Tom Jeakle. “While we will do considerably more marketing and selling, we are trying to spend more wisely.” The firm will be complementing its traditional reliance on community service activities with some new forays into social media.

At Padro & Co. in Miami, for example, owner Jose F. Padro expanded marketing efforts and will do so again this year. “It is a very important part of my business growth,” he says. “The more the firm spends, the more it grows. Through the firm marketing efforts, we have expanded instead
of contracting.”

To be sure, Padro says, the gains are “nothing to brag about,” but up is better than down in any business. As part of his efforts, Padro hired a marketing consultant and is blogging, Twittering and Facebooking. You’ll find him on Twitter  and blogging. Lately, he was opining about the Cash for Clunkers program, saying, “Let us not forget about our American industries; they need our help and we need them to maintain ourselves as an always progressive country.” The messaging reinforces his positioning to small and mid-sized business clients as “a businessman who happens to be an accountant.”

But he’s also working to make sure that everyone in his small office knows how the practice will grow. “All employees are being trained to understand the marketing philosophy of our firm,” Padro says.  “It is cheaper to maintain a customer than get a new one.”

His advice to colleagues: “Make every employee understand the importance of quality in service from the secretary to the managing partner.”

NEXT QUESTION: What’s working in accounting marketing today? Join the survey; get the answers.

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to Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.