Peta Tomlinson, journalist

For service businesses such as accounting practices, referrals have long been a reliable way to grow.

Charles Clark, a marketer who specialises in the financial sphere, calls word of mouth the ‘best friend’ of the small and medium-sized practice (SMP). ‘It’s free, it’s simple and it’s an effective way to attract new clients,’ he says.

‘Online reviews make it easy to see if people think a firm is worth its salt or not’

In the digital age, though, it’s no longer enough. ‘People are turning to online sources to guide decisions big and small,’ Clark explains. ‘Online reviews flow so freely it’s easy to see if people think an accounting firm is worth its salt or not.’

Leverage technology

Leveraging technology is an important component of the marketing toolkit that firms must embrace if they want to stand out in a competitive landscape, he adds. This is especially so since Covid-19. With many businesses folding, accounting firms have not only lost clients, but part of their referral pipeline too.

Getting the firm’s website sorted is vital as ‘that’s your virtual shop window,’ according to Clark, who is co-founder of New Zealand-based BOMA, a digital marketing platform that also includes a content library with customisable content for accountancy firms and bookkeepers. ‘First impressions count. Clients want an accounting firm that is up to date and modern, using the latest cloud technology.’

Social media is an opportunity as well, he continues. ‘This is a great way to engage with your clients, and also very good for leads. People can check out your posts and then click through to your website to read the article in full.’

‘Have a Google My Business page – it gives clients a map to your door’

You’re the expert

Accountants are a font of knowledge in an area most people know nothing about, Clark points out, so leverage that. ‘From tips to getting through the financial year, to new government support measures or tax deadline reminders – there is so much you can talk about,’ he says.

Make sure you are regular in your online activities, with consistent weekly updates. Months-long gaps are a turn-off, Clark warns. And on your website, use case studies and testimonials. From a search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective, having lots of content on your website – and constantly adding to it – helps Google find your site and will help rank it higher.

‘Also have a Google My Business page,’ Clark adds. ‘This gives clients a list of your services and a map to your door.’

Raising your business profile in the local area not only impacts your clients, but is also good for staff retention. Be proactive in giving them all an online shout-out, celebrating their achievements.

According to Clark, producing content relevant for readers will differentiate your firm as an expert in those topics. ‘You might be fantastic,’ he says, ‘but if you don’t tell anyone about it, how are people going to find out?’

Brand boosters

Four ways to get people talking about your firm:

  • Ask satisfied clients for referrals and online reviews.
  • Engage with your clients and prospective clients online.
  • Monitor and respond to reviews and comments on Google and social media. Thank people for positive reviews and show a commitment to resolve issues if a review is negative.
  • Update your content, keeping your online presence fresh and relevant.
Focus on specifics

One firm strong in its marketing is Hong Kong-based Woodburn Accountants & Advisors, a family-owned practice that specialises in inbound investment to China and Hong Kong.

Kristina Koehler-Coluccia, head of business advisory at Woodburn, says: ‘Our strength is that we can be the link between an international company’s new team in China, its headquarters, and our local network of partners that can provide additional added-value services.’ The firm has assembled a multilingual, multidisciplinary team to supply those services.

Its marketing initiatives are tailored to specifics. They are also delivered in different formats, ranging from educational webinars for foreign investors on doing business in China, to short daily video tips, posted on four different social media channels.

‘We provide mentorship to startups and student entrepreneurs – it gets our brand out there’

‘Our educational webinars follow a monthly theme, and we hold at least five a month,’ Koehler-Coluccia says. ‘We have also published a book on Amazon [9 Superpowers to Succeed in China], and send out e-newsletters highlighting the firm’s activities as well as new hot topics relevant to our readers.’

Consistently disseminating relevant and timely information to targeted audiences reinforces the firm’s value proposition.

‘Advice is vital for market entry to China, and it’s all about timing. By consistently building momentum, our marketing initiatives demonstrate that we can become part of a foreign investor’s trusted advisory team.’

Advice pays off

Willy Tan, co-founder and director of compliance at ForBis Accounting in Singapore, relies on a combination of online content and physical networking.

‘My partner and I freely share how we market our services,’ he says. ‘We go to institutes of higher learning to talk about accounting and compliance. We provide mentorship to startups as well as to student entrepreneurs – it really gets our brand out there.’

Tan also highlights the firm’s website and social media channels as critical to the branding strategy. Its experts will weigh in on all things topical, local or regional, with an emphasis on the benefits for business – for example, how to leverage a favourable change in taxation, or any available government grants.

Proactively providing advice outside of billable hours pays dividends, Tan finds. ‘When new clients reach out to us, it is often not the first time they have seen our brand. They would have read our articles or seen us volunteer on some programme. It all helps to establish trust and familiarity.’

‘People involved in charities we help often end up referring more clients to us’

It’s a stance that extends to the firm’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy. ‘As a social enterprise we help three target beneficiaries,’ Tan explains. ‘One is youth at risk – we help them to get proper qualifications, and increase their employability, by training them in cloud accounting.

‘We also employ people with special needs or mental health challenges, supporting them with a pastoral load that allows them to manage their work and medical needs, and providing training opportunities.’

ForBis also offers discounts and free services to other social enterprises, non-profits and charities. Tan says that while this approach might be viewed as forgoing potential revenue, it means that non-governmental organisations ‘are able to help more people because of the savings they generate from us’. He adds: ‘People involved in those charities often end up referring more clients to us. That really helps to grow our business as well.’

More information

Listen to the AB podcast ‘The importance of differentiating your brand’