LoveToKnow recently talked with Harry Kafka about ideas on marketing your CPA firm. Harry Kafka has worked for two decades with thousands of accounting professionals and smaller CPA firms around the world to help them use their strengths to develop into quality market leaders. This enables small firms to compete with big ones and win. These systems involve methods that add value to accounting services and effectively break through the glass ceiling of hourly rates.
Harry Kafka took time out of his busy day to answer questions related to these methods and tools which are available in the 12 part Modern Accountancy Marketing Course at www.cpamarketingtips.com.
Please share with our readers how cpamarketingtips.com came about along with its purpose.
I worked in advertising until I realized most campaigns were doomed to fail because the service promoted was identical to its competitors in the eyes of intended buyers. I researched what businesses really wanted from service providers. Since accounting is a service every business needs, I chose it as my main industry. Delivering this service for several years taught a lot. We could only serve a smidgen of accounting professionals. This brought me to create a D-I-Y course for accounting firms, so they could receive tools for adding value to their service and signing on new clients successfully and profitably.
How do marketing strategies for larger CPA firms differ from smaller practices?
They are totally different. Big CPA firms simply use their clout to advertise and buy out smaller firms so as to amass as big a turf as possible. They buy their clientele, in a manner of speaking. Smaller CPA firms have to win their clients over by good, personal service.
The problem many smaller CPA firms face in marketing is that the cost is forbidding, if and when outsourced to marketing/advertising professionals. They simply do not have the funds to compete with the magnitude of outflow of centrally owned big firms. It is a popular fallacy that the challenge is to duplicate the actions and methods of large CPA firms which is a huge mistake. You simply don't have their cash resources but, more poignantly, your strong points are totally different. To imitate a big firm "brand" does not serve you well. For you, quality of service is the reason clients use you. You care what happens to them. You are there in person, year after year. The big guys use hired guns. They play the numbers and take what they can get out of as many asmthey can hold for as long as they can.
To compete against the big boys, you need to differentiate yourself from them, not try to ape them. Think one prospective client at a time, handling him or her correctly so your success ratio is very high and obtain these contacts in ways that cost you very little or nothing!
- NOT take big loans for advertising
- NOT pretend you are a big firm
- NOT use advertising and all that
Be clever and use those assets you have but big firms don't. Fight them with your rules, not theirs, and you will win!
What ideas can you share for smaller CPA firms looking for inexpensive and easy-to-use marketing methods?
Look at what you have, not what you don't. Use your smallness as an asset. Concentrate on your strengths rather than trying to put on a façade to look like a big CPA firm. The majority of owners of small businesses like dealing with same size suppliers. They like the personal touch; they prefer to deal with a person who also is a business owner and intimately familiar with all the pros and cons.
Yet you mostly see small 1-5 person CPA firms presenting themselves online more like a multinational conglomerate. Without realizing, they put off most of those who visit their website. Don't try to be something you are not.
Secondly, don't assume you know what each client wants. Be interested to find out what they want. Ask a series of questions. If nothing else, you will have convinced them you truly understand what they want from an accounting professional. Every client believes their problems and situation to be unique. They do not believe standard solutions would suit their individual circumstances. Make yourself the CPA who ASKS, LISTENS and UNDERSTANDS what they want. Create a "unique" service for them even if it would be exactly the same for others. This is a marketing viewpoint, not a question of technical accounting procedures.
Thirdly, try to secure the knowledge of how to acquire new clients at better profit. Buy knowledge, tools…something you can use to find new clients, and deliver a better and more profitable service to them. Do not buy outsourced services that promise to deliver clients to you. These are costly and only promise to "try", not to achieve results. You want results and to keep costs to minimum long term.
You want the systems to be part of your CPA firm for valuation's sake, right? Same applies in-house as well. Rather than hire sales experts, buy tools that normal people can use and which you can then troubleshoot successfully. There are a lot more normal people out there than sales experts, and they are a lot less expensive to hire. Furthermore, when you start growing, you want systems to be based on tools anyone can use. Make your marketing knowledge and tools the non-expendable thing about sales, not a hired gun or an outsourced service.
Along with being inexpensive, would you say these methods are easy to implement for smaller CPA firms?
I don't really think it is a question of whether or not it is easy, but rather if any small CPA firm can afford not to market. In today's market place, it is necessary to replenish your clientele simply because we all lose clients constantly.
I do think our system is among the easiest to use because it is practical and offers detailed instructions and extensive troubleshooting support. Ease or difficulty are partly opinion. What for someone is difficult, another experiences as an invigorating challenge with a valuable goal. The difficulties we face starting something new are transitory. For some, implementing our system will be relatively easy in terms of "not challenging their people skills," and for others, it might cause discomfort to begin with. They would need to use the troubleshooting tools or even contact me personally to get past that initial hump. The old adage is true. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Very few things in this world are impossible to achieve, if they actually pertain to your life. The ability to make yourself seen as the quality market leader in your area is very worthwhile in terms of your future. So certainly it is worth the effort of learning to use the tools of marketing.
This system is not for everyone, however. The only thing I advocate is this: Do not let your feelings rule your future. Decide based on your own evaluation of what is best for you, your firm, and your family.
Cpamarketingtips.com offers a free advisory service. Can you explain what this service is and how it can benefit CPAs?
Essentially there is two ways we offer help. One involves articles on the website free for visitors. The second service is the CPA CHALLENGE form for owners of CPA firms. This is for asking me about some specific problems. The idea is simply that two heads can be better than one. I am willing to discuss our systems and what they could do for you because I enjoy helping those who want to help themselves.
Last Words of Advice and Ideas on Marketing Your CPA Firm
The accounting industry in the west is at a crossroads with the onset of bookkeeping software combined with Internet-based accounting compliance services from third world countries. Whether we like it or not, things are changing. We are in an unpleasant situation in which we are forced to make a decision concerning our own role in that future. My advice is to make that decision knowingly and in a proactive way. That way we have the best chance to affect the outcome. In every change there are risks as well as opportunities. The majority focus on the negative, so there is a lot to be gained by doing the opposite. It offers a lot of potential to the few who can envision it. People want more personal service, more value from their CPA. This offers opportunities to take advantage of, but we need to know how to do it.
When it comes to ideas on marketing your CPA firm my advice is this: Secure knowledge about marketing, practical methods of doing things that win. Avoid hiring expensive experts whose only ability may be to sell themselves. Get knowledge and then trust your own evaluations on what to do and not do.