Practice Marketing 

Attwood Cozens provide business development services for Chartered Accounting firms. We offer a comprehensive range of services through several consultants who have many years experience of working strategically with partners to retain and grow business from existing and new clients.

Practice marketing does not have to be all “smoke and mirrors” – here is an article from one of our team that may be of interest to those about to embark on planning for growth:

Don't be an Alice in Wonderland

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here? said Alice

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to” said the Cheshire Cat

“I don't much care where” said Alice

“Then it doesn't matter which way you walk” said the Cat

Without a plan you are just another Alice...

Most financial and business advisers will have advised clients on financial planning and business planning, but it surprises us how many do not have a plan for themselves beyond “more of the same” believing that continuing to provide a good service to existing clients is enough.

Planning for a professional firm should be a relatively easy process because you have already gone through similar processes with clients. So the question is what should you be looking at?

The three most basic questions that need to be asked, and answered, are:

Where are we?

Where do we want to go?

How are we going to get there?

Where are we?

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the business by partners and staff will provide a good starting point to working out where the business is now. The aim is to identify the business's internal strengths and weaknesses and to explore external opportunities and threats.

To complement this process, a survey of clients and professional contacts, and an analysis of your competitors should provide the basic building blocks of the business development plan.

Start with a blank sheet of paper, or a white board, and ask the following questions and do not do this just as a partner team. Involve as many of your staff as possible, including support staff, who often will have a different and, sometimes, clearer view of the practice than the senior partner.

Strengths

What are you good at and what do people think you are good at? This may include your fantastic client care program, the quality of your staff, your leading edge tax software, or merely easy parking for clients and great coffee. Look at your strengths from your own point of view (this is why it is important to include your staff in the process) and also from your clients’ perspective

Weaknesses

What are you bad at? Which areas can you improve upon? What should you not be doing? This should also be considered objectively. Do your clients or professional contacts perceive weaknesses that you don't ? What do your competitors do that is better than you?

In looking at your strengths and weaknesses, try to be brave and realistic. A head in the sand attitude is of no help when you need to assess where you are. Again, you will generally find that if you allow your staff freedom of expression, they will often be more realistic in this area than some of the partners/directors.

Opportunities

What are the options out there for you? What is happening in the market? Opportunities for your business come from changes in technology, government policy, economic climate and domestic and international markets. Changes in taxation policy (as in the last couple of years) can create great opportunities for anyone involved in tax advice. Even a negative climate can create opportunities for example in the last couple years there has obviously been a significant increase in restructuring and insolvency work. Population shifts can create a need for new businesses, an ageing population creates a need for investment planning, rest homes and health care... and the list goes on...

Threats

These can be the direct opposite of opportunities; government policy can stifle or encourage business growth and technological change is a massive threat to some businesses. You need to be aware of what is happening around you because it will affect your business. Don't ignore what your competitors are doing, and don't just look at the obvious competition, the other CA firms, because competition can come from anywhere - computer consultants, marketing consultants, franchises (such as Results) and government funded schemes (which also in turn can create opportunities).  You should address whether the need for the services or products you provide is changing. An economic slowdown can put pressure on your client's finances and your own cash flow may suffer as a result etc etc

If you do the SWOT analysis properly and honestly it will help answer the “Where are we now?” part of your plan and can often provide surprising results!

Clients and contacts

A senior partner once said to me “How can I find out what my clients think?” My rather obvious reply was “Ask them”

It really is that simple. Your clients and professional contacts can give you a far more objective view of your practice.

Client and contact surveys conducted by telephone, e-mail, or snail mail, ideally by someone independent will give you valuable information. Obvious questions to include will ask about the quality of service, response times, perceived value, what services clients want that you are not currently providing, have they referred clients to you? Will they refer clients to you?

Keep copies of all the surveys good or bad that you receive from your garage, bank, dentist or anyone else because they can be very helpful when planning your own.

In addition, there are many online tools now available to help you conduct your own surveys and, for those many accountants using Acclipse as their web provider, survey tools have recently been included in some of their packages.

It is important to chase up people who do not respond because most clients will take the time to complete a survey from such a respected source as their financial adviser so those who do not respond may genuinely be too busy or may not respect the source, which is exactly why you need to go through the exercise in the first place!

Competitors

There are many ways to gather information. The Internet will provide the website of the firm down the road which will often tell you about the services they provide, the people who work there, their current newsletter and the new services they are promoting. The web also gives you access to firms worldwide, so you can see what they are doing as well

Talk to the clients you gain from other firms. You should know why they moved to you, but you can also find out what their previous supplier did that they liked or what they did better than you.  Also ask any clients that leave, why they are moving to another firm – you will often get a very frank answer!

Ask your favourite clients to give you copies of anything they receive from competitors and do not ask to be removed from mailing lists if you have registered companies because some mailings can be a useful source of competitor information.  

Talk to your competitors at those networking events - chamber lunches and so on, and see what they are made of. They may even tell you more than they should! You may also identify opportunities for working together.

Where do you want to go?

Only you can decide.  Do you want to be a full service firm offering Audit as well as Tax and BAS work? Are you happy to stay small or do you want to grow to major firm status? Will you look at International Associations, mergers or acquisitions? Are you planning for partner retirement or will you just switch off the lights when you leave?

How do we get there?

Well having completed your research you need to start building on your strengths, try to minimise your weaknesses, and go for the opportunities. A consultant I once worked with said “someone needs to be responsible for looking at the blue sky and clouds" Give yourself or someone in your team the time and space to think.  I once worked as marketing manager for a major recruitment business in London. My CEO insisted that I took a minimum one day a month away from the office to just “think” about what we were doing, what our competition were doing, what we could do better, what we could stop doing and what we should start doing. Many of our most successful initiatives came out from that process of looking at the blue sky and clouds.

“...so long as I get SOMEWHERE” Alice added as an explanation

“Oh you are sure to do that” said the Cat “If you only walk long enough”

Attwood Cozens are happy to provide an initial consultation, without cost, to see how we can help you improve your practice marketing.

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