When it comes to growing your practice, without a proper marketing plan, any plan is going to be a haphazard, inefficient, “let’s try this” effort that will be a waste of both time and money.
What’s needed is a systematic approach that includes developing marketing goals, a strategy to achieve them and a tactical plan to implement that strategy. This article will discuss seven critical considerations that need to be addressed to create a truly effective marketing plan and budget:
1. Establish Your Business Goals
Start by determining where you can deliver the best value and what market segments will be the easiest to grow for your practice. Develop your overall strategic goals; for example, do you want to grow your firm? By how much and over what time period?
Beyond the numbers are other things to consider, such as what are your accounting service strengths and weaknesses? What areas of your firm and its services are the best candidates for growth?
2. Identify Your Target Audiences
These are the groups of people you need to reach to execute your marketing strategy. For example, small-to-medium size manufacturing businesses or restaurant owners. Once you’ve figured that out, it’s important to determine who the stakeholders and decision-makers are within that segment. For example, do you need to reach CEOs, CFOs, business unit managers or someone else who influences the final decision?
Once you’ve established your target audiences it’s time to research them so you understand the “pains” they might have and the “cures” they’re looking for. There are two basic types of research you can do:
- Secondary research utilizes available resources such as trade publications and organizations that publish studies or offer relevant research on market size, industry needs, and trends. This will help inform your messaging and ensure that you’re addressing the things of real interest to your target audiences.
- Primary research involves commissioning an original study of your target audiences. While more expensive, primary research has the advantage of directly addressing the critical questions that are most relevant to your specific circumstances. Combining the results of primary and secondary research will provide you with a clear and comprehensive picture of the marketplace and your target audiences, dramatically reducing your marketing risk.
3. Put Together a Strategy
Don’t confuse a marketing strategy with marketing tactics. A marketing strategy is a high-level plan that establishes your firm’s position in the marketplace and the resulting messages to your various target audiences. Marketing tactics are the specific techniques used to deliver your marketing messages to your target audience.
An effective strategy has four key elements:
- A specific target audience, which you’ve already determined (see above)
- Key differentiators that set you apart from your competitors, enabling you to create unique marketing messages
- Your firm’s market positioning that puts you in context with your competitors; for example, being a specific industry specialist. Your positioning is built upon your differentiators.
- Key messaging for each of your target audiences, based on the results of your target audience research.
4. Choose Your Marketing Techniques
Your target audience research will also tell you which communications channels they prefer. For example, you may have a niche target audience that focuses on a couple of annual conferences or a major professional publication or two. Perhaps social media can play a big role in how your prospects research vendors and partners.
Regardless of your target audience preferences, in today’s modern digital business world, your marketing should include a balance of online and offline outreach.
5. Establish Specific goals and How You’ll Track Them
Marketing goals, techniques, and tracking methods are all inextricably bound together. The marketing goals you set determine the techniques you’ll use, which will influence the tracking methods to determine the results.
To get started, there are three basic metrics that make sense for most professional services firms:
- Business outcomes: did things like leads, revenue, and your business in general grow?
- Visibility: did your website traffic increase? Are you getting more inquiries?
- Expertise: Are more prospects turning to your firm for information by downloading white papers, viewing your blog posts, and asking your firm to participate in events as an expert?
6. Choose Your Level of Marketing Activity
With your strategy, goals, and techniques determined, what level of effort will it take to make your marketing program successful? How often will you need to publish blog posts and host webinars? Will you need to purchase new software or bring in outside resources? As the old saying goes “you have to spend money to make money,” which leads us to our final tip.
7. Develop a Reasonable Budget
Hopefully now you understand your firm’s business goals, researched your target audience and developed an overall strategy for your brand. Now it’s time to figure out what it’ll cost. This requires careful consideration of three major expense areas:
- New infrastructure: will you need to purchase new software and the hardware needed to accommodate it?
- Outside resources: You may need to hire consultants or specialists to help in areas where internal resources or skills may be lacking.
- Recurring costs: Blogging, article writing and placement, and webinar production are just a few tasks that may be required on a regular basis. These kinds of ongoing expense need to be taken into account.
In the past, professional services were a sleepy backwater in the marketing world, but not anymore. Crowded marketplaces, increasing competition and expanding communication channels require more active planning and management to achieve results. To keep pace, it’s critical to do your marketing planning and budgeting the right way.