Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Most Newsletters Disappoint … Here’s One That Is Easy To Do, Eagerly Read AND Gets More Clients

The typical newsletter sent out by accounting firms is not very engaging. Actually, “boring” is probably a better word.

It’s a challenge for any accounting firm newsletter to be all things to all people. The content (usually entirely generic) is selected for its relevance to the firm’s client base. But, the clients are almost always quite dissimilar. This means most of the clients reading the newsletter only care about a fraction of its contents. This is not a good formula for reaching out to, and maintaining a meaningful “conversation” with, your client base.

But, back to the point of this post … how can you leverage a newsletter to not only connect with your existing clients, but also generate new clients from a desirable pool of prospects?

Here’s an example. I invite you to think about how this strategy might work for your practice.

Karen, a local CPA, has a private practice populated with small to medium business clients. She has all her costs covered, but isn’t reaching her pretax income goals. She wants to add some more clients because the additional billing hours will result in greater utilization of her staff and a reduction of her overhead percentages. If she can do this, her profitability will disproportionately increase.

She reviews her client list and focuses upon several architects and interior design firms. She likes working with them, understands their issues, and thinks they have excellent growth potential when we come out of the current economic difficulties. She concludes she wants to add more of these clients. But, how to do it?

She decides to reach out to the prospects via a highly focused newsletter.

Her first step is to contact a number of list providers. These can range from online outfits that supply mailing lists to more sophisticated sources such as Dun & Bradstreet. My recommendation is the latter because she can also find out how many employees each prospect has in additional to the contact information, address, names of executives, etc. In a small market she may wish to send a newsletter to them all, but if she is in Chicago, Atlanta or Los Angeles she may only reach out to those with, say, 10 or more employees. She will also include her existing clients as well as members of applicable trade/industry associations on her list.

Her newsletter will be a single sheet of paper printed on both sides. You can get help from a PR, marketing or advertising firm for layout, etc., but the essence is that on the front side you decide upon a title (e.g. “Architectural & Design Firm Financial Newsletter”), and put a box over on the right side with your picture and a brief bio with contact information. In the remaining space you will create appropriate content. There are free newsletter templates available on Microsoft’s web site or you can purchase inexpensive custom templates.

Three subjects is typically a good number …. not too many; not too few. Pick one as a lead and the other two as secondary. The remaining space can accommodate approximately 800 words, and you can proportion the three topics within that total as you assess their relative importance. Begin all three with an appropriate title on the front side and continue each on the reverse.

The subject for each article should be something specifically applicable to architects and designers. What do they want to know about? Dive into CCH and other accountant data and news services such as AccountingWEB and other online sources. Is there a tax court decision that impacts this group? A change in depreciation schedules? Treatment of expenses? Something to do with asset characterization when buying/selling one of these firms? Maybe a new ruling about how independent contractors are qualified? Select things that have high impact on the owners and managers. The possibilities are endless. Oh, and by the way, you do NOT need to include a sales pitch. That isn’t necessary.

If some white space on the back needs to be filled, Karen can buy one-time-use cartoons from various sources on the web. There are tons of them for financial topics, accountants, and related topics. Or, she can put some humorous, financially-related quotes from famous people. Or? You get the idea. Just make it interesting to the reader.

Karen will load the prospect list into her (or a staffer’s) computer and then use a mail-merge program to create the mailing labels. She’ll use a nice business envelope along with good stock to print the newsletter on. By the time she gets it all done and the first issue mailed, she’ll have made a modest investment with the purchase of the list, printing, paper, postage, staff time, etc.

How often should Karen send her newsletter out? Probably every two - three months is a good compromise, but more or less often probably isn’t fatal. The most important test is making sure the content is really interesting to the readers.

Finally, Karen will update her practice’s web site to include an archive of her newsletters and also include some verbiage in her bio about how she especially enjoys working with her (many, several) architectural and design clients. She will additionally note that she is available for speaking engagements and can provide articles for related trade publications.

What is the payoff for Karen? First of all, she reaches, say, 100 highly specific prospects and gets her name in front of them. She will provide them with a periodic source of data they care about in an easy to read format. She is positioning herself as an accounting/tax expert within the architectural/designer communities and applicable organizations. She’s connecting with her existing clients and confirming to them her professional competence. She WILL be contacted by some of the prospects, especially after she’s sent out two or three issues, and she WILL get some new clients from her distribution list.

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