Marketing lessons from a 310-million-year-old fossil.
Tax Season version 20.21 is still dragging on like a bad movie that just won’t end. You probably aren’t focused on hustling new business when you’re still busy fulfilling work for all the clients you hustled in the past. (You do hustle, don’t you?) But soon enough, tax season will be over, and it’ll be time to market again – to replace the clients you lost (or fired), to upgrade your clients (like you’d upgrade the counters in your kitchen from Corian to quartz), or simply to make more money next season.
Here’s a bit of advice that will make whatever you do more effective. Don’t sit yourself down for any free CE seminars (or worse, any paid seminars) your professional association offers on “How to Market Your Tax Practice.”
Counterintuitive, right? (Hey, I didn’t get to be CNN’s “funniest tax guy in America” by being like the other kids.) Here’s the problem: if you market yourself like everyone else in the business, you’ll get the same results as everyone else in the business. And if you were happy with those results, you probably wouldn’t be looking to market yourself in the first place!
Fundamentally, most tax and accounting businesses boil down to trading dollars for putting numbers in boxes. It doesn’t matter if you’re just getting started and still putting the numbers in the boxes yourself, or you’re growing large enough to hire professional staff to put the numbers in the boxes with you, or you’ve grown large enough that you’ve stopped putting the numbers in the boxes yourself altogether. That’s the work you’re doing – and, more important when it comes to marketing, that’s the story you’re telling.
Now, the AICPA and the NAEA and the NATP all have classes teaching you how to tell that story. Maybe they can even teach you how to tell your listeners why you and your firm are better, faster, or (ick) cheaper (please don’t) at putting those numbers in boxes.
But if you take the same class as everyone else, you’ll just learn to tell the same story as everyone else. And it won’t stand out nearly as much as it could, even if you tell it better. It’s like watching one of those Jurassic Park movies. They’re pretty much all the same – humans get excited at seeing dinosaurs brought back to life, humans screw it up, dinosaurs go on a rampage. You may be watching Chris Pratt instead of Jeff Goldblum doing the fighting – but really, what’s the difference. At this point there are so many Jurassic Park movies dating so far back that I’m surprised the first few aren’t in black and white.
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And so you come home from your professional association marketing class, all pumped and primed to shoot a great Jurassic Park movie. But there’s a whole shelf of them waiting down at your local Blockbuster. There are so many that the producers had to start making up new dinosaurs (like Indominus Rex, a genetically modified cross between a T. rex and a velociraptor) just to keep things interesting.
What are you going to learn in a roomful of tax business competitors that’ll keep your story fresh? Especially if it’s taught by experts from an industry that’s not known for particularly compelling stories? Probably nothing.
Instead, look around. Pay attention to the stories you see other marketers telling. Who else is out there telling a story you find compelling? Is your physician switching to a concierge-style practice? Is the estate-planning attorney you refer clients to including something new or different to peel prospects away from LegalZoom or plain-vanilla will writers? Is the company that handles your home’s heating and air-conditioning offering a monthly maintenance package that includes scheduled inspections and service? (Yes, HVAC and plumbing contractors offer monthly maintenance plans now.)
The value of any business, including yours, is equal to a set of numbers from today (income, expenses, etc.) multiplied by a story about tomorrow. If you’re telling the same story as everyone else, don’t be surprised when you’re exhausted by the same tax season burdens as everyone else.
(Or, you could, y’know, turn to TMN for a better story to tell. I’m just sayin’….)
The Briefs is a weekly column on marketing and business planning for tax professionals and financial advisors looking to better serve clients and grow their business.
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