How to market your business on a shoestring

Feb 06, 2018
Even the smallest firm can punch above its weight with the right marketing strategy, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Marketing presents challenges for all SMEs. It takes time, costs money, diverts staff away from your ‘core’ business, and more than likely places you firmly outside your comfort zone.

As an accountancy professional, your comfort zone is – presumably – accountancy. You may baulk at the idea of writing a blog or press release, setting up a social media account or conducting a media interview but if you own your business, these are important skills. They will not only help you communicate with existing clients, they will also contribute to your business growth.

Setting strategic goals

Before engaging in marketing, you need to be clear why you are doing it. What do you want to achieve? Is your aim to ‘upsell’ to existing clients? Or attract new clients? Do you want to position yourself as an expert in a specific field? Do you need to recruit skilled staff?

There is no point in marketing just for marketing’s sake. Any promotional activities you undertake should be aligned to your overall business strategy. If your goal is to attract five new clients each quarter, for example, your marketing plan must contribute to that.

Positioning yourself

Once you have defined your goals, you need to think about how you position yourself to achieve them.

How do you currently describe your business and does that description make sense? What sets you apart from your competitors? What are the qualities and services you want to be associated with? Who is your ideal customer? A surprising amount of companies – big and small – are very bad at describing what exactly they do. There is a tendency to go heavy on the jargon when it comes to company descriptions.
For example, which of the following do you think is more likely to appeal to target customers:

We are a cutting-edge consultancy, delivering innovative and automated solutions, integrated across diverse platforms and scalable for all sectors; or
We provide user-friendly accountancy software and financial management advice for SMEs.

When you are writing your company description, think of your target audience. If I am a potential customer, I don’t want to be bamboozled by jargon; I just want to know that you have what I need.

Getting started

Once you have set your goals and settled on the best possible way to describe yourself, you need to spread the word. The basic starting point for any marketing campaign is to make sure you have an effective website.

If you have a tight budget, you can get a simple site designed and built at a very affordable cost. Indeed, if you are even mildly IT literate, you can have a go at building a basic site yourself using a platform like WordPress.com.

A good business site is important because it is the starting point for all other marketing and PR activities. If done right, it can become your central repository for content for social media, marketing emails, digital ad campaigns, media relations and more. It also serves as your online shop window.

Your site should be SEO and mobile-optimised. If I have just lost you with those two terms, it simply means that:
  • Your site should appear high up in the results when people search for relevant terms online (SEO stands for ‘search engine optimisation’). For example, if someone conducts a Google search for “accountancy firms in Cavan” and your company is based in Cavan, your website should appear on the first page of search results; and
  • If someone visits your website using a smartphone, it should look and function just as well as when it is accessed from a desktop computer.
Most small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have little time or inclination to update their websites regularly. So design your site in a way that means most content is static (e.g. who you are, what you do, how to contact you), but have one section (your ‘news’ or ‘blog’ section) that is updated at regular intervals.

Social media

Once your website is up and running, you need to decide what other marketing tools to use. When it comes to social media, think of where your target customers ‘hang out’. For accountancy firms with limited time and money, I would suggest setting up just one or two social media profiles initially, starting with LinkedIn and/
or Twitter.

LinkedIn is a professional networking platform, on which you can have both a personal profile and a company or organisational profile. I recommend establishing both. As an SME owner myself, I have found LinkedIn useful for making business connections and identifying potential collaborators. I can point to a number of business ‘wins’ that came about directly because of my interactions on LinkedIn.

Twitter attracts lots of negative publicity, but it is a useful tool for disseminating news about your business, keeping up with the latest trends in your sector and getting on the radar of target media and clients. It is a very immediate platform and, to be used successfully, requires daily monitoring and lots of interaction. Don’t set up a profile unless you can commit to that.

Email marketing

Another cost-effective way to promote your business is through email marketing. This simply means building a contacts database (while making sure you adhere to best practice in data protection) and then, sending regular email updates to your contacts. These can be quarterly or monthly e-newsletters about your company, or more personalised emails promoting special offers, discounts or seasonal greetings.
MailChimp is a free online tool that gives several options for designing, sending and saving template emails and e-newsletters. It also stores and makes it easy to manage your contacts database, and tracks the results of any marketing emails you send.

Creating content

Once you have a website, social media profiles and marketing emails in place, you need content to share on them. This is where the idea of your website as a ‘central repository’ comes into play. My advice is to publish one or two news posts (or blogs) every week on your website and then, share the links to these on your social media and in your marketing emails.

The topics for your posts should be aligned to your strategic goals. So, if you want to be associated with tech solutions for accountancy, write posts about that topic. Publishing these posts on your site and sharing them on social media will enhance your SEO rankings. Over time, if done correctly, this means that people searching online for terms like “tech solutions for my business accounts” will be directed very promptly to your site.

Measuring results

Marketing success doesn’t (usually) happen overnight. It takes time to see what works best and contributes most towards achieving your goals.

Measuring the impact of your marketing efforts is really important to make sure you get it right. All the digital tools I have mentioned here have in-built analytics that are easy to access and use. Most important, however, is to frequently revisit your business goals and assess how your marketing activities are helping you achieve them.

Other tools to consider

Apart from the digital tools mentioned, there are lots more options to consider including advertising (both digital and traditional), sponsorships, sectoral events, and more. There’s also the whole world of media relations to think about – but that’s for another day!

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