Being a solo tax practitioner is one of the most challenging ways to operate any business. As the business owner, you are responsible for all legal compliance matters related to running a business. You’re also the office manager, receptionist, tax preparer, bookkeeper, taxpayer representative, the billing department, and often also the janitor. To top it all off, you actually need clients in order to make money, so you’re also the sales and marketing department.
Over the years, I’ve consulted with hundreds of independent tax professionals, and this latter task is often the most challenging. Something I hear often is, “I’m an accountant, not a salesperson.”
Well, I hate to break it to you, but if you’re in private practice, you’re actually a salesperson first and foremost, above anything else.
It’s something that a lot of practitioners don’t want to hear, let alone think about. But the cold, hard truth is this: regardless of an Ivy League education and a slew of alphabet soup after your name, all the knowledge, expertise, and credentials in the world are utterly useless if you can’t get clients in the door.
Fortunately, marketing your services really isn’t that hard. In this article, I’d like to show you exactly how easy it can be.
First, understand that marketing takes either time or money. Most solo practitioners tell me that they have more time on their hands than money in the bank, so in this article we’ll be focusing on low and no-cost marketing strategies that take time.
Bear in mind that marketing is not a 10 minute per week activity. In fact, most business consultants will tell you that you should spend at least half your day on marketing…even more if you are just starting out. With the simple, yet effective, marketing plan I will outline here for you, you’re going to need to commit one or two hours per day. However, using the plan outline here, you will be successful and make a living, as long as you commit to following the steps.
Let’s rock and roll. Below are some best practices for aggressive marketing as a sole practitioner:
Step 1: Write a weekly blog about a topic of interest to your target audience. This article should NOT be your typical “tax tips” sort of thing. Your prospects and clients comes to YOU for handling their tax matters — they don’t care about how to do it themselves. Think more along the lines of:
- Client success stories related to tax planning, real estate investing, tax debt resolution, etc.
- Your personal analysis of Congressional and state legislative action, IRM updates, etc. Let people know the gist of what’s going on, why they should care, and how you can help. The current media frenzy over the Republican dismantling of the ACA is a perfect thing to be writing about – regardless of your own political beliefs.
- What you’re doing to increase your own knowledge and improve your skills for your clients. Write about the CPE courses you take and how that will help your clients.
- The National Society of Accountants also provides a client letter library that members can use for inspiration.
Note that it doesn’t matter if you’re “not a writer”. Just write. Once you do, you can:
- Post it to the blog section of your website. If you don’t have a blog attached to your website, one of your highest marketing priorities should be to get one set up. If you do not have a website, the NSA offers discounted web development and content from GetNetSet. NSA’s Life and Taxes blog is also a resource for content topics to include in your blog.
- Re-write the introduction a bit, and post it to your LinkedIn account. If you don’t have Publisher access on LinkedIn, request it.
- Send it to your email list. You do have an email list of your prospects and clients, don’t you?
- Link to the blog post on both Twitter and Facebook.
- Add the article to the next edition of your monthly print newsletter.
If you do this step, week in and week out, you will be getting 80% or better of the results you would see from a $2500 per month search engine optimization (SEO) service.
Step 2: Every day, preferably first thing in the morning, make 15 cold calls to purchased lists that match your target market, depending on what service area you’re focusing on growing. You can rotate through service offerings through the week. If you don’t want to buy lists, you can find create lists of businesses using your local Chamber of Commerce, or small business incubator.
For example, on Monday, call 15 people from a new homebuyer’s list to offer them a tax planning session.
On Tuesday, call 15 small businesses from your Secretary of State new corporation list to offer them bookkeeping services.
On Wednesday, cold call 15 tax liens to solicit tax resolution work. Tax liens are a matter of public record, and can be obtained from your local County Clerk or Secretary of State, depending on where you live. They can also be purchased from online services such as TaxLiensHQ.net or INFT.net.
There are many possibilities of lists to call to offer services. The choice is yours, but don’t overthink it. Don’t spend too much time worrying about the “perfect” criteria or trying to find the “perfect” list (it doesn’t exist), just get it done and CALL.
Step 3: Send a letter or postcard to… your 15 new prospects, every day. If you reached them on the phone, then send them a thank you card to thank them for their time. If they were interested, send them your marketing package or proposal package. If you didn’t reach them, got their voicemail, number was disconnected, etc., then send them a letter inviting them to call for a consultation, or inviting them to an informative free local seminar or a webinar. Mail them something!
Step 4: You probably already know that the IRS works on a 30 day notice cycle. As such, you should be, at a minimum, on the same follow-up cycle. Within 30 days of your initial contact via telephone and mail, you should make another contact. Make another phone call, send another letter. Again, 30 day interval is a minimum. Also, you should go through a minimum of five follow up cycles, but preferably 12 or more.
You can use CRM software, spreadsheets, or index cards to track activity and know when to follow up with people. How you track it doesn’t matter — doing the activity is what matters, because that is what gets clients.
Is this going to cost some money? YES. Is it going to take time? YES. Calling 15 new people per day is going to take 30 to 90 minutes, depending on how long your conversations go (but remember, the purpose of the call is to sell the consultation/proposal, NOT sell your services!).
Remember, you are running a business here. As such, you need to realize that it will take an investment of your time and money to grow a practice. However, this marketing cost is incredibly small compared to the amount of money you’ll be making from new clients after just a couple months of doing this.
I will reiterate: Making this work simply requires DOING IT. You’re not going to build a practice sitting on your butt, but by working a plan, no matter how simple it is. This plan is about as simple as it gets, but requires you to take the actions to make it work.
About the Author
Jassen Bowman is an Enrolled Agent specializing exclusively in IRS Collections representation (tax debt resolution). He has presented over 100 live seminars and webinars to tax professionals on the subjects of IRS representation, practice management, and marketing your tax services. He is the author of several books, including Tax Resolution Systems, a checklist manual for practitioners.