Do you rely solely on word-of-mouth referrals for your accounting practice? As the landscape continues to change for businesses and the need for a digital footprint becomes more critical, make 2016 the year you climb onto the digital marketing train. Sure, referrals are swell and it’s always nice to feel wanted, but to grow your business, digital marketing is becoming a key factor. Accountants face turnover and while referrals are great, they don’t ensure a steady stream of work when times are tough.

ProAdvisor® Andrew Wall embraced digital marketing early on. Wall, an accounting guru with 15 years of experience and the founder of wallcpa.ca, a virtual accounting firm, saw firsthand the turnover accountants can face. His father ran an accounting practice and when Wall launched a company of his own, he knew marketing was important from day one.

Wall didn’t have the budget to advertise in a magazine or on a billboard and this is where digital came into the picture, he says. Digital marketing has its perks. “I’m able to put myself out there and share with people what I’m about, without that fear of rejection,” says Wall. “We’re dealing with inbound clients and clients who are warm leads, as opposed to prospecting cold leads.”

With online marketing, businesses need to find their own voice and what works for them, he says. Wall’s marketing focuses on communicating about topics the company is passionate about and which provide value to clients. “We’ve always been big believers that if you’re passionate about something, it comes through,” says Wall. “It’s going to be what people want to be around and it’s going to attract clients to you. It’s easy for people to see through stuff that’s put out there to attract new customers.”

Wall started marketing on YouTube and then expanded his reach to Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook. In his experience, social media is an avenue to connect with people who share interests and passions, he says. He uses these platforms to actively grow his network and create relationships, whether it’s online or offline.

But, it’s not about connecting with everyone, says Wall; it’s about finding a few key connections and starting conversations, even with fellow accountants. Some fear other accountants might poach their clients or steal their ideas, but with digital marketing, it’s about becoming a recognized thought leader who’s willing to help people, including your competitors and peers.

“As the world is evolving, everything is focusing more on specializations and niches,” says Wall. “Although someone might be an accountant, and technically my competitor, we focus on a different niche and this makes them complement what I do. These connections, this six degrees of separation and the network we have help us serve our clients better, which makes them happier and more likely to refer more people.”

LinkedIn is a great tool to build relationships and Wall looks through his connections and their networks for potential referrals with similar interests. “Someone making a referral is not just about a good job  they think they’re doing something good by helping their friends,” says Wall. “We need to know and understand who their (the referrer’s) friends are and the best way to do that is on social media.”

He also found that Facebook groups were a great way to connect with others, but he admits to struggling with the blend of personal and business on the Social Network. Of course, be authentic on these mediums, but also be conscious of what you’re putting out in a public space, he adds.

For those unsure where to start, he stresses that you don’t have to do everything at once. “What worked for us is an iterative approach,” says Wall. “Get something (a social media network) rolling, get something building, get some momentum going and then put that on autopilot as you move onto the next one. Just remember to go back and check on things every once in awhile.”

Wall’s firm also markets through Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is handled by professionals, and paid per click advertising (PPC).

“It’s a necessity because there is so much content in the world,” says Wall. “It’s great to have a website, but without SEO, it’s like a billboard in a jungle, a great pretty picture that no one will see. If you’re not getting eyeballs on your website, what’s the point?”

While referrals via word-of-mouth continue to be a source of clients, accountants who want to stay relevant and ahead of the curve must be exploring digital marketing and putting effort in this area. We don’t have a crystal ball for the future, but given the way the internet and social media continues to grow and expand, we know these mediums are not going away. Future generations will utilize even more than past ones. Is your accounting firm ready?

Do you do online marketing? If so, what platforms do you use and how effective has it been?

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