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Marketing plans and why you need one


By Marc Rosenberg, from CPA Trendlines
The Rosenberg Practice Management Library

Sorry for those of you who have absolutely no interest in football, but a marketing plan is as important as a football team’s game plan for the week. It’s a blueprint for how to win the game: how much passing versus rushing, working on the opponent’s weaker players by name, running left versus right, short passes versus long passes, who plays on which plays, and so on.

A marketing plan is a comprehensive written document outlining

  1. The firm’s practice development activities within a set time frame
  2. Goals and action steps necessary to achieve the firm’s targeted revenue growth
  3. The best use of the firm’s resources
  4. The partners’ preferences in terms of what they are willing and not willing to do. Examples: how active the partners agree to be in selling and advertising, use of internal personnel rather than relying on outsiders like marketing consultants, and whether they prefer to be generalists or specialists
  5. A budget for the firm’s investment in practice development activities

Why create a marketing plan?

  1. It provides direction and vision for the firm. The plan makes the firm proactive instead of reactive.
  2. Priorities are defined and clarified throughout the firm.
  3. It increases motivation because everyone sees how they fit into the big picture.
  4. Activities are more efficient and coordinated because everyone pulls together in the same direction, reducing conflict.
  5. It ensures that individual business development activities flow from firmwide strategies and priorities. Here’s a good example:

We once facilitated a partner retreat at which, among other things, the partners agreed to decrease their reliance on small, simple 1040s unrelated to a business. When we all went out to dinner that night, the waiter must have been an actor because he was entertaining and had an engaging, lively personality. Before the waiter even asked for our orders, one of the partners asked who did his tax return. The partner sitting next to him gave him a big smack upside the head.

  1. It makes the various marketing and business development efforts more effective because activities are integrated. Example: If the firm’s goal is to establish a construction industry niche, goals and action steps might be to speak at construction conferences, write articles for construction publications, send out newsletters for the construction niche and call on construction industry prospects and referral sources.

What’s the difference between a marketing plan and a strategic plan?

We get asked this all the time. Our stock answer is that they are very closely related. A strategic plan addresses every aspect of the firm, including management, staff, succession and profitability. And, oh yes, practice development.

A marketing plan is one component of a strategic plan. The vast majority of local firms struggle mightily with strategic planning, so they don’t even try. But marketing plans are more common because they are (1) easier to devise (not necessarily easier to implement) and (2) often perceived as more urgent.

The same overarching approach needs to be taken to create both marketing and strategic plans:


Step #1: Any marketing plan needs to start with a vision:

  1. What revenue increase does the firm want in five years?
  2. How do we see the revenue increase breaking down?
chart of revenue increase
  1. Which way do we want to grow? Which path(s) do we want to focus on?
  • More business development activity by the partners
  • Recognize that the partners have sales limitations and need help from others such as a marketing consultant or marketing director
  • Mergers

The answers to these questions will determine the scope of your marketing plan. For example:

  • If the firm wants to grow at 10 percent per year instead of 5 percent, the plan will need to be very aggressive.
  • If the partners “know their limitations” (Clint Eastwood’s mantra in “Dirty Harry”) and business development isn’t their thing, then the firm should hire a marketing consultant.

Step #2: After the vision is created, the next step is devising the goals to achieve the vision and the action steps that will be followed to achieve the goals.

Example #1

  • Vision: Grow 5 percent annually.
  • Goal: Specialize in the construction and physician niches.
  • Action steps: Appoint a niche champion and write three articles a year for niche industry publications.

Example #2

  • Vision: Grow primarily from increased business development by the partners.
  • Goal: Each partner will devise an individual marketing plan.
  • Action step: Hire a marketing consultant to provide curriculum-based training in business development, phased in over a two-year period.

Key Elements of a CPA Firm Marketing Plan

No firm’s marketing plan incorporates all 25 of the elements below. Firms need to select those elements that fit their unique needs and capabilities.

  1. Start with the firm’s vision. Then move into goals, followed by action steps that support the goals.
  2. How is the firm different from its competitors? What is the firm’s image? What do you want it to be?
  3. Brand and different.
  4. Emphasize niches and specialties.
  5. Most new business comes from existing clients, so focus more on them than prospects.
  6. Nurture and develop referral sources.
  7. Identify prospective clients and convert them to clients.
  8. Train partners and staff in business development.
  9. Hire marketing directors and coordinators, marketing consultants, or both.
  10. Network via organizations, associations, and civic and charitable groups.
  11. Hold seminars, give speeches and write articles.
  12. Build a website.
  13. Use social media.
  14. Create blogs and newsletters.
  15. Build your database of prospects and referral sources.
  16. Create a firm brochure.
  17. Send out direct mail.
  18. Do advertising and public relations.
  19. Manage partners’ time so that marketing gets done, not pushed to the side.
  20. Conduct client loyalty and satisfaction surveys.
  21. Obtain client testimonials.
  22. Set a marketing budget.
  23. Make sure there is accountability for business development.
  24. Determine compensation and incentives for business development, for both partners and staff.
  25. To achieve the marketing plan’s goals, the firm MUST have a marketing champion.

One of the cardinal rules of goal setting is “short beats long every time.” Keep the plan short and sweet. Every goal should be high-impact. Resist the tendency to write a laundry-list plan that has way more goals than anyone can possibly accomplish. This is especially true for firms that lack experience in executing marketing plans. When a marketing plan has too many goals and the goals are not achieved, it’s demoralizing and reduces enthusiasm for the plan.