Can you spend just a little on marketing, and still build a steady client base and marketing presence? The answer is YES, and I can show you how I grew my practice in my first year in business. Let me share with you a true marketing story about how I took advantage of several free and/or low-cost marketing techniques to create an online presence that increased my client base and brought in additional revenue streams to grow my practice.
Just a few weeks before I started my practice in May 2009, I was living a comfortable, two salary household lifestyle, supporting a family of five in a California suburb. Without any notice on the last Friday in May, I was abruptly laid off. My husband and I needed to quickly figure out how we were going to replace half of our income and get us back on track. We took the weekend to think it over. It was a good thing that it was Memorial Day weekend; we had an extra day to ponder our dilemma.
Today, with more than 10 years under my belt in the accounting and tax profession, and an undeniable passion for entrepreneurship, we made the decision to take the leap into business ownership, and just like that, Mariette F. Martinez, EA was born. Needless to say, since this was a completely unplanned business adventure, I definitely needed to bootstrap this entrepreneurial path and the marketing expenses related to it. I knew I had to be creative with my marketing dollars and also take a step back to understand what marketing really meant.
My Marketing Strategy and Marketing Plan
Aren’t the marketing strategy and plan the same thing? Many new entrepreneurs use these terms interchangeably, but they are two completely separate and critical marketing areas.
Your marketing strategy answers the “what” you are trying to achieve with your overall marketing efforts. The practice of creating a marketing strategy helps you to discover and define a few key strategic marketing areas in your business, including:
- Why you’re in business: Your purpose, values, vision, and intentional message or voice.
- Who you want to serve and work with, and who you don’t want to work with: What’s your ideal client persona?
- What services can you offer to stay true to your why and serve your who?
- What will be the pricing model for your services?
What’s missing in the marketing strategy above? The “how,” which is the marketing plan, an action process that puts your marketing strategy in motion. It contains the answers to a few critical marketing questions:
- Where do you market your business?
- Where can your ideal customer persona be found? Is it through online efforts, local networking, sales funnels, or printed, email or social media ads?
- How do you market your business? This is where the marketing dollars are allocated.
- When do you want to market your business? This is when you track the best timing to spread your message.
What does all of this have to do with my true marketing story? I had to learn these essential marketing techniques before I could decide where to spend money for my new firm. As a result, my marketing strategy looked like this:
- Why: I believe that everyone should have a fighting chance to reach financial happiness. That’s why I chose to serve my ideal client as their small business advisor and accounting/tax partner who leads with financial education, first.
- Who: I want to work with tech-forward, location-independent, service-based micro-businesses, with an emphasis on start-up women entrepreneurs and self-employed parents.
- What: Using a flat-fee pricing model, I will provide bookkeeping, tax preparation, small business advisory and financial education targeted to my ideal client.
Once I went through this deep discovery, it was time to create and execute a marketing plan that would meet the needs of my marketing strategy, keeping in mind I wanted to spend as little money as possible.
Four Low-Cost Marketing Techniques
Here are four marketing techniques that worked for me in my first-year plan. Over the years, the plan has evolved, but all four techniques still work.
#1: Get on Yelp and/or place yourself on social media platforms where your ideal clients reside. We know that individual taxpayers and small business owners use online reviews to look for professional services. This was a huge lead generator my first year. It’s absolutely free for business owners to be listed in this app and most other social media.
Three key tips to master social media as an option in your marketing plan:
- Choose the social media platform where your ideal “who” hangs out.
- Start the conversation to build the “know, like, trust” online relationship with your audience.
- Keep messaging clear, consistent, and creative to keep your audience interested and engaged.
#2: Attend small business events and workshops, and connect with nonprofit and purpose-driven organizations. Learn and grow with other business owners. It’s amazing to be in the room with passionate people who want to help others and looking for help for their own business situations. There’s no better way to market yourself than through personal connections. Many times, scholarships, special pricing and giveaways are available for new entrepreneurs to participate in these in-person opportunities; all you need to do is ask. One of my favorite small business events is QuickBooks® Connect, but there are probably lots of events in your local community.
One of the most valuable aspects of connecting at events is learning about free resources to help market your firm. A few of my favorites include the Intuit® Marketing Hub, SCORE Marketing Hub and Buffer’s article, “The $0 Marketing Stack: 41 Free Options to Popular Paid Services and Tools.”
#3: Take it up a notch and become an educator and/or active participant at one of your favorite small business events. Early on in my business, I realized that to brand myself as a leader and subject matter expert, I would need to step out of my comfort zone and begin actively participating in live events. I wanted to differentiate myself to my target audience in a more massive scale.
I chose speaking engagements, public education and online video as my primary techniques to spread this marketing message. This has been the greatest accelerator in my business growth, and provided me additional income revenue streams and business opportunities that I was not exposed to using my traditional marketing plan. Best of all, I built some of the most valuable relationships with amazing people in my profession. Using this strategy, you can actually get paid for marketing yourself, instead of paying for your own marketing!
#4: Marketing should be fun and the discovery process should be enlightening. Do not be so hard on yourself the first year. Start testing the waters and see what works best for you.
One of my favorite first techniques was to bring my kids into my marketing messaging, which enabled me to connect more closely with working families and women entrepreneurs. Allowing myself to be vulnerable and share the essence of who I am directly impacted my clients, community and partners. I was also gifted some lifetime marketing memories that I will forever hold dear to my heart. Check out this Intuit-sponsored video I was asked to participate in to share a day in the life of an accountant and mompreneur.
Choose Your Path
I challenge you all to take advantage of the tips in this article and have fun with your marketing discovery. Take action, create a marketing strategy and a plan built on your why, who and what. Time is of the essence, and as my daughter puts it, “Get on with those taxes!”