Niche Marketing Strategy Small Firms

Niche Marketing Strategy for Small Firm

Adding and retaining new clients remains a top priority for most CPAs and accountants. Niche marketing remains the most effective strategy to do so. This has become even more apparent since the pandemic. Clients in every industry have been impacted and need solutions from CPAs and accountants with specialized knowledge of their industries.

As a leader of a small CPA firm, you may ask yourself, “Will a niche marketing strategy work for my firm?” The answer is “yes” if you start with these three steps.

First, conduct a client analysis. Segment your clients by SIC or NAICS codes. Then, for each industry, calculate the gross fees, net fees, realization, average fees billed, average hours billed, average billing rate, and number of clients. Also, analyze your client base by sales volume, geographic location, and services provided.

Graph this information to give an accurate picture of your client base. This will show you in which industries you are spending the most time, earning high fees, experiencing high collection rates, offering a variety of services – all opportunities for niche market development. It will also show unprofitable industries, those you should avoid.

Second, identify your champion. Without a champion you do not have a niche. The champion must be a person with influence, but does not have to be a partner. One possibility is a manager who is interested in building her future in the industry and becoming a partner in the firm.

Third, create your marketing plan. The plan should start with your firm’s mission, vision, and core values.  The mission statement is your firm’s basic purpose, why you do what you do. The vision for your firm is where you see your firm in the future, including net revenue, number of employees and offices, and new products and services. Core values are the essential and enduring beliefs of your firm.

The situation analysis includes:

  • Description of niche
  • Description of target markets
  • Growth trends
  • SWOT analysis
  • Client analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Current services
  • New service development

Then, your goals need to be be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. The marketing plan should include three-year goals for the firm, revised annually. Each niche area should have one-year goals, reviewed quarterly.  Specific strategies are then identified to achieve your goals. Make sure your goals and strategies state the specific tasks, deadlines, and those responsible for making it happen.

Organize your niche marketing around:

  1. where you network,
  2. where you speak,
  3. where you exhibit,
  4. where you target your inbound marketing campaigns,
  5. who you invite to webinars,
  6. where you are an active member,
  7. where you advertise, and
  8. where you are published.

Finally, determine the budget necessary to implement your marketing plan and monitor it closely.

There is more involved with establishing and executing a niche marketing strategy for your small firm, but these three steps will get you started.

This blog post was originally published in the June 8, 2021 issue of CPA Practice Advisor online.

Measuring Your Client Onboarding Efforts
Client Satisfaction

Measuring Your Client Onboarding Efforts

Before we can cover measuring your client onboarding efforts, we need to start with how to define the type of client experience you want to deliver. According to McKinsey, “When companies set out to define their customer experience aspiration, they often fall into one or both of two traps: either the aspiration is generic and does not align tightly to the company’s purpose, or it’s unclear how the aspiration will create value that can be measured and tracked. Falling into either of these two traps leads to CX-transformation programs that lack clarity and coherence.”

Adapting McKinsey’s article, The Three Building Blocks of Customer-Experience Transformations, here are some things to consider:

  • Your customer experience aspiration needs to deliver on your firm’s purpose and brand promise.
  • Translate your aspirations into expected business value by defining the specific changes in client behavior you expect to see.
  • Once you have prioritized the experiences with the greatest potential impact on client behavior, identify your firm’s internal processes and technology capabilities you need to reimagine.

Analytics to Track

The result of your efforts above will determine the analytics to track for your firm. Be sure the quantity of information is something you can track consistently.

According to Judy Bodenhamer, founder and managing director of Client Experience Group, the top three analytics to track are:

  • Welcome letters sent. The letter can also be accompanied with a promotional item. For example, one of Bodenhamer’s clients sends new clients a business book to communicate that their firm is more than a tax and audit firm. “It sets the tone for the experience they will have,” says Bodenhamer. Send within two weeks.
  • Welcome calls conducted. The calls can be made by the firm’s managing partner or service/industry leader within 30 days of sending the welcome letter.
  • Client team introductions. These are coordinated discussions with the client – $5,000 minimum fee – and their client service team. For lesser-fee clients, the discussion is probably led by the person doing the work, or a young associate provided with a script.

According to Mitchell Reno, principal and director of client experience at Rehmann, the analytics that matter, are:

  • The percentage of data completion in client set-up. “Firms set up the minimum on clients to get the job started, thinking they will get the rest of the data later,” says Reno. “Nope, you will not ever get complete and accurate data if you do not do it out of the gate.”
  • The “time to launch.” This is the amount of time from the engagement letter being signed to beginning to charge time.

At BKD, Greg Cole, CMO, works on the firm’s pipeline, reviewing the funnel of how leads come in, how they are qualified, and spend with the client. Using their Tableau dashboard, he also tracks SEO engagement, inbound leads (webinar attendance, contact forms), and develops quarterly reports regarding SEO and website visitors.

How to Collect and Track Information

Collecting and tracking data for your firm’s client experience and onboarding is detail-oriented and time-consuming. It is important to identify who is responsible for this initiative.

Bodenhamer shared how firms identify client relationship managers to serve as day-to-day contacts. “These may be different than the partner contact,” she explains, “but should be a manager or technical person to answer questions.”

BKD employs a data team of five people, with one usually serving as a data concierge. After Introhive cleans up the emails in BKD’s database, the data concierge continues to clean the data. Then, the data concierge invites new clients to sign up for firm Thoughtware®. They also contact current clients, starting with the largest. This contact must have value involved. “There is no substitute for a note or phone call, here is something of value you may find interesting,” shares Cole. “The data concierge is investing time in the client relationship to build trust.” It is important to have the right person. “The data concierge must be personable and be able to talk to high-level executives,” says Cole.

At the end of 2018, Kingsbery CPAs hired client excellence coordinators (CEC) to serve as the quarterback for each of the four shareholder’s clients. Shareholders sent an introductory email to their clients about this new position. The CEC is ‘here for you,’ is the main contact for questions and documents, delivering tax returns, and will be able to respond right away. Kingsbery received no pushback from clients, and CECs are now included in the initial calls with new clients. Project management software, Aptivo, breaks down the tax return process – determining the most effective way, following the same process – and knows the members on each client team. “CECs remove administrative duties from shareholders and enable them to focus on what they are good at,” says Brittany Olsen, client relationship director.

A Digital Transformation Journey

Ten years ago, BKD did not use client data very much. Now, the firm uses Marketo and is building their digital transformation. About five years ago, BKD conducted a client survey and discovered they did not have email addresses for 768 of their top 2,500 clients!

“This was a red flag,” said Cole. “At the time, only name and address were required to get a client number. Now, names, titles, emails, NAIC codes, and deeper industry data, e.g., hospital beds, must be provided.”

BKD conducts a quarterly client survey by transaction and hours. Managing partners get involved if the information is not there. “Internal folks know the email will be needed for the quarterly survey,” Cole explains, “so they may as well get it at the beginning.” Explain the importance of team members taking the time to provide marketing with client demographics on the front end. Let them know what you are going to do with the information.

BKD uses a proprietary tool called Validata to manage their data. The firm has different data in different databases, e.g., CRM, time and billing, and other legacy systems. Cole described Validata as a connector database that feeds all the others to ensure they have synced data between all of the different data points. “The best way to get good data is to have it come through one door and feed everything else,” Cole explains. “Then, there is an ongoing process on the back end to keep that data clean.”

Prospects are driven to BKD’s website whenever someone clicks on a call-to-action, whether it is from the 11 million emails they sent last year or social media posts. Once they hit BKD’s website, marketing starts tracking the IP addresses. “Then, we dangle content, whether it be a whitepaper or a webinar or something else of value for them to give us their name and email address,” explains Cole. “From that point, we start scoring those prospects to show their engagement. When they hit 80 points – defined as a qualified lead – we pass them off to the office as a qualified lead with some information on what they are looking at and what they are interested in. Given the effort we make on a prospect to convert them to a client,” says Cole, “it is super important to put equal effort into their very first experience to give them a favorable first impression.”


Measuring your client onboarding efforts requires a process, data, manpower, and accountability to be successful. It is a worthwhile and necessary initiative that can impact your firm’s bottom line. For those at smaller firms who think larger firms have an advantage and deep resources for client onboarding: “Small firms may have an advantage getting their people on board as opposed to BKD with 40 offices in 18 states,” said Cole.

* This article was originally published in the Association for Accounting Marketing blog on May 19, 2021.