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Stuart A. Black , Paul Thompson  | 

The acquisition of new clients continues to be a dominant driver of profitability for small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs). Indeed, in recent editions of the IFAC SMP Quick Poll, the largest portion of respondents identified acquisition of new clients as the main driver of practice profitability.

The poll results seem to question the wisdom of many practice management “gurus” who say that the cost of acquiring a new client is far higher than the cost of retaining, or selling more services to, an existing client. While the poll shows that retention is also important, what those “gurus” may be failing to recognize is the full potential and cost effectiveness of a marketing campaign that includes low-cost social media. 


The first step of a marketing strategy is to identify your target customers and what they need. You then have to determine how you can satisfy those needs at a profit and, at the same time, differentiate yourself from your competitors. This becomes your brand. The aim of your marketing strategy is to have people associate your brand with their needs and desires, choose you over the competition, and, if you do it right, pay a premium for your services.

Promotion and Marketing

An organic growth strategy involves leveraging promotion and marketing activities to build brand awareness and attract new clients or sell additional services to existing clients. Remember that most businesses in the market are likely to already have an accountant, which means you will need to win clients from rival practices. And, in order to do that, you must offer a compelling reason for them to switch. This makes promotion and marketing more important than ever—and demands that practices build the capability to proficiently promote and market their brand and service offerings. You will have to decide if you have the resources in house with existing staff to do promotion and marketing, or whether you need to recruit or outsource for the requisite skills.

Promotion and marketing efforts are most effective when a number of activities and channels are used simultaneously: this harnesses the momentum of such efforts and is likely to be more impactful. There are many “tried and tested” strategies for marketing but the newest one, social media, has already broken the mold. Social media marketing has rapidly grown in prominence and gone from margin to mainstream in a very short time. Social media is a low-cost channel with a very wide reach into your target market.

Social Media Marketing

Social media essentially has taken traditional word-of-mouth marketing (historically the norm for accountants) and moved it to a digital space, exponentially increasing opportunities to influence. It is one of the most powerful tools to engage customers and drive revenue growth. But according to Steven D. Strauss, small business expert and author of The Small Business Bible, while small business owners recognize how important social media is to their success, they’re not taking advantage of social media’s full potential.[1] And, chances are, the same applies to SMPs: after all, SMPs are effectively small businesses in the accountancy sector.

Getting started in social media marketing and deciding whether it can benefit your practice can be quite overwhelming—even scary, at first. Here are some steps to take when building a social media presence:

  1. Set aside preconceived notions—social media carries risks but the rewards are greater: it will take time and expense to plan and execute but there are many tools, resources, and articles to help.
  2. Learn about the what, why, and how—take the time to read and educate yourself about social media, including Twitter (see Twitter’s Small Business Guide), LinkedIn, Facebook, and blogging, and see what your peers are doing.
  3. Check out the tools and resources available to help—there is a growing suite of tools, resources, and guidance available, for example, the AICPA PCPS has developed a number of resources, many of which are available for free, including a social media toolkit and articles.
  4. Create a strategy and action plan—define goals, decide how you will measure success and allocate responsibility, then start out small by, for example, pilot testing one of the tools. See “10 Questions to Ask When Creating a Social Media Marketing Plan.”
  5. Implement the plan—aim to provide content that creates conversation rather than advertises and involve staff from the millennial generation as they often have the most experience.
  6. Periodically evaluate, analyze, and update the plan—track your efforts and monitor the return on investment using common metrics including likes, shares, followers, traffic, and conversions.
  7. Consider the need for a policy—this can help manage the risks and reap the rewards.

Additional Resources

To learn more about best practices in this area of practice management, see the IFAC’s SMP Committee comprehensive Guide to Practice Management for Small- and Medium-Sized Practices, in particular, Module 3, “Building and Growing Your Firm.”

For additional related resources and tools, click the “Resources” tab and filter by “Marketing” under Topic Subcategories on the right-hand side.

Does your practice utilize social media as part of its marketing strategy? Please share your views and experiences below.

[1] Simonds, Lauren. "Business Growth and Social Media." Time. June 28, 2013. Web. September 26, 2013.

Stuart A. Black

IFAC SMP Committee Member

Stuart A. Black spent 37 years in public practice, starting in the audit section of a Big 4 firm and moving on to a SMP where he specialised as a trusted advisor in family business, retiring as managing partner in 2013, to move on to the next stage of his career as a professional director. He is a past president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, a member of the Australian Accounting Professional and Ethical Standards Board and a member of the IFAC SMP Committee. Stuart was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2012 for services to the profession of accounting, to ethical standards, as a contributor to professional organisations, and to the community.

Paul Thompson

Technical Director, European Federation of Accountants and Auditors for SMEs

Paul Thompson is EFAA Technical Director and a consultant dedicated to thought leadership and development of the global accountancy profession. Mr. Thompson also serves on the International Accounting Standard Board's SME Implementation Group and is a member of Nottingham University Business School Malaysia’s Industry Advisory Board, an advisory group providing strategic advice to the Business School. He  also advises developing professional accountancy organizations in Europe and Asia.

From 2004 to 2016 Mr. Thompson worked for IFAC, latterly as a director, overseeing support of small- and medium-sized practices and professional accountants in business, research and innovation, and the Knowledge Gateway.

Prior to his work with IFAC, Mr. Thompson worked for Touche Ross & Co., London before going on to lecture on corporate reporting and analysis at universities in the UK, Singapore, and Malaysia. He has a number of publications in academic journals and the professional press in the areas of ethical finance, corporate reporting, corporate governance, integrated reporting, practice management and the future of the profession.

Mr. Thompson graduated from the University of Warwick with a bachelor of science in accounting and financial analysis and is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.