Commenter Ric Wilmot adds a great .02 cents and expands the subject into consideration of resources.
Check out the post and comment: The Difference Between Goals and Objectives.
It’s time to create your firm’s annual marketing budget. Hopefully, you’ve already read my “part 1” post, “Plan Your Marketing Budget.” This is in response to an "Ask Michelle" Q&A post.
I'm including several of our tools and approaches...
Start with a spreadsheet that has a couple columns on the left for your initiatives by various groupings (more on that below). Then you'll need a column for Timing and one for assigning Responsible Person.
To the right of that, I recommend columns for each quarter of the year or you can do months if you want to get that micro--and then create a "total" column to the right. These columns are where you'll include any anticipated expense in the periods you expect to pay them. Not all items will have related expenses.
Your spreadsheet might look like this:
Try having high level categories for the firm, overall (this will include initiatives you cannot tie to any specific industry or service area), and then for each Practice Area (can be industry or product/service) that you are actively building or promoting.
Within each of those categories, seek to include initiatives that address each of these approaches:
The initiatives you’ll include in your plan won’t all have costs associated with them, but be sure to include them, their timing, and the responsible parties, anyway. This will help accountability. It will also help the marketing department have the "What comes off our plate if we shift gears and take on this unplanned work?" discussions that frequently arise.
It's easy to come up with lots of "bottomless pit" ideas, but where ROI is strongest is where specific clients, referral sources and new businesses are reached and impressed. If you're stumped for ideas, you might find the following helpful. Some specific items you might include in your plans are identified in my charts below.
The first one depicts some R&D type items you might undertake. These are best assigned by the firm's operational management group (for buy-in and accountability), but are best carried out by practice area teams flowing down to the individuals who are/should be in touch with the affected clients/prospects.
This second chart (also making available a PDF of this as the pic is somewhat small) shows a several initiatives that you might undertake at the practice area or individual practioner level. While your marketing department can do a lot of the prep and coordination, most results ultimately come down to what the practitioner does or does not do.
This is why it is so important to include practice group and individual "big picture to dos" in the firm's marketing plan. (Their detailed "to dos" can go into their individual marketing plans). It really doesn't matter whether you start with your firm level plan and drill tasks down to a practice group, then individual level, or whether you start with individual plans and stream those items upward to practice areas and then into the firm level plan.
Firms usually find one of these ways easier to begin than the other. It all depends on your firm.
Here is that PDF...Download firm_plans.pdf
Also, I'm happy to share a plan shell in Excel. It has a few ideas sprinkled in but is very generic. You would want to add additional sections for each of your practice areas.
Note the Red items are DIRECT marketing and the Green items are INDIRECT marketing. If you want your plan to generate results, plan a lot more activity in the "direct" areas!
Yes! If you don't have an Operating Plan as part of your firm's annual Strategic Plan.
Continuing to improve what you deliver (services are products, too) and how well you deliver it meddles in your processes, systems, tools and training...clearly areas "outside" of the marketing department. Or are they?
Product quality, which products you deliver, and the finesse with which you deliver them are pretty fundamental in your ability to survive and thrive, long term. Isn't that why you are in business?
Product development is essential to evolving with your customers. And to besting your competitors through setting yourself apart. You either want to do altogether different things than your competitors, or do the same things, but do them differently...better.
So the Operating Plan and Marketing Plan should work in tandem and be integrated—not in isolation of one another—to support the Strategic Plan.
But, alas, most firms don't have Operating Plans at all. If yours does, be sure to include these Product Development initiatives in a category I'll refer to, here, as R&D (research & development). If your firm doesn't have an operating plan, then be sure to account for R&D in your marketing plan.
This chart shows essential top-level elements of Operating and Marketing Plans—expanded to show more details in the areas I'm referring to today. Click to Zoom.
Focusing on R&D is also focusing on your current clients—part of marketing.
And focusing here ensures you clarify and streamline your processes so that high-quality services are provided as effectively and efficiently as possible.
This impacts good use of personnel capacity, increases the recognition of need for training and delegating, and directly impacts the profitability of each project or job.
Profitability is one of the reasons you "do" marketing, right?
But profitability and marketing all too rarely intersect within firms...a problem worsened when segregating marketing from your operations and vice versa. See my earlier post, "Don't Separate Marketing From Strategy" for more on this.
Every critical operating or marking initiative shown in my chart needs to be interwoven into your team members' personal action items or they are likely to go undone. Placing product/service-related items in marketing plans is not unreasonable. Mentoring and people development is another area I often place into personal marketing plans.
I suppose this really turns an Individual Marketing Plan into an Individual Practice Plan and that is a-OK. Call it whatever you like. But ignore these crucial activities at your marketing's peril.
In a heavy conversation the other day with a friend who is also in the consulting profession, we reflected on how lawyers and accountants, through their associations, continuing education, and even with their consultants, have belabored much of the same 'stuff' for more than 20 years.
They (you...we...) worry about, ponder, and hear recommendations about, the same 'ol issues and concerns--yet they still go unresolved. These are things like recruiting, retention, cross-selling, profitability, succession, new business development, etc.
Look at the topics of most conferences, seminars, and roundtables and you'll see the same subjects over and over and over. Year after year.
So, we wondered...
We also agreed there are some big problems that don't get talked about much. They are pooh-poohed or swept under the rug and avoided all together.
My friend asked, "What do you think could most positively impact firms in the next 10-20 years?"
Not an easy question (and my crystal ball is in the shop) but after thinking awhile, I offered these three things:
Though they look small, they are not.
MORALE has dramatic impact on customer service and longevity not to mention its benefit for personnel.
Job enjoyment, magnetizing the firm to attract more and better talent, and energy toward learning and excelling--the desire for people to go out of their way to impress each other--are all tremendous results of great morale.
Much of the delegation problem is trust and training based. Great morale creates the behaviors that increase trust. Don't underestimate this as a core goal for your firm and better!
A cool marketing blog, Unconventional Thinking, makes a fantastic point about separation of "marketing" from a company's strategies and operations. The post is called The Most Dangerous Term In Business and that term is "marketing department."
Never mind that most marketing actually sucks and fails to stay focused on those key goals. There is another equally ominous danger here. That is, establishing a marketing department effectively balkanizes marketing ideation and implementation from the development and execution of the company’s core business strategy. This cannot be allowed to happen. Marketing is the process of growing a business. To separate it from the development and execution of business strategy means that you are effectively diminishing the impact marketing can have on the company.
I see this soooooo often. Some firms struggle to understand my frustration at their approaches to strategic planning that are many steps removed from their marketing professionals. I've even had a law partner tell me that "marketing has nothing to do with strategic planning." HUH??
You know how it goes: the top people in the company, be it the president or a management team, develops a plan for how they want to grow the business, and once that is set in stone, they turn to the marketing folks (some think of them as marketing flakes, which they often deserve, because they do not force themselves into the business-building process). The tools and initiatives required to grow the company have to get force-fed into a strategy that has already been signed, sealed and delivered by the powers that be. What an idiotic mistake.
What to do about it? Mark's first three suggestions:
His whole post, and the comments, are worth a read. (And if you're a marketer, don't let yourself be a "marketing flake"!!)
I heard at last week's IAF conference a quote:
"Vision without implementation is hallucination."
I'd attribute the quote, but I cannot find a sure source of it...some say Ben Franklin, others say Roberto Bissio.
Well, regardless of who coined it, it's right on so remember in your upcoming retreats and planning meetings that, along with all that great "visioning," there's a need to break vision down to smaller, actionable pieces in order to get you there.
Gerry Riskin's brilliant post yesterday asks law firms to interpret a recent post on the blog of business guru, Guy Kawaski wherein Guy interviewed Harvard doctorate and author Michael Raynor.
The post discusses the planning roles and considerations of people at various levels in a business/firm hierarchy. This important step generates the action items or steps that are needed to put a plan into action.
Read Gerry's post to see where the various levels of people in your firm should be focused, and then consider Gerry's "punchline" at the end of his post. Enjoy the full interview on Guy's site--he asked some great questions of Raynor.
My associate, Sue (over there in the picture), and I are really excited to "unveil" our new blog: Accountants Round Up (pun intended!) that is aggregated accounting industry news. Shortcut URL is accountantsroundup.com.
Here's the powerquote about why we've created this:
"Accountants Round Up is created to introduce more accountants to the blogosphere. Skeptics by nature, they’ve been slower to understand and utilize this technology than many other industries, including law. While this is probably a result of information overload, we aim to show them how much more quickly and easily they can stay abreast of news for their own industry," explains Michelle Golden, president and CEO of Golden Marketing, Inc.
"Our hope is to also demonstrate just how useful RSS technology is for professionals who want to stay attuned to the industry news of the clients whom they are privileged to serve—specialized knowledge being a core element of high level service."
We won't claim originality, though. We were clearly inspired by the wonderful job Nancy Stinson does over at the Stark County Law Library blog providing similar information for the legal profession. If I have no other blog reading time in my day, I am sure to skim Nancy's aggregated news to be sure I'm catching the best posts of the day. The Stark County Law Library blog has been going strong for many years.
Maybe one day, Accountants Round Up will be that same sort of "can't miss it" resource for CPAs and Chartered Accountants, too.
Hope you like the new blog. We're pretty excited about it. Sue manages it and does a really great job. She posts a few items a day. There's about 2 months' worth of content out there now, so please go check it out! And if you like it, it's available by RSS feed or email through FeedBlitz.
(See our press release on the launch: Download accountants_round_up_launch_pr.pdf )
I've been thoroughly enjoying his writing since I came upon it a couple months ago. I am delighted to add Rob to my Great Blogs list as a high-quality, thought-provoking resource for professional service firms.
Thank you for your excellent insights, Rob.
But even more important than passing this list on to clients is for you to realize that your firm should really study, pursue and achieve these characteristics to enable your firm to break out from the pack.
Specialization is a topic on my mind lately as is Distinction. This list of powerful success ingredients suggests exactly where firms should look to innovate and reinvent themselves. I welcome your comments.
25 Characteristics of The Ideal Startup
- Defendable and differentiated
- Competitive cost structure
- Attractive partnership opportunities
- Repeat customers
- Word of mouth opportunity
- Memorable product and name
- Potential for PR
- Attractive to be bought or merged
- Scaleable staff and systems
- Scaleable product -- build once, sell many times
- Niche market or fragmented industry
- High velocity and large market / industry
- High perceived value
- Product can be accessorized – revenue synergies
- Healthy cash flow –> margin x velocity
- Demonstrable felt need, demand – does it hit a primal chord?
- Business can be measured for improvement
- Can claim leadership
- Sales model is scaleable and predictable
- Product evokes emotion
- Can make big wins – big customers
- Limited exposure to legal issues
- Own relationship with and information about customers
A new beginning. It's either another year to pretty much do the same ol' thing or it's a year to set about making better, more doable goals than ever before.
As someone who participates in or leads innumerable brainstorming sessions (even if I'm by myself!) I'm well aware there is an abundance of great ideas. Some of those great ideas turn out to be not the best ideas because of circumstances--further research shows they won't provide the advantage or result desired.
Most of those great ideas aren't practical to implement. Resources (energy, money, leadership) are limited. And as Grandpa often reminded me, "Anything worth doing is worth doing right."
So what to do this year to make things different? Better? More effective? Say no.
Strategic Plan for 2006 -- 12 Places to Say No
(*italics are my comments)
1. What strategies, initiatives and activities will you say "no" to?
There is great feeling focus, empowerment, and impact when everyone agrees on paper the activities that will not be done.
2. What measurements will you ignore?
...pay close attention to [those]...related to customer satisfaction and the levers that directly drive growth, margin, operating expense and ROI.
(Ignore those that emphasize destructive behaviors and are LAGGING indicators, such as charge hours and realization--focus on LEADING indicators, KPIs that contribute to growth)
3. What customers will you not target?
Who is your ideal prospect, client or customer? If you haven’t identified them, you should. Then, articulate who you will not target. Finally, make decisions on segments of your customers that deserve "platinum” treatment, and those who don’t.
4. What relationships will you not keep?
People are the key to a company’s success. Therefore, people who aren’t working out are draining effectiveness and risking success...."Life is like 6 sides of a dice. There is no seventh side. You have to choose where, how and with whom you spend those 6 sides…and how much time you spend on each side."
5. What competitors will you not follow?
Most companies should only pay close attention to a couple of competitors. If you try to pay attention to the entire set of competitors in a large industry, you spend too little time focusing on the customer.
6. What will you remove from your web site?
Web sites are magnets for content and pages that build up over time. Eventually, many of these pages get one visit per month. It’s often why large companies do a redesign every 2-3 years…get an outside perspective.
7. What money will you not spend?
Every dollar spent in an organization should be thought of as an investment towards greater operating income -- even petty cash. With this in mind, what things, or even entire budget categories, will you not spend?
8. What meetings will you decline?
...choosing meetings is a conscious decision every executive needs to make. The meetings should be used to make strategic decisions, where multiple functions are involved. Decline or delegate informational meetings.
9. What trips will you not make?
I can't deny the power of 'showing up' in person....great things happen when I show up and interact with customers and colleagues. Nonetheless, trips are very time consuming…consider how you can use technology to replace trips, and only travel when it can make a big impact towards your primary goals.
10. What slides will you not create?
Early in my career, I believed the audience should know as much as possible....the audience probably cared about the information that was on two slides. The “less is more” principle definitely applies to presentations.
11. What will you not say?
[A particular man in high regard]...sticks with a principle of saying nothing that does not move the ‘agenda’ forward or uplift others....By consciously choosing 2 or 3 things not to say this year (or ways to say them), perhaps you can ironically discover what’s ‘missing’ from your leadership effectiveness.
12. What thoughts will you not entertain?
I’ve come to realize that everyone (even great leaders) have thoughts of inadequacy. It seems the great leaders choose to remove those thoughts when they appear. Don’t tolerate negative thoughts about yourself or others. If that doesn’t work, then as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do the act, and the attitude follows.”
So, here's to a year of great success and choosing to say "no" strategically!
Ron Baker got hammered last month in Accounting Today by a reader. He wrote an article about "Old Dogs/New Tricks" as it pertains to innovation in professional service firms. Not just pricing, but service innovation and more.
A reader took offense and called Ron, among other things, racist. What???? And "ageist." She posed that her situation, becoming a CPA at age 57, was an old dog, new trick. Sure. But it's not innovation. Not by a long shot.
To Ron's point, the professions are in dire need of a shake-up. Not just Ron's beloved pricing shake up, but all the things underlying pricing such as what merits value? What constitutes service? How do you inspire knowledge workers (lawyers, cpas, engineers, architects, and other creative "brain fed" professionals) to go above and beyond for customers AND the firms in which they work?
Shoot, most of these highly intelligent, highly creative employees are bored to tears and that is largely because they work within environments where innovation is stifled, unbelievably, by the supposedly WISER senior professionals. (For a good and humorous read and examples of the "stifling" to which I refer, see Robin Jerauld's website.)
Well, the world it is a changing. Innovation is a critical component to the future success of the CPA industry. Not sure that it is as critical in law, law being so immersed and intertwined in other parts of business and life...we'll always need lawyers...but I digress.
What I really want to get at is that most of us who work in and consult within the professions do bang our heads against the wall at times (no offense to any of my beloved clients...) because of the high level of complacency that exists for "good enough" or, in the case of some firms, "almost good."
On Seth Godin's blog is a fabulous description of why those firms are stuck in their respective modes. He illustrates it (see graph) but you MUST go to his site to read his whole post.
My favorite parts of his post are these:
Most people get stuck at the Local Max because changing strategy in any direction (this is really a 3D chart, but I've smushed it to make it easier) leads to poorer results.
You have 100 competitors in an industry that is self-described as a commodity. You use the same tactics your competition does, because if you change your pricing or fundamentally alter your marketing outreach, you get punished in terms of sales or profits.
If your market is changing, this idea is even more important to understand. That's because changing markets are always surfacing new Big Max points, and the only way to get to them is to go through the pain (yes, it's painful) of point C.
So where am I going with this?
Here it is:
"Big Max" is the innovation you bring to your clients. AND your firm.
Innovative firms strategize on how to get through C and on to Big Max.
I fear my point might not be clear enough. What I mean is that most firms look like this:
People do things that don't make sense, or use processes that cause them shake their heads in wonder because when they question the wisdom or efficiency of the method, they are told: "Yeah, but just do it this way because...(pick one)":
These are innovation killers. These firms will NEVER get past C until they untie those ropes of control and actually INVITE and ENCOURAGE the people who see potential "opportunities for betterment" to share their ideas for new and better ways to do things, serve customers, create new solutions.
Stifling creative people (aka knowledge workers) is business suicide.
So, sever the control ties, listen to your young people with an open mind, and don't panic and retreat back to B or A when you're in the "C" lull. Press forward with confidence because you have good stratgies and really damn smart people...if you'll just listen to them!
From a post on the blog of Sam Decker is a list of 10 things he says describe "what a marketing ROI culture might look like":
How many CPA or law firms have gotten this serious about marketing planning and measuring. Not many, I'd venture to bet.
"You've just removed yourself from the marketing committee" is what you should tell lawyers [or accountants!] who, when considering a novel marketing idea, ask whether there is a precedent for any other firm is doing it.
This is according to Richard Levick who spoke today at the 11th Annual SuperConference sponsored today by the Alliance of Professional Associations and the PM Forum in Chicago. Levick is president/CEO of Levick Strategic Communications. More of his comments are found on Larry Bodine's Professional Marketing Blog.
Well said, Richard!
Michelle Golden: Social Media Strategies for Professionals and Their Firms: The Guide to Establishing Credibility and Accelerating Relationships (Wiley Professional Advisory Services)
A timeless guide to modern marketing strategies: online and off.
"The most comprehensive guide that I have seen so far."―Joe Bailey, CPA
"How to execute social-media strategies and the reasons why they work, written at a higher than most level; a must read if you are serious about social networking." —Anthony Provinzino, Farmers Insurance
"So much more than a run down of the tools....helps you to think strategically about social media by putting in its proper perspective."―Colette Gonsalves, CPA firm marketing director
"Extremely well organized ... winning ideas for ... firms to develop and maintain non-cookie-cutter marketing programs that are firm-specific and purposeful."―Richard Weltman, Business & bankruptcy lawyer