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The Americas Meeting in Miami provided practical information to members on how they can become the ‘go-to’ firms in their markets.

Jean Caragher, one of Accounting Today’s 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, and author of 'The 90 day marketing plan for CPA firms' (a discount is available to Alliott Group members) was a guest speaker at last week’s Americas Meeting in Miami and provided useful information to attendees on the importance of having a marketing plan (rather than going on ‘gut feeling’) and the marketing activities used by high growth professional services firms.

Insights provided by Caragher are shown below, and Jean's full presentation will soon be available to members via the members' site:

Firms must have a marketing plan in order to focus on where the niche markets are and how the firm is perceived in the market.

The need for differentiation

Client and referral source feedback is critical to a marketing plan – firms need to understand how they are perceived versus where they need to be in the market, as well as how their competitors are perceived. It is important to know what clients and referral sources are thinking! Carragher emphasised that the best performing firms are more likely to articulate how they are better than their competition and that is a firm’s people that will differentiate a firm and create the ‘client experience.’ Attendees were advised that the people in the firm need to live and breathe this client experience as this is what a firm is telling the market – however, it is important that the ‘client experience’ promoted to the market is defined carefully, is authentic and can be backed up.

The importance of niche focus

A focus on niches will make firms more profitable – firms need to make their people ‘famous’ so that they attract work to the firm. Focused marketing such as networking, speaking and writing can help to build a following in a niche. Having a strong reputation sells and firms can charge more for it. Becoming a niche firm will also reduce the number of competitors a firm faces.

The marketing plan

Caragher advised that putting together the marketing plan is always easier than its implementation, and prescribed the following steps for a plan:

  • Vision, mission, core values
  • Current situation
  • Description of firm/niche
  • Description of target markets
  • Growth trends
  • SWOT analysis
  • Client analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Goals and strategies
  • Timetable
  • Budget.

Some of the above steps and the tips provided for each by Jean Caragher are explained in more detail below:


Caragher defined vision as as an internal barometer of what the firm is shooting for and specified that it should be revenue driven. Everyone should be on the same page about growing the firm or the marketing plan will be inconsistent and some people will act as obstacles. Caragher added: “In 30 years, I have never come across a partner group where all were excited about marketing!”


This can be defined as ‘why you do what you do i.e. why you exist as a firm.’ The core values you set should be genuine.


Caragher advised firms to focus on niche marketing strategies and to ‘size up’ niches to evaluate which are worth pursuing based on their size and their propensity to use external legal or accounting services (useful data on this is available to Alliott Group members in the members site).

Having someone lead the niche who wants to be ‘famous’ is however critical commented Caragher, ‘Or you don’t have a niche.’ Firms should have a critical mass of clients before they start building a niche, so anywhere from 10-20 clients. Other secondary data sources such as First Research / Hoovers (a subscription discount is available to Alliott Group members) provide valuable information on trends and growth rates as well as questions that are pertinent to the C-Suite within target clients. This research will be useful in justifying strategy and will help to ensure the firm’s pitch is highly relevant.


Objectives should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. An example might be a goal to organise one seminar for manufacturing clients by September 2016. Then, once the objectives are fixed, the tasks needed to achieve each goal should be specified along with who is responsible for each task and the deadline.


Caragher advised that the respected CPA Trendlines 2014 research report shows that networking with prospects and referral sources remains the most used marketing tactic, followed by the use of digital marketing tactics such as websites, e-newsletters, social media and blogging. According to Caragher, the top lead generator for law firms is the firm’s website, followed by client seminars and presentations, and interestingly, law firm networks such as Alliott Group (source: Law Practice Advisor).

Caragher noted that high growth firms spend less on sponsorships and more on websites and search engine optimisation. A Greenfield Belser study was also quoted as it states that ‘76% of professional services buyers are likely to be influenced by the quality of a firm’s website.’

Caragher advised firms to upgrade their website presence every 3-5 years.

Timetable and Resourcing

‘Only hire an internal marketing person when you are ready to offer him/her your full support,’ was Caragher’s advice, adding that the average tenure of a marketing manager at a CPA firm is now approximately 4.5 years.

Putting a timetable in place for the marketing strategy will ensure execution of the plan is realistic in the time available. ‘Some tactics will only yield results in the long term, so firms must be consistent in their approach,’ advised Caragher. Attendees were also alerted to the fact that a written marketing plan is much more likely to be followed and that a CRM system should be used to track progress.

To be successful in marketing, a firm must match its people to what needs doing based on their skills sets – for example, some fee earners will not be comfortable in front of people but will be extremely competent in writing content.


As a benchmark, CPA firms now spend approximately an average of 2-3% of revenues on marketing, with law firms spending slightly more (2-5%).

Round table discussions

Following the presentation, attendees took part in round table discussions focused on generating ideas for how they could participate in joint marketing activities and what resources the Alliott Group Executive Office could provide to help member firms position themselves as ‘go-to’ cross border firms for entrepreneurial businesses in their markets. More information on how this feedback will be incorporated into Alliott Group’s marketing plan will be presented at upcoming regional conferences.

For more information

To find out more about Jean Caragher's presentation or to access any of the membership discounts mentioned in this article, please contact Head of Worldwide Marketing, Giles Brake.