I had the opportunity to join Summit CPA Group team members Jamie Nau, Director of Accounting and Adam Hale, COO, on The Modern CPA Firm Success Show to discuss marketing a CPA firm – how to take your firm from local-based marketing to a wider, national outreach.
Here’s that podcast episode:
The Modern CPA Success Show: Episode 9 Transcript
CPA firms are often location-based, so Summit has to approach marketing on a bigger scale than what is normal in our industry, because we are a virtual firm, and we work with clients all over the country. Today we are sitting down with Kelly Schuknecht, Director of Marketing at Summit CPA and Adam Hale to talk about how Summit CPA markets itself to a national market. Marketing isn’t a priority for a lot of CPA firms, but if you want your business to grow and reach an audience beyond your local area, you can learn from the practices that Summit CPA uses.
Jamie Nau: Welcome to Episode 9 of the podcast. Today we are joined by our Director of Marketing, Kelly Schuknecht, and of course, Adam Hale is joining us once again. We are going to talk about marketing. So it’s awesome to have a marketing person here, and actually have a marketing person within our accounting firm. It’s really helped us grow. It’s helped us do a lot of things better, and obviously give a lot of attention to the firm. In this role of doing podcasting, I work with Kelly a lot, so I’m excited to get her on the podcast finally. It was tough to get her here, but now that she’s here, I’m sure you’ll be entertained by her. So, Kelly, you want to start off with a quick introduction of you and your background.
Kelly Schuknecht: So I’m Kelly Schuknecht, [inaudible] I am that Director of Marketing at Summit. I’ve been here for about a year and a half. My background actually was in publishing. I worked kind of in publishing and marketing, and I actually worked with Jody on his first book, which is what brought me to Summit.
Jamie Nau: Awesome. Great. So tell us about a normal day for you at Summit. I know a normal day is hard to answer when you work at Summit, but tell us about normal day, normal week and kind of what you do on while here at Summit.
Kelly Schuknecht: I think of marketing as like it’s a lot like juggling, right? So I’m juggling a lot of different things, probably like any job. But so I’m kind of in and out of lots of different things all the time. Working on content. We do a lot of content marketing, working on social media, working on web site projects, working on kind of one off project that come up. We need a new guide for something. We need some new, sort of marketing tool. Kind of juggling all of those all the time. What’s the most important thing that we need to do right now? You know, whether it’s updating a web site page, creating a new guide for a service that we’re offering, you know, getting our social media content for the week, all of those types of things.
Jamie Nau: Great. Now obviously, you’re a busy person, so again, with all those things going on, what do you feel is the most important aspect of marketing a CPA firm? And what is the one thing you do each day? Like, if I don’t do this, well then something is not going to succeed in our marketing strategy.
Kelly Schuknecht: You know, I think it’s interesting. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and when they talk about marketing a CPA firm, they often will talk about things that are different from what we do. So very different from what we do, because CPA firms are often location based, right? So the marketing is often, you know, maybe the Yellow Pages, worrying about placement in things like that. But also like, advertising on Yelp, or just other kind of local marketing. Summit takes a different approach because our clients are all over the country. So we have to kind of approach marketing on a bigger scale than that. Our marketing is very, you know, Jody often talks about thought leadership, right? So kind of leading in our arena, which is digital agencies, and doing education based marketing. So we do a lot of articles. We do a lot of social media content. We do a lot of speaking engagements and networking. I think that’s a big one for us. So when you’re talking about a typical CPA firm, I would say those might be slightly different. But if a CPA firms wanted to grow outside of their local area, then networking and speaking are really big for Summit, and the web site. You know, SEO, considering how people are going to find your web site, if you’re in, Boston and you want to be reaching clients in California, how are they going to find you? So those are some of the things that I would say are really important for CPA firms to be considering.
Adam Hale: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. I mean, early on, I guess in our career and also other CPA firms that I work with and people that I talk to, you know, marketing just isn’t a thing for most CPA firms. And when they do it, it’s usually emails. It’s newsletters. A lot of mailers. So it’s typically driven towards like tax returns, and things of that nature, the traditional services like that’s what I was used to, and I think that’s what a lot of other firms did. Then you would see this evolution, where some people would put together web sites. Everybody’s web site kind of looked the same now. There were some really good cookie cutter ones for CPA firms. Everybody had the same newsletter. Then all of a sudden I started to see a few that were doing like pay-per-click. And I think, Kelly, you made a great point. It’s like if your if you’re local, those kind of things are possible. You know, if you’re just trying to like if you have a really small footprint, you know, you can do some direct mailers. You can do some PPC specifically for what you’re trying to do, but whenever your footprint is, you know, maybe nationwide, even state size, you know, that region, whatever that’s going to be, if you found a niche that you want to work within, it’s really difficult and not cost effective to do a lot of PPC, is it? Like if you wanted to do what we do nationally, doesn’t that have to be pretty directed?
Kelly Schuknecht: Yeah, well the PPC advertising, I think it depends on what you’re offering and what the return is going to be. In publishing PPC advertising is big. For what we, reaching digital agencies, PPC is maybe less of a priority. It kind of depends on where your audience is and who you’re trying to reach. And you could so PPC advertising in different locations. So you could do Facebook, you could do LinkedIn, and you can do Google. You know, if you’re trying to reach certain people on Google, PPC advertising is great. Also, you’re SEO is really important. So for us, we’ve seen that we focus on the content marketing, and the SEO, because we want to rank in the top, basically on the first page for our target key words. If we’re not doing that, PPC advertising might help us reach more people than we are without that.
Adam Hale: But the cheaper way is to build out some content, and then the PPC stuff, I don’t know about you, but whenever I see that stuff, whenever I Google something, everything says ad, ad, ad, ad, I just immediately like scroll right through it. It’s frustrating sometimes the page is nothing but ads. But I go straight to where that SEO stuff that you’re talking about, where we’re doing a lot of blogging and putting out content where we’re able to get some traction there. That’s typically where I go anyway for content, because those ads just feel like sometimes you’re in this like weird trap. So I stopped clicking on those things, you know, years ago as it related to that.
Kelly Schuknecht: I don’t think you’re alone in that. But, you know, it depends on your product, right? If we are trying to sell one tax return to 5000 companies, you’re going to try to reach as many companies you can with that ad. On the other hand, if your client is not buying up a one-time service, or a one-time product, they’re bigger. I mean, our clients are paying for a lot more than a tax return, right? It’s more of a long term relationship. And I think that the marketing for Summit, what we do is, a lot more of building relationships, and that takes more time, and is more than just like a flashy ad on the screen
Adam Hale: Right, because we do take the education approach, which, you know, I typically will tell any firm that I’m working with. That’s kind of the way to go. Just become the thought leader, be able to be that resource for clients. Don’t be afraid to give away too much information. It’ll come back to you either with that particular client, or they’ll refer somebody. I think that’s important. But the only problem or challenges, it took us a while to build up our website and our reputation through all that stuff, and pump out tons of content. A lot of people don’t have time to write articles, and do all those other kinds of things. So aside from PPC on Google, I heard you mentioned LinkedIn and Facebook, and there’s all these other platforms. You know, what’s the word on the street there? What’s the effectiveness? And, you know, what should people be doing if they’re going to have like an overall campaign? What should they be paying for that kind of stuff on that side?
Kelly Schuknecht: As far as like, if they’re doing PPC advertising where they should focus that?
Adam Hale: Yeah well, I mean, I need sales now. So what will happen is I’ll work with a firm, and at first they’re just like, hey, how do I deliver this CFO service? So we kind of go through that whole thing, and they’re like, fantastic. Now, if they have a big book of business, it’s easy to comb through there, grab two or three clients that would be a good fit and then, you know, kind of cultivate business that way. Then slowly referrals come and then you get speaking opportunities, and at that time they can like build up their website in their content and do those things at the same time. But some people need a faster path there. They might not have a portfolio with a bunch of those clients. So it’s like, hey, how do I get out there? I mean, I think VCFO services kind of sell themselves. Whenever you go out and you talk to your peers, you talk to bankers or whatever that are in your geographic location. But if they’re like, hey, I just really want to pour some fuel on this thing. I mean, is it going to LinkedIn? I’ve been hearing some things about Facebook, that the returns haven’t been that fantastic for a lot of folks. But I know there’s still a ton of money that gets thrown at Facebook. So, I mean, for a B2B type of a relationship. I mean, is it Facebook? Is it LinkedIn?
Kelly Schuknecht: Again, it depends., right? So, again, when I was in publishing, Facebook was a really big platform. That’s where our clients were. For Summit, Facebook? Not so much. I mean when people are on Facebook, in my opinion, it tends to be more of a personal nature. I’m looking at what my friends are posting, my family’s posting. Even as a professional, you know, I have a personal life. Same with our clients when they’re on Facebook. They tend to be doing things that are more of a personal nature, whereas when they’re on LinkedIn, they’re a little bit more in professional mode. You know, regardless of what time of day it is, or what day of the week it is or whatever, they’re more in professional mode. So for CPA firms who are trying to reach clients for whatever their needs may be, LinkedIn may be more effective for them. I think the key with PPC advertising is whatever platform you’re on, wherever you’re finding your audience, you’re testing different things. You’re always trying different ads, or trying different platforms because you may be surprised. Maybe you find out that you have a bigger audience on Twitter for whatever your target client base is. So it kind of depends on those factors. But I think the biggest key is to try different things, and test different ads on different platforms, and see what is working best for who you’re trying to reach.
Adam Hale: You bring up a good point, though, because like marketing, unlike biz dev, you know, we always talk about those being in two different worlds, right? Like marketing to me, and correct me, that’s your lane, but it’s more about like branding, and traffic and those kind of things. So it’s harder for me as an owner to then, like, justify, or try out things that maybe you’re doing in terms of writing articles, and doing the web site, and even doing some PPC stuff, unless their quick hitters like potentially tax return work but these bigger jobs. And then quite frankly, I mean, maybe I’m just different, but whenever I get hounded, and trolled on LinkedIn, I’m usually like, ignore, ignore, ignore. Even though I know it’s more about brand awareness. So it’s not necessarily like trolling for leads, it’s probably more of like promoting articles, and content through your LinkedIn is really what you should be doing. I would assume so that it gets people interested in that kind of stuff. So how do you know whenever it’s been effective, when it doesn’t have like a direct tie? I mean, not to say that it can’t. But what are some of the things that you look at to see if we’re spending our time in the right spot?
Kelly Schuknecht: I think that you make a good point about the kind of the trolling that happens on LinkedIn. We don’t want to be those people. I don’t recommend that anyone be those people. You know, you get those LinkedIn connection emails, people trying to connect with you. Then they send you email after email. That’s not the approach that I would recommend, or that we take a Summit. I like to think of our social media as supporting all of our other efforts so we don’t spend a ton of time on social media necessarily. But our social media is always putting out the content that we’re working on. We’re developing all of this content. The content marketing option, what we’re doing there, is we’re writing articles based on what our clients are finding valuable. We see what our clients find valuable through the events that we’re going to, when we are speaking, they’re asking questions, we’re listening and we’re developing content that’s helpful to them. We then are using that content, we’re putting it out there onto the sites where our clients are, where potential clients are, where people that are in our niche are, and where they’re going to find that content. And so when we when we are reaching out to other sites to publish our content, saying we’ve written this article, we think it’s great, we think it’ll be really helpful for this audience. We are now using their platform to publish content to reach a bigger audience than what we’re reaching through just putting something out on LinkedIn, or putting something out on Twitter. When they then share our content, then that’s going out to their audience. We can then share that, and we’re showing partnerships that we’re developing over time. You mentioned earlier how it can take time. It does. Developing those types of relationships, and partnerships that take time, and developing content takes time. But those things are helping us reach a bigger scale. So when it comes down to looking at the analytics, we can put out one article and, you know, we don’t necessarily know exactly how many people that may bring us, but we can look at the numbers, we can look at the growth of our followers on our social media platforms. We can look at the number of sessions on our website. So the number of people that are coming to our website and looking at our content, we can watch those numbers over time. We can see how many people come in from a specific article, or specific social media post. But sometimes, some of those things are a little bit more fuzzy when it comes to marketing because something, you know, you guys may do a podcast interview. You do those outside of this podcast, you are interviewed on another podcast, and that might bring in traffic. They heard your name, they heard, Summit, and then they search Summit, and then they find us online. But watching all of those numbers, and seeing how things are progressing over time is how we can see what’s working well, what’s not, what content is working the best. Those kinds of things.
Adam Hale: So we are accountants and we want to see numbers. So that’s the why most accounting firms don’t have big marketing budgets, or if they do, like I said, it’s a lot of local bootstrapping. You know, it’s just like promotional stuff for mailers and letters. But I can speak from our experience that it is a process, and it’s not one of those things where you see immediate results. But once you build it, what was that movie, Field of Dreams? You build it, they will come. That’s basically what marketing is. You just have to trust the system and then, you know, make sure you have a good vendor, or somebody on your team that really understands what’s going on like you do, Kelly. I mean, I think that you bring a lot of clarity to sometimes where it’s like you said, you’re able to take the same content, and spread it across five or six different channels so we can, repurpose a lot of our content. So you’re not having to reinvent the wheel every time. So I think it’s been huge. We just had somebody actually this morning that reached out to us. And thanks to you, Kelly, they reach out to us, and they say, hey, just wanted to know more about virtual CFO services. Never really understood it or anything. I asked him how he found us, and he was like well, I just typed in virtual CFO services in Boston, Massachusetts, which none of us are in. And we came up number one, two, and like four. He said, after I read a couple of your articles, I was like, I’ll just give you a call. So it definitely works for sure. Yeah, that’s the thing.
Jamie Nau: It’s funny as I’m listening to you talk, Kelly, I realized how much I’m being marketed, you know, as you’re talking about Facebook. I was thinking, you know, if I’m on Facebook and there’s the greatest article, or there’s the best advertising in the world for something that would help me as the director of accounting at Summit, I doubt I would click on it, even if it’s something I need. My brain’s not there. But if there’s an article for the worst basketball product in the world, I’m clicking on it. And so you’re in a different mindset when you’re on Facebook. And again, if I’m on LinkedIn, that’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking for articles to help me in my career. And same thing with Twitter. I definitely use Twitter for more professional reasons. So it’s funny, as you were talking, I’m like, wow, I’m really getting marketed every day, so much it’s funny. But one thing you mentioned earlier too, was how local CPA firms market a little bit different. And so I was thinking back to my days at Grant Thornton, when I was in the Denver office, and the requirements they had of me was, you know, I had to try to be on a board, a Denver board. I had to try to, you know, go golfing with people once a month, and stuff like that. And then also, I had to try to speak locally and join different organizations. So now that I’m at Summit, which, like you said, is a distributed firm, there’s still requirements of me as a director, or even when I was a CFO, but not the same type requirements. Can you talk about that a little bit, how you use the team to help you with your marketing approach?
Kelly Schuknecht: So how I use the team to help with the marketing, like as far as ow getting them involved in the things that we’re doing now?
Jamie Nau: Exactly.
Kelly Schuknecht: Yeah. So you were talking about with local and it’s true. You get involved in those local connections, right? And we’re doing the same thing just on a different scale because we’re connecting with these organizations all over the country. And so, you know very well, I reach out to the team all the time for when I need a quote for this article, or I need somebody to interview with a publication for something. And so you guys are helping all the time with doing podcast interviews, doing just quick little interviews that get us mentioned in articles, then we’re just kind of connecting with these organizations. Because we’re a distributed company, we tend to connect a lot with remote work type organizations who want to hear from us on how we’re running a company with people all over the country, and what kind of tools we have in place for that. So the team, I would say, is always helping with doing interviews. And I try to bother you guys the least amount possible. I’m not going to ask you to spend a ton of time, all of the time. But however I can kind of quickly take a little bit of your time to kind of put things out there to show that Summit is more than just Jody, or just Adam, or the speakers that people may see when some of our team will go out and do speaking engagements. Someone may meet them in person, but they don’t realize there’s, you know, 40 others of us behind the scenes. And so it’s fun to get different people from the team involved in those types of things so that people can see there is a whole team here, and that there is a lot of us that are behind the scenes.
Jamie Nau: No, that’s great. I definitely think it’s been valuable to me. Like I said, I’ve seen the best of both worlds. I saw when I was going to different events, doing all that. And I do think what we do is actually, for me, a lot of fun. Just, you know, talking to somebody for fifteen minutes for an article, or answering a question for you and giving you a quote. So I really do enjoy the day to day off of what we do in terms of how the how a team gets to help marketing out. And I do definitely agree, like whenever I see an article, and I keep seeing the same name pop-up from the same organization, you start to wonder, okay, is Jody the only person with brains in that organization? Are there other people there the can give us information?
All: Laughing [inaudible]
Adam Hale: Yeah, I mean the thing is, some of these CPA firms, there’s not many people. But if you can leverage the team, it definitely makes a lot of sense. But, you know, another question that I get a lot is related to tools from a marketing perspective. And I know you do a lot of automation, but especially as it relates to like a CRM or something like that. I know we use HubSpot, and that integrates, I don’t know exactly how it works, but I know we use it to manage our leads, and some of the things that come in through the web site, and that kind of thing. I mean, what’s some best practices when somebody is like trying to figure out what type of CRM or marketing tools they should be using?
Kelly Schuknecht: Yeah, we do use HubSpot. We use it to manage our website, and our blog, and all of those things. So, yeah, I think best practices for tools, I think with marketing, things move fast. There’s always new tools that are out there. It’s important to always be looking at what’s new, what’s out there, because you can get stuck in using something, and now there’s this new thing out there. So just in general, try new tools.
Adam Hale: What’s your tool of the month? In marketing, what’s the one tool outside of HubSpot, because I know it’s an amazing widespread platform for many things. So outside of HubSpot what makes your life super easy that you couldn’t live without?
Kelly Schuknecht: So my two current favorite, one is Canva, which I use to create graphics. I am a marketing person, but I am not a designer. So Canva makes it super, super easy for me to create really nice graphics without being a designer, or having to pay somebody, or wait for design graphics to come in, because that could take some time. So I love, love, love Canva. The second one is Later, which is a social media scheduling app. I use that for scheduling out our social content. So I can kind of batch it. I can work for an hour, and kind of sketch out all the content for this week, next week, whatever. I can create the graphics in Canva, and then use Later to schedule them out. So those are my two current favorites. But ask me again in a few months and I bet it’ll change because I am always trying new ones.
Jamie Nau: So wait a second. When you send out those tweets at midnight that’s not actually you doing it?
All: Laughing [inaudible]
Adam Hale: Yeah she purposely does it so it looks like she is still working.
All: Laughing [inaudible]
Jamie Nau: So real quick I want to plug our email address. We’re always looking for new content, questions, people to come on and join the show. If you’re interested email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, we’re looking for anything into this email address. We want to keep the show moving. We want to make sure we’re hitting the topics that interest you. So again, the email address is: email@example.com. So is there anything in the marketing realm that we have not talked about, Kelly or Adam that you guys going to make sure we get into this podcast?
Adam Hale: Yeah, I mean, I think that the other thing that you don’t think about is the collateral in the material that supports you. So years ago it was always like, hey, you had to have a web site because it legitimizes you. That’s the way a lot of these white papers, and content are, in fact, Kelly, you and I were having a conversation today. I was sending some stuff out to a prospect. And I was like, cool, I need this like three page brochure, basically to be able to tell everything about us, our history, the services we provide. And we have that. We have content like that at our disposal. And I can say that, you know, marketing supports us in a lot of different ways. So on the biz dev front, we’re doing all these different things. And then, as you said, they’re seeing the content out there. They’re reading the articles. So they’re already coming to us with a little bit of knowledge. And then whenever we can turn around, and then grab that piece of collateral, and just kind of dust it off, and put that finishing touch on a conversation is huge for us and for me.
Jamie Nau: Great point. How about you, Kelly. Any final thoughts for the listeners?
Kelly Schuknecht: Yeah, I think one thing that came up for me when we were talking earlier is I think the biggest thing to keep in mind when you’re marketing your CPA firm, or marketing anything is knowing your audience. You know, you talked Jamie, if you see something basketball related when you’re on Facebook, you might gravitate toward that, right? We know what kind of content our audience is looking for. We know who we’re going to reach on different platforms, or how we’re going to reach them, things that their attention, and I think that’s the biggest thing. Whatever niche an accounting firm is looking for. If you know, we want to serve this type of client, know that audience, and meet them where they are.
Jamie Nau: Awesome. Well, I definitely appreciate both of your time. And Kelly, I think you did an awesome job. We’ll definitely have you on here again to talk about more marketing topics. So I appreciate both, Kelly, and Adam’s time, and thanks for our listeners for joining us today.