Growing a small business is tough, and for bookkeepers operating in a crowded marketplace it is particularly so.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and by following some simple rules you too can grow a successful bookkeeping business without spending the earth on advertising. Gemma Butler, associate director of marketing for The Chartered Institute of Marketing, says having the customer at the heart of your business is key.
“Ultimately, being customer first is the best way to promote a small business,” she says. “Telling consumers what they want to know and promoting your services through the channels that they use is a sure-fire way to ensure that your message is reaching and engaging future customers.
“This includes identifying and communicating the key value that differentiates your products and services from competitors. Doing this not only ensures that your offer cuts through the clutter in a busy marketplace, but clearly establishes your brand as a valuable and forward-thinking service provider.”
The benefits of this approach is that your clients will feel valued by your company, and can then act as advocates for the services you provide.
Get your brand message across to potential clients
“Word of mouth remains a crucial way for small businesses to get their brand message across to prospective clients,” Butler says. “Harnessing a community of brand advocates from your existing customer base can be a low-cost, high-impact means of reaching and targeting new customers.
“Utilise the network of your existing clients, if you can, and build new relationships out of existing ones where possible.”
One bookkeeper that is doing this particularly well is Carole Alexander, founder of Carole Alexander and Associates, who has been trading for more than 10 years but has never needed to advertise because of the steady flow of work she gets through testimonials and word of mouth.
“We get recommendations from old or current clients, as well as friends and relations passing on information,” she says. “People will give us a call and then come in to chat with us for half an hour and then we either do their books or we don’t, depending on how they feel about it.
“We pride ourselves in delivering a personal service, and we always say our clients are people, not numbers so everything we do is tailored to the client’s specific needs.”
You need to work on understanding the right digital and social channels for your customers
Social media provides a global audience
While this traditional route can reap benefits for some, social media has opened up a whole new world for small businesses, granting them access to a global audience ready to listen to what you have to say.
“Technology can be a costly investment for small businesses, but there are plenty of low-cost technological solutions for start ups that can play a crucial role in building a customer base,” Butler says. “Perhaps the most important of all of these is social media, where businesses can not only keep track of customer sentiment, share engaging content and speak directly to consumers about issues that matter to them, but they can also use social channels to play an active role in building a customer community of brand advocates.
“But you need to work on understanding the right digital and social channels for your customers and using them effectively for your organisation. If you don’t know what to try, test and learn with your options and see what sticks. Then utilise the data this gives you.”
Building a business through Instagram
Alessandra Parsons knows the benefits of social media well, having built her business up through an active Instagram account engaging with potential clients in the yarn and fibre industry.
“I started off with Instagram, because that is where the clients I want to work for mostly hang out – I want to do bookkeeping for young fibre-based businesses, and Instagram is a great platform for them to showcase their products,” she says. “By using pictures and drawings of things I am doing, it made me a lot more accessible for people. I also spend a lot of time commenting on other people’s posts and answering people’s questions.”
As well as Instagram, Parsons also runs a monthly newsletter and is a member of a Facebook business group helping people with their business needs.
“After setting out on Instagram I started a monthly newsletter and I am also a member of a Facebook group called Business Without the Bo****ks, which is run by a friend of mine,” she says. “I answer people’s bookkeeping questions on there, as well as sending out helpful articles through the newsletter, using language that people can understand.
“That helps people to get to know me better, and if they know me better they will be much more likely to choose me if they are looking for a bookkeeper.”
Matt Scott is an award-winning journalist covering the business and finance sectors.