Right, you’re going to be serious now. You’re going to focus your energy and attention on marketing a bit more (maybe this is your 2021 plan).
But you know marketing always gets put off. You plan an hour or some time to “do marketing” and then you get emails and messages and phone calls and a team member needs something and a client has an urgent question about some new regulation and suddenly it’s 4pm (or 6pm or 10pm) and you haven’t done a single marketing thing.
“That’s it”, you say. “Clearly I can’t just vaguely plan marketing – I’ve got to block out a full day, regularly, once a week or once a month, and really do it. That’s the only way to get it done”.
A client asked me this recently – he said “You mentioned you don’t do meetings on Mondays. I’ve been thinking I need to block out a day for creative things so I can focus better. Do you stick to just one day a week and would you recommend it??”
It’s a great question and as with all marketing questions the answer is of course….
In this case, in the realm of blocking out time to “work on marketing”, it depends on these factors.
Planning your marketing time depends on the kind of person you are
Some people are “block out a full day and get loads of stuff done’ people. I am, for sure and certain, not one of these people. I am incredibly motivated by deadlines, by time bound requirements, by people depending on me. If I know I need to get some content to our marketing manager by Friday so she can pull it together and work with our designers by Tuesday so I can review it by next Thursday and they can publish it by the following Monday….then I do it. Because they’re relying on me, and even one day’s delay on my end doesn’t simply push the schedule out by another day… considering they’ve planned all their work around all the projects they’re doing, it could push it out by three days or a week or longer.
Despite popular belief, marketing agency teams aren’t sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for you to send them information, ready to leap into action for you and you alone the second you send it! They’ve actually scheduled out their work for at least a week or two (sometimes longer) and that’s why there are deadlines.
I remember working with an accountant and his team on a detailed campaign plan for their live event (back in former times). We provided them with an organised, prioritised list in great detail of everything to create in order to get to the result they wanted for their event (they wanted to triple the number of registered attendees). The items weren’t just things like “Write blog posts” – it listed out every blog post, with a title and some key points, and which blog was to be written and in what order and how long it needed to be and whether a video needed to be included.
He said, “Okay great – what I do is just block out a day or two a month and I’ll just burn through these one by one on that day”. I asked him if he’d done that before and if it worked for him, and one of his team piped in to say, “Oh yes, that’s the only way it works for him. If you try to get it in pieces you’ll never get anything – but if he blocks out time and focuses on it, he’ll churn out 16 videos, two blog posts, and a structure for a Facebook Live”.
I found that fascinating, because that doesn’t work for me AT ALL.
I’ve tried it. I remember trying it again after I talked to that client, wondering if I was missing a trick or was being super unmotivated or was just not disciplined enough.
But on the day I’d blocked out, I started later, stared at the screen a lot, created one blog post and a video and then felt rather exhausted and took a break to work on other types of work….and before I knew it, it was the end of the day and I had achieved about the same amount I’d have done if I used an hour or two between other work.
I’ve actually discovered that having a specific list of marketing content I want to create, and then grabbing 10 minutes or a half hour or an hour between meetings is one of the most productive methods for me – because I’m more motivated and inspired when I’ve just recently been talking to a team member or a client or an accountant I know. We’ve chatted about what’s difficult or what’s exciting, maybe we’ve come up with some new ideas or answered questions or dug deep into the “why is that not working”, and I am MUCH more motivated after a call like that to quickly record a video, and be happy with it, than to put it on the list and try to record it a week later when I’m tired or didn’t sleep well or it’s dark in my office (because Scottish winter) or the enthusiasm has faded.
Some people love that focus and are motivated by it.
Some are motivated by deadlines and others depending on them (me).
Some don’t know how they’re motivated yet and need to try different things (could be you!). And some just need to do some more preparation to be ready to do any marketing work at all.
For me, I need to strike while the enthusiasm is strong: and my content will be the better for it. Not everyone is like that.
It’s so helpful to truly know yourself: and to be okay with that.
It depends on how much investment you’ve put into learning how marketing works
If you’re vague at all about what helps buyers make their buying decision – not just in general but specifically about choosing an accountant to work with – this will prevent you making great strides in your marketing efforts, because you’ll block out all this time, refuse client meetings, maybe even turn off your phone…and then sit there. And wonder. And feel lost.
Or, you could have the most detailed marketing list ever, and block out the time, and actually work on it…only to discover you spent 4 hours reading articles about SEO and playing with a new app and signing up for free trials of website heat map. When really the most powerful and effective thing you could have used your time for was to write a blog post or record a video on a question your clients keep asking you, over and over again.
This is one of the reasons we recommend every accountant read “They Ask You Answer”.
It’s for any business (not just accountants) and is based on the simple principle that you create content based on the questions your clients and prospects are asking. That’s it. Even if you didn’t read the book but took on that concept you’d be further on than before. I’ve talked to so many accountants this year who – thanks to the weirdness and messed-up-ness of 2020 – stopped waffling about with vague or over-ambitious marketing “tactics” and simply created content for their actual, live, real, human clients.
They wrote blog posts on questions they kept getting asked. They picked up their phone and actually recorded Instagram lives or little videos posted to Facebook or insta or (gasp) TikTok. They sent emails which weren’t perfect and had spelling mistakes and sometimes had the wrong link. One of our clients had to send an email three times in the space of five minutes because she got the link wrong TWICE. She felt awful…but all her clients laughed and said “we totally get it! And we appreciate you! Thank you so much for this!” because the content of her email was what they needed. And they appreciated her humanity and honesty, not her perfection.
So if you’ve blocked out even a half hour or an hour to ‘work on marketing’, the single best thing you could do with that time is to pick a question you (or your team) are tired of answering over and over, and record a Loom video on it.
Do it in one take – don’t overthink it, don’t get the perfect background or lighting, just make sure you have good audio and can be heard. Then upload your Loom video to Happy Scribe and get a transcription of it, make some edits and put that in a blog post and publish it. Suddenly, now, you’ve saved yourself 5 minutes or 10 minutes or maybe even 30 minutes in EVERY meeting where this question gets asked – and you have the added bonus of the person thinking, “Oh, they must know what they’re doing. Clearly this isn’t the first time they’ve been asked this. I’m glad I’m working with someone who has experience.”
You can do this with qualifying questions for prospects. What might they ask that you could pre-empt before the meeting, and make it shorter, or possibly even skip the meeting altogether?
Maybe they say “that’s perfect, I’d love to start, how much would it be for me” and you have a proposal meeting. Maybe they say “actually that’s not what I want / it’s too expensive / I’m not ready / I want to go somewhere else”, and you’ve saved yourself AND them at least a full hour of wasted time. (I know some of you are thinking “but what if I COULD HAVE persuaded them in a meeting? Listen, if you can’t persuade them in a blog post or a video you wouldn’t persuade them in a meeting. Or worse, you would…and then six months later or a year later you’d realise you signed up a client who isn’t the right fit for you and doesn’t live up to your values and you wish you’d never done it.)
This is what our accountants do in the Accelerator course. They learn about what works and what to do in what order…but what I love best is they actually create content. They write blog posts and record videos and say “it’s not perfect but here it is”, and they come back to us later to share how that prospect who’d been following them for months or years read their blog post and decided finally to get in touch and sign up.
It’s why learning about marketing isn’t just something you listen to: it’s something you DO. Yourself. At least have some involvement in it, even if you outsource or delegate parts of it. Be involved with the ideas and the key points and the heart of it, because that’s what your marketing is: YOURS.
It depends whether you have help and support to give you guidance
If you are doing this purely on your own, without a marketing team or an agency or someone you trust to bounce things off, you’ll get pretty confused pretty fast.
If you’re reading this Note, I’m happy to be that person even in a small way. Send me your idea or your draft or your “I don’t know where to start”, and I’ll drop you a note in reply. I love helping people – and because we as a team have invested years of answering TAYA (they ask you answer) questions, it’s very possible your question already has a blog post or a video or a resource which could make your marketing time so much more productive.
Eventually you’ll want to build a full marketing team in your firm (if you’re planning to grow and scale it), but until then, get help as you need it from people you trust. Read their stuff and follow them and reply to their posts and send them a DM. The right people will help you simply to be helpful.
It depends on how you work creatively vs how you do client work
Working creatively is very different from doing client work. First, you are very comfortable with client work. You know exactly what you’re doing (or where to go if you need guidance). Even if it’s not easy, it’s familiar. You may have a whole team of accountants and bookkeepers to help do the work with you. You have processes and systems and apps and software and it all flows along like clockwork.
But marketing… that’s creative work. And creative work…works differently. It’s experimental. Questioning. Playful.
Think about how children play. They don’t sit hunched over a computer in a small office with bad lighting….they spread OUT. The lego goes EVERYWHERE on the floor. The paper is spread out on the table. The crayons are flung out of the box so they can find the one they want.
It’s a mess.
That’s how it’s supposed to be, because they’re trying things.
Even if your marketing plan is to sit down and write a blog post, think about how you can do that creatively. Do you have a standing desk, or can you move yours to another room? Is there a comfortable chair you can sit in? Perhaps a coffee shop, if they’re open, or even a room at a family member’s house for a change?
The important factor is change.
You’re thinking differently than you do with client work, and the space you use and the environment affect how you think.
I ran a creative workshop on ‘brainstorming new ideas for your business’ many years ago with 30 or 40 business owners, all of which were wearing blue or black suits and were very ready to learn business-y things. In preparation for the event, I had read a book about brainstorming and it pointed out that having something for your hands to play with helped immensely with coming up with new ideas. So I went to the local pound shop, and bought a bunch of toys. Little plastic water pistols, squeezy toys, slinkys, funky sorts of pens, crayons, coloured paper, robots. I piled these things in the centre of each table, and when the attendees came in they looked curiously at these toys, but didn’t touch them. It was as if they were thinking, “i’m at a business event. Surely there’s a purpose for these but I’ll find out later”.
When I started the workshop, I started right in explaining what helps us to be more creative, and explained the toys. I said “there’s literally no purpose to them other than for something to play with. So pick them up, hold them, do what you want with them during this workshop.” They started doing that. Tossing a toy from hand to hand. Doodling notes. Tying ribbon. Throwing a ball to someone at another table.
The entire mood of the room changed. They were laughing, they were talking to each other, they were making notes.
If you’re going to block out any kind of creative time, start by being a little more creative about WHERE you spend it, and the accoutrements which will help make it more effective. Maybe it is truly a laptop and a chair – but a different chair than you usually sit in.
I have a Harmoni standing desk which I keep downstairs, because it’s so incredibly moveable (it really is the coolest desk I’ve ever owned – I highly recommend it even if you have a “proper” standing desk in your office already!). And when I want to get focused on writing or reviewing or sketching or thinking differently, I leave my upstairs office with its imac and webcam and microphone and software…and go downstairs to the dining room where I stand and work on the laptop (or sketch on the ipad). And I create, and I keep an eye on the happenings in my street, and smile at the Christmas lights on my neighbours’ houses going on, and step into the kitchen for yet another cup of tea, and everything feels just a little different.
Make sure you have an ongoing TAYA list (‘they ask you answer’) of all the questions your clients and prospects ask
It’s VERY hard to create this list after the fact, or on the day you’ve decided to do marketing. Even if your client has asked the question in written form, you’ll find yourself thinking ‘was it in a Whatsapp message? An email? A message on Facebook?’ And then you’ll go to whatsapp to find it, and a client will have messaged you something else, and you start working on that, and….goodbye, marketing time.)
Start even BEFORE your creative time to create one place for all these questions to live.
At PF we use a #they-ask channel in Slack (and I know some of our clients do the same), but you could use a Gsheet or Evernote or Trello or whatever you want, as long as everyone in the firm has access to it and knows where it is and is in the habit of adding to it. (It can take months or even a year or two to fully build this habit, so just keep encouraging them, and yourself. And get new team members to get used to it straight away.)
Your marketing time will be far more productive when you know what you ACTUALLY plan to do
What you need is a very, very specific list. Not “work on marketing” or “write some blogs”, but a detailed list of exactly what you need to do, for whom, what its purpose is, and what you need to have ready in order to work on it.
This is one of the biggest preventors to working on anything related to marketing, because you already feel uncomfortable and unsure and out of your comfort zone. (Maybe you’ve moved your desk or chair and are literally in a different place and that feels strange, too.) So if you finally take that time and stare at your screen thinking “okay let’s do this”, you’ll then either feel so overwhelmed with how much there is to do that you do nothing, or so confused you keep getting distracted, and default to what you’re used to.
Think about how satisfying it is to create a to do list and tick each item off as you do it.
For example, if you did want to “create content for onboarding”, your list could look like this:
- List of questions new clients ask
- Possibly identified by date, ie “within first week of becoming a client”, “in the first month”, “before tax return is completed”
- Prioritise questions by which ones which will save you and your team the MOST time if they were answered ahead of time
- Pick the very top question (or top 3)
- Identify the BEST way to answer each of these questions (for them, not for you) – does it need a video? Screenshare? Checklist? Blog post? PDF guide? How will they get what they need fastest?
- Plan structure:
- What kind of client is this for?
- What is the one message we want them to get from this? Are there other messages? Do they need to be in this content item or in a separate one?
- What is the one thing we want them to do after watching/reading it?
- Record video
- Make sure software works & exports video properly
- Use key points above and record content
- Export video
- Upload video to captions service for captions file
- Upload video to YouTube or Vimeo (with captions file)
- (Add your firm’s custom video intro/outro if you have one)
- Save raw video in case you need to use it in a different way later
- Embed video into blog post or web page
- Prepare email to be sent to client on joining (including embedded video)
- Create content for email
- Prepare email in email service (mailchimp or activecampaign or whatever)
- Preview/send test
- Set up automation (if required)
- Connect client sign up process with email automation
- Review other emails & content to be sent after first
That’s far more than 9 actions – each one has 2 or 4 or 7 actions within it – and the one little “create onboarding video” task has become 24 specific actions which could end up taking you a full day.
If you know that ahead of time, and you’re ready, you can spend your day really productively. But if you start vague you’ll end with nothing.
Have someone who will help you with reviewing, editing, and publishing your content once you’ve created it
Writing the blog post (or recording the video or sketching the website page idea) is merely the starting point. You’re only about 25% of the way through your marketing task at that point.
Unless you plan to do this yourself, in which case you need to factor that in to your marketing time, too, there’s a lot more work coming.
It often takes me 45 minutes or an hour to write a blog post (and that’s after writing them at least weekly for over nine years), but if I were to do all the other bits and pieces it would be at least another hour or two. And if the blog was really long or required extra review, it could take a half a day. For one blog post. So having someone who is ready and trained and familiar with all the extra tasks will make sure your content doesn’t just get created, but sees the light of day.
This includes specific tasks like: (using a blog post as an example)
- Edits & tidying: Does the post make sense? Is it structured properly and is it readable? Do your headings read like a story?
- Image: Do you have a good quality on-brand image to use with the post? Does it need editing or resized? Do you have the rights to use it? Does it fit with your style & colours?
- Drafting: Adding the content to the back end of the website, clicking the tags and categories and adding the featured image and previewing it and checking to make sure everything works
- SEO: Reviewing the keywords, key phrases, meta data, URL, and all those things
- Video: Is there a video to go with this post? Is it ready? Has it been created and uploaded, and is it in the format allowing it to be embedded into the post?
- Publishing & sharing: Actually publishing the post and sharing it wherever you want it to go. Facebook, Twitter, Insta, LinkedIn, email, website page…. Depending where it’s getting published depends how long it will take to publish. (For example, you can’t post URL’s in an instagram post, so you’d need to change the link in your bio or use a bio linking tool.)
I’ve got the whole PF team on hand to do all these things (custom design images, prepare posts, check for SEO, review and publish and share), but for years I did it all myself.
It took a lot longer, but now I really, really appreciate all the work that goes into all this. I know how to value it because I know it saves me literally 2-4 hours of time, and I know what I could be doing with those hours while the team is doing the detail work.
Ultimately, you want to use your marketing time for what ONLY you can do. Only you know what you’re talking to clients about, and their stories, and troubles, and questions, and concerns. Only you (and your team) have the answers and the input and the stories in reply. But creating a process to get this out of your head and out to the wider world (whether just your clients or to prospects too) will be the very best use of everyone’s time – and have better results, too.