The path to business success is littered with obstacles, few of them more confusing to many newcomers than PR and self-promotion. But you don’t need to be a marketing guru to grasp the basics.
Let’s be perfectly upfront about this: unless you have a family member who works in media or you’ve quietly been studying a master’s degree in marketing, there’s a chance you don’t know an awful lot about promoting yourself and your business.
Why should you? Accountancy and PR are not exactly natural bedfellows. And yet if you don’t at least think about self-promotion and learn a little about how it all works, you may find yourself lagging behind.
Not convinced? Well, if the firm down the road has a flashier website than yours, an active social media presence and a photographer from the local paper knocking at their door every other week, it stands to reason that they’re more likely to become better known than you are. So they’ll probably attract more clients.
Self-promotion is a vital part of business if you want to succeed.
A 1,000-word article is never going to turn you into Alan Sugar, but we can certainly tick off the basics. If you find yourself reading along with a self-satisfied grin because you know all this – well done: move on to the next level (Seth Godin or HubSpot’s excellent marketing blogs, for example).
For everyone else: don’t worry. You’ll be amazed how many people will be coming across this information for the first time.
1. Get a social media presence
These are free “shop windows” for your business. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more allow you to promote yourself and build up a network of followers. What to post? Well, if you go right to the top and take a leaf out of the Ernst & Young book, help and advice is a good way to go.
2. Add pictures
Accountancy firms sometimes struggle with images to go with social media. A shot of the office? A close-up of an Excel spreadsheet? Websites like freeimages.com have a wealth of photos that you can use at no cost – just aim for something professionally-shot that gives a flavour of whatever you’re writing about. If you’ve an idea for an infographic, pay a visit to fiverr.com and get it designed for next to nothing.
3. Create a website
A graphic designer will typically want north of £500 to create a basic website, that sum easily multiplying by five if you want a few bells and whistles. Or you can create your own. For around £100 a year, wix.com will let you design a website and they’ll host it for you. Their interface is slick, state-of-the-art and pretty easy to work with: the best way to start is with one of their templates.
4. Gather followers
Let people know that your social media accounts exist: link to them on your website, have their addresses printed on your business card and added to your email signature, and make regular, useful posts to show that you’re worth following. With Twitter, an easy way to build up some followers and acquire the look of a seasoned pro is to follow a few hundred people: many will follow you back. You can always stop following them later if they’re not relevant to your work.
5. Leap right in
It’s easy to think you’re not creative enough for PR and self-promotion: even the jargon can be deeply off-putting. It might be easier to embrace all this if you cut through the nonsense. “Marketing” is simply the act of promoting yourself to get more business. SEO, at its most basic level, is ensuring that the words on your website properly reflect what you do so that Google’s search bots will find you. As for “content”, that’s easy. It’s anything you create that people will read, look at or listen to.
6. Understand the press
It can be daunting trying to get into the newspapers or trade journals when you don’t know where to start. First understand that there are several ways a company may appear in print, including paid advertising, paid advertorials (which are designed to look like editorial) and genuine editorial, which is when an editor thinks they’d like to write about you. This last one is free – if you want press, it’s your job to work out how you can make it happen.
7. Have something to say
As an expert in your field, you possess something that may be of value to the right publication: knowledge. One possible way to attract the attention of the press – especially at a local level – is to offer advice, maybe a weekly column or perhaps timely information that readers may find helpful. Other ways to get press coverage include having an interesting opinion on something topical, and doing something charitable or for the good of the local community. Be warned, however, most magazines and newspapers have many hundreds of people wanting to get into them, so your message needs to be clear and compelling.
8. Do it the right way
The traditional way to contact the media is with a press release, which can be posted or – more commonly – emailed. There’s an accepted written format for this (for examples type in “press release” at WikiHow.com) so try and follow the rules – or you could simply try calling the editor or a writer to see if you can attract their interest. If they don’t bite, don’t give up – ask what they are looking for and see if you can create something more to their liking next time.
9. Involve the team
A 30-minute brainstorm with the whole team every fortnight might yield possible PR gold: keep the meetings upbeat, encourage participation and maybe even reward the best ideas. If this can lead to a steady string of ideas that results in a great relationship with an editor, free publicity is yours for the taking. Next make sure that you have a dedicated person in the office who can speak to the press: assign that role to someone relatively senior who can speak articulately, knows the company message and who can explain with some authority the things that you’re promoting. If you’re a sole-trader, this tip still works – just put some time aside and do it!
10. Start blogging
One of the easiest ways to build up a solid reputation in any industry is to write a regular blog. When you create your website, be sure to add a blog link on your menu. Aim for at least one blog posting (of around 500 words) per week, and ask yourself what readers will find useful and, hopefully, shareable on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re not writing the blog yourself, try and get the office’s best writer on side, as you want your blogs to be as interesting as possible. As you build up a body of blogs, make sure each new posting has relevant links to older ones, thus creating a virtuous circle. Importantly, blogs can really help with Google search – but resist the temptation to over-plug your business. You’re an accountancy firm. You’re writing about the budget deficit. We get it!