TFYW#093: How To Not Get Your Marketing All Wrong

Jun 28, 2024

My Marketing Expense

I dug up the financial statements from the first year of running my firm to share my marketing expenses with you.

This was from my early days while finishing my controllership and moving across the country.

Year ending August 31, 2017: Gross Revenue $32K:  Total marketing spend $1,693

Here’s a snippet of my corporate tax return for that year:

Marketing as a percentage of revenue: 5% 

I am sad to report that 5% was the highest it ever was, and from 2018 to when I sold my firm, my marketing expense was never above 1.7% again.

For the year ending August 31, 2019, my marketing expense was 0.2% of revenue. 

0.2% – That is insane!

The more I grew, the less I spent on marketing as a percentage.

No wonder growth was hard, new clients were needy, and I didn’t hit my early revenue goals. 

Unfortunately, I see the same thing happen for too many small firms. 

We sometimes misunderstand what marketing and selling are. 

Since marketing expenses are operating costs in the P&L, we treat them like any other operational cost: We minimize them as much as possible.

Marketing is the only operational cost that, when spent well, drives revenue.

It should have its own cost category.   

Stable firms (we truly want to own and operate) need marketing just as much as fulfilment. 

Here are three things that you need to think differently about in your marketing.


1. Marketing Isn’t Personal 

Don’t take marketing personally.

If your marketing doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean you or what you do isn’t valuable.

It means that your message and mechanism aren’t optimized.

In mid-2020, while the pandemic was in full swing, I contacted 25 chambers of commerce.

Given that my firm had been in the cloud since 2017, I offered sessions on how to get small businesses in the cloud and adjust to the new normal of transacting online.

I thought it would be a good way to leverage collectives of businesses and get in front of 100s of small businesses.

I crafted 25 unique emails with PDF guides and sent them off.

Zero people responded.

Complete crickets.

I followed up with all of them—still nothing.

I followed up one last time.

One person replied and said they weren’t interested.

I invested well over 30 hours and drummed up zero leads.

Not even an email to add to my CRM.

Frankly, marketing is experimentation.

It doesn’t sound conservative-accountanty, but factor in that you don’t know if something works until you try it.

Don’t expect a consistent lead source from your first attempt at marketing.


2. It Takes Repetition

It will take time to get real leverage with your marketing.

The more you continue to try things for only a day or two, the more frustrated you’ll become.

And that is with any mechanism – Whether running a podcast, SEO, webinars, or paid ads.

Each marketing mechanism is refined and improved with each new iteration and attempt.

Here are my paid ads from 2022 to today. Over a dozen campaigns have been run, with only three bringing in the most clients.

My first successful paid ads campaign I ran in Spring + Summer of 2022 (in the red box):

    • 199 leads generated at a cost of $11.58 per lead

My second campaign was fall of 2023 (in the green box):

    • 250 leads generated at a cost of $6.44 per lead.

My third and current campaign has been running since May 17 (in the blue box):

    • 598 leads generated (so far) at a cost of $3.31 per lead

With each new campaign, the cost of a lead has essentially been cut in half. 

I’ve doubled down on what worked in prior campaigns and learned from everything else.

I’ve also built a team and systems around how ads are done

It has been a process and requires repetition. 


3. It Takes A Focused Investment 

Building a budget should become priority #1 if you have no marketing budget.

Your budget is built by allocating either dollars or time. 

But what if you have neither? I walked through an example just this situation last year

If you don’t have cash, you’ll have to complete manual marketing activities.

Don’t feel like you have to do everything.

Focused marketing (either by niche or problem) is more effective than general or broad marketing.

This means that starting a newsletter for marketing agency owners over $1M will yield more valuable traction than a Youtube channel, paid ads, and posting daily on LinkedIn about small business tax woes. 

Pick one channel and one topic (niche or problem) and be the pro in that.

I like creating online because you can leverage what you’ve done repeatedly. Whether that’s newsletters, podcasts, PDF guides, or operational and finance tools, these assets can sit on your website and be redistributed endlessly.

Creating these assets and formalizing what you do concisely makes you an infinitely better communicator.


4. Bonus: Be Curious 

Marketing is not all about ‘Buy My Stuff’. It also involves investigating gaps in the market.

If you’re uncertain about where gaps exist, just ask. 

We don’t spend enough time talking to prospective clients. 

Talk to more prospects, whether by taking them to lunch or sending them DMs.

Your conversations do not have to be sales-focused, but be genuinely interested in what they do. 

Questions about tax and accounting right off the bat don’t open up the prospect.   

I had a firm owner who wanted to break into the golf industry. He wanted to work with golf pros and coaches. 

Interesting fact – There are over 29,000 golf pros (across various roles) in the US.  

I challenged him to uncover what their pain points were. 

He messaged 50 high-profile coaches on Instagram and by email. 

Seven responded – That’s 14%. 

Two of them completed his 18-question survey.

The five others gave him incredible insight. 

He was upfront and explained in his message that he feels the Golf Industry is underserved and wanted to know how to add value.  

It also helped that he’s a huge golf buff and spoke their language. 

His first 5 questions were:

  1. How do you find your students?
  2. What type of lessons do you give (Golf Schools, Group Lessons, Individual (online), and individual (in person)?
  3. What’s the number 1 factor that makes a student return for future lessons?
  4. How do you set prices?
  5. Does your home club or coaching organization offer any type of business support?

This firm owner collected 4 papers full of actual responses and real problems these coaches faced.


If you don’t remember anything else from this newsletter, remember this:


Don’t sharpen your message in your mind. Do it in the market. 


Build the firm you want.


P.S. Email with something that you want me to talk about. I’ll add it to the list. 

  1. Get tips and learn more about me on LinkedIn.
  2. Check out my Guides for Growth and Past Newsletters
  3. Book a Free Automation Audit Strategy Call ($500 Value)
About the Newsletter

Every Friday, 1100+ accountants and firm owners get tips and tactics to build better firms that work for their lifestyle.

Connect with me
Recent Issues: