I am not an expert in marketing. Not even close actually. I use social media personally but realised a long time ago that promoting a bookkeeping business on social media is really not very interesting. There’s nothing beautiful about what I do, and actually, most of it would be reminding people about things they’d rather not think about all the time, like VAT.
Social media has the major benefit of being free though unless you go down the line of promoted posts, and lots of people use social media. You have a ready-made audience so if you can find an inventive and imaginative way of doing it then it’s a brilliant tool. The only social media site that has ever brought me business by not really doing very much is LinkedIn. I will admit that I don’t like the website. I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion. I think it is clumsy and unintuitive. But it is somewhere you don’t have to work too hard to get noticed. Make sure your profile is up to date, accept connections from local people and make connections with lots of people you know in business, and respond to messages. If people search for a bookkeeper in your local area, make sure there is enough info on your profile to make them hit that message button.
It does help if you have a number of clients because at least you can advertise what they do or use their business to promote yours, especially if they are great at social media. If you follow any of the accountancy software companies on social media, they do quite a bit of client storytelling, especially Xero, and I have discovered some great companies as a result.
Another option available to all freelancers is websites where you can advertise your services. I’ve never done it and am certainly not recommending them. It won’t surprise you that I have reservations about doing this as the CEO of Skillbox discovered to his cost when he messaged me on LinkedIn. There are quite a few out there, including Skillbox, Freelancer and People Per Hour. They are usually free for you to advertise, with the website earning their revenue from the people buying services (but do check before you make any commitments). Skillbox and People Per Hour say they only allow people in the UK to advertise, but Freelancer is global. This can be challenging as someone in another country could well massively undercut you for the same service, but I know stories of people who have used these cheap services, and as yet I haven’t heard a story that ends well. It really is a case of ‘buyer beware’, but still makes it much harder for you to be seen. I also think the user experiences of these websites makes a massive impact. I don’t like the way Skillbox has done theirs, but People Per Hour seems to work quite well. You just have to find what works for you if you want to try it out.
(Additional note: much to my surprise, someone read this blogpost and emailed me asking if I could include their website. As with all the others, I haven’t used them and I am certainly not recommending them, I’m just passing on things I know about. Their website is Airtasker and the same caveats apply as with all the others, eg check how they make their money and whether they allow people abroad to apply for remote jobs etc etc.)
As with all businesses, the main way of getting the word out about your services is word of mouth. The people I work for and have worked for, have come to me through word of mouth, although not always people who have actually known me. (I’ll explain that in a minute – it’s my ‘genius-obvious’ idea for bookkeepers). If you’re good at what you do, then clients will recommend you when asked. If you’re good at what you do and people know that you are, then they will come to you as and when they need some help. I’m lucky, it happens a lot to me, mainly because Liverpool and Wirral are such small places so everyone knows everyone. But tell people what you do and eventually, word gets around. When I first started out on my own, my only client at the time told me to mention it to all his suppliers and clients when emailing them about day to day work. And it worked. Check with your client first, especially if you are approaching them from a client email address, but as long as the aim isn’t to get rid of that client then I haven’t yet found it to be a problem.
My genius-obvious marketing idea for bookkeepers, apart from becoming Xero certified and joining a professional organisation (that’s a post for another day!), is to get in with local accountants. Again, I got lucky in this respect. A former boss of a friend knew I was looking for more business so put me onto their accountant, who put me onto a new client, which then propelled me onwards. I don’t work for that client anymore, but I am registered with the accountants, which although pretty unnecessary as my tax return is very straightforward, keeps me in their thoughts when any bookkeeping jobs come in. It helps that I have a great relationship with them too, in the event of any non-client specific queries that arise. You will probably work with accountants through your clients too. They will know whether you are any good at what you do, so may be happy to recommend you on should you be looking for more work.