Fully-customisable client newsletters to catapult your financial planning practice into the future

Embrace the high-tech future, by signing up for FinDotNews, a fully automated and 100% customisable solution to the age-old newsletter problem.

The team behind LawDotNews and CA(SA)DotNews has teamed up with FinCommunications to launch FinDotNews. An innovative subscription service that provides financial planners and advisors with quality, customisable client newsletters at a fraction of the cost of employing a marketing agency.

Using FinDotNews to communicate with your clients costs less than a meal for two and it only takes up about 15 minutes of your time every month.

Email is still king

Despite the rise of LinkedIn marketing and video clips, email marketing still offers the best ROI of all online marketing tools.

The challenge for financial services professionals is to create content that stands out. Content that is scrupulously researched, elegantly written, relevant to your audience … and entertaining to read.

Consistency is also key. For content marketing to really work, you need to be communicating with clients and prospectives on a monthly basis.

The problem(s)

Doing it yourself is time consuming and writing might not be your forte. And paying a boutique financial services marketing agency to do it can get pricey.

There are one or two automated solutions in South Africa, but because they’re not customisable it soon becomes clear to consumers that all financial advisors are using the same content.

The customizable solutions to differentiate your financial services brand

FinDotNews eliminates all of these potential pitfalls with a flexible subscription model that starts at R420 + VAT per month for the Classic package.

Their most popular offering is the ClassicPlus package (only R560 + VAT per month) that includes a bespoke company template and one hour of customisation work every month.

Or you can opt for the eminently customisable Prestige package (four hours of customisation per month) which, at R1600 + VAT per month is still much more affordable than getting a comms agency to do the work.

For firms that already have their own communications strategy, FinDotNews is also happy to assist in providing content.

How it works

Each month FinDotNews crafts a newsletter on your behalf. The newsletter is presented on a stylish template containing your company logo and details. And it contains four professionally written and researched articles about topical issues.

A few days before the newsletter is set to go out, you will receive a draft. If you don’t like one (or more) of the articles the team has chosen, you can swop it out for another article in the vast FinDotNews library.

Once you’ve given the go-ahead, the newsletter will be sent (from your email address) to all the people on your database. FinDotNews will help you to adhere to the POPI Act through using opt in and opt out notifications and they’ll also provide you with details on your successful deliveries.

Some background

Jack Crook founded LawDotNews in 2005. As a qualified lawyer he recognised that many smaller law firms were missing out on a chance to communicate with their clients, and he came up with an elegant solution that saved them both time and money. Now 17 years later, LawDotNews has hundreds of happy clients all over southern Africa. In 2011 Jack and his son Paddy Crook were asked by SAICA to provide a similar newsletter service for Chartered Accounts. CA(SA)DotNews has also been a resounding success.

Meanwhile, in 2017, Linda Graham – a CFP Professional with two decades of experience as a senior marketing manager – founded FinCommunications, a bespoke marketing agency that’s transformed financial communications in South Africa with content that is both technically sound and entertaining.

A panel of the best

Apart from the eminently customisable tech, what really sets FinDotNews apart is the calibre of its writers.

Patrick Cairns is one of South Africa’s most respected financial journalists. After a decade at Moneyweb he was made South Africa editor of prestigious international publication Citywire. His technical knowledge is matched only by his ability to translate this into plain English.

Nick Dall is a veteran journalist with bylines in over a hundred local and international magazines. He has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and is the best-selling author of two books on South African history. His novelist’s touch makes reading the monthly newsletters an enjoyable experience.

What their customers say

FinDotNews has already picked up a few very happy customers:

“ Paddy and his team have elevated our client communications through their professional newsletters. What used to take me approx. two weeks, to send out a quarterly newsletter has now been reduced to less than an hour to send out monthly communications! Each and every month I am impressed by the quality and relevance of each article. It certainly has helped our clients, and combined with our other communications, managed to stimulate conversations with our clients, we would probably never have had! A comment from our clients sums it up perfectly. “  these are soooo good! “

Gary Olemera – Olemera Financial Services

“ We make use of FinDotNews’s editorial service to assist us with our marketing strategy. They compile our monthly newsletter which we discuss and finalise before it gets sent out to our clients. The topics are on point to current situations and are both informative and educational.      

If you are anything like me and don’t have the time to put together a brilliant article, entrust a professional partner and focus on what your clients entrust you with…Financial Planning. “

Andre Jansen van Vuuren – Financial Planner at Licwidity 

“FinDotNews are a highly efficient and professional partner. They are responsive to our needs and provide our clients with engaging content.“

 Mark Cliff – Wealth Preservation Strategies

What are you waiting for?

To sign up for a FinDotNews package simply complete the contact form at https://dotnewsconnect.co.za/fin/#pricing.

Or call them on (021) 300 5212 for more information.

Paddy Crook
Paddy Crook
Director at DotNews
Paddy completed his BSc at Rhodes University and has specialised in email marketing, social media, ppc, ad-serving and other online marketing mediums. Having returned from working with a UK-based multi-national company where he analysed the effectiveness of online campaigns, Paddy has a broad knowledge of the channels and techniques used within the digital space and how best to apply them to professional practices.

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax” (Albert Einstein)

Albert Einstein’s complaint to his tax accountant says it all and unless you have some knowledge of the Tax Administration Act and are up to date with recent income tax amendments, you are well advised to contact your accountant if you received an income tax auto assessment SMS from SARS.

While an auto assessment for your income tax sounds very convenient and easy, migrating to an online, self-service SARS facility entails a number of risks for you. These include falling victim to the likely increase in scams and fraud expected by the SARS commissioner; relying on third party information you have no control over; being flagged for a SARS audit – as 12% of auto assessed returns already are; or accepting an incorrect or incomplete return by accident or through ignorance, which may even have criminal consequences and could eliminate your ability to dispute the assessment later.

Taxpayers who are being auto assessed are to receive SMSes with the auto assessment result between 1 and 31 August 2020. Some taxpayers have already had the opportunity to view their assessment since 30 July.

The assessment is essentially an income tax return that has been pre-populated or partially completed. Taxpayers can access their pre-populated returns via SARS MobiApp or eFiling, which means you will have to register on eFiling or install the MobiApp.

The partially completed return is pre-populated by SARS using third party data which SARS receives from employers, financial institutions, medical aids and other third parties.

You can accept or reject the assessment, but unless you have some knowledge of income tax laws and regulations, it is best to contact your accountant.

Below are six very important reasons why.

Contact your accountant to manage these six risks

1. The increased risk of scams and fraud

SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter has warned people to be vigilant of fraudulent emails and SMSes with false information that claim to be from SARS and look as if they were sent from SARS. Kieswetter says SARS will never request banking details via email, post or SMSes. It is always better to check with your accountant that the communication you received is legitimate.

2. The risk of relying on third party information

Having your return pre-populated with third-party data exposes you to significant risk, as the validity and accuracy of information is not within your control.

According to Kieswetter, SARS will use data it receives from your employer, your bank, pension fund and medical aid to make a calculation through a risk engine to “produce an outcome that should be exactly the same as if you would submit the data to us”. That may apply to some taxpayers but it may well not apply to you.

If the information is not correct, you have a problem. Kieswetter recommends that “if you have not yet received your IRP5/IT3(a)s and other tax certificates like medical certificate, retirement annuity fund certificate and other third party data that are relevant in determining your tax obligations, you should immediately approach your employer or medical scheme or retirement annuity fund or other third party data providers to make sure that they have complied with their submission requirements.”

But even if SARS does capture all your income tax assessment information correctly, the auto assessments, in certain cases, do not include all the allowable deductions.

3. The risk of being flagged for a SARS audit

By 30 July, of the just 62,000 returns that had been submitted, 12% have already been selected for audit. That’s more than 1 in 10 returns being selected for audit. Check with your accountant to prevent exposing yourself.

4. The risk of accepting an incorrect or incomplete return

Given that you are likely a layperson when it comes to income tax laws and regulations, what if you make a mistake? Penalties and even criminal prosecution are risks for any form of non-compliance.

5. The risk of losing the right to dispute the assessment after accepting the assessment

What if you made a mistake and later need to dispute an auto assessment? The Tax Administration Act says a taxpayer can only dispute a decision made by SARS. Accepting an auto assessment is a decision made by the taxpayer and may well mean losing the right to dispute the assessment later.

6. The risk of non-compliance

If you have not accepted the auto-assessment, or if you did not receive an SMS, your income tax return must be filed before 22 October 2020 if you file manually at a SARS branch, before 16 November 2020 if you are a non-provisional taxpayer filing electronically (via eFiling or MobiApp) or by 29 January 2021 via eFiling if you are a provisional taxpayer filing electronically. SARS has warned that it will issue letters for late and outstanding returns and impose penalties as provided for in the Tax Administration Act, 2011, immediately after the deadline has passed.

In general, SARS has promised to act more decisively than ever before against those who do not comply due to negligence or criminal intent. SARS says it has already identified cases of taxpayers trying to commit fraud through various means – for example overstating deductible expenses. It will enforce administrative actions in terms of TAA including prosecution if taxpayers fail to respond appropriately, and will name and shame those taxpayers convicted of criminal offences.

It really is best to contact your accountant – whether you have received an auto assessment or not and whether you have accepted it or not – to ensure you cover yourself against your exposure to all these risks.

Further reading and videos

Read this article from SAICA “Tax returns: do the right thing or face the consequences” here highlighting the main points of the SARS media and stakeholder briefing regarding the 2020 Tax Season and auto assessments.

Click here to read SABC News’ coverage of SARS’ explanation of how the automated assessments work. You can also watch this video to see the Auto Assessments on eFiling, or this video to see the Auto Assessments on MobiApp.

If you are interested in how the calculations for the auto assessments are done, you can find out in SARS’ article here.

Monique Terrazas
Monique Terrazas
Guest Author at CA(SA)DotNews: Writing, Editing and Content Creation Specialist
With a BA Degree in Communications and as a former SAPOA Property Journalist of the Year, Monique has more than 20 years of experience of compiling insightful, relevant and practical intelligence as an author, editor and content contributor for local and international companies and organisations across a range of industries.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it” (Peter F. Drucker)

The COVID-19 crisis has left many businesses reeling – and lawyers, accountants and financial advisors are no exception.

Read on for some thoughts on how to create your own roadmap to not only cope with the crisis, but to profit from it. Your first priority will of course be bare survival, but “just trying to survive”, whilst a great and indeed essential focus in the short-term, courts failure in the longer term.

Keeping your eyes focused on your post-pandemic future is the key here – and that’s where your roadmap comes in.

Building your roadmap to the future; before you begin…

Some fundamentals to bear in mind –

  • Denial is Disaster: We humans instinctively react to major shocks by plunging into a state of denial – a total waste of our resources at the very moment that we need them the most. Let’s rather base our roadmap on a clear, calm, accurate assessment of our current reality.
  • Stop Complaining: We also have an instinct to complain: “This lockdown is crazy, that’s what is hurting me”, “It isn’t fair” and so on. Again, a total diversion of valuable resources. The reality – “It Is What It Is”. Let’s get used to it, adapt to it, and use it to our advantage.
  • Adapting to Constant Change: As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus pointed out two and a half millennia ago: “The only constant in life is change”. Now here we are in 2020 having to deal with a landscape replete with even more constant flux and ever-present danger than before. Hardly a day goes by without something changing – that will continue so plan your journey around it.
  • Predicting the unpredictable? Forecasting of any sort is a hit-and-miss affair, but we can be pretty certain of a few things. The pandemic will get a lot worse, and soon. Our economy’s massive woes are only just starting. “Normal” will never be the same again. There will be many more near-certainties in your particular industry.
  • Teamwork: Bring your whole team into this planning process from Day One. The greater the diversity of backgrounds, experience and world views you can include in your brainstorming sessions, the more likely you are to come up with a winning plan. The bonus – everyone will be fully invested in the plan because they helped create it! Read an article like “19 Top Brainstorming Techniques to Generate Ideas for Every Situation” here for ideas on how to get the most out of these sessions.

Moving on …

Step 1: Scenarios, and Beyond

Clem Sunter’s “Scenarios, Flags and Probabilities” here is a useful framework for this step. List all the possible future scenarios you and your brainstorming team can come up with – include them all, positive and negative, unlikely and likely. Assign levels of probability to each scenario and prioritise. Sunter’s 21 April “The coronavirus scenarios: walking the tightrope” on News24 has very pertinent insights and is also a great example of how quickly everything is changing – it has already dated in some respects!

Have a plan to manage any and all of your scenarios! As Darwin may have put it, it is not the strongest that survive and thrive but the most adaptable.

Step 2: Start Your SWOT Analysis

The “SWOT Analysis” idea has been around forever and for good reason – by determining your firm’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats you lay the groundwork for your final roadmap.

At this stage, work only on your Strengths and Weaknesses – they are important tools that you will refer to in Steps 3 and 4 below. Later on, use your Step 3 matrix to complete your Threats section and your Step 4 matrix for the Opportunities section.

For ideas on how to get started read “How to Do a SWOT Analysis for Your Small Business (with Examples)” here.

Step 3: Create a Risk Matrix

A “Risk Matrix” is a great tool even in times of stability to identify what risks are out there for your firm, and to help you decide which demand your most immediate attention and your greatest expenditure of resources.

Use your scenario planning results from Step 1 to create your own risk matrix – see how here.

Step 4: The Nub – Create Your Own Weighted Opportunity Matrix

As always “With Great Change Comes Great Opportunity” and if you and your team keep your eyes peeled for any and every potential opportunity you will very soon end up with a long list of possibilities.

How to decide which to take further? List in hand, create a weighted matrix with a table of columns and  weightings to help you sort the wheat from the chaff – read Allon Raiz’s “Lockdown advice #2 – Building an opportunity matrix” here for more.

Use your scenario planning from Step 1 to identify opportunities specific to your field – what can you provide that clients will want and need in each scenario?

  • If you are a law firm for example, projections are that a huge amount of litigation and mediation will result from the lockdown; that many clients will want to urgently review their wills and estate planning; that employment law disputes will rocket; that demand for divorce services will increase; – there will be many more

    On the property side, it seems likely that a lot of new residential properties will come on to the market with owners downscaling and selling second homes; that more commercial properties will be selling at fire-sale prices; that more millennials will be in the market for a property with prices down and savings up (e.g. no more overseas holidays for a while!); that a weak Rand will again entice overseas buyers, etc.

  • Accountancy firms will no doubt be particularly busy with advice on cash flow and business planning, with restructuring exercises, with helping clients access the tax and financial relief packages available, and the like.
  • And financial advisors will be holding the hands of many clients desperate to ride out (or profit from!) the volatile stock markets and the retirement plans under threat. Estate planning reviews will be in demand. Life and disability cover portfolios will need review. Short term insurance and medical aid claims and queries are bound to surge.

Every firm will be different, so encourage your team to be totally open and totally creative here – it is in many ways the nub of this whole process.

Step 5: The Final Touches – Building Your Roadmap

Here’s where it all comes together –

  • Prioritise risks from your SWOT analysis to be addressed.
  • Prioritise opportunities (again use your SWOT analysis).
  • Last but certainly not least – create your detailed business plan, your roadmap to the future. Make it a fun and positive team exercise – it’s all your futures at stake, and this is where you create those futures!

    Be specific, be detailed, make sure every member of your team is onboard and clear on their part in the plan.

    Who will do what to establish the viability of your chosen opportunities? Do you need to beef up your resources? Who will your target market be and how will you reach it? (Tip – it needn’t cost a fortune, read our blog post “How to Market Your Accountancy or Law Firm on a Shoestring Budgethere for a detailed plan). Set goals, assign tasks, tell your clients what you are doing – the list is endless, and the really exciting thing about it all is this –

It’s up to you to create your own post-pandemic future – so have fun doing it!

Jack Crook
Jack Crook
Managing Director & LawDotNews Author at DotNews
Jack’s legal qualifications (LLB Lond and LLB Rhod) are supplemented by many years of practical experience in law, in marketing his own firm, and in helping small and medium sized law, accountancy and financial advisory firms to prosper by using simple, low-cost, effective marketing strategies.

“The risk to the legal profession in South Africa is exacerbated by our being the second most targeted country in the world with regard to cyber-attacks. In the case of business eMail compromises, the Attorneys Indemnity Insurance Fund (AIIF), [now the Legal Practitioners Indemnity Insurance Fund (LPIIF)] reported in August of 2018 that since the exclusion of cyber liability insurance with effect from the 1st July 2016 they had been notified of over 110 cybercrime related claims with a total value of R70 million” (Anthony Pillay, LSSA)

One of the increasing risks you face as a conveyancer is cyber-crime, and you can expect that trend to continue as online criminals become more and more sophisticated in how they lull you and your clients into accepting their fraudulent emails as genuine.

You are particularly at risk in that the property industry will always remain a favourite target both because of the rich pickings on offer and because of the flurry of (interceptable) electronic communications that these days accompany the transfer process.

This article discusses the recent High Court judgment against a conveyancer who fell victim to a cyber scam and now has to pay out almost R1m in damages to her clients.

And remember…

You have no LPIIF cover!

As the LPIIF reminds everyone in its July 2019 Risk Alert Bulletin: “We wish to draw particular attention to the exclusion of cybercrime (clause 16(o)). Risk management steps must be taken by practitioners within their practices to mitigate cyber risk.”

Read also Anthony Pillay’s article “Cyber liability insurance“.

Two broad categories of scam to beware of

To date the two main categories of scam remain –

  1. Your payments to your clients: You receive a genuine-looking email “from your client” changing their banking details to “my new account”. Your emails to and from your client have been intercepted, and your client’s details cleverly spoofed. If you pay the transfer proceeds into the “new account” the money is gone and you risk not only losing a good client and suffering reputational damage, but also having to cough up a large amount of money by way of damages (see below).
  2. Your clients’ payments to you: Once again emails are intercepted, and this time your clients receive an authentic-looking but entirely fraudulent “we’ve changed our banking details” notification from “your firm”. They fall for it and pay the purchase price, transfer costs etc into the scammer’s account. Expect these emails to carry a very clever simulation of your firm’s branding, details and email address.

Your risk of being sued

Attorney’s profession is an honourable profession which demands complete reliability and integrity from the members thereof” (Extract from the judgment below)

Have a read of the recent Eastern Cape High Court, Port Elizabeth, judgment in the case of Jurgens and Another v Volschenk (4067/18) [2019] ZAECPEHC 41 – available on SAFLII.

  • In a nutshell, a transferring attorney was ordered to pay her client R 967,510-53 in damages, plus interest and costs, for negligence.
  • A scammer had intercepted emails between the attorney’s secretary and the sellers. This was a classic “Category 1” operation, and seemingly a sophisticated one – the scammer persuaded the secretary to accept an emailed “my bank account details have changed” instruction and to pay the proceeds into the scammer’s account. Read the judgment for the full details – both secretary and client were taken in hook, line and sinker.
  • The sellers sued the attorney for damages, the attorney denied any negligence whatsoever, but the Court found that she had indeed failed to carry out her mandate with the “due care, skill and diligence expected of a reasonable attorney and a conveyancer in the circumstances.”
  • Of course the Court reached this conclusion on the particular facts of this matter. There were specific factors present here, said the Court, such that a “diligent, reasonable attorney” would have taken steps to verify the information in the fraudulent emails. Which means that had the facts been different, the sellers might have been unable to prove any failure of duty by the attorney, in which event their claim would have failed.

But why take a risk at all? And of course prevention is always better than cure, so…

Nine steps to protecting your firm, your reputation and your clients

Here are some ideas on how to ensure that you and your clients are protected from these scams and from the inevitable fall out –

  1. Firstly, train your staff on all of this and maintain proper supervision of the whole transfer process. In the High Court case in question, the attorney’s attempt to shift all the blame on to her secretary failed, the Court holding that “When the respondent entrusted the management of the applicants’ affairs to her secretary she had a duty to ensure proper supervision and control in order to safeguard her clients’ money.”
  2. Read last year’s “LSSA Cybercrime advisory” on GhostDigest . Note in particular the recommendation re wording in all your emails and other communications to clients alerting them to the fact that you will never advise them of a change of bank details by way of an email or other electronic communication. Ensure that all your emails have a consistent signature format which includes this notification by default. Let us help you here with our DotNews Email Branding service.
  3. When you take your first Instruction to Register Transfer, make sure that it includes a written, signed and dated instruction to you by your client nominating a bank account for receipt of all payments from your firm.
  4. Lexis Convey users can also take advantage of the AVS functionality (Bank Account Verification Search), which is available in Lexis Convey via its integration with Lexis WinDeed.
  5. Equally of course, your firm should never accept any purported change in your client’s banking details without confirming it direct with the client – in person if possible.
  6. If your electronic communication systems are vulnerable the criminals will exploit them. So keep all your anti-virus, anti-malware and other security software updated, learn all about protecting yourself from malware/spyware/phishing attacks, and generally treat all electronic communications with caution – whether or not they look genuine.
  7. Read “Is That Sender For Real? Three Ways to Verify the Identity of An Email” on FRSecure’s blog. All the tips given there are important, but at the very least use the methods given to find out where the email really comes from. Then check back to see that it matches in every detail the email address you were given at the start of the transfer process.
  8. Be suspicious if anything in an email just feels “not-quite-right” – perhaps only a cell phone number is given, or a free generic email address (like Gmail) is used, or the wording is somehow “off”. If the email makes you even the slightest bit uneasy, err on the side of caution and investigate further.
  9. Last, but certainly not least, make sure that all your clients are aware of the dangers. No matter how many safeguards you may have in place on your side, if your clients are the weak link in the chain that is where the scammers will strike! Repeating this warning regularly (in your LawDotNews monthly newsletter for example) will ensure that it always remains top-of-mind with your clients.  

Article first published on LexisDigest

Jack Crook
Jack Crook
Managing Director & LawDotNews Author at DotNews
Jack’s legal qualifications (LLB Lond and LLB Rhod) are supplemented by many years of practical experience in law, in marketing his own firm, and in helping small and medium sized law, accountancy and financial advisory firms to prosper by using simple, low-cost, effective marketing strategies.

Foreword: Some things never change…

This article first appeared in SAICA’s Small and Medium Practices Quarterly Magazine (September 2017 issue) and was republished by Accountancy South Africa in their December 2017 issue.

Although in 2017 it was addressed specifically to accountant firms, it applies equally to legal firms and I hope that both professions in 2019 will find these ideas and principles helpful in increasing your profitability without increasing either your costs or your stress levels!

Tomorrow’s profits are driven by today’s marketing

“You reap what you sow” (Old Adage)

I’m constantly amazed by the number of Small and Medium Practices who tell us that they don’t need to do any marketing because “we have a loyal client base” and/or “we have plenty of work” (sometimes it’s “we’re swamped”). 

That’s a dangerously short-sighted attitude to adopt in an age of ever-accelerating change.  There is increasingly fierce competition for clients, and at the same time new technologies are spawning industry disruptors of every description. Think of the growing number of online service providers offering “from the comfort of your own office” ease of access and reduced price structures.  Think of the inroads AI is predicted to make into professional service fields.  Then imagine how hungry your competitors are going to be when they start losing clients, and how desperate they will be then to replace their losses from your client base.

The reality is that firms that fail to market themselves effectively today will be left behind tomorrow.  Many of them won’t survive; those that do will be less profitable. 

The other side of the coin of course is that you have a great opportunity here.   Market your firm better than your opposition, and you will be running well ahead of the pack. If your firm is evolving, you need to let your clients know about it. Don’t miss out because you didn’t communicate it.

Accountancy firm marketing is no longer a “nice-to-have” – in today’s business environment it’s a necessity.

Marketing needn’t cost you an arm and a leg

The basis of marketing any professional services firm is this – keep telling both your clients and your prospective new clients exactly how they will benefit from their relationship with you.

If you are an independent SMP firm, you don’t need a huge budget for that.  You don’t need in-house marketing departments, or expensive PR firms.  You don’t even need to sacrifice much partner and staff time.

In fact many of the basics of marketing your firm will cost you little or nothing. 

The 6 steps of “Shoestring marketing”

The concept of “marketing on a shoestring” is a tried-and-tested one.  Follow these practical steps to create a simple marketing plan that you can implement –

  • Quickly
  • Easily
  • Inexpensively
  • But to great effect.
Step 1:  Set goals – the foundation of your marketing plan

You will end up going nowhere unless you have a clear idea of where you want to end up. 

Lay a solid foundation for your marketing plan by setting goals – first your personal goals, then goals for your practice.  Ask yourself questions like “Where do I personally want to be in 5 years?”  “And in 10?”  “Where must my practice be by then?”  “How many clients do we want to have?”  “What profit must we be generating?”  “What new challenges must we overcome?”

Every firm will have its own goals, just keep them simple, attainable, clear and detailed (nothing stops you tweaking the details as you move along, but setting fuzzy goals upfront is a recipe for failure). 

Most importantly, record all your goals and track your progress towards them – there’s no better motivator!

Step 2:  Describe in detail your “ideal clients” and the services you will offer them

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself” (Peter Drucker)

Create a clear profile of what sort of clients you want to retain, and what sort of new clients you want to acquire.  Who are they and why are they “ideal”?  Are they individuals?  Businesses?  What size businesses? What services will you provide them?  Etc…

Don’t be afraid to do a bit of dreaming here – set your sights high so you give yourself a worthy target.

The more detail you give in your descriptions the better – all of your marketing from here on will be aimed at communicating with this target market.  

Step 3:  Identify potential new sources of work

“In marketing I’ve seen only one strategy that can’t miss – and that is to market to your best customers first, your best prospects second and the rest of the world last” (John Romero)    

First concern of course is to retain all your existing quality clients. 

Then prioritise potential new sources of work.  Perhaps something like these (adapt and add to them to suit your firm’s particular needs) –

  • Repeat business from existing clients
  • New business from existing clients
  • Referrals from existing clients to potential new clients (turn your clients into “evangelist marketers” for your services)
  • Referrals from other professionals and business associates
  • New business from the general public
  • And so on……..
Step 4:  Define what your clients want the ultimate outcome of your services to be

This is critical.  You are in business to make money and the only way you can achieve that is to render services to clients who will pay you for them.  You must understand what they need from you and what they want from you.  What problems do they have that you can solve for them?  How can you help them be more successful?

Define the ultimate outcome that will make them happiest.  Only then can you define how they will benefit and how you will achieve those benefits for them.  Which leads us to …

Step 5:  List the benefits your clients will enjoy from your services

What counts to your clients is how your services will help them achieve success, how their lives will be made easier and their businesses more profitable. 

So build your marketing plan around communicating to your target market not just the services you offer, but the benefits they will provide. 

Step 6: How will you attract and retain these ideal clients?

So now you know what the goals of your marketing plan are.  You know who your ideal clients are, where you will look for them, what they want from you and how they will benefit from your services.

Time to move now into the heart of your plan – how will you retain your good clients and how will you attract new ones?  Don’t hold back here – get your team together and brainstorm every possible idea you can think of.  Then whittle them down to a manageable list, and prioritise the best ones.   

Below we’ve suggested some possible avenues to help you get started, with practical suggestions on implementation.  Adjust and expand them to your firm’s particular goals and circumstances. 

Project a professional image, online and in the real world

This is all about first impressions.  You only get one chance at it so don’t drop the ball here!

  • Online:  In the Internet Age the tone for most new client interactions is going to be set online.

    Imagine you are a potential new client googling your firm and take a fresh and unbiased look at what he or she will see when they first go onto your website and your Social Media pages. Is their first impression going to be positive?  Do you come across as trustworthy?  Efficient? Reliable? Experienced? Professional? Internet savvy?  If first contact comes via an email, what impression will the speed and quality of your reply convey?

  • Your branding:  Branding incorporates your firm’s name, logo, design scheme and slogan.  It’s a “first impression” conveyer of how you want to be perceived.  Strong branding will enhance recognition, trust and client referral.  Unless you have lots of in-house talent it’s worth calling in the professionals here; amateurish DIY branding has always been false economy and your competitors will thank you for going that route.  Just don’t overpay – good branding is invaluable but unscrupulous marketing firms pick up very quickly when there are easy pickings in the offing.  Get a selection of quotes so you can be sure you get value for every Rand you spend.  
  • Your offices:  Whilst your online presence is more important than ever, it’s still crucial to maintain “first impressions in the real world” – where your office block, parking areas, reception areas and telephone answering protocols should receive special attention.
  • Brainstorm other “first impression” scenarios peculiar to your firm.

Provide excellent service

“It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better” (Jeff Bezos)

It’s all about delivering that “ultimate outcome” we talked about in Step 4 in a way that your clients will remember with positivity.   

The other side of the coin of course is that these days the Internet can be a most unforgiving arena for providers of substandard service.  Just one instance of poor service reported by a single unhappy client can seriously tarnish your online reputation.

Here are some basics to get you started –

  • Avoid creating false expectations.  People tend to hear only what they want to hear, so you cannot be vague here. Explain to your clients clearly –
    • What you will do for them,
    • What the process will be,
    • What the projected timeline to completion is.
  • A very common complaint from clients is lack of communication.  Provide regular meaningful reports on progress. Answer all queries without delay.  And if you run into problems or your timeline projections go for a loop, remember clients will forgive a lot – but only if you keep telling them what’s going on and what you are doing about it.
  • What your clients will remember long after you invoice them for a completed job is how quickly you served their needs, how little inconvenience you caused them, and how painless, friendly and helpful you and your staff were through the process.  Continually improve staff training and motivation with that in mind.
  • How else can your firm project a culture of service excellence?

Targeted marketing – keep in touch with all existing and potential new clients

  • Focus your resources:  Concentrate on communicating with the “target market” you defined in Step 2 above.  You will get far more bang for your buck than with “spray and pray” type marketing.
  • A simple and growing database:  Maintain a database of all your clients, and add to it all potential new clients.  Check whether software you are already using can do this for you.  It’s important to keep this database as simple as possible because the less information in it, the easier it is to keep it updated.  We’ve come across firms with incredibly complicated client databases, and not only are they invariably years out of date but also so full of extraneous information that they are practically unusable.
  • Newsletters:  Set up a system of regular quality communication with your database.  Monthly email newsletters are the gold standard here, which is why the larger firms have been using them as a core marketing tool for decades.  Keep them short and give your readers real value in the form of useful and interesting information.  Newsletters keep you top-of-mind, they build client relationships, they project professionalism, and they potentially can be forwarded all over the Internet.

    A poorly designed or written newsletter is actively damaging to your brand so again it’s worth asking for professional assistance here.  Just choose your service supplier carefully.

  • Newsflashes:  Consider boosting the effectiveness of your monthly newsletter with intermittent “newsflashes” on topics such as Tax Season Deadlines, important new legislation coming into effect, the SVDP Deadline – anything that your clients will appreciate being alerted to.
  • Email Branding:  Every single email sent from your office is potentially a marketing opportunity so make sure all your emails are consistent and project the most professional image of your firm.  Going beyond those basics, various email branding solutions are available (at a range of price levels) that will ensure consistent branding across all your staff, enable you to send recipients targeted marketing banners, and automate the capture of all new email addresses for potential addition to your newsletter mailing list. 

Stay firmly in the “public eye” with the power of the Internet

“If your business is not on the internet, then your business will be out of business” (Bill Gates)

These days, even if a potential new client hears of you through a recommendation, or from a forwarded newsletter, or via a mention in the media, he or she is almost certain to look for you online before even thinking of contacting you.

It is therefore absolutely vital to have a strong, professional presence on the Internet.

It needn’t exhaust your “shoestring” marketing budget –

  • At the very least have a LinkedIn page for you, your partners, your senior staff and the firm itself. It’s pretty easy to get a good result yourself but if you aren’t confident, use a professional to help you. Remember that even if you have a great website, if someone searches an individual from your firm there is a good chance that their LinkedIn profile will be high up in the search results – make sure this first impression is a good one. Include a professional profile photo and tailor your details to reflect client needs and benefits (Steps 4 and 5 above).
  • Possibly also consider Facebook and Twitter (useful for some firms, but certainly not essential for most). 
  • Be sure that your firm is registered with “Google My Business”. This will ensure your business is listed on Google Maps, has a basic profile and displays more prominently when it is searched for on Google.
  • A website used to be a “nice-to-have”, but for most firms it is now essential because you will be googled, and having no website inevitably raises questions about how established and reliable you really are.  If your budget just won’t stretch to it now, it’s perhaps not a train smash to rely as a temporary fix on your LinkedIn presence.  But as soon as you can afford it, invest in a website.  Consider adding a blog page if you are able to post regular quality content to it.

    As with all the other marketing channels we have recommended, make sure you aren’t ripped off.   Websites no longer need be as expensive as they once were so shop around for both quality and price.

  • Keep your website, blog and Social Media pages updated with fresh material regularly.  A quick and easy way is to put your client newsletters onto them monthly – a process you can automate with RSS feeds.

Other marketing channels to consider

(These ideas may or may not be right for your firm.  If you aren’t sure, consult a marketing professional who will tailor a marketing plan to suit both your needs and your marketing budget.)

  • Networking:  Whenever you can, network with business, professional, social and charity groups.  Offer new contacts not just your business card but also the gift of your newsletter. You now have permission to expose them regularly to your name, branding and list of services in the most professional way, and your chances of acquiring a new quality client just shot up.
  • Media advertising: Some focused advertising may be worth considering for specific projects.  But as we pointed out above, finely targeted and regular marketing via a newsletter for example is likely to be much more effective on a tight budget.  A better plan if you have the time to do it is to look for free publicity by giving gifts of your time and expertise – write short helpful articles for the local media, for websites and blogs, networking sites etc.  Offer to be guest speaker at business and charity functions, etc. 
  • As a last thought, there are many other marketing channels out there – promotional videos on YouTube, cellphone apps, fancy brochures etc.  Often these channels can be expensive with little real benefit so don’t let a clever sales pitch tie you in to any of them unless you are sure they will work for your particular needs and plans. 

A final thought …

Effective marketing needn’t cost a fortune, and the most expensive thing you can do is to not market your firm at all.

Jack Crook
Jack Crook
Managing Director & LawDotNews Author at DotNews
Jack’s legal qualifications (LLB Lond and LLB Rhod) are supplemented by many years of practical experience in law, in marketing his own firm, and in helping small and medium sized law, accountancy and financial advisory firms to prosper by using simple, low-cost, effective marketing strategies.

Newsletters work – that’s why so many lawyers and accountants use them. Their marketing magic lies in keeping you constantly top-of-mind with your target market in the most professional way possible.

Of course the biggest mistake of all is not having a newsletter in the first place. But if you do have one and it isn’t working for you, check for these mistakes –

1) Using a Dinosaur Format

In the old Dinosaur Days newsletters tended to be print affairs, often in black and white to save cost, and as grey and boring in format as they were in content. In 2018 it costs you nothing to tell your readers that you are a modern, accessible, Internet-savvy firm by emailing your newsletters to them in a bright, contemporary format.

2) Sending your newsletters as attachments

Bad idea – rampant cyber-crime means attachments signal “Danger, Malware!” to most of us. Rather use html to embed your newsletter into the actual email.

3) Disregarding the Rules of Engagement

Content as always is King – you only engage your readers when you give them value by telling them something they want to hear. In every article cover something interesting and useful. Avoid theory and academia – it may fascinate you, but it’s a major turn-off for the average client.

4) Advertising

Of course you want to tell your clients about your full spectrum of services and about how great you are at providing them. But tell them subtly – openly turning your newsletter into one long advert is about the most counter-productive thing you can do. Your newsletter’s design is critical here, and calling in some marketing expertise to help you will pay handsome dividends down the line.

5) Being a windbag

We live in an age of information overload. Short and punchy beats long and long-winded every time.

6) Jargoning

(Is “jargoning” even a word? It’s such a common mistake with professionals that if there isn’t such a word, there should be!) The point is that whilst you are comfortable with your own profession’s obscure jargon and technical terms, to Joe and Mary Client they are confusing and even intimidating. Only use jargon where you have no choice, and then explain what it means clearly and simply as you go along.

7) Frequency – missing the Goldilocks Zone

The whole idea is to get your name and branding in front of your clients regularly. Not too often – a weekly newsletter for example risks annoying everyone. On the other hand you won’t benefit from the “spaced repetition” effect (imprinting your firm into your client’s long-term memory banks) if you go the annual or bi-annual newsletter route. Go rather for the “Goldilocks Zone”. Monthly is ideal for most firms.

8) Falling foul of spam traps and corporate firewalls

There is so much spam and malicious email around these days that even the cleanest of genuine mail sometimes ends up being blocked in error. Minimise that risk by checking for common “trigger” words and phrases, and by using a reputable bulk-mailing service rather than MS Outlook. Prioritise this one – getting blacklisted by one of the BlackList Domains could result in your whole domain and email system being blocked.

9) Making a meal of it

Creating a quality newsletter needn’t be hard, it needn’t take up large swathes of your billable time, and it needn’t be expensive. For all but the largest law firms and accountancy firms, outsourcing your newsletter to a consultancy specialising in professional firm marketing makes more sense than trying to do it yourself. Just make sure that you get a quality product at a reasonable price – we have seen a lot of under-delivery and a lot of over-charging out there!

10) Not giving it enough time to see results

Of course you may be inundated with new instructions after your first newsletter, but it’s much more likely that the benefits of remaining top-of-mind with your clients and prospective clients will take time to manifest. Remember, you are building long-term relationships, so patience is key. Don’t bullet your newsletter just as it is about to produce results.

The fact is that sooner or later a regular, quality newsletter will bear fruit. Just keep a sharp eye open for the common mistakes listed above!

Contact us for more – we are specialists in law firm marketing and in accountancy firm marketing.

Jack Crook
Jack Crook
Managing Director & LawDotNews Author at DotNews
Jack’s legal qualifications (LLB Lond and LLB Rhod) are supplemented by many years of practical experience in law, in marketing his own firm, and in helping small and medium sized law, accountancy and financial advisory firms to prosper by using simple, low-cost, effective marketing strategies.

Newsletter Platform Upgrades

A note to all our clients about how our upgrades will benefit you

We at DotNews are exceptionally proud of both the exceptional quality of our newsletter articles and also of our custom-built platform which we use to send them. It has allowed us to keep our service uniquely cost-effective. At the same time, it minimises the effort on your side to provide your clients with a quality newsletter. Over the years we have constantly upgraded and improved our service offerings. This latest update to our system adds an extra layer of personalisation and functionality at no extra cost.

These updates give the most benefit to ClassicPlus subscribers, but also have benefits for clients still on our Classic Package. Our advice to all of our clients still on the Classic Package is to upgrade. It’s only an extra R150 + VAT per month and the benefits are even greater than before.

So without further ado, let’s get into what exactly these newest updates entail: –

We’re ready for POPI with new opt-out / opt-in notifications

POPI’s final implementation is probably still some way off. Whilst there is still some uncertainty around the exact details of what will be required, we’ve upgraded our system to cope with all the possible requirements well ahead of time.

Depending on how you are growing your database, your firm will either need to notify new newsletter recipients that they have been added to your database (an Opt-out Message) or send them a request to join your mailing list (an Opt-in Message). Our system can now automatically do either as new recipients are loaded, depending on your firm’s policy in this regard. ClassicPlus Clients will have all of these messages branded in a completely bespoke manner in their branding.

We will activate this functionality for you as soon as it is required by POPI, or earlier on request.

Improved “subscribe” and “unsubscribe” functionality

If you already have your “subscribe” button enabled on your newsletter, give it a click! It will take you to a new page which will allow for online subscription. If you are a ClassicPlus client, we can customise this page for you with your firm’s colour scheme and branding. Grow your mailing list by adding this page to your website! Our unsubscribe functionality has been similarly upgraded to allow for more personalisation. It also provides an easy one-click experience for anyone wanting to remove themselves from your mailing list.  If anyone unsubscribes, you will receive a notification so you can if you like follow up with your client.

Add / remove / swap newsletter articles (ClassicPlus clients only)

As always, you’ll be receiving your monthly newsletter articles in your Attorney / Accountant Version a few days before your actual newsletter gets sent out to your recipients. If you are a ClassicPlus client you can now easily shift, add or remove articles as you choose. Just drop us an email with the changes, and we’ll do it for you! ClassicPlus clients are welcome to add one bespoke article of their choice every month – if you require more than that, you might want to consider upgrading to a Custom newsletter package.

New look mobile-friendly “read more” page for articles (ClassicPlus clients only)

ClassicPlus clients with templates containing “Read More” links now have articles on a page customised to their firm’s branding. This page now keeps your firm’s logo at the top of the page, and is completely responsive, looking great on any device.

We’ve added two new customisable templates (ClassicPlus clients only)

Introducing two brand new mobile-friendly newsletter templates! As with all our ClassicPlus newsletter templates, they are fully customisable  with your firm’s colour scheme and branding. There are also ample areas in which you can insert marketing banners to highlight your firm’s key services, events or news. Click on the links to see examples of Template 7 and Template 8.

Tweaks & improvements

We’ve improved upon a few other small things you might notice. For instance the notifications you receive when anyone subscribes or unsubscribes have changed slightly, if you manage your own client list online there have been a few tweaks there and there have been some improvements in the way our system handles non-delivery reports.

Lastly we’d like to thank all our clients for the support you showed us in 2017! Here’s to a an even more successful 2018!

Contact us for more.

Paddy Crook
Paddy Crook
Director at DotNews
Paddy completed his BSc at Rhodes University and has specialised in email marketing, social media, ppc, ad-serving and other online marketing mediums. Having returned from working with a UK-based multi-national company where he analysed the effectiveness of online campaigns, Paddy has a broad knowledge of the channels and techniques used within the digital space and how best to apply them to professional practices.

When designing websites for our clients, we at LawDotNews are always looking for convenient, easy to implement marketing solutions that can be used by firms of any size. We find that many firms have no idea of the many such services available for little to no cost. If you are a conveyancer, the GhostConvey Cost Calculator is one such service, and it is 100% free for all GhostConvey clients.

 

Why a Cost Calculator?

A cost calculator is a great tool to promote engagement on your website. It enhances your reputation as a specialist conveyancing firm by providing your clients and prospective clients with a quick and easy rough estimate of what their various costs would be when buying a property. The GhostConvey calculator has three different components – a Transfer Cost Calculator, a Bond Cost Calculator and a Bond Repayment Calculator.

 

Customise it to your needs

Aside from selecting the three components of the calculator, there are a variety of other features you can customise for your firm. You can personalise your calculators with your own logo, colours and font styles, so that the design goes with your website. You can also get the calculator to include in the calculation costs specific to your firm, such as administration fees.

 

Easy Implementation

The process to get your calculator set up is dead easy. First thing to do is contact your GhostConvey representative and they will send you a simple form to fill in, with your specifications on which calculators you want, your custom colouring and branding and your administration fees. Once you submit the form GhostConvey will send you a piece of code with your personalised calculator, which your web developer can simply copy / paste into the relevant section of your website.

 

This free service from GhostConvey really allows for a hassle-free and cost-effective way to add great value to your website with a Cost Calculator. If you haven’t already spoken with GhostConvey about this service, we highly recommend that you do – don’t miss out on this!

 

Paddy Crook
Paddy Crook
Director at DotNews
Paddy completed his BSc at Rhodes University and has specialised in email marketing, social media, ppc, ad-serving and other online marketing mediums. Having returned from working with a UK-based multi-national company where he analysed the effectiveness of online campaigns, Paddy has a broad knowledge of the channels and techniques used within the digital space and how best to apply them to professional practices.

A Pain in the Inbox

Have you ever run an email campaign or sent out a newsletter over the Holidays? If you have, and you sent your emails from your regular email address, you probably found that your Inbox was flooded with automated messages from recipients who were on holiday. Father Christmas just got you a big old bag of automated electronic mail reminding you of how seemingly no-one but you is working. Great.

This problem is actually prevalent any time one sends out to a large database of recipients – not just the out-of-offices, but also automated bounce reports. I had a client ask me recently what the best way to handle this is, that’s why I’m here, writing this blog post.

Not such a great idea: using a “No-Reply” email address

I’m constantly amazed at how many companies use no-reply email addresses. Back in 2011, Campaign Monitor wrote a good post about why no-replies are a bad idea, and it still holds true today. Suffice to say that you need an address that is monitored regularly, has good deliverability and promotes communication with your recipients – a “No-Reply” is specifically asking them not to engage!

Set up a dedicated email address

The best scenario to avoid having your Inbox flooded is to create a dedicated email address specially for handling your email campaign responses. Some suggestions below:-

notifications@company.com
news@company.com
newsdesk@company.com
newsletters@company.com
hello@company.com
marketing@company.com

Once you’ve set up this address separately in your email client (Outlook, Gmail, etc.) you’ll be able to keep your regular business emails entirely separate from this Inbox, which will get all of the auto-responses. Then in your free time you can sift through these emails for genuine responses.

Automation – finding genuine responses should be a cinch

Most email clients will allow you to create a set of rules (a.k.a. “filters” in Gmail) with which you can set parameters whereby incoming mail gets filed under specified folders. The most common of these would be to look for keywords either in the mail itself or from the sender’s email address. It can be super handy if you set parameters for your email client to file all automatic responses under a folder called “auto-responders” i.e. everything that includes content or subject lines like:

“Out of office”
“Out of the office”
Autoreply
no-reply
auto-response
“Delivery Status Notification”
“message status – undeliverable”
“no longer working at”
“unattended mailbox”

And likewise, you could set up keywords that flag important issues that would need your attention like:

“spam”
“unsubscribe”
“POPI”
“unsolicited”

Whilst not perfect, this should filter out most of the automated responses and make your life that much easier when checking up on campaign responses.

Paddy Crook
Paddy Crook
Director at DotNews
Paddy completed his BSc at Rhodes University and has specialised in email marketing, social media, ppc, ad-serving and other online marketing mediums. Having returned from working with a UK-based multi-national company where he analysed the effectiveness of online campaigns, Paddy has a broad knowledge of the channels and techniques used within the digital space and how best to apply them to professional practices.

“Content is King” (Bill Gates)

We all know that law firm marketing and accountancy firm marketing are no longer nice-to-haves – remaining top-of-mind with your clients (and potential new clients) has become essential to survive and thrive in today’s highly competitive world.

But how best to achieve that?  Which marketing channels are most important for your law or accountancy firm?  Which give you the most bang for your buck?

We trawled the Internet for research results to help you answer those questions.  This is what we came up with –

 

“Content Marketing” is 2017’s top-rated digital marketing technique

What is content marketing?  It’s neatly defined by Wikipedia as “a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online”.

In 2017 it’s used by 89% of marketers, of whom 88% identify it as important to their marketing programs, whilst 70% are increasing their content creation from 2016 – ContentMarketingInstitute.

Asked to “select one marketing activity that you think will give your business the biggest incremental uplift in leads and sales in 2017 (or your clients if you work for an agency or as a consultant)”, SmartInsights readers answered –

 

The most popular content delivery channels are …

Quality content is valuable in every marketing channel you have, with the most popular delivery methods being email and Social Media –

Source (Page 31)

 

Why are 93% of marketers using email newsletters to deliver their content?

  1. Lead generation – 89% of marketers say that email is their primary channel for lead generation – Mailigen
  2. Client acquisition – email is 40x better than Social Media for customer acquisition – McKinsey
  3. High Return on Investment – average returns measured in 2015 were R38 for every R1 spent, with 20% of companies reporting an ROI of over 70:1 – emailmonday
  4. It’s popular with clients – 91% like to receive emails from companies they do business with – MarketingSherpa
  5. It works for small businesses, with Forbes Magazine reporting 10 main reasons why they use it –
    1. To build credulity
    2. To boost sales
    3. To strengthen relationships
    4. To learn what works
    5. To reach people on any device
    6. To look professional
    7. To get immediate results
    8. To generate leads
    9. To promote services
    10. To attract new clients.

 

How to meet the content creation challenge

No matter how you plan to use your content, the one absolute essential is that it must promote engagement with your firm.  You can only achieve this with high-quality, professional, useful and interesting articles.  Drop the ball on that one and it will come back to bite you.

The challenge of course is, how do you go about creating great content?  Do you sacrifice billable hours?  Do you burn the midnight oil or spend your weekends researching, writing and polishing article after article?  The reality is that for most smaller law and accountancy firms, creating your own in-house content just doesn’t make commercial sense.

Which is where we come in as your outsource partners.  Since 2005 our trusted, professional articles have been at the very heart of our integrated client connection services for both law firm marketing and accountancy firm marketing.

Contact Us for more.

Jack Crook
Jack Crook
Managing Director & LawDotNews Author at DotNews
Jack’s legal qualifications (LLB Lond and LLB Rhod) are supplemented by many years of practical experience in law, in marketing his own firm, and in helping small and medium sized law, accountancy and financial advisory firms to prosper by using simple, low-cost, effective marketing strategies.

DISCLAIMER

The articles contained herein are for general information only and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.