Seven ways law firms can use online marketing to enhance accountant referral relationships

by Paul Evans

Legal marketers know the challenges of a crowded industry. A tried and tested approach to receiving high quality referrals is to build relationships with accountants. Accountants are often seen as the gatekeeper and the most trusted advisor to business owners.

But in speaking with accountants about their relationships with lawyers, an obvious pet peeve arises. They are rarely a reciprocal relationship. Accountants get the raw end of the stick.

Whilst promoting your firm’s services to potential referrers might naturally feel like the best approach, building trust and providing genuine value to these influencers is a far more useful and fruitful approach.

So the question isn’t ‘how can we reach more accountants?’ It should be ‘how can our firm do a better job of providing genuine value to accountants that other lawyers aren’t prepared to offer?’

The answer is definitely not in hosting events that’s sole purpose is to teach the attendees how to sell your services. This is the most common pitfall I see.

Take accountants as an example. They might not be your firm’s clients but they often have close relationships with the same businesses and/or industries you want to reach. That leaves a vital question: how can your firm reach accountants, and how can you help your lawyers leverage that relationship into new clients for your firm?

To get there requires a conscious effort and strategy surrounding your law firm’s referral marketing efforts.

Digital marketing can help you get there. Consider these 7 ideas your law firm can use to reach out and build referral relationships with business accountants.

1) Co-brand content with relevant accounting firms

Let’s begin with the most obvious, but perhaps also the most single-minded proposition.

If you know of an accounting firm that works with several of your prospective clients, approach them about co-branding opportunities. Associate yourself with the right partners through shared marketing materials, such as thought leadership content. You’ll be surprised by how the credibility the accounting firm has already built-up with its clients can transfer to you.

Tip: This tactic is only effective if your firm is looking to build one accounting firm partnership. It may however, turn off other firms who you don’t associate yourself with. Marketers should only engage in this tactic if they want to commit their law firm to one specific accounting firm.

Now that might sound completely limiting, but there are many circumstances where having only one partner could be seen as advantageous. An example would be a law firm partnering with an accounting firm that shares a specific sector focus.

2) Build a helpful content knowledge base

Accountants tend to build close business relationships with their clients, to the point where they often get questions outside their realm of expertise. Imagine, for example, an accountant getting a legal question. Where do they turn?

If you can give them the answer, it might just be your law firm. Especially if you share an industry focus, but even on general legal questions, build a knowledgebase of content that accountants can tap into. The more your law firm’s website becomes a natural resource for accountants, the better.

3) Make accountants the hero of your content

In the world of accountant marketing, thought leadership matters. Similar to lawyers, professionals there know that they have to build trust and credibility before they can gain clients. Industry experts recommend it as a pathway for innovation. What if your law firm marketing can help them get to that point?

An area of your legal expertise might tap into financial aspects. Reach accountants you want to build relationships with by asking for their thoughts and comments. That might include their quote on a whitepaper or even a podcast that focuses on these types of topics with regular guests from the world of accounting.

4) Build complementary CPD offers

Practising Australian accountants (both Chartered Accountants and CPA’s) have to complete 120 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) every three years to keep their certification. With the right type of content, you can help them accomplish that goal while building a marketing referral relationship over time.

Find topics that are relevant to accountants you want to build relationships with. Most likely, that will relate to legal topics within the realm of expertise for your firm and relevant enough from a financial standpoint for this audience. Then, build webinars, online training modules, and long-form written content designed to educate accountants on these topics.

5) Create tools for accountants to work with their clients

Accountants will need to work with clients on a variety of documents. Both openly and subtly, that will involve some branded materials. If they don’t have marketing teams, they might not have the ability to build good-looking, branded constitution documents, shares certificates, or financial reports. That’s where your expertise comes in.

With your marketing teams existing knowledge in design and layout, you can build tools and templates for accountants to easily use with their clients. Make them available for download on your website, ideally with specific instructions on how to utilise them.

Even better, use a chatbot platform such as Josef Legal that has the ability to produce custom documents based on the input of the user. Set up a chatbot that’s free to use for accountants and add some serious value to the accountants you want to build relationships with.

Better again, create a custom portal and solution for a specific accounting firm and use a software tool that incorporates their own precedents. You could charge for this service or make it a very genuine value-add for your best referral relationships.

6) Build a dedicated email series of legal topics that relate to accountants

In marketing your law firm, you might already have a newsletter in place to attract subscriptions and leads for potential clients. Whether or not you do, it makes sense to build out a version of this tactic specifically for accountants.

On a regular basis, you can publish articles and curate content specifically related to legal topics and trends accountants might need to know about. Over time, your firm will build up credibility as a trusted resource. Better yet, as you build subscriptions, you naturally create a database of accountants that might be worth further outreach.

7) Make the referral process easy

Finally, do what you can to make it as easy as possible for accountants to refer new clients to your law firm. Some of that might be explicit. If you’ve worked directly with an accounting firm in the past, let them know how to refer clients and where the best resources for clients are on your website. Some of it is more subtle. In your newsletter, you might have a referral link to your home page for your audience.

Either way, the easier you can make the process for accountants, and the more top-of-mind you can make your contact information, the more likely they’ll become to think of it next time their clients have a legal question.

The bottom line: give before you ask

Referral marketing is, at its core, relationship building. And as is the case in any strong relationship, building trust, communicating consistently and giving before taking, is key.

Having spoken to many accountants, their biggest ‘bug bear’ is that lawyers expect work from them but rarely reciprocate. The fact of the matter is that reciprocating to accountants can be quite difficult for lawyers.

But as a legal marketer, you can help your lawyers add value to these relationships.

A single email blast is not a relationship. But an approach through multiple channels always focused on helping them rather than promoting your law firm outright, leads to success.

Approached the right way, helping your lawyers add significant value to their relationships with accountants has the potential to build a significant flow of clients into your law firm. Get it right and not only will you build a significant flow of clients into your law firm, you’ll achieve a crucial competitive advantage in a crowded and competitive field.

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Paul Evans

Paul Evans is a legal marketing expert with significant experience in digital marketing. Prior to founding Toro Digital, he was a senior marketer in some of Australia's fastest growing law firms.