Category Archives: Tax Marketing

Fat Man. Red Suit.

We first published this piece back in 2007. Since then, a lot has changed. (My daughter who was seven years old back then is now applying to colleges and my son who was two is now as tall as I am!) But some things remain eternal. Like the joy in a child’s face when he first sees that Santa visited his house. Or (wait for it) the value of target marketing. So join us for a walk down memory lane as we watch how one of “the great ones” does his stuff.


He’s baaaaack . . . .

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or just sit home like Scrooge, you can’t open your eyes or ears without seeing or hearing him. Statistics show that we’re exposed to 3,000 advertising messages per day. And this time of year, it seems like all of them feature that familiar jolly fat guy in his familiar festive red suit.

You probably just think of Santa Claus as a holiday icon. But have you thought about him as a business guru?

Back in 1990, Wess Roberts wrote a bestseller called Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. You probably don’t want to hold your clients’ children hostage to consolidate control over them. And you can’t pay your staff in plunder. So in a more festive spirit, I offer “Business Secrets from the North Pole.”

1. Target Marketing

Our marketing philosophy boils down to this: target specific markets, then give them a unique reason for doing business with you and not your competition.

Santa offers one product: Christmas presents. Specializing lets him own that market. You don’t see Santa handing out candy at Halloween, or delivering eggs at Easter.

And Santa serves one broad, enthusiastic market: children.

Marketing guru Gary Halbert was famous for telling clients to imagine they were opening a restaurant — then asking what would best guarantee success. Low prices? Great food? Special sauce?

Nope, nope, and nope. Try a starving crowd of customers! Markets don’t get more “starving” than children on Christmas morning!

But Santa doesn’t stop there. He slices and dices that market, and creates distinct brands for them.

General Motors has done this for years, marketing Chevys to the working man, Pontiacs to wannabe hotrodders, Cadillacs to high rollers, and Buicks to affluent but more conservative (read: slower) drivers. Santa does the same thing, appearing as himself here in the United States and Canada, Father Christmas in Great Britain, Pere Noel in France, Babbo Natale in Italy, Joulupukki in Finland, and Kaledu Senelis in Lithuania.

Santa doesn’t try to be all things to all people. Neither should you. Pick your markets and serve them well. Your clients may not be as happy as kids on Christmas morning. But they won’t leave you for the Santa down the street.

2. Time Management

Most of us think we work too much. No, let me correct myself. Most of us do work too much. Our All-Stars tell us they typically work 40-60 hours per week — and want to cut 10 or more of those hours out.

Santa Claus works one night a year. One night! This cat is leveraged. Forget about hiring associates at $40/hour and billing them out at $100. Santa lets the elves do all the work — then hops into the sleigh to claim all the credit!

(Santa’s not the only one to figure this out. Willy Wonka does the same thing, importing Oompa-Loompa “guest workers” from the small Pacific island of Loompaland. The Oompa-Loompas make the chocolate, and Willy takes the credit.)

Creating systems and managing staff aren’t easy. But these are crucial to moving from a personal practice that depends entirely on you to a real business that flourishes without you.

3. Exclusivity

As we discussed, Santa targets a hungry crowd. But he doesn’t serve everyone. He brings presents to the good little boys and girls. If you’re a rotten little stinker, you get coal in your stocking! (Or, “if you talk to your mother in that tone again, I’m taking back the iPod before Rudolph’s nose stops glowing, pal!” — Keith.)

We tell you to segment your clients into an “A” group (those who love you, gladly pay your fees, and refer new business), a “B” group (those who can become “A” clients with a little care and feeding), and a “C” group (those you’d just as soon do without). How liberating would it be to give your “C” clients a lump of coal this season?

I love my 7-year-old, Margaret. She’s bright, spirited, and talkative, but she doesn’t always listen to her mom and me. Usually that’s a problem. But this time of year, we just have to ask her if the elves are watching to get her immediate attention. Santa’s positioning works!

Do your clients think they have to behave for you? Are you managing your relationships with them, or do you let them manage you?

Several of our All-Stars are considering asking clients to actually apply to do business with them. Can you imagine how that transforms the relationship? We’ll bring you more on those efforts as they develop.

I’ve had more fun than usual writing this week’s Briefs. But please don’t think I’m not as serious as ever. Santa Claus offers real lessons for you and your practice. And you don’t have to be fat or wear a silly suit to use them.

Read more…

Hate to Sell? Try This (Part One)

Most TaxCoach members didn’t become tax professionals because they wanted to “sell.” Then they got out in the real world and discovered that selling is an essential part of building your business and building your brand. But deep down, many still feel uncomfortable with the very concept of “selling” and the need to sell themselves, their services, and their value. Read more…

Marketing Lessons from Blockbuster Video

You probably read the title of this article and thought, “Wait a minute, is Blockbuster even still in business? I bet this is one of Ed’s bait-and-switch articles…” And you would be right! Blockbuster is still on life support, under the Dish Network satellite TV umbrella. But I’m not here to tell you about anything Blockbuster itself did that will help you grow your business.

So… a guy named David Cook started out in business supplying software services to oil and gas companies in Texas. In 1985, his wife suggested he start renting videocassettes instead, and Blockbuster was born. At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster had 9,094 stores across the world, 84,300 employees, and $5 billion in market capitalization. Read more…

The More Things Change

I took my summer vacation early this year, and it was a Roman Holiday, minus Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. I started with a night in Milan. Then I took the train down the Italian coast for a few days in Cinque Terre, which is a delightful collection of seaside villages hugging the Mediterranean. Finally, I took another train to Rome. (Leaving Rome was especially hard because it meant a series of three flights to Las Vegas for a speaking engagement. Ugh.)

I think my favorite part of Rome was the afternoon I spent touring the ancient ruins. I started at the Colosseum, then made my way through the various arches, palaces, and temples of the Roman Forum. (A funny thing happened on the way…) Read more…

The Magic Solution to All Your Problems

Yesterday, Keith and I hosted our regular Wednesday Marketing and Management call for a group of about 80 members. It was a larger-than-usual call, with a big group of brand-new members on their very first call. (Welcome to the TaxCoach community!)

As usual, the call featured a lively discussion of both marketing and management topics. Several members had questions about handling problem clients. These included a real estate agent just now getting around to filing three years of taxes, who can benefit from an S corporation, but might not be disciplined enough to manage the paperwork properly. We also discussed a client who insists on bickering over fees after agreeing to pay a member a higher fee than they had paid their last tax professional. Read more…

Tax Strategies for Bank Robbers

Keith and I dreamed up TaxCoach one afternoon over lunch at Tellers restaurant in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Square. So it’s fitting that our current offices are just down the street from that restaurant, across from a bank and a funeral home (which would be even more appropriate if we offered an estate-planning tool).

Yesterday morning, three spirited youngsters robbed that bank across the street. They took off in a stolen SUV just as a red dye pack exploded in the cash. At that point, our enterprising-but-apparently-underemployed youths panicked and threw the money out the window, scattering the cash up and down snow-covered Erie Avenue. Read more…

You’re Not Burger King

Take a walk with me down memory lane, and tell me if you can recognize which advertiser infused the airwaves with this catchy jingle:

“Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce

Special orders don’t upset us

All we ask is that you let us serve it your way”

The answer, of course, is Burger King. For years, they relied on their slogan, “Have it Your Way,” to stand apart from industry leader McDonalds. And there’s no doubt they were different. (When I was a kid, I hated the pickles, onions, and mustard McDonalds slapped on their burgers, and I grumbled at having to wait for them to make my burger plain. Now I’m a grownup and I don’t have time to waste on special orders, so on the rare occasions when I eat there, I get a regular burger, take off the top bun, and use a french fry to scrape off the offending vegetables.) Read more…

Marketing Lessons from the Mall

Sunday afternoon, my daughter Mary Claire came to me with a broken pair of glasses. Apparently her three-year-old brother had mistaken them for a chair, with the result that the earpiece had broken off the frame.

I drove over to LensCrafters, where we had bought the glasses, confident that they could solder the earpiece back to the frame and that would be that. But the clerk at LensCrafters said no, it wasn’t something they could do. She suggested I try a place called “Fix-It-Quick,” which occupied a kiosk at the nearby Eastgate Mall. If “Fix-It-Quick” couldn’t fix it, I could replace the entire frame (if they still sold that style) or I could replace the glasses entirely. Read more…

Sooooo Boring…

If you’ve spent any time on the internet at all, you’ve signed up for dozens of electronic newsletters and mailing lists and spent hours cleaning out your inbox. You may have even downloaded one of those apps that goes through your “promotions” folder and periodically unsubscribes you from the periodicals you don’t read anymore.

There’s a reason marketers write those newsletters and send them out. They work.

If you’re looking to build your business and maintain those all-important relationships with clients, you should be doing that, too. The hard part is coming up with content they’ll actually want to read. Read more…

Double Your Referrals This Tax Season

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with one of our members who already has a practice that most TaxCoach members would envy. He’s not interested in “growing” his clientele so much as he is in “renovating” it, with more business owners and more financial service business. I’ll call him “Carl,” because that’s not his real name.

Carl hasn’t done a lot of formal marketing over the years. He’s grown primarily through referrals — and he’s done it without ever actually asking for referrals. Read more…