updated November 9, 2017
I tested a new marketing tool using LinkedIn ProFinder to promote my low-cost online tax filing service. This blog post explains my project and hopefully serves as a basis for further marketing discussion among peers and advisers. This post documents the process I used to develop and test the online lead generation system within LinkedIn for a one month test period from March 15 until April 15, 2017.
Value proposition and offer
My online tax preparation service is less expensive than walk-in tax preparation services and the response time is typically about 2 days. My offer of fast, easy and inexpensive service with CPA credentials is direct even if perhaps a bit dull.
The offer encourages individuals requesting a tax accounting bid to visit a landing page on my web site specifically designed for this purpose. It includes clear and direct steps to get started (text or email me). LinkedIn also provides a built-in response system with canned responses.
Goal and performance measurement
My goal was to gain one new tax client and compile some insights into the use of online lead generation for tax services.
I compiled the quantitative results based on response messages and would assess the qualitative results based on telephone communication with respondents. The net result of “one new tax client” will determine whether I persist or cancel the project after April 15.
I started using LinkedIn ProFinder in the middle of 2016 in hopes of finding tax advisory and tax filing service clients. The first 10 bids are free and I focused on small business owners. I initially started by customizing each bid request based on the specific request but received no responses. Other accountants reported the same lack of results. At that time I dismissed the program as ineffective and an inefficient use of time.
Around March 15, 2017, after most professional tax preparers stopped accepting new clients, I noticed an increase in the number of ProFinder requests submitted on LinkedIn. It now appears that LinkedIn has stepped up the marketing of its bid collection system. The increase in LinkedIn requests comes at a time of decreased availability of tax professionals so I theorized that this timing may present an opportunity for me.
The recent surge of requests were not just for last-minute tax filings but included a range of business accounting and tax representation requests. I wonder if there is a new opportunity to respond to these late-season requests with better results.
The potential value of ProFinder, as I see it now, is its ability to provide a platform where I can communicate a uniform offer to a larger number of people quickly and easily that encourages personal communication as a follow-up.
Based on the observed increase in ProFinder requests, I expect to respond to at least 100 requests per week for the next few weeks.
My late-season service offer
I tested several responses for the LinkedIn requests and settled on this one:
Late in the tax season it can be difficult finding a professional who can offer the full attention that your finances and important questions deserve. I specifically reserve time at this time of year for new clients so that I can listen carefully to your concerns and respond with the best solutions. If we agree to have me prepare tax returns, the fee is applied to that price. For more information please see http://tonynovak.com/its-not-too-late-for-professional-tax-filing-services/.
Each proposal was submitted with a bid price of $100, the minimum allowed on the LinkedIn system.
Since LinkedIn requires a paid membership in this program I signed up for the $59.99 per month subscription with a one month free trial. Within that month I will know if this experiment is working. One new client from this source would likely justify the monthly fee.
I sent this offer to the majority of open ProFinder tax services requests presented to me, about 25o in total to date, that matched the service parameters.
If I received any response through LinkedIn after submitting the bid then I followed up with this message:
Thanks for considering my service. Please feel welcome to connect here on LinkedIn for daily news feed updates on consumer and small business financial tips. If you ever want a second opinion, I’ll still be here.
Cost, risks and potential obstacles
I invested a total of about 5 hours on this project, including this write-up blog report. About two hours of that time as actually spent submitting the 250+/- bids and the rest planning and managing the project. Since LinkedIn offers the first month premium membership without charge, there was no actual subscription cost for this short project.
These late-season requestors may not initially recognize that late-season service choice and prices are not as favorable as they were earlier. In this case, the value of my offer might be missed.
I need to remain alert to the possible pattern of client procrastination. If these March and April requests represent people who put off accounting and financial management until now, this could be a sign of more difficult and expensive work ahead. I do well working with busy procrastinators, it’s just that I need to be aware and plan my service accordingly.
The over-riding potential obstacle of my business model is that most people who use a tax preparer are still accustomed to working in a physical/paper environment rather than a remote/virtual environment. While the conversion will eventually come as a result of larger forces, it is not clear that the 1/3 cost savings is enough to convert current users of paper or bricks and mortar tax services.
These are the results I have to date:
- 1 viewed my LinkedIn profile
- 7 declined the offer using the built-in response message provided by LinkedIn: “Thank you, but unfortunately your proposal is not a fit for my needs at this time.”
- 4 sent a neutral message using the built-in response message provided by LinkedIn: “I’m currently reviewing all of the proposals and will get back to you shortly.”
- 3 expressed positive interest using the built-in response message provided by LinkedIn: “I’d love to learn more about your work. When is a good time to chat?”. I responded to each with my mobile phone and suggested two times to talk, i.e. “Should we plan a call for tonight or tomorrow?”
- 1 send a personalized message: “Thank you for sending. I need to have 2 years done of individual federal and state. The fee is out of my price range.”
At this point I have not have any conversations or additional results.
Final Analysis – November 2017
Now in November 2017, after the conclusion of the tax season I am in a position to evaluate the net results of the program. I gained two tax clients. By ‘clients’ I mean that they signed an engagement letter, I prepared and submitted at least one tax filing. One of the two was a great client that I expect will continue next year. He wrote one of the eleven positive reviews on Intuit’s accountant web site. The other initially seemed like a good client and managed to gain my trust but conned me in the end and never paid for the service. So out of a total of about 300 leads I got a total of about $300 revenue. So, from my perspective, that makes each LinkedIn lead worth about $1. I discontinued the service when the number of leads dropped off but I may resume it again next tax season.
I welcome feedback and comments on this new marketing project.
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