Win or lose, but keep on going

I went down to Oakland, CA last week in order to attend the US Figure Skating Pacific Coast Sectional Championships. A couple people I know placed high enough to move on to the national championships in Boston in January, and a couple other skaters I know saw their season end in Oakland.

For senior level skaters (the highest competitive level), having your season end at sectionals during an Olympic season is particularly crushing.

Most of those skaters went back home on Sunday, and the vast majority of them returned to their home ice this morning to resume their weekly training routines. A few might take a couple days off this week for the holiday, but other than that, it’s back to the grind of being an athlete in training.

You may not be aware of this, but competitive figure skating is a year-round activity. Unlike many other seasonal sports, there really is no “off season” for skaters. These athletes train year round. The competitive season is right now, during the fall and winter, but during the spring and summer there are hundreds of smaller, local competitions that serve as “proving grounds” for those skaters that are working on new programs and that have moved up a level.

For my two friends that are going to Nationals, they went home and immediately resumed their normal, intense training schedules (training is essentially a full time job for them, on top of either school or an actual full time job). For my two friends that didn’t make it through to Nationals, they also returned home and resumed their normal training schedules.

Win or lose, they went home and went right back to work honing their skills.

You need to do the exact same thing when it comes to growing your tax practice.

Marketing is not an event or an occurrence. Marketing is inherently an ongoing activity. At all times, you should be testing various elements of your marketing campaigns. On top of that, extremely successful tax firms are testing multiple marketing campaigns simultaneously.

At any given time, figure skaters have at least two programs they’re working on: Their short program and their free program (aka, “long” program). The two programs are very different, to different music, with different technical elements. Skaters often also have an exhibition program that they work on at the same time, just not as frequently.

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During the course of their year-round training, these programs are constantly being tweaked. Based on competition results, judge’s scores and remarks, coaching critiques, etc., they are constantly provided feedback on every element in each program. They use this feedback to make tiny tweaks to each element.

It could be a hand position, or a 1/8th inch change in foot placement, or a two degree change in a hip or elbow angle. These minor tweaks lead to significant changes in results, because it effects things like jump height, jump angles, rotational speed, landing position, variation/difficulty points, visual lines, etc., etc.

These seemingly minor things are what make the difference between going to nationals or not. One of my friends missed nationals by literally a few tenths of a point, which could have been nothing more than an off-angle foot placement in a step sequence that didn’t look right to one particular judge.

The performance of your marketing campaigns gets improved the same way. You make slight tweaks to get better performance, and it can be small, simple things. Change the color in a letter headline from black to red, and see what happens. Add a ZIP code to your mailing list geographical coverage. Increase your minimum lien threshold by only $5,000. Send a four letter sequence instead of a three. Even changing one word in your offer can change response rates.

All marketing is testing. Yes, there are certain things that are known to work in general, and you take those strategies and apply them to your target market, your local area. You’re going to have to test, track, and tweak to get it just right for YOU, however.

If you take one of my letters that gets an X percent response rate when I send it to the particular list I send it to, I guarantee that you’re going to get a different response rate when you send it to your target market. It could be better, it could be worse. I mail primarily to blue collar, Republican small business owners. If you mail to white collar Democrats, you absolutely must change some of the verbiage in my letter in order to make it work for your demographic.

In addition, if the marketing test flops (which they can, and do!), then you need to work at figuring out why it flopped. You can’t just say, “Oh, direct mail doesn’t work,” because you’d be painfully incorrect. Like a skater whose season ended this last weekend, you need to get right back on track and keep testing. Marketing is a science, and every ad, every letter, every email, all campaigns — they’re all experiments. You must take the feedback from each experiment and use it to gradually improve, just like a figure skater.

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Here’s a common mistake in the tax resolution universe: Practitioners mistakenly believe that nobody buys tax services during the holiday season. This unfounded belief is actually complete bologna. Historically, November and December are the third and fourth highest revenue months for big, national tax resolution firms.

It’s obviously hard to beat the tax resolution season that naturally follows 1040 preparation season, but November is typically great because it follows the extension deadline. December is typically great because… Well, to be honest, I have no clue. That’s right — I’ve NEVER been able to figure out why December is such a good month for selling tax resolution services. I have a theory, which is that all the smaller companies stop marketing for two months, thus leaving the door open for whomever DOES do marketing, but it’s just a theory — I have no empirical evidence to prove it.

But regardless of why, I do have plenty of sales data from multiple companies showing that December is one of the absolute best months of the year to be marketing and selling tax resolution services. It runs contrary to what most practitioners would label “common sense”, but because they’ve never tested, they don’t know. Most practitioners simply abdicate their thrown for December and January, and thus lose out on a LOT of revenue.

Why do they do this? Because they didn’t test, and use the feedback from those tests to make business decisions. Instead, they made business decisions based on hunches and assumptions.

Every move that a figure skater makes is meticulously choreographed and continuously tweaked in search of incremental improvement. Apply the same concepts of choreography and continuous improvement to your marketing efforts, and you’ll make great strides in growing your practice.