Doom Gloom or Boom for Your Firm?

Where’s Your Firm Going in 2018/19

In business, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. If we turn the clock back 7 or 8 years, the first touch point with a new client was often a meeting at your offices. It was important to make sure your reception area and offices were light, bright and clean. Having visited hundreds of accountant’s offices over many years I think I’ve just about seen everything from stained carpets and chairs, broken toys scattered all over the reception area, damaged and filthy blinds that have never seen a feather duster plus piles of old magazines dating back a decade or more. On several occasions I’ve even been greeted by dogs in the reception area! While I’m a dog lover, it’s not the professional first impression that your clients expect.

How things have changed! In the digital and social age, you’ll find most of your potential new clients (and particularly the younger ones) start their search for a new accountant online. A Google search probably means your website is going to be the first touch point with a potential new client. As such, it needs to make a good first impression and an amateurish website (or no website at all) is a prospect killer.  

According to the 2018 Telstra Small Business Intelligence Report, 50% of small businesses in this country don’t have a website. If this statistic is anywhere near the truth, it’s disturbing. The survey also suggested that 62% of customers or clients will stop considering a small business if they can’t find information about it online. Not only that, 47% of customers under the age of 40 report using a search engine to find or research a small business at least once a day. Clearly, without a website that resonates with the under 40 market you’re not in the contest to win their business.

Accountants are understandably sceptical about the marketing value of a website because the vast majority of their websites are what I describe as ‘electronic brochures’. They simply list the who, what and where of the firm and they don’t generate traffic or leads. They lack the essential ingredients that the under 40’s market demand including videos and social media integration. If you want proof that websites work, take a look at several members of the Accountants Accelerator Group who have been generating six figure returns from their website for the past 3 years. Their websites position the firm as experts in various industries and they target the millennial demographic. They work 24/7, 365 days of the year to attract their ideal type of client and contain videos, lead magnets and calls to action. One of the members is featured in a case study in this newsletter. 

Don’t Get Caught Up In Appearance

One thing I have observed over the years is accountants get caught up in the look of their website. While the appearance is important to your visitors, your pretty looking website doesn’t register with Google who can only read your content. It’s not a beauty contest and Google doesn’t ‘see’ the designer look of your website. Experience tells me that a number of firms are loyal to their existing website design and reluctant to change. They might have spent a small fortune to get the design years ago but things have changed. You can buy spectacular looking website skins off the shelf for just $12 from sites like Template Monster.

If your content doesn’t work for Google (and the other search engines) then a beautiful website skin is meaningless. You won’t appear on the first page of a search which basically means your website is an electronic billboard in the desert. It looks flashy but there’s no passing traffic and no leads. As such, don’t get caught up in the cosmetics of your website and never let perfection get in the way of progress. Remember, your website will never be finished, it is a permanent work in progress.

There’s always reasons why a website doesn’t perform and they stretch beyond just your content. Backlinks, SEO and reviews are all important. Videos are now critical and calls to action tell your ideal customer what to do next. One thing is for sure, your website won’t fix itself. If your website looks great but is underperforming, it’s time to move on and think about an upgrade, refresh or replacement.

Referrals Remain Important

There’s plenty of accountants who still heavily rely on referrals to attract new clients. There’s no doubt about their importance, however, Hinge Marketing (Referral Marketing for Professional Service Firms Research Report) suggests that 29.6% of people referred to you will discard the referral because your website is ‘unimpressive’. In addition, 23.5% of people will rule out a referral because the firm has poor quality content on their website. People referred to you are checking your online presence before contacting you and if they are disappointed with what they see and read, they might not contact you. Worst of all, you won’t even know you got the referral.

The internet has changed consumer behaviour and it has also changed the accounting profession with cloud based software and the outsourcing of compliance work. Marketing has also changed and the next generation of business owners live online. Gen Y (people born between 1980 and 1994) have come of age and are now 21 to 34 years of age and are buying investment properties, starting businesses and self-managed super funds. They are also buying businesses and franchises plus inheriting their baby boomer parents’ businesses. Ignore them at your peril because they start their search online for a proactive and innovative accounting firm. They expect you to be tech and marketing savvy and want an accountant who does more than just keep the score. They read your online reviews and social media posts.

The bread and butter services like business start-up advice and negative gearing advice are the same services that have fuelled growth in small accounting firms for decades. Gen Y now want those services so the demand hasn’t changed but how they source an accountant has. They no longer rely on traditional word of mouth referrals anymore, they go searching online for an expert and put their faith in websites, online reviews and social media. It’s a different world.  

If your firm is characterised by an ageing client base and your top ten or twenty clients are aged 55 and above you’ve probably already noticed your referral engines have slowed or possibly seized up. The demand for these bread and butter services from your ageing clients is not the same as the demand from their 35 year-old counterparts. They also don’t refer like 35 year-olds because (generally speaking) the ageing baby boomer clients don’t have the same level of social connection as the younger clients because they have lost their links with sporting clubs and business networks. I hate to say it but, from a referral point of view they are ‘yesterday’s hero’.

Potential new clients aren’t picking up the phone like they used to and traditional marketing techniques like dropping flyers into letter boxes, local newspaper ads, face to face networking, club sponsorships and Yellow Pages advertising have lost their marketing mojo. The new marketing magnets for accounting firms are all online tactics including Google searches, content marketing, email marketing and social media. If you don’t think you have an ageing client base and your referrals have slowed you might not want to hear this … maybe your clients aren’t actively telling their friends about you because your firm might be one of those compliance sweatshops and you aren’t adding value.  To get referrals, you need a point of difference.

In the digital and social age, marketing is a lot more than just a website. However, it does sit at the hub of your marketing and for a growing number of firms, it is the primary growth engine. Smart firms are investing heavily in their website and building a predictable system for attracting their ideal type of client. They use automated marketing techniques and they treat their website as an investment, not a cost.

In closing, here are three questions you might want to consider: 

  • Do you know how many visitors you get to your website every day? This is an important KPI and it’s available for free with Google Analytics. Your website could be a billboard in the desert and you don’t know it. Members of the Accountants Accelerator Group can view their analytics in real time which means they know who is on their website right now, their location, what pages they have visited and what they have downloaded. According to Peter Drucker. if you can't measure every part of your business, you can't manage or grow it. You need to know your website traffic figures.
  • How much new business can you specifically attribute to your website in the last 12 months? The bottom line is, what is your return on your investment?  Any kind of marketing that doesn’t generate revenue is a waste of money and a waste of effort.
  • Do you clearly spell out what you want your website visitors to do when they land on your website pages? Once you finally get traffic to your website what do you want them to do next - contact us, book a free consultation, subscribe to your newsletter or download an e-book? You need calls to action on every page of your website to steer your prospects in the right direction so they become clients.

The truth is, if you’re still relying on ‘hope and pray’ marketing then it’s time to embrace the new marketing magnets for accountants. That SALY (same as last year) approach to marketing doesn’t work, you need to make a good first impression with your prospects and you also need to do more than just keep the score for your clients.

Every year I speak with and present to hundreds of accountants who make excuses about their marketing. They are too busy or bought an off the shelf website that doesn’t bring in new business. As a result they are in denial about the pulling power of websites and they have their head in the social media sand. Some are still nervous about cloud applications and afraid to go paperless and offer excuses like they are selling in the next year or two. It’s like groundhog day because I recall having the same conversation with these accountants last year and the year before that …

These practitioners are stuck on the compliance treadmill and they are flat lining or about to go into a phase of decline. Their ageing client base has caught up with them and they are losing clients to young ‘upstarts’ who recognise that Gen X and Y clients want more than just compliance services. These practitioners talk about offering or introducing “value added” services but they don’t walk the talk. Only a small percentage of these firms really offer business advisory services while some members of the Accountants Accelerator Group are offering marketing advice to their clients. It’s no surprise to find their referral engines are purring because they are helping clients grow their business.

A new financial year is around the corner and if you’re working hard, spinning on your wheels and have no spare capacity then don’t start thinking about the ‘SALY’ approach. I understand that change can be uncomfortable but if growing your practice is a priority then it’s a necessity. If you’re an ambitious accountant wanting to spend your time HELPING clients, not FINDING clients we invite you to contact us today. Your marketing could be the difference between BOOM, doom and gloom.  

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