Have You Googled 'Dinosaur' Lately?

Marketing in the public accounting profession has come a long way in the last 20 years. We can advertise, telemarket, entertain and network plus we can now use the internet and social media to source new clients. While the internet revolution has changed the way most businesses market their products and services, it still amazes me that less than 40% of accounting firms have a website.

Sure, most firms have secured a domain name and use 'reception@yourfirm.com.au' for their email but they haven't got around to building a website. The fact is, clients, prospective clients and potential employees all expect you to have a decent website. They know your business relies on IT and they expect you to be IT savvy, paperless and use cloud based solutions. Not having a website in 2011 is akin to not having a business card in the 1980's.

A quality website will help you focus your marketing on your 'ideal' type of client. Let me explain...

Firstly, let me assume you want to re-engineer your practice and have fewer I return clients and more business clients. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with individual tax return clients (because they often turn into business clients or have financial planning needs) churning out personal tax returns is a tough row to hoe. There are better ways to make money from your hard earned designation and when you sell your practice they are often valued at half the price of a business client. If you think otherwise treat this article as a wake up call.

So why is a website an absolute necessity? The best way to explain that is to walk you through a somewhat typical scenario. Let's assume that you're out there networking, going to business functions and looking to meet potential clients. Over time you develop a relationship with business prospect and eventually they get to the point where they decide to check you out on the internet before picking up the phone and making an appointment to come and see you.

You've invested hours to attend these functions, spent some quality time engaging with them and over time you’ve managed to keep their interest alive by sending them useful information such as your regular client newsletter or you've invited them to a client seminar or maybe hosted them at a corporate sporting event. You may have even referred some of your clients to their business.

At some point in time, they might be ready to switch accountants and because of the ground work you've done, they're ready to validate their decision by looking you up online. They dig out your business card but there's no mention of a website so they 'Google' you only to find a few directory listings on Truelocal or Hotfrog, but no website. They question the spelling  of your name because they can’t believe you don’t have a website.

Of course, if you think you’re the only firm circling them with your marketing, you’re hallucinating. They are probably on the radar of several other firms and while you may have been their number one draft pick, without a website you are out of the game. They'll move on and review your competitor’s websites and take their accounting work to one of these firms. Without a website (or one always under construction) you are perceived as a dinosaur.

Make no mistake, first impressions count and you only get one chance to create that first impression. No website, a website permanently under construction or a simple billboard type website is not the first impression you want to make with a prospective client. All the hard yards you have put into developing the relationship amounts to nothing but it could and should have been so very different. If only you had a decent website. I’m not talking about a billboard here that basically lists the who, what and where of your firm. It needs to ‘talk’ to your target market, provide quality and relevant information and tell clients why you should be their accountant. If you want a quality website talk to us today or visit /marketing/websites-for-accountants/

There's another important reason why a website is crucial to your future. Today's university students are tomorrow's employees. They spend half of their lives online. In fact, most of today’s graduates have no knowledge or memory of the pre-internet days. They totally rely on it as their main source of information for news, current events, study resources, social interaction with friends (on Facebook, twitter etc.) and job hunting! These Gen X and Y people are also tomorrow’s clients so you need to be operating in their space.

If a graduate is looking to apply for a position with an accounting firm, they'll start by researching the employer on the internet. They only apply for positions with firms they find online. If you're not there, you can't expect to win the cream of the candidates. If your website is a billboard, full of shallow content and no social media links then it’s not going to fulfil the role of ‘virtual recruitment officer’. I am starting to see mid-sized firms posting short but snappy video clips on their sites designed to show prospective employees how wonderful the environment is, how varied the work is, how they respect the work/life balance and the quality of the training on offer. There is no doubt their website is a recruitment tool carefully designed to attracts the cream of the crop.

Let's get back to the marketing aspect. If you don't already have a website, contact us today. Make it a priority but be careful because not all websites are built equal. You'll find some of the template, 'cookie-cutter' solutions look attractive to the uninitiated, they will disappoint. Cookie cutter websites always look and feel like cookie cutter websites and if you're targeting quality corporate clients, they are looking for an accountant who is leading edge, not trailing edge. Your online presence can portray either the right or wrong impression to these prospects. Unfortunately, I see so many accounting firms buy an 'off the shelf' website and almost all of them fail to tailor the look, the feel and content on the site. As a result, they almost read exactly the same and the search engines detect the duplicate content so they rank poorly.

If you're developing a relationship with a prospect and they go to your website and find it looks and sounds just like their their present firm, guess what? They make an instant decision that you're no different to their existing firm, so why change to you? A cookie cutter website does you more harm than good, unless you take the trouble to tailor it and write some quality, targeted content.

A big part of our marketing advice to accounting firms is to focus on niche markets. For that reason our websites incorporate unique targeted content for a number of services and industries. This could be business start ups, SMSF or negative gearing through to plumbers, florists and musicians. If your website isn’t a marketing tool, recruitment tool or a delivery tool for your clients then Gen X & Y business owners will brand you a dinosaur. Finding the right clients (and even keeping your good ones) will become increasingly more difficult and we all know what happened to the dinosaurs don’t we?

Pat Camm

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