The Accountant Who Drives a Leyland P76

For accountants, owning a poor performing website is like owning the infamous Leyland P76 car (the car referred to by the 1970's Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam as a “dud” and the car Bill Hayden famously called a “lemon).

Accountants often call me in to review and assess the performance of their firm’s website. Lately I’ve noticed a theme with comments like, “But it cost us $12,000 to build five years ago so we can’t just throw it in the bin”. Well, I’m sorry to say, but owning a poor performing website is like owning the infamous Leyland P76 car.

Website technology has come a long way in the last few years and pouring money into fixing your ‘lemon’ of a website is effectively throwing good money after bad. If you love the look of your existing website but it’s not winning new clients, it’s time to cut your losses. For accountants, the primary purpose of your website is to win new clients but most accounting firms simply have an ‘electronic billboard’ type website that lists the who, what and where of the firm. The content is usually shallow and if you purchased an ‘off the shelf’ website then it’s probably full of duplicate content. These websites attract minimal traffic and are really like billboards in the desert that certainly don’t generate new clients.  

A lot of these websites were built using old technology and the decision to restore or rebuild is usually a no-brainer. If you love look of your old, non-performing website you need to understand that you can now buy a picture perfect website skin for just $75 from sources like Template Monster. These website templates look fantastic and you can build a website in a fraction of the time it took five years ago. Under the microscope, accountants confess that they cling to their old website design because of the aesthetics or because they feel they need to justify the cost they incurred years ago. It’s time to focus on what really matters, the return on investment and the number of new clients it is generating.  

The members of our Accountants Accelerator Group measure and monitor their website’s performance. They know how many visitors they get each day to their website, how many leads it generates each week and they can tell you precisely the new fees it has generated each month. One of our members recently reported his website had just notched up $300k of new business in the last 15 months. Another firm reported their website had ticked over more than $150k of new fees this calendar year.

If you have a website that performs like a ‘Leyland P76’ you might find these results hard to comprehend. As accountants, you need to treat your website like the technology in your practice - it is an investment not a cost. Your website should be at the hub of your marketing activities and is your silent sales person working 24/7 to capture leads. If you expect your website to generate $50k or more of new business every year then it deserves some time and attention. You can’t just ‘set and forget’ because your website will always be a work in progress given the rate of technological change and the requirement to keep ‘feeding’ the search engines more content to improve your page rankings.

Some firms are being held to ransom by their website developers. They demand hundreds of dollars to make simple changes to their website to update staff profiles or add new content. It’s outrageous and the moral of the story is you need to take responsibility for your own website and that means you should be able to add your own content including images, videos and a blog.

Currently I have more than 200 firms in a queue willing to pay ‘dollar for dollar’ (and sometimes more) to buy accounting fees in Victoria. In most cases the buyers are driving a ‘Leyland P76’ website that simply breaks down. It is not being serviced and original, fresh content is the fuel required to drive the search engines. Not surprisingly, they produce no new clients and are simply a drain on cash flow. Even worse, any marketing the firm does is at risk because when prospects visit the site it makes a poor first impression. As you know, in the professional services game you only get one chance to make a good first impression.  

While many of these firms are looking to buy fees for different reasons, most are looking for a quick fix. Apart from having a lemon of a website their fees are flat lining (or in decline) and they have an ageing client base. I’m not saying a website is the panacea but if these firms don’t have a good website or a focus on marketing in the digital age then the writing is on the wall. Ironically, the firms that do manage to purchase another practice often think their problems are solved. However, they might find themselves in the same position a few years down the track because they are generally acquiring fees from a baby boomer who is probably selling a client base not dissimilar to theirs - full of baby boomer, ageing clients.

While the acquisition strategy is expensive and carries certain risks, I'm not saying you shouldn't do it. It really needs to be assessed on a case by case basis. Having said that, one thing is certain, it’s time to invest in your website and marketing should never be off your agenda.

Until next time.

Pat Camm

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