Why Is it So for Accountants?
The internet has changed consumer behaviour forever and most people are now very comfortable buying products online including books, shoes and electronics. The question for accountants is - Do business owners buy accounting services online?
In a previous post, The Accountant Who Drives a Leyland P76, I mentioned the incredible results some accountants are getting with their websites. The proof supporting the online success is out there. In fact, one member of our coaching club has generated more than $300k of new business in the last 15 months from his website while another suburban firm has topped $100k of new business for the third successive year.
Despite the fact that online shopping has become a way of life in Australia, most accountants are still in denial about the effectiveness of online marketing for professional service firms. The fact that less than fifty percent of accounting firms in this country have a website supports this claim. Accountants generally don’t view their website as their marketing hub and they simply don’t believe that online searches, content marketing and social media are the new marketing magnets. Instead, they persist with traditional lead generation techniques including Yellow Pages, direct mail and print media. While referrals remain the lifeblood of an accounting practice, most firms report they have slowed or completely dried up in recent years.
To quote the late Professor Julius Sumner Miller – Why is it so?
Well, most accounting firms have ignored the online marketing revolution. Thousands of firms still don’t have a website and they have buried their head in the social media sand. As a result, these accounting firms are now characterised by an ageing client base with the vast majority of their clients aged fifty plus. Unfortunately, this demographic don’t refer like their 35 year old counterparts who are in the throes of starting businesses, buying investment properties and establishing their own self-managed super fund. These bread and butter services have driven growth in small suburban firms for years. Unfortunately, an aged client base also means clients are retiring, selling their businesses and dying. Finally, firms without an online marketing focus are also losing clients to other firms. These firms are flat lining or in decline and the decay has set in.
In an attempt to stop the rot some of these firms have rushed out and bought a website ‘off the shelf’. Unfortunately, these websites are really nothing more than ‘electronic business cards’ that simply list the people, services and location of the firm. They contain no original content and are just the bare bones of what a website should be. 'Content marketing’ is critical and to attract traffic and prospects your website needs to provide educational content that resonates with your ideal type of client. These billboard type sites don’t attract the attention of the search engines like Google.
In the digital age, face-to-face networking, letter box drops, yellow pages advertising, local paper advertising and sponsorships don’t produce the same level of leads as they did five years ago. Radio, television and print advertising have lost their marketing mojo. By contrast, online marketing is white hot and the future is online searches, content marketing and social media. Now I’m not suggesting you immediately abandon all your offline marketing strategies. These methods have served the profession very well for years but if you have an ageing client base then it’s time for a new approach.
The evidence proves that people now ‘buy’ accounting services online. Just like any other product or service they start their research by doing a Google search on their computer, smart phone or tablet. They gather information and education online and then use a search engine (89% use Google in Australia) to research firms that can help them. Their search could be ‘accountant for business start-ups’, ‘starting a self-managed super fund’ or ‘accountant for musicians’. The local search (‘accountant suburb’) is very common and let me ask you this - Where do you appear in the search engine results in your suburb?
If you’re not on page one you’re invisible because research from online ad network Chitika suggests that the top listing on page one in Google's organic search results receives 32.5 percent of the traffic, compared to 17.6 percent for the second position and 11.4 percent for third position. What this means is that 61 percent of visitors don’t go past the third position on page one of search results. Those ‘off the shelf’ websites that appear on page two, three or four of the listings are like a billboard in the desert. They don’t get passing traffic and don’t generate leads.
Once the consumer has gathered enough information they might seek a referral from a colleague or possibly post a question in an online forum. They build a short list of firms to investigate and then start a review of the candidate’s websites. First impressions count and without a website you are out of the contest. If your website looks like a dog’s breakfast or contains nothing but the who, what and where of the firm then you are probably not going to get a call or email from the prospect. Studies suggest the average human attention span is just eight seconds which officially puts us behind the average goldfish. Your website must engage or the prospect will move to the next candidate on the list.
Once a prospect finds your website one of the first pages they visit is the about us page and staff profiles. Remember, these people are looking to work with a pro-active professional and develop a long term trusting relationship. If your profile is only four lines long or simply lists your qualifications and memberships then you aren’t going to impress. They might even explore your LinkedIn profile and check your areas of expertise so it could be time to update your profile. This trend in consumer behaviour lets you communicate your expertise and prospects can get to ‘know’ you before they engage you as their accountant.
You need to shift your marketing online and content is king.Until next time.