Do Clients Buy Accounting Services Online?

The internet has changed consumer behaviour. The majority of the population are now very comfortable buying products online including books, shoes and electronic goods. The question is - Do business owners buy accounting services online?


In another article titled ‘The Leyland P76 Accountant’, I mentioned the incredible success some firms are getting with their websites. One Melbourne based firm in our Accountants Accelerator Group has generated more than $300k of new business from their website in the last 15 months. Another suburban firm’s website has topped $100k of new business for the third successive year. Despite these results and 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. I say this because less than fifty percent of accounting firms in this country have a website. Clearly most accountants don’t recognise the importance of a website and they simply don’t believe that online searches, content marketing and social media are the new marketing magnets.

While referrals remain the lifeblood of an accounting practice, most firms report they have slowed or completely dried up in recent years. In the words of the late Professor Julius Sumner Miller – Why is it so?

Well, thousands of accounting firms have ignored the online marketing revolution. They still don’t have a website and they have buried their head in the social media sand. It’s no coincidence that a lot of these firms are characterised by an ageing client base with the vast majority of their major 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 accounting firms for years. Unfortunately, an aged client base also means clients are retiring, selling their businesses and dying. Firms without an online marketing focus are also losing clients to other marketing savvy firms. The net result is these firms are flat lining or in decline. 

In an attempt to stop the rot some of these firms have rushed out and bought a website ‘off the shelf’. These websites are really nothing more than an ‘electronic business card’ that simply lists the people, services and location of the firm. They contain minimal original content and are just the bare bones of what a website should be. To attract traffic and prospects to your website you need to provide educational content that resonates with your ideal type of client. These electronic billboards don’t attract the attention of Google and the other search engines.

In the digital age, radio, television and print advertising have lost their marketing mojo. Face-to-face networking, letter box drops, sponsorships and advertising in Yellow Pages and the local paper don’t produce the same level of leads as they did five years ago. By contrast, online marketing is ‘white hot’ and the future is all about 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. Buyers will gravitate away from firms in decline and they will want to see your fees and profitability all trending upwards. If the ‘worm’ is heading south so is the value of your practice.

There is clear evidence that people ‘buy’ accounting services online and the process is really no different to 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 of the listing you’re invisible. 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 61.5 percent of prospects don’t go past the third position on page one of the 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 traffic and are virtually invisible.

Once a 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 quickly or the prospect will move to the next candidate’s website.

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. Others might even look up your LinkedIn profile and check your areas of expertise so it could be time to update your profile. Prospects want to get to ‘know’ you before they engage you as their accountant and you have the opportunity to spell out your areas of expertise in these profiles.

If you’re looking to shift your marketing online, we invite you to join us at Ready Set Boom on Monday March 16.

Click HERE to download a full copy of the March 2015 edition of The General Journal.

Other articles in the March 2015 edition of The General Journal:

How to 'Buy' Accounting Fees the Easy Way
The Leyland P76 Accountant
5 Reasons Why Accountants Need To Be Marketing Online
Ready Set Boom Seminar