The Leyland P76 Accountant
For accountants, owning a poor performing website is like owning the infamous Leyland P76 car. For those not old enough to remember, this was the car that the 1970's Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam referred to 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 having a poor performing website is like owning a Leyland P76 car. It doesn’t perform, it’s unreliable and trying to fix it is like sending good money after bad.
In the last few years website technology has come a long way and pouring money into fixing your ‘lemon’ of a website is effectively burning money. If you love the look of your existing website but it’s not winning new clients, it’s time to cut your losses. The primary purpose of your website should be to win new clients, but most accounting firms simply have an ‘electronic billboard’ website that lists the who, what and where of the firm. The content is shallow and if you purchased an ‘off the shelf’ website then it’s probably full of duplicate content. These websites don’t attract traffic and they rarely generate new clients.
A lot of these websites were built using old technology and the decision to restore or rebuild your website is usually a no-brainer. If you love the 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 Templatemonster.com. 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 often confess that they are clinging to their old website design because of the aesthetics or because they feel they need to justify the cost they incurred years ago. I tell them that it’s time to focus on what really matters, the return on your investment. If your website isn’t generating leads and new clients it’s time to park the Leyland P76 in the junk yard.
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. When I quiz Partners and Principals with these billboard type websites they can usually tell me two statistics - the monthly drain on cash flow and the fact that the website has not created a single new client in the last twelve months. By contrast, 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 last calendar year which is the third year in a row they have exceeded $100k of new fees.
If your website is a lemon you might find these results hard to comprehend. You need some education about search engine optimization or SEO. As accountants, you need to treat your website like the technology in your practice - it is an investment not a cost. You can’t expect your website to perform when the content is thin on the ground, it’s full of duplicate content and you never add new content to feed the search engines. Websites that perform have blogs, embed their regular newsletter articles, contain videos and educational content that targets their niche markets and ideal type of clients. They are at the hub of the firm’s marketing activities and act as a silent sales person working hard to capture leads and prospects 24/7. They give away quality content and educational information in exchange for an email address that lets them build a pipeline of prospects.
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. You also need to keep ‘feeding’ the search engines more content to improve your page rankings. Ironically, some firms are being held to ransom by their website developers who demand hundreds of dollars to make simple changes to their website. It could be an update to staff profiles or you might want to add some new content. It’s outrageous and the moral of the story is you need to take responsibility for your own website. That means you should be able to add your own content including images, videos and a blog.
Currently we 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 doesn’t perform. It is not being regularly serviced or topped up with fresh content that is the fuel required to drive the search engines. These sites have seized up. Most importantly, 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 and your website is often the first touch point with a prospective new client.
The Shipwreck Accounting Firm
While accountants buy fees for different reasons, most are looking for a quick fix to solve their ageing client base issue and arrest the associated decline in fees and profitability. It’s easy to sell the website as the ‘miracle cure’ but the truth is, in the digital age a quality ‘lead generation’ website is essential. The small percentage of firms that do manage to purchase another practice often think their problems are solved, however, they often find themselves in a deeper hole a few years down the track. They are generally acquiring fees from a baby boomer who is probably selling a client base not dissimilar to theirs. They are often full of baby boomer, ageing clients. They plug the leakage in their practice with another ‘boat’ that is a mirror image. They don’t fix the problem and end up with a shipwreck.
Don’t get me wrong, 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. You need to do your due diligence on the practice and fees you are buying because ultimately you are buying a database of clients. Don’t sign on the dotted line until you know the age profile of the clients otherwise you could be plugging more holes in a leaky boat.
If you’re looking to get marketing back on your agenda and build a lead generation website, join us at Ready Set Boom on March 16, 2015.
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