10 website insights for accountants to generate more sales enquiries

If you are a regular reader you will know I rarely include guest posts on my blog. In this tenth anniversary year though I have decided to stop being so precious. As long as the content is both directly relevant and useful to my audience and I agree with the advice and tips, why not?

In conversation with Peter Swead recently I realised his advice re accountants’ websites reflected views I have long shared. I’ve blogged on the topic before but am happy to share Peter’s ten website insights as they are bang uptodate.

Peter Swead’s top 10 recommendations for an accountant’s website to ensure it is effective at generating sales enquiries are:

1) Ensure your telephone number is on the top right of every website page.

2) Explain clearly and succinctly to potential clients how you can help – rather than the services supplied.

3) Keep text simple and short – no more than 200 words per page. Use simple English suitable for a 12 year old.

4) Break up complex information into bullet points so that it can be easily scanned.

5) Have the courage to be totally authentic – be the real you and set out what makes you special. That means no models or stock photos. Visitors want honesty – rather than beauty from your website. (Unless you’re also graphic designers!)

6) Ensure your website can be read and navigated on a mobile phone – without pinching.

7) Set up a Google My Business account. It’s free! Get a professional photographer to take pictures of the exterior of your premises, interior, staff and a group shot of staff and individuals.

8) Explain each service offered on a single page and then breakdown areas into sub pages – so that the VAT page could have pages on how you help with:

a. VAT returns,

b. VAT investigations,

c. Choosing the best VAT regime,

d. VAT book keeping,

e. VAT software (Xero / Act) supported

9) Be positive and explain how you help rather than what you don’t do.

10) Ensure your website pages load in 2 seconds. Every second of delay reduces the number of sales enquiries received by 7%

Each of the above points will provide an significant improvement to the cost-effectiveness of your website – but the total effect is compounded with each issue addressed.

For more information see http://paramarq.com/our-services/website-evaluations/websites-for-accountants/

I challenged Peter about the look and feel of his website as I felt that it didn’t look as good as many others I have seen. Was it a good enough advert for his business? I expected him to say that he hadn’t had the time to do much to it. Not at all. He keeps it simple and focused as he says he doesn’t want to reveal to his competitors all the techniques he uses to ensure that his clients’ websites are powerful drivers of sales.

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If we don’t trust experts anymore what do you need to do to STAND OUT?

During 2016 politicians in both the UK (Michael Gove) and in the US (Donald Trump) repeatedly asserted that people have “had enough” of experts. Voting patterns seemed to confirm this as expert political and economic views were largely ignored. And yet, we also know it’s patently not true. If you have a health problem do you prefer to take the advice of an amateur or of an expert? What about if you were arrested?

So the real question is why do people trust some experts but reject others? Why do many people on the one hand seek medical experts for medical issues, but distrust climate experts for climate issues, and economic experts for economic issues?

It transpires there is an answer to this question – although it’s in a scientific paper so relies on the views of experts!

In a study published in 2015, psychological scientist Friederike Hendriks and her colleagues at the University of Muenster in Germany coined the term “epistemic trustworthiness”. This refers to our willingness or otherwise to place trust in, and listen to, an expert when we need to solve a problem that is beyond our understanding. The paper focused on our willingness to believe scientific facts but I suggest that the conclusions are more widely applicable.

The authors argue that for an expert to be high on epistemic trustworthiness they need three characteristics: expertise, integrity and benevolence. In other words, knowing stuff isn’t enough. This is key. For us to rate a person as a trustworthy expert they need to know their information, to be honest and to be good-hearted.  There are also echoes here of the work on the power of Influence by Dr Robert Cialdini.

Being an expert is just not enough any more. Experts are more likely to be believed if they are likeable and evidently honest. I have addressed this previously on my blog. One way to evidence your honesty is to admit what you don’t know. In so doing you add credibility to what you do know about. You evidence your expertise partly by accepting its limitations.

The research paper “Measuring Laypeople’s Trust in Experts in a Digital Age: The Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI)”  is actually a contradiction in terms. I am quoting it as justification for this blog post. But the very title of the paper works against it. In particular the very idea of something using a fancy term such as “Epistemic Trustworthiness” makes it less likely that many people will accept the premise of the paper.

Many experts make the same mistake. Clients are often alienated when they feel that we are using unfamiliar words and unintelligible acronyms. When we do this we are making the mistake of seemingly pushing our clients to rise to our level of sophistication and knowledge. We are much more likely to be trusted if we use words and phrases that are commonly understood and if we explain any necessary or helpful acronyms.

As experts we need to demonstrate that we are good, honest people who have our clients’ and prospective clients’ best interests at heart. We increase the likelihood that we will stand out from our competitors if we:

  • communicate more clearly and hold back on the jargon;
  • admit what we don’t know; and
  • develop a genuine interest in helping other people.

In a continuing effort to practice what I preach, I would encourage you to look around this website. Access any materials and blog posts that you find of interest and do get in touch if you feel I might be able to help you. If I can’t I’ll admit it and hopefully will know someone who can!

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The Sole Practitioners’ formula for identifying your premium fee paying prospects

This is a guest blog provided by Patrick McLoughlin. In it he explains how sole practitioner accountants can become really clear as to who is a premium fee playing client. And, having done that, how you can then clarify your future marketing and business generation activities. As Patrick’s approach is much the same as mine I am happy to share his thoughts here.

It doesn’t matter in which industry or professional sector you operate, if you provide a specialist service you are going to get paid more. To help you attract more premium fee paying clients, this blog focuses on transitioning your work and marketing to grow your GRF.

Here goes:

Know your strengths, understand who benefits most from your work

If you already have specialist knowledge and clients you provide a specialist range of services to, you can skip this point. If you struggle to define your ideal clients or your answers focus on personality types, read on.

As a starting point list all your clients on a spreadsheet. Then decide what issues you want to grade them on.  Typically focus on:

Level of fees paid

Profitability of work you carry out

Personality (How much you enjoy working with them)

Do they refer

Potential for fees to grow

Prospective lifetime value

Payment history

Mark the client out of 10 for each category then add up your scores. Focus on your highest scoring 10% – 20% of your clients.  Look at what they have in common. Maybe there’s a high number from a certain industry sector or you’ve helped many overcome a similar problem.

Profile your top clients

Now write a profile of those key similarities. Think about their turnover range, sectors to focus on or exclude, the postcodes you can reach within 30-40 minutes etc.  Now we are just starting to hone in on those clients you can build your future on.

Focus on Sam

To build a greater understanding create an ideal client persona. Focus on elements of your best clients.  Give them a name, a history, even a family background: For example, Sam has 2 young children under 5, an expensive mortgage and is aged 30-40 etc.

Even if you think you know, talk to your better clients about the goals they are chasing, maybe paying off the mortgage in 5-years or putting the kids through private school etc. Then list Sam’s goals, challenges and how you can help with both.

If Sam hopes to put the kids through private school you can help by planning and forecasting how the business needs to grow to achieve it.   If Sam’s company has stopped growing you may be able to help by systemising aspects of the business or improving management information allowing Sam to spend more time with potential new clients.

Focus on Sam’s opinions and feelings about the business. Sam might say that he doesn’t feel in control of the finances from one year end to the next.  Or maybe Sam doesn’t understand his annual accounts and they are no help to him in steering the business forward.

A great example of copy to address Sam’s lack of value & understanding of year-end accounts

You’ll find after you’ve completed the above that it naturally filters down to help you write a short summary of how you can help Sam. Try and use their language not your own.  And don’t forget to focus on easing their pain and fulfilling their ambitions.

If you do your homework you’ll find it so much easier to pick your ideal clients out in a crowd or a telephone conversation. Your ideal clients will relate to you better and chose you over cheaper competitors.

To help me, to help sole practitioners grow, please could you click this link and complete the short survey.

Thank you so much for your support. 

All the best.  Patrick.

Sole_Practitioners_Breakthrough_Programme_logo_V1 (1) (2)

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Do you offer a service guarantee? I bet you do.

Let’s be realistic. If you did some work for a client but they weren’t happy because you made a big mess of it, would you insist on charging them extra to correct your mistake?

I hope you wouldn’t even consider trying to charge extra to resolve a mistake of your own making.  To my mind this is the start of a service guarantee. And it’s the sort of thing, which, if promised up front, can help generate confidence from prospective clients.

Over the years I’ve often seen references to service guarantees on an increasing number of professional service provider’s websites. I came across one last week and established that it wasn’t unique to the firm in question; Just put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client and consider how effective is the message below. It’s listed on some accountancy firms’ websites as one of the answers to the question ‘Why us?’

Our 100% Risk Free Guarantee…Use our services to help you pay less tax and increase wealth, completely at our risk. Our services are so outstanding there’s a 100% Risk Free Guarantee.

Here it is…

If at any time you are not completely happy withglobal-unlock-guarantee our work please discuss it with us. If we really can’t sort the issue for you then don’t pay for the part you’re not happy with. Ask for it at any time within 30 days of the work and we won’t expect payment. That means…

No small print;

No quibbles;

No questions asked;

No exceptions;

No strings

I think this is very cleverly worded and does put some (but not a lot) of responsibility on the accountant to achieve absolute clarity as regards the services to be provided up front.

How would you feel if a prospective client asked if you were as confident as this in your work? Or why should they choose you over another accountant that offers such a guarantee?

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What’s your angle?

Too many accountants struggle to distinguish themselves from their competition. This is a shame as it is what makes each of us different that makes us memorable and the reason why clients engage us.

Challenge this if you must. Tell me that no one cares about anything other than price.

If that’s what you believe then I’m sorry for you. It’s a fallacy promoted by those who choose to sell stuff at low prices. It’s not true for Apple, for the makers of quality cars, handbags or designer clothes. Nor is it true for EVERYONE seeking professional advice, tax advice or day to day compliance services.

Of course price is all that matters to SOME people. Personally though I’m happy for those people to choose someone other than me to provide the service they seek. Typically those who only want to pay a low fee do not become valued clients; they are often more trouble to deal with and getting paid is rarely easy either.

So, let’s get back to the point. Do you really feel that you are no different from hundreds of other accountants? If that’s what YOU feel then it’s no wonder that prospective clients think the same and may choose to go elsewhere.

When you talk about what you do for clients, do you sound the same as everyone else? If so, you are missing a trick. The same goes for your website, online profiles and any physical marketing materials you use.

What do you add beyond the basics? It’s the differences that matter and that make it worth while someone choosing to engage you rather than the accountant down the road. What’s your angle? Often it’s your point of view that makes you unique and can help you to STAND OUT from your competitors. If you haven’t formulated any strong opinions on work related topics you may struggle to convince prospective clients why they will get a better service from you than from others. Just be careful to ensure that your views are based on informed facts rather than a naive acceptance of biased comment in the media.

Think back to the most common questions you are asked by prospective clients. Do you have a unique take that might resonate with them and help them to recognise that you’re the sort of professional they want to engage?

What’s your angle?

 

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How to ensure that people can recall your business message

We know, don’t we, that good communication is important in business. In my view, one of the most fundamental pieces of communication is how we talk about what we do.

There are many challenges to be overcome here. We want to avoid sounding just like everyone else in the same field. We want our message to resonate with people and we want them to remember us. We may also want them to talk about us with other people – ideally the sort of people we would like to have as client.

One traditional approach here focuses on crafting a standard ‘elevator pitch’. Another requires us to identify a Unique Selling Point (USP). Both of these miss the point in my view.

Elevator pitches originated with the idea that it should be possible to deliver a summary of your idea or plan to an important person in the time span of an elevator ride. By definition in such cases you know almost nothing about the other person so cannot tailor what you say so that it resonates with them.

It can be a bit of a puzzle too to avoid listing out everything we do and either confusing or overwhelming the person we are with.

I am also not a fan of professional advisers claiming to have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP).  I have suggested previously that a better idea would be to identify the Unique Perceived Benefits (UPBs) of your service proposition. See: Stop talking about your USP – it’s the same as other accountants. Another idea here is focus on  identifying your ESPs (Emotional Selling Points) if that works for you.

Better than all this though, if you really want to STAND OUT from others in your field is to craft a number of business messages that each satisfies the 5 point RUBIK test.

REPEATABLE – If you want to benefit from referrals and recommendations then make it easy for the people you meet to tell others what you do.

UNDERSTANDABLE – Avoid jargon.

BENEFICIAL – Focused on the benefits you deliver or on how your clients feel.

INDIVIDUAL – Distinctly and specifically you

KEY – Evidently KEY, relevant and meaningful to the person you are with.

It’s rarely easy to do this and you may never get it absolutely ‘right’. However you will find that the way you communicate your business message will improve if you keep the RUBIK acronym in mind. I’m aware of course that many accountants feel that they provide a service that appears indistinguishable from many others who do the pretty much the same thing. But each accountant is different and brings different experiences and interests to bear.

Getting it right is also hard, for different reasons, if you offer a number of services, as I do for example.

How do your business messages measure up against the RUBIK acronym?

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Is your business name sufficiently memorable?

Most professional advisory firms are simply named after their founders. Some retain the names of just the first two or 3 partners, Others might extend to 4, 5 or 6 names. The longest I have found, unless you know better, was a small Los Angeles entertainment firm, once known as: Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf. I pity the receptionists required to reel that off when answering the phone!

Firms often combine their names when they merge. By way of example, the firm I trained with, named after the founding partner Mr Wood, was Wood & Co. Then it became Wood King, next Chantrey Wood King, then Chantrey Vellacott and now it has been absorbed by Moore Stephens.  None of these iterations tell anyone anything about the nature of the business.

It remains the norm for smaller professional firms to be named after the founder(s), possibly with the addition of: “and associates” or “& Co” (even when they work alone). If your name is sufficiently distinct and memorable this may work fine.  And there’s nothing wrong with this approach in any event.

But a firm named after an individual will rarely STAND OUT from the crowd. This may not matter if you have a strong tag-line or if you and your practice STAND OUT for other reasons. But why not also consider choosing a distinct STAND OUT name for the business?

Many historical restrictions by professional bodies on the naming options available to their members ended long ago. Some people have chosen one-word business names that STAND OUT as they are distinct. Sometimes the word is one that is favoured by the founder. There may or may not be a simple story that explains the choice of word and how it links to the business of the firm. Told well such stories can help the business name to be better remembered than might otherwise be the case.

The largest professional firms have all retained elements of their traditional names even if now limited to just one word/name or a set of initials (eg: Deloitte, KPMG, Linklaters, Baker & McKenzie).  I suspect that some people running their own practices want to give the impression that they are bigger than perhaps is really the case. Perhaps this is the reason for retaining the same naming convention as the larger firms in your profession.

Some of the STAND OUT business names for professional firms I have encountered recently include:

Numbers + Beyond – Chartered Accountancy and Virtual FD practice run by Linda Foster

Virtuoso Legal – Law firm specialising in intellectual property

Grow Smart Finance – Chartered management accountancy practice run by Liesl Davis

The Will Bureau – a will writing practice led by Andrew Edwards

Signature Litigation – Law firm specialising in litigation work

Simply bookkeeping – Bookkeeping(!) practice run by Coral Hamze

The Tax Guys – Tax and accountancy practice run by Jonathan Amponsah

Cheap Accounting – Accountancy franchise established by Elaine Clark

I assume that some experts believe that the best business names are abstract words – as there are so many of these around. My preference, if you want to STAND OUT is to adopt a name that makes clear what your business is. For the same reason I’m not a fan of coined names (that come from made-up words) as, in the absence of a large marketing budget, these are unlikely to be as memorable as real words.

Finding a business name that is simple enough and easy to recall and spell isn’t always easy. Unusual words may STAND OUT for the wrong reasons as they may be hard to recall and tough to find on line if people cannot recall the spelling.

Regardless of whether you use your name, a real word, a made up word or a combination of words, do not make a final decision until you have checked what shows up when you search for that name online, that you can obtain the domain name and that  can register it at Companies House (even if your company/LLP is to be dormant if you operate as a sole practitioner).

Do you have or do you know of any other STAND OUT business names for professional firms? Please share them below as comments on this post.

 

 

 

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Is it really about the competition or is it about you?

I recently offered some help by way of comments in response to an accountant’s query in an online forum. Most of my observations and advice are of more general application so I am sharing them here too.

The questioner has been in practice for 3 years and is struggling to build up his client base. He has already lost a number of those he picked up in year one. His question was headed: How do I compete? He has identified 127 other accountants within a 5 mile radius of his home and wants to know if he can ever expect to get onto page one of Google.

Here’s my reply:

——

Reading your original post and your comments I suggest there are a number of issues to address:

Prospects vs suspects

You think you are good with clients but you seem to struggle with converting prospects into clients. I wonder if they are all even prospects. Some may be simply ‘suspects’ – for example those who you say are not ready with their business model. Is the service such people require different to what you’re offering? Maybe they need help building their business model?

Can you distinguish suspects from prospects? The latter are not just people who want an accountant but people you have found out enough about to know that you could provide what they want/need and that you can provide those services.

Online promotion

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about ensuring your website appears high up the search results when people search for the services you are offering. You’re right. It will be hard to compete with 127 other local accountants all offering the same thing to the same people.

There are typically two types of people who search online for an accountant:

A) Those who just want an accountant (be it their first one or to switch from a bad one)

B) Those who want an accountant who specialises in helping people just like them

It sounds like you’re hoping to be found in (A) regardless of who is looking. While there will be fewer people searching for a specialist accountant, more of them are likely to be pay good fees and you will face less competition.

‘Closing’

Do you have the confidence and skills to ‘close’ a prospect – ie: to help them to want to engage you as their accountant? This demands both conversational skills and the right paperwork at the right time.

Local competition

Ah yes, this is what you suggest may be the biggest issue. You may be right. But equally if you can distinguish yourself, your service and your approach from the others you can build a sustainable and profitable practice.

Again, there are 2 issues:

a) Are there enough prospective clients in the area? (Almost certainly ‘yes’ – tho you may need to wait for their current accountant to mess up before they will move to someone new – you!)

b) Can you position yourself as the accountant enough of them should aspire to be serviced by? Having a half decent website (or better) and high ranking on Google is only part of the story and not a crucial one either.

Referrals

This is always referenced as the ‘best’ source of new clients for accountants. I am aware however, that many who claim this are not looking to build up their practice quickly. They are happy winning a few new clients each year to replace the few they lose each year.

Establishing a sustainable referrals strategy is absolutely worthwhile. Again though it’s easist if your clients, friends and associates can say something distinct, when referring you. Something more than simply that you’re an accountant (just like all the others).

Happy to discuss this further. I love helping accountants who want to STAND OUT and become more successful without spending a fortune on marketing and branding. By all means book a call here: www.calendly.com/bookmarklee/phone

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This accountant’s new website is already ten years out of date

One of the thousands of accountants with whom I am connected on Linkedin recently posted a link asking what did people think about his firm’s new website. I replied privately but thought I would share my feedback as it may be helpful to others.

I have no desire to embarrass the accountant in question so nothing below identifies the firm or the website.

The site

By way of background let me describe the site. It has just 5 pages (which is plenty in my view – if used well). The page titles are:

Home : Our firm : Services : Publications : Contact

The Home page is dominated by a picture of the city landscape in which they operate. The background colour is very bright. There is no suggestion of any design work. If you scroll down there are two very heavy paras of text talking all about the firm. Nothing about clients or visitors to the site.

Our firm – This has 7 paras on the firm. Nothing about any individuals but there is a definite suggestion that this is more than a one man band. (It’s “a team of highly motivated individuals”)

Services – This contains the ubiquitous list of anything and everything you might expect from a firm of accountants.

Publications – This page invites us to keep in touch to see what new monthly articles will be released. For the moment there are simply links to 3 external organisations (incl ACCA)

Contact – This only invites communications using a form on the website. Scrolling down I find there is an info@ email address, a postal address and a phone number. But the only form of communication that is encouraged is the form. This is hardly user friendly.

The firm

The practice has been going for under 5 years and has a good locally focused name. However their postal address is nowhere near the area of the city mentioned in their name. When I googled the firm I found their old (unfinished) website at the top of the search results. At that time it was simply a bookkeeping practice.

My feedback

I’m not sure what you had there before. Congrats on moving forwards and I hope the new site is good for you. Sadly though I doubt it will be – as it stands.

 

Let me start by saying that if it works for you then keep it as it is.
I hope your request was for honest feedback rather than just platitudes.

 

I am doubtful the site will be very helpful for the following reasons:

1 – The home page alone contains a number of minor typos – but these suggest a lack of attention to detail or poor use of English. There are more typos on the other pages.

 

2 – It’s all very text heavy. Will the right prospective clients bother to read it all?

 

3 – Even the ‘your firm’ page is not reader-friendly. It would benefit from sub headings and maybe a picture or two of you and your colleagues.

 

4 – There are no clues as to who you are. No names. No personality. No indication of whether a prospective client would like the person/people behind the firm or who would service them.

 

What would you say if I asked you who is the site for and what do you want them to do when they visit?

 

Most accountants would say it’s for prospects and to help them decide if it’s worth them getting in touch. And if so, to make it easy for them to do so. I don’t think your site even gets close to that I’m afraid.

Your site looks like thousands of others did ten years ago I’m afraid.

 

I’m sorry to be harsh. As you may know I do not design, sell or promote websites. I am a humble commentator on practice focused matters and an adviser to firms that want to be more successful without spending a fortune on marketing and branding.

 

If you want some further tips re accountants’ websites, I have shared many on my blog in the past. eg:
http://www.bookmarklee.co.uk/websites-for-accountants/

 

I hope that helps and wish you well for the future.

As I have recommended in previous blog posts, all that really matters is whether your website works for you. Having said that I regularly hear accountants saying they get nothing from their website or that they’ve only got one because they were told they needed to have one.

What you ‘need’ to have depends on our objectives. At a minimum I’d suggest it’s worth having a simple website that people can find when they are recommended to you, or if they want to check you out after meeting you. Such websites do not need to be very sophisticated or have loads of pages. Their purpose is to help prospects confirm that you are the sort of person they would like to have as their accountant.

This is all very different to having a website that you want to attract work from strangers who are searching online for an accountant. Which of those strangers are the ones you’d be happy to have as a clients? What can you say to convince them to get in touch? And how easy can you make it for them to find what they want  and to contact you?

You don’t need to spend a fortune on your website. But you do need to be clear what you want it to do for you.

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