Why do you want to promote your firm?

A recent conversation with an accountant I’ve not worked with before started as follows:

Accountant:  Do I need to promote my firm better?

Mark: Probably, but it depends on what you want to achieve.

Accountant: What do you mean?

Mark: Marketing and promotional activities work best for accountants when you have first identified clear objectives. Otherwise you’re likely to waste time and money on exercises that may or may not be worthwhile.

Accountant: I was thinking of promotion to help me win more clients.

Mark: That’s fine. There are still some other factors to consider before you do anything by way of promotion. Anything you do in this regard will be more successful if you start by first clarifying exactly who you want to influence to become clients of yours, what sort of people are they and what sort of messages will resonate with them. Only then can we consider where you likely to find them (be that face to face or online) to influence them with your promotional messages – which may be overt or, often, more subtle in order to be effective.

This accountant’s objective was not unusual of course. Those with whom I have worked quickly come to see the benefits of thinking through their objectives before they start investing time or money in promotional activities. This includes whatever they might do on social media, how they project themselves online, on their website and when attending networking events.

In case you were wondering, here is my list of reasons why accountants might want to promote their firm:

  • To attract and secure more clients
  • To generate PR coverage
  • To aid your recruitment efforts
  • To increase the referrals you receive
  • To encourage more clients to ask for additional services
  • To evidence your ability to provide a wider range of services

Maybe your objectives overlap. That’s fine too. But the clearer you are about the end point you seek, the more effective you can ensure your promotional activity will be.

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How should I reference fees on my website?

One of my sole practitioner mentoring clients asked me this recently. I thought it would be helpful to share my advice here as the last time I did so was in 2007! Back then it was quite rare for accountants to include specific reference to their fee rates on their websites. Now it is much more common.

My starting point is that it is normally good to manage expectations. Do you want to encourage low or high fee paying clients? Do you want to encourage or discourage prospects who are shopping around for the lowest fees? Do you want to encourage prospects to focus on your fees or on the style, level and distinctions inherent in the service you provide?

I remember one accountant I worked with telling me about his big ambitions and the typical fees he wanted to earn. Why then, I asked, did his website reference 3 client packages priced so as to appeal only to those who wanted to pay lower fees than his local competitors charged? Why was there not reinforcement of his ability to service the clients he really wanted to act for?

How does your website stack up in this regard?

If you want to appeal to people looking to pay low fees then go ahead and feature these on your website.  Alternatively, if you want to reduce the time you spend talking with people who don’t want to pay a decent fee, you can discourage them through the way you reference the subject on your website.

Most of the accountants I work with want to get more out of their practice. More clients sometimes, more fees often, otherwise more time or more satisfaction.  You won’t get more fees if your website, adverts and promotional materials only reference your lowest fee.

These days I believe that you need to decide which of 3 options is best for you and your practice:

  1. Commoditise each service you provide and quote typical fees for each service. This is the menu approach some accountants follow. If most of your clients only want your ‘standard’ services you avoid the need to spend time discussing and negotiating specific fees each year. Those clients whose affairs take longer than average are balanced by those that take less time than average. The downside of this approach is that it denies you the facility to highlight the value side of your proposition.  Everything is just down to price.
  2. Reference your minimum fee and the range of fees that most of your clients typically pay. You might add that each case depends on the quality of a clients’ records and exactly what services they require – “which varies more than you might imagine”;
  3. Give no specific reference to the level of fees you charge. This was, historically, the most common approach adopted by accountants, who just promised that their fees would be cost effective, fair or reasonable.

The second approach enables you to maximise your fees and, when quoting a fee, to take account of all surrounding factors including the amount of time and effort it has taken to win the piece of work in question.

The last approach is, in some ways, akin to the expensive clothes shops that have garments in the window but do not put price tags on them. If you go into the shop you know it’s going to be expensive. Is that the impression you want to give?  This approach is also adopted by accountants who haven’t really thought through the issues or who still charge fees by reference to how long the work takes them. As a result they end up wasting both their time and that of the prospects who may not agree to willingly pay the fees when they are are eventually estimated or forecast.

In practice the first approach is generally preferable for low value work. The middle approach is better for high value work. And the third approach works best for good referrals where you are not really in competition with anyone else.

On this occasion I suggested that my client include the following wording on the home page of his website:

“Our fees are more modest than some but we are not the cheapest accountant around. If price is your only concern then we are not the firm for you. Monthly service packages start from £XX for the simplest of cases. Most of our clients’ monthly fees are between £ZZ and £ABC. For further details….”

He wants to discourage people who are looking for the cheapest quote. I suggested making clear that £XX should be the lowest fees he would want to earn from a client. This means that if anyone is looking for a cheaper accountant they won’t waste his time. The next sentence is to manage expectations and to avoid anyone thinking that they will only have to pay his lowest fee.  The ‘further details’ link goes to the page of his website that sets out service packages and options for different types of client.

I have suggested variations on this approach to other accountants as the same formula doesn’t suit everyone. Which approach would work best on your website?

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4 things to change if you don’t get good value leads from your website

I have lost track of the number of accountants who tell me that they don’t get good quality leads from their website.

They generally either say that their website is a waste of space or that the people who come via their website are just looking for a low price. This then leads the same accountants to claim that most of their better new clients come through recommendations and referrals.

Let’s examine these observations briefly:

  • If your website seems to be a waste of space this could either be because it doesn’t attract the right people or because it doesn’t engage them and encourage them to get in touch.
  • If the only people who come to you via your website are just looking for a low fee quote, then perhaps your website needs to be clearer as to the sort of new clients you want.
  • It would be a mistake to think that having a website is a waste of space simply because you don’t get the sort of business you want through it. Indeed a badly out of date and non mobile friendly website can be problematic as it may also be working against you. As well as not attracting the new clients you want it could be putting off just the people who you DO want as new clients. Would you even know how often clients have recommended you to someone who then checks out your website and chooses NOT to get in touch as they don’t like what they see?

The reason you get good recommendations and referrals is because of the service you provide, because of your style and approach and because clients believe you are doing a good enough (maybe even a brilliant) job for them.  They talk about you. Not your practice. You. They talk about YOU.

Does your website seek to give the same impression as clients provide when they recommend you? Does it say enough about YOU and what clients think about you?

Also remember that your clients may not know how you compute your fees but they know what they are paying. And often they will tell people. This means that many of the referrals who get in touch already have some idea as to what you charge. If they thought your fees are high (and they find this a turn-off) they probably don’t even get in touch.

Put all this together and what can we see? Well, in brief, my conclusions are:

  1. If your website is disappointing you in terms of new business, you need to review and update the site.
  2. Your website should make clear the sort of new clients you hope to attract and those you’re not able to help too. If it’s only very generic (just like all the others) it’s no wonder you get low value enquiries.
  3. You can discourage prospects who are looking for the cheapest accountant they can find, by referencing your minimum fees (eg: “We are not the cheapest accountants around. Our clients typically pay between £800 and £5,800 per year. Some pay a lot more than this. As of 2017 our minimum fee for new business clients is now £500”)
  4. Your website should profile you as a person – just as clients do when they recommend you.

The fees I have used in the above example are based on those discussed at a meeting of The Inner Circle which comprises London based accountants. Your figures may be lower than this. The key point is that you will want to make clear the sort of fees you look to earn – which should be higher than your minimum. You may include more clarification elsewhere on your website but do not focus too much on fees there unless you really are going for those people who are looking for the cheapest accountant around.

Please don’t assume that everyone looks for the cheapest accountant. They don’t – any more than everyone looks for the cheapest car or smartphone. If that was true then higher priced models wouldn’t sell. But they do. And plenty of accountants who have learned to promote themselves more effectively secure higher than average fees. If you are keen to do this, pick one of these ways to learn more >>>

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Should I focus on my logo or my face?

Few of us have such a clever brand that we can rely on this or even a logo to secure business.

A brand takes time to establish. A logo may attract interest. But ultimately it is you who will need to engage prospects and win the business for your accountancy practice.

Your photo, personality and personal style are key here.

Most people choose to engage you, or choose not to engage you, as a person, almost regardless of your firm’s branding.

This is why I think it is so important to show who you are on your website and on your social media profiles.

Does your website include:

  • your name,
  • an appropriate, up to date and recognisable photo of you, and
  • talk a little about you?

Does it help visitors to think – yes, I’d like to talk with this person?  Or do you make that most common of mistakes among small accountancy firms: Having an ‘About us’ page that tells people nothing about YOU at all?

A related point is to then make it easy for prospects to get in touch with you. Do you do this or do you just have a generic info@ or admin@ email address on your website?

Why hide who you are? Are your ideal prospects more likely to get in touch and call a generic office number or to try to make contact with a specific person (you)?

Some accountants, typically sole practitioners, start out using their website to imply that their business is more than just them. If you don’t work alone you can include reference to the team on your website. But if it is just you, then referencing a non-existent ‘team’ and pretending to be bigger than you are could damage your credibility. This happens when people find out there’s no substance to your implied assertions that your business is bigger than is actually the case. If you’ve lied about that, can your advice be trusted?

Big brands secure business through the reputation and longevity implied by their well known logos. This isn’t the case for small firms of accountants. And there isn’t enough real upside of building up name awareness of your brand and logo. Much better to show who you are and to ensure you are recognisable when you attend a meeting or event.

Similar points apply to your Linkedin and twitter profiles. Make sure again that there is a recognisable and appropriate photo of you on your profile page rather than just your business logo. On Linkedin and Facebook you can set up separate business pages. Your personal profiles can link to them.

Also, as I always say, Linkedin is an online business network. It’s all about connecting business people, so your logo is not a good substitute for a headshot.

You could have a separate twitter account for your practice – but that would be a waste of time and energy. Instead I strongly urge you to again use your photo and your name rather than your firm’s name or brand. If you already tweet using your business name do at least include your name on your twitter account. This makes it much easier for users to engage with you and more likely that you will attract relevant followers and ‘conversations’. It’s much harder to do this with a ‘corporate’ account than with a personal one. And you can’t expect everyone to check out your ‘business’ twitter profile so they may never notice your name is there.

Back to the question in the title of this blog post. I trust the answer is now obvious?

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Does your website stand out in the wrong ways?

I heard Graham Jones speak at a business event recently. Graham is an internet psychologist and frequently shares unexpected but valid insights about how how people use the web.

On this occasion he was talking about websites and he explained, with good examples, why it can be a mistake if your website stands out too much. There are lesson here for accountants of course.

Graham has since shared a summary of key elements from his talk in his email newsletter. I quote from this below.

Graham explains that:

“People have pre-set ideas as to what they expect to see when they land on a site. Neurological studies show that if people don’t see what they are expecting in less than one second, these visitors disappear, bouncing out of the site, looking for something else”.

He gave an example of a bride looking for a wedding venue:

“If she lands on a hotel website and the images are all of business people in suits, she instantly thinks “this is not the hotel for me”, even if the venue does offer weddings. The bride expects to see images of people like herself, instantly. If she doesn’t see them in half a second, she perceives that the site is not for her, even before she has started to explore it.”

Another example he gave was of a garden centre website that was told it needed to look different to all the others so that it “stood out”:

“Their web designers told them that almost every garden centre website used green as its principle colour. So to stand out from the crowd, the developers suggested pink. The garden centre site was transformed, but sales plummeted. Why? Because the bounce rate rocketed, as people do not associate pink with gardening. People expect a website that is focused on gardening to have a lot of green in it. When they don’t see that, they think “this is not the right site”, and they bounce out, looking for an alternative that matches their expectation.

The problem with not providing what people expect leads to a phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance”. Essentially this is your brain going “this does not compute”. In other words, there is a mental clash between what we see and what we had expected to see and our brain gets stuck in a rut trying to sort it all out. And when a website visitor’s brain gets stuck in that rut the easiest solution is for them to leave the site, thereby eliminating the problem for them.”

Graham was clear that it can be a mistake to adopt a “wacky” approach to your website design. With so much material available online it’s easy to want to “stand out” and be different. That is often what businesses (and accountants) are told by web designers too. They say that the accountancy firm, for example, shouldn’t have a “me too” website, looking like all the others in the same category.

Graham explains:

“That is old-fashioned thinking, though. When you had time to explain to people why your company brochure was printed sideways, or why your corporate colours were pink and orange instead of green, then they understood and remembered you for being different. But nowadays you don’t have time for people to understand the differences. Instead, they need to know, in an instant, that they have landed on the right kind of website.

If you are a taxi firm and your site doesn’t look like a taxi company’s website, you will have driven away your visitors. Similarly, if you run a local stables and your website doesn’t seem to be about horses, off trot your visitors to another site. In other words, the most important thing to do these days is to be the same, not be different.”

The main focus of many of my talks is on the easy ways in which you can choose to stand out from your competitors and the pack. I reference ‘appearance’ as being one of the 7 key ways you can stand out. This isn’t just about how you appear face to face, but also online. Appearing different to other accountants online doesn’t mean that your website design needs to look very different from other accountants’ websites. It’s the content that could well be different – indeed it probably should be different to the standard boring content on so many accountants’ websites. Your content can indeed help you to stand out.

As an accountant you will want your website to appeal both to those strangers who are searching online for an accountant – and who are the sort of people you would like to have a clients. You will also want your website to appeal to those people who have been specifically referred to you or who have met you and now want to check you out.

As Graham says:

“Make the difference in what you DO, not what [your website looks like]. Your visitors will have cognitive dissonance and get confused if you don’t look like all the other websites in your sector. Be the same as everyone else and your visitors will stay on your site.”

Make your website standout through the way you reference your genuine focus on clients, how they benefit from your approach, any special services you offer, your expertise and any niche areas in which you operate. If you are a sole practitioner your website will also stand out (positively) if it reveals who you are and lets visitors get to know you a little. A standard ‘about us’ page that only talks about ‘the firm’ just doesn’t cut it in my view.

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Why your website isn’t generating the leads you want

Whether you spent a lot or a little on your website I’m sure you hope that it will generate business for you and provide a return on your investment. How might that work in real life I wonder?

Actually we know how it’s supposed to work, don’t we?

Someone searches online for an accountant locally to them (as that’s what they tend to do). You hope that your website appears high in the search results and that the prospect follows the link to your site.

Then you have to hope that your website enables the prospect to quickly see that you can help them with their problem. And that they can see who you are and how to contact you.

If your website isn’t generating the type of leads you want, it’s probably because prospects cannot quickly find that they want on it and decide that you’re right for them. One easy to fix mistake is on your ‘about us’ and ‘contact us’ pages. However much (or little) business you are getting through your website, you will get more when you reveal your name and who you are (maybe even with a decent photo too). Most people want to know who they are contacting – not just the name of a firm.

What about when your website isn’t top of the search results?

Experience tells us that not all prospects search online for an accountant. Instead they search for ‘tax advice’ or for some other problem they have and for which they want an answer – or someone to help them.

This is one of the reasons why the new-look Tax Advice Network website now operates as a lead generation site for accountants like you.

If you search online for ‘tax advice’ you will see that the Tax Advice Network website is already highly ranked. As a result they have long received 3,000+ enquiries a month. But many of their visitors really need a local accountant rather than a specialist tax adviser. They just don’t think to search for ‘accountant’!

The Network’s new website, the first for 9 years, went live at the start of 2017. It’s already proven to be easier to use and is securing even more traffic than before. This is because the site has so much relevant history, inbound links, SEO links and content. And it’s all natural. They have never invested money in trying to trick the search engines. Instead they played the long game and  tax accountant subscribers are now reaping the benefits of the site’s genuinely high rankings and longevity.

The traffic the site attracts includes many visitors who are much happier to follow links directly to accountants (like you). These leads tend to be people who need the help of a tax accountant rather than a real tax specialist. And as they have searched for tax advice they probably don’t have an accountant (yet). So you also have the opportunity to encourage them to become regular clients.

Over the last 9 years the site has generated many hundreds of thousands of pounds of business for tax advisers. But far more tax enquiries weren’t suitable for a specialist tax adviser. That’s why the Network is now listing accountants on the website too.

It’s hard to imagine you not securing a really positive return on the low investment required. And there’s nothing extra to pay. So you pay nothing per lead.

If you would like to know more about this opportunity, take a look at the website now >>>

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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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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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What 6 things is everyone saying we should do?

At the ICAEW’s ‘Growing your practice’ conference yesterday, speaker after speaker shared similar ideas – allbeit from very different perspectives, with different emphasis and in different contexts.

I was first up and talked about the 7 step framework you need to follow to STAND OUT from the competition. There are a host of detailed factors behind each stage so I only focused on a handful. After me came Robert Craven, Paul Shrimpling, Matin Clapson, Paul Harrison, Cameron John and Karen Reyburn.

We all had our own take on things and offered distinct advice, insights and ideas. But during the day a number of messages seemed to be repeated by speaker after speaker. Those repeated most-often seemed to me to be as follows:

  1. “It’s good to talk” – The more conversations you have with clients, prospects and introducers, the more your practice will grow. The right type of conversations can ensure you stand out, generate more referrals, identify new work opportunities and make more profits.
  2. “Consistency is crucial” – What you say about your practice and clients needs to be congruent with what your website says, what your Linkedin profile says and what your marketing materials and activities say on and offilne.  Inconsistency damages credibility and trust which are key to generating more fees and growing the practice.
  3. “Update your Linkedin profile” – When someone looks you up online they will invariably find your Linkedin profile before they find your website. If your profile doesn’t engage them (and STAND OUT from the crowd) they may not bother moving on to look at your website – which must also engage them effectively.
  4. “Social Media activity needs to be strategic” – It’s easy to waste a lot of time and effort on twitter, facebook, and many other social media sites – even Linkedin. If you seriously want to grow your practice you need to consider where you will get ‘most bang for your buck’, monitor and measure what you do and take expert advice to avoid wasting time and effort.
  5. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” – Many surveys referenced during the day suggest that most growth will come through client referrals. Yet few practices seem to encourage or help clients to deliver the referrals that would be so valuable. There are some pretty simple ways to address this.
  6. “If you want something to change, you have to do something different” – If you carry on doing what you’ve always done, you will NOT carry on getting what you’ve always got; the world around us is changing. You need to do things differently, to take action, to change your interactions with others, your online activity, your website, your online profile, your focus on financial details and on the other key indicators that drive your business and will enable you to grow.

Clearly each speaker’s advice ranged into other areas and had a distinct focus. It would be inappropriate for me to summarise everyone’s talks here. But I thought you might be interested in that overlap across those six points.

The other thing that struck me was that only a few truly new or novel points were being made. Many, including some of my own, could be dismissed as common sense and ‘obvious’. Yet the same points were being made in different ways by multiple speakers. And listening to what delegates were saying during the breaks it was clear that few were dismissive of the repeated messages, Indeed the repetition was barely noticed.

I surmise that accountants, serious about growing their practices, value being told stuff that may be obvious, as long as it is presented in a stimulating and memorable way.  I think we all managed that.

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What are the key statistics for your accountancy firm website?

What follows is controversial as it challenges the conventional wisdom shared by many website designers and content marketers. I have long felt that a great deal of the generic advice you hear and see all over the web is misleading.

I have explained before that: Only one website metric really matters to accountants. And that is, for most practices: How many website visitors contact the office and become profitable clients?

If that is indeed your focus, you can think about what you do to attract the right type of visitors to your website. And then how does your site allow visitors to determine if they are really target clients for you, to find the key information about your practice they may be seeking and to get in touch with you?

Does it matter how ‘popular’ your site is? How often people come back eg: to consume more free information? or How long they spend on your site each time they visit?

The average time visitors spend on an accountant’s website is a double-edged sword. Do you want it to increase or to decrease? Surely you want visitors to determine whether they are in the right place and then to get in touch with you. You don’t want to focus on increasing the time they spend on your site if this is because you have confused them or if they are simply looking at loads of free information and then leaving without getting in touch.

Another example: I have never obsessed over the number of visitors we get to my Tax Advice Network website or how long they spend on the site. Right from the outset I knew that we would attract all sorts of people looking for free tax advice. So high visitor numbers would, of themselves, be irrelevant.

We try to make it easy for visitors who want free advice to see that the site isn’t for them. As a result we also have a high ‘bounce rate’ – being the percentage of people who leave almost as soon as they arrive. I’ve always expected that so it’s not important to me.

Equally I’m not that interested in increasing the time anyone spends on the site or the number of pages they visit; nor which browsers they use or which ‘content’ pages are the most popular. We do however need to consider how often the site is visited from mobile devices and to be sure that it ‘works’ on such platforms as well as on pcs, laptops and macbooks [Edit 2017: We have since had a total site redesign so that it is now mobile-friendly]

What matters most though stems from the fact that around 100 people a day use our search engine to find a suitable tax adviser. These searches result in enquiries to the tax adviser members. They collectively bill hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in fees generated by the website.

The key statistics for me therefore are the number of searches performed each day/week/month and how much billable work this generates for the tax adviser members of the Network. We need to monitor and ‘fix’ the most common ‘exit’ pages, to track and generate more action from the most popular pages, increase the number of searches and increase the proportion of searches that lead to billable work.

What are the key statistics for your website?

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Accountants caught lying on their websites

I was shocked to read about “Accountants Caught Lying To Clients In Desperate Quest For Authority” on the website of marketing expert Ian Brodie.

He suggests that more than a dozen accountants seem to be falsely claiming to be co-authors of a book titled:  “Why Businesses Stop Growing And What You Can Do About It”.

You can get a partial list of them here via google: the book with the most co-authors in the world >>

Each of the accountants’ websites claim that the book has been co-written by the accountant and a third party (the same one in each case: “one of the world’s leading marketing and business growth experts”). It seems much more likely that the third party is the real author and is allowing multiple accountants to reproduce the book as if they had co-written it with him. Or maybe they did each write their own section and the costs of production have been kept down by retaining the same title and cover for all of the variations.

I seem to recall other copyright free books which accountants can rebrand and promote with their firm’s name on the cover and which could be helpful for clients.

It has also long been possible to outsource the production of client newsletters which can then be personalised with an accountancy firm’s branding. Many firms also promote booklets that contain generic advice for clients and which include the firm’s branding even though the written content was provided by a third party publisher. And a whole industry now exists providing generic advice and tips for inclusion on accountants’ websites too.

The only real difference here I think is that the accountants’ websites are actively promoting them as the co-authors and claiming that their co-authorship evidences that they are experts in the field. Some of the accountants appear in a very professional promotional video on what I expect is an effective ‘squeeze page’ to drive traffic. I am sure the whole package requires a decent investment upfront. In each of the videos they seem to address variations on the same script as each other and invariably claim to be co-authors of the “Why Businesses Stop Growing” book.

As Ian says:

It’s not just something that’s slipped into their marketing by accident. They are deliberately fooling their clients and potential clients and claiming expertise they may not have and an achievement they didn’t do.

Ironically, many of them have a bio which reads “…so-and-so is the co-author of “Why Businesses Stop Growing And What You Can Do About It…” and a trusted authority on helping start up and small business owners achieve success”.

Do you agree with Ian that such behaviour brings into question whether the accountants can really be ‘trusted’? Or do you think it’s simply an acceptable marketing tactic? Is it ethical to blatantly lie to prospective clients re your achievements and expertise?

Much as I admire the professionalism and the likely impact of the campaigns I am not comfortable with the co-authorship claims unless they are justifiable. What do you think?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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I’m not boring but my firm is. What should I do?

I was recently asked by an accountant whether it matters that his firm has a boring website and boring branding? The individual in question does not come across as boring themselves.

In typical accountancy fashion, I responded: ‘It depends…’.

I believe that firms that are keen to attract business from people who search online for an accountant need to have an attractive compelling website that make it both appealing and easy to get in touch. Or at least that those firms which do this will convert more visitors than those with boring looking websites.

Nb: The look and feel of the website is also relevant to accountants and firms where prospective clients look them up online. This typically happens after an existing client, business or networking associate has recommended or referred the accountant or firm to the prospect. (More tips on accountants’ websites here>>>)  

I also believe that accountants who attend networking events and give out boring looking business cards need to be particularly memorable, special and distinct in themselves. Otherwise there is less chance of the people they meet wanting to follow up with them. And networking without following up is invariably a waste of time.  The more you can tip the odds in your favour here the better. And quality business cards that stand out can only help.  (More tips on accountants’ business cards here>>>)

On the other hand…

Existing clients will be less interested in the firm’s website and branding than in the individual accountants with whom they are dealing.  Other partners in the firm may perceive any changes to the website and branding as a costly exercise that will not improve the bottom line. This may be true in the short term. And, of itself, such changes will not achieve anything. They would need to be part of a review and upgrading of the firm’s marketing activities, messages and ambitions. Should the more standout partners and members of staff push for this?  It depends… 😉

 Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Analysing my Website stats for 2012

Having had a good look at my website stats for 2012 I rather wish I had been recording similar data for each of the last 6 years. Better late than never though.

Blog posts each year

This is the 70th post I have added to the blog in 2012.

That is more than I posted in each of the last 3 years but somewhat fewer than I posted in 2007 and in 2008. (2011 – 56, 2010 – 59, 2009 – 59, 2008 – 109, 2007 – 93, 2006 – 52)

Visitor numbers

WordPress stats reveal that the site has averaged over 11,000 visitors a month this year. That’s over 500 each working day. (Indeed the figures have been rising all year ). Average page reads are nearer 17,000 a month.

Both figures represent significant increases on 2011 (The wordpress counter only started on 30 December 2010). The day the site had most visitors was 26 June 2012 (931 visitors). This was the day after I posted a couple of items which have proved quite popular:

Popular Blog Posts

Most recent blog posts have been read 500-900 times. Some of the earliest have been read less than 100 times. The top ten pages of the site according to wordpress, in terms of the number of times they have been viewed/read are as follows:

  1. Welcome 19,481 (This is the main landing page for my website)
  2. Three elements of communication – and the so called “7%-38%-55% Rule” 7,374  (I got lucky with this title in 2008. It transpires this is a popular search term. NB: Few of the visitors who read it have any interest in anything else I write or do)
  3. Examples of good facebook pages for accountants 7,059  (The most popular of the posts I wrote in 2012 and often found through searches for info on this topic).
  4. Twitter 4,926 (The page I promote on twitter as it contains links to my various posts on related topics)
  5. The Easter Bunny shows us how NOT to network 4,260  (Surprisingly popular – possibly due to the odd title appealing when people search for ‘How not to network’. Again though, many visitors are not my target audience. Still, I have now edited the post to include links to other key pages of the website)
  6. How do you set charge out rates? 3,138 (A popular searched for topic)
  7. Twitter is not for accountants 3,072 (Promoted by me and by others who challenge the logic of this 4 year old post. I wish I’d titled it: ‘Why accountants don’t need to bother with twitter’. It’s as true today as it was in 2008)
  8. Speaking 2,634  (one of the key pages of my website)
  9. Networking strategy – plan your follow up beforehand 2,538
  10. Working with accountants 2,026

Countries

The oddest stat is the one showing where the 206,000 readers of my blog (during 2011 and 2012) are based:

  • United States – 80,492 (It is possible that this is simply those arriving via web services hosted in the US)
  • Unknown – 35,178 (it would be nice to think these are all in the UK but even then I would still have more apparent visitors from the US than from my target UK audience)
  • United Kingdom – 31,971
  • China – 15,028
  • Germany – 4,438

The remainder come from dozens of other countries around the globe. Between them all my visitors have apparently read 321,821 items/pages of the site over the last two years.

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Only one website metric really matters to accountants

There are plenty of online tools that will help you measure various website metrics and analytics – such as visitor numbers, how long they stay, which pages they look at and so on.  None of them, however, measure the most important metric so it is easy to forget that there’s only one that really matters.

Before I explain what it is, let me also pick up on a couple of other related points.

I have long questioned the point of simply counting the number of visitors to an accountant’s website. What matters is the number of RELEVANT visitors. This means firstly identifying the type of people you want to visit the site. It is all too easy to create content that attracts dozens or even hundreds of time wasters; for example people who simply follow links offering ‘free tax advice’ but who have no intention of ever engaging an accountant.

Equally, for most accountants, the key traffic numbers are those visitors from your local area (or from your target locations if you have a niche that is intended to attract people from further afield). Website visitors from further afield will rarely choose you as their accountant once they realise you are not local. All other things being equal someone in Brighton, for example, who looks for an accountant online is unlikely to pick one in Blackpool. So visitors to your website from afar are not as valuable as those from nearby.

I also think it’s important to consider ‘time on site’ only in connection with other metrics. It’s a good thing, not a problem, if someone who visited your site in error ‘bounces’ off very quickly once they realise their mistake. And what if visitors are keen to get in touch but are unable to find the name of the person to contact even after visiting a number of pages, so they then give up? Better they find it quickly and then get in touch without exploring the site any further.

My slightly heretical view is that too many accountants have too many pages with too much boring looking content on their websites. It should all come back to who is the target audience, what do they want or need to find and what do you want them to do when they find it?

Are your detailed content pages intended to help existing clients or would you rather they get in touch when they need help? In which case the only reason for all that content is to impress prospective clients and third parties. Does it though? Does it help convince them to get in touch? I wonder whether people looking for a new accountant want to download info, read it and then get in touch later or do they want help NOW? Different visitors will have different needs, often depending on whether they are looking for their first accountant or a replacement accountant. If you know who you want to attract you can tailor your content accordingly.

Copying what everyone else does is boring and pointless unless you are sure it is going to generate something of value for your practice.

The bottom line is that the one website metric that really matters is how much business your website generates.

The most important metric to measure therefore is: How many website visitors contact the office and become profitable clients? Do you have any procedures in place to track this metric? If not, why do you bother with all the other less important ones?

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5 Blogging myths for accountants

I saw an online promo recently suggesting that all accountants should be blogging. How objective is this idea and does it really make sense?

Given that I’m still an enthusiastic blogger you might expect me to also advocate blogging by accountants. But I don’t and it’s not just because of my experience with the Tax-Buzz blog – although that does confirm my view about the myths surrounding blogging for accountants.

I should stress that I enjoy blogging and have now posted almost 500 items here since 2006. I also have a separate blog on which I have shared hundreds of posts on the subject of The lighter side of accountancy and tax.  I stopped writing my third blog at the end of 2011. The Tax-Buzz blog was where I shared over 400 insights and advice re tax related stories in the media over a 4 year period. I explained why I stopped adding to that blog in a blog post(!) in May 2012.

Anyway, here are my 5 blogging myths – ie: reasons often given to encourage people to blog regularly and why I think that accountants are different. If you disagree, please add your comments below:

1 – Build your credibility – This only works as regards people who see and read your blogs. Most accountants in practice are not seeking to build credibility across the UK, let alone the world. Their target audience is more local than that. Will your target audience (prospective clients, advocates and potential staff) find your blog and read it sufficiently to be influenced? There are certain tools you can use to help here but my own experience suggests that the impact will be minimal in real-life, as distinct from in theory.

2 – Enhance your SEO – This refers to ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. How easy is it for your target audience to find you on the web? Not the people who know your name or the name of your practice but those who don’t know you and are looking for someone just like you. Might I suggest that the best starting point here is to arrange for your website to be Optimised before you start blogging – if this is your objective. I would also suggest that blog articles are typically seen as a great way to access free advice. I am doubtful as to how often anyone will contact an accountant and be willing to pay for advice received after reading their blog online. The web user is far more likely to keep searching for more free advice on the same topic.

3 – It’s fun – I’d agree with that. But then lots of things are fun. How many fun things can you fit into your life? It’s also time consuming.  Is it enough fun to warrant the time and effort? For most accountants I would suggest the answer is ‘no’. It’s nice to think one has been helpful and that lots of people have read what you’ve written. But unless this turns into billable work or trackable referrals at some stage it is simply ‘fun’ and probably less productive than many other fun activities eg: engaging on twitter, business forums and Linkedin (all of which I advocate – to one degree or another).

4 – Emphasise your niche – If you have one. During my talks for accountants I often stress the benefits of focusing on a niche and of highlighting a specialism.  The strength of the argument for doing this sometimes comes as a shock after years of trading as accountants to anyone and everyone. If you have no niche your blog will be just one of many generalist ones. But even if you do have a niche I have the same reservations as set out in the 3 paras above.

5 – Distinguish yourself from the others – I’m a great advocate of the idea that it’s ‘more important to be different than to be better.’  But those features that distinguish you need to be evidently of benefit to your target clients. Being 7 foot tall and always carrying a bright green briefcase will make you memorable but do those differences benefit anyone? In the same way, will anyone feel that they are getting more value for money or a better service simply because you are a regular blogger? I think not.

I was recently a judge in a competition to identify high performing accountancy firms. Some (not many) of the entrants referenced their use of social media as contributing to their success. I was pleased to see this. However, in most cases they went on to explain they were active on twitter, linkedin and blogging. No one seemed able to distinguish the value of different elements of their social media activity. What was unclear was whether any firm that was blogging could identify any of their growth as benefitting from this activity.

The other side of the coin

I’ve been blogging here since 2006. The frequency of my posts varies but it now averages about 2 per week. I get to post my thoughts and ideas here to help readers and I am then able to collate the posts to create articles for the press and for other websites.  I also often adapt my blog posts to create supporting material for my courses and seminars for accountants.

I am aware of a relatively small number of accountants in practice who seem to enjoy blogging. I know of far more who gave it a try and then gave up. They concluded that the benefits didn’t live upto the hype.  I don’t think that’s a reflection on the accountants. I think it’s more to do with the hype.

[This is an updated version of a blogpost I originally wrote in 2008. Beyond my own evidence, through the TaxBuzz blog, that sadly supports my contentions, nothing much seems to have changed in the last 4 years. Well, one thing has; there are now more marketing types encouraging accountants to start blogs and to outsource the writing to the promoters!]

What do you think?  Please add your views as comments to this post especially if you are an accountant who blogs.

I have written a 10,000 word ebook containing marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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6 factors for accountants to consider before paying to be listed on directory sites

In a separate post I have listed the existing and about-to-be-launched online directory sites for accountants in the UK. They are all intended to appeal to people using the internet to search for a new accountant.

The value of paying to be included in any such directory site seems to depend on at least six things:

1) Search results

The directory on which you are listed must appear sufficiently high up the search results and be sufficiently compelling to attract interest from users searching for a new accountant;  Bear in mind that those people will not all use consistent search terms and some will be more expert at using search engines than others.

2) User willingness to use the directory

Sufficient numbers of those users must be willing to ignore both the direct links to accountants who come up in the natural search results and those whose ads appear in the pay per click ads on the right hand side of the search results screen;  And these people need to be the sort of new clients you would like to attract as new clients.

3) Non-search related promotion of the online directory

Some directories may promote and seek interest from users who see adverts for the online directory in the conventional business or personal finance press, on relevant discussion forums and through social media.

4) Site useability

Sufficient numbers of users must find the directory service easy to use and do not abandon their search before finding what they seek.

5) Your directory entry/activity

Your directory listing and/or response to enquiries needs to be more compelling than those of your local competition.

6) Your website / closing ability

If the directory site links to your website, how easy is it for a new visitor to satisfy themselves that they should get in touch? How easy is it for them to find your phone number and a name of someone to ask for? And how good are you at converting such enquiries into new clients?  (I have addressed a similar point many time before on this blog in the context both of social media and of websites for accountants)

Have I missed anything?  What sort of experiences have you had re online directory listings?

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Why do I have 3 blogs and 2 websites?

I’ve been asked why I have a number of different blogs and websites. It’s not something I would encourage many people to do so perhaps it’s worth explaining my thinking. I accept it could be flawed, but bear with me.

Firstly let me stress that in all of my writings for professional advisers (eg: on AccountingWeb, AccountancyAge, New Model Adviser and this blog) I focus on encouraging best practice. I typically share what I have researched and can see or believe will be commercially viable advice for working professional advisers. I do the same in my talks. I offer an objective and independent view. I have no agenda re practice management or consultancy services. In this context I think, I write and I speak. That’s it.

I frequently stress that what works for me is not automatically going to be right for accountants in practice for example. The most obvious case in point concerns the way I use twitter.

Enough background. Here’s my thinking about my websites and blogs.

There are two key points to keep in mind:

  • The first is that I want the visitors to each site or blog to know they are in the right place;
  • The second is that I want to have clear analytics that reveal the relative interest from different types of audience.

My personal website www.BookMarkLee.co.uk started life as a consultancy business but it’s now simply a home for my profile and to promote my availability and expertise as a speaker. Also on this site is my blog. This blog.

More people are interested in my blog posts than in my availability as a speaker so I frequently link to the blog directly rather than expect people to find it via my home page.

I have a sense of humour and have long collected humorous stuff related to accountancy and tax. I maintain a separate blog (now called www.Accountant-jokes.com) on which I post all such items – it now has over 500. Much of the traffic for this fun blog comes from overseas. And the audience reaches far beyond the worlds of accountancy and tax. Many people are looking for the sort of material featured on the blog to include in speeches and talks. Keeping the fun blog separate means I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that anything else I do has a big overseas audience – unless and until it really does!  It also means that I don’t risk alienating those members of our profession who might not share my interest in the humorous side of things.

The Tax Advice Network has a wholly different focus again. That website has a home page for people seeking specialist tax advice. Those people are neither interested in Mark Lee, my blog posts nor my joke collection. It’s a sophisticated business website and has to be separate from my personal sites.  I also have specific landing pages on the website for Accountants, for Tax Advisers, for IFAs and, shortly, for solicitors too.

As a plug for the Tax Advice Network and to encourage relevant writing and speaking engagements I write the Tax-Buzz blog. This matches the Tax Advice Network branding but is hosted separately on Google’s blogger platform. This makes it more Googlicious than if it were integrated into the website.

Each of the blogs contains links to the others and to the websites.

So that’s what I do and why. To summarise:

  • Where the fundamental offering is the same (ie Tax Advice Network) but I have different audiences I have separate landing pages for each audience.
  • Where the subject matter of what the target audience is seeking is very different I have separate blogs and a personal website.

It makes sense to me. The only change I could realistically make would be to bring the accountant-jokes blog inside the BookMarkLee website/blog – whilst keeping the domain name and pointing it at the relevant section. I’d have to believe it would be worthwhile. At the moment I don’t.

Feel free to share your views below as to whether this makes sense to you or if you have some constructive suggestions/ideas.

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Yellow pages bingo for accountants

I love a blog post written by Paul Simister on his ‘Differentiate your business‘ blog.

He explains that Yellow Pages Bingo is a game for checking that your marketing hasn’t fallen into the trap of being too similar to your competitors. And he then reveals the results of playing the game with accountants in central Birmingham.

Paul’s game shows the high level of similarity when comparing accountants’ adverts in Yellow Pages. He looks at descriptions of firms, services and offers. I suspect the results would be the same across the country and that the content of accountants’ websites are also pretty similar.

Paul’s concludes by answering his own question:

What happens when every supplier looks the same?

The choice comes to either the cheapest or the most convenient.

I agree, but I’m not sure it’s a bad thing as it’s what most people want and those are pretty much the two most important factors determining how they will choose their first accountant. Cost and convenience.

Paul notes that the latest edition of his Yellow Pages has fewer adverts for accountants than previously. I suspect this is due to an awareness that most people now use the  web to find a new accountant. Back in 2009 I wrote a related piece:  Accountants’ adverts are not working any more

And here’s the rub. To be found on the web when someone searches for a new accountant you need to use the same words as everyone else – in so far as visitors may be searching for those terms.  Of course you have the facility to make your website stand out in other ways, beyond the words you use. But that’s a subject for another day although I have previously provided objective advice here on ‘websites for accountants‘.

What do you think about yellow pages bingo for accountants?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Accountants’ adverts are not working any more

Years ago, it was quite common for people to use a hard copy Yellow Pages directory to find an accountant. This concept has all but died out now. It’s also less common to hear that anyone has approached an accountant because they remembered they saw an ad in the local paper (or anywhere else).

Far more people are asking friends, family and online contacts who do they know? Who can they recommend? Who’s a good accountant?  I’m witnessing this happen almost daily on online business forums and on ‘social’ networking sites.

What this means is that your marketing strategy (of which any advertising is only a part) needs to include educating your clients, contacts and family as to the types of referral that would be of most interest and value to you. The more specific you can be the more likely you will be to secure those referrals.

You also need to ensure that your website talks to prospective clients who have been recommended to you – as they may well check it out. Does it confirm what they’ve been told by your advocates? If they highlight what makes your practice different to conventional accountants does your website reinforce that message? Incongruence can be damaging. (I’ve written far more on this topic previously so here’s a link to my earlier posts re accountants’ websites)

Have you had your site optimised so that people in your area who are looking online for an accountant will find your website? If you’re in Harrow for example the ‘search engine optimisation'(SEO) would probably focus on Harrow accountants. A decent SEO specialist and indeed many decent website developers will do this for you automatically. It’s pretty pointless to only have your site optimised for people who search for your firm’s name. The people whom you might previously have hoped would see your adverts don’t know your firms’ name so they won’t be searching on line for it.

Another effective way to advertise on the web is a little counter intuitive. It means getting involved in online forums and networks and being helpful and friendly BUT NOT posting overt adverts and promotional messages. That type of behaviour is ALWAYS counter-productive. The practical issue is that the people you will be helping and who will befriend you could be based anywhere in the UK. Some maybe more local and – this is the key point – as with all networking you are not just networking with them. They will, in time, become your advocates. So, in effect you are networking with all the people they know too.

What type of advertising is working for you? Do share your comments below please – whether  you agree or disagree with this post.  I’d welcome your feedback.

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Accountants and the internet – survey results

Last month the Independent Association of Accountants Information Technology Consultants (IAAITC) announced the results of its survey on the effective use of the Internet by UK accountancy firms.

The two specific issues considered by the survey were the effective promotion of firms’ websites and their use of email for communicating with clients.

The key word in the survey title is ‘effective’ and I’m not sure that everyone would agree on the same meaning of that word in this context. In my view what the survey evidences is that a majority of the firms surveyed are not making the most of their web presence. This accords with my own conclusions – both from looking at many accountancy firm websites and also from conversations with thousands of accountants when asking them questions during my talks for accountants around the UK.

However I have also concluded that many firms do not (yet) perceive a need to devote more effort to the internet. In effect they see it as just another advertising medium.  The majority of firms do not have aggressive growth plans, they secure new clients through (what I call)  ‘accidental word of mouth’ referrals and they have enough recurring fees to keep them happy.  As I have explained on this blog previously, an accountant’s website is of little interest to their clients. It’s focus should generally be on helping to secure new clients.

In this context I would agree with the survey’s conclusions.  Out of date material on a website, forgotten listings on third party directories  and unprofessional email addresses (eg: @ Tesco, Sky, BTinternet, AOL, Gmail or any other  third party) may have an adverse impact on prospective clients.  Firms in such situations may lose out to firms who keep their sites and listings uptodate.

Even those firms that have email addresses using their own domain name will be losing out if they fail to provide a named contact on the  website (eg: only enouraging email contact via info@accountants.co.uk).  We have to remember that most people buy accountancy services from individual accountants (even if they work for a firm) and not from firms of accountants.

The survey also concludes that many accountants are become increasingly out of touch with current business needs.” What matters in my mind though is whether accountants are in touch with what THEIR CLIENTS and target clients require from them as accountants. Are you confident that you know the answer to that question as regards your own practice?

I suggested one new development in this regard in a previous post: Could you audit a client’s website analytics?

Are there others?


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Blogging myths for accountants

There are so many misconceptions about blogging and I am frequently surprised when I encounter bloggers who seek to encourage accountants in general to start blogging.  I would stress that I enjoy blogging.  This blog now has almost 250 posts on it – built up since 2006. I also write a tax insights and commentary blog for the Tax Advice Network and have a third blog on which I share Accountant jokes and fun.

But I’m not in practice. Given that I’m an enthusiastic blogger and spend a fair part of my time helping accountants to build more successful practices you might expect me to also advocate blogging by accountants. But I don’t.

Here are 5 blogging myths – ie: reasons often given to encourage people to blog regularly and why I think that accountants are different:

Build your credibility – This only works as regards people who see and read your blogs. Most accountants in practice are not seeking to build credibility across the UK, let alone the world. Their target audience is more local than that. Will your target audience (prospective clients, advocates and potential staff) find your blog and read it sufficiently to be influenced?

Enhance your SEO – This refers to ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. How easy is it for your target audience to find you on the web? Not the people who know your name or the name of your practice but those who don’t know you and are looking for someone just like you. Might I suggest that the best starting point here is to arrange for your website to be Optimised before you start blogging – if this is your objective.

It’s fun – I’d agree with that. But then lots of things are fun. How many fun things can you fit into your life? It’s also time consuming.  Is it enough fun to warrant the time and effort?

Emphasise your niche – If you have one. During my talks for accountants I often stress the benefits of focusing on a niche and of highlighting a specialism.  The strength of the argument for doing this sometimes comes as a shock after years of trading as accountants to anyone and everyone. But if you do have a niche then the same points apply in the ‘credibility’ para above.

Distinguish yourself from the others – I’m a great advocate of the idea that it’s ‘more important to be different than to be better.’  But those features that distinguish you need to be evidently of benefit to your target clients. Being 7 foot tall and always carrying a bright green briefcase will make you memorable but do those differences benefit anyone? In the same way, will anyone feel that they are getting more value for money or a better service simply because you are a regular blogger?

The other side of the coin

I’ve been blogging here for over two years now. The frequency of my posts varies but it seems to average about 3 per week. I get to post my thoughts and ideas here to help readers and I am then able to collate the posts to create articles for the press and for other websites.  I also often adapt my blog posts to create supporting material for my courses and seminars for accountants.

I am aware of a relatively small number of accountants in practice who seem to enjoy blogging. I know of far more who gave it a try and then gave up. The benefits didn’t live upto the hype.  I don’t think that’s a reflection on the accountants. I think it’s more to do with the hype.

What do you think?  Please add your views as comments to this post.

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Websites for accountants

I regularly find myself sharing my views on this topic so I thought it would be helpful to include in one place all of my previous posts on related issues:

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Accountants’ websites – is yours doing the necessary?

I recently included the following note in my monthly newsletter for accountants and their clients:

 

I’ve been writing and advising accountants about their websites for some time now and have accumulated an enormous amount of tips, ideas and knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. I have also been researching ways in which accountants are making money directly through their websites and using them to provide an enhanced level of service to their clients.

Much of what I have written is available on my blog for ambitious professionals.

The simple truth however is that most accountants have simply done one of four things. Either they have:

  • created their own amateur looking website;
  • got a professional looking website that doesn’t work for them;
  • got a template website that looks much like many others;
  • yet to get a website.

Although website critiquing is not a mainstream activity for me I am happy to do this and can provide a tailored, practical and focused critique on request. It costs much less than you might expect and will highlight both the quick and easy things you can do as well as those that may require an investment of time and money to generate a positive return. If you want to ensure that your website works for you, then ask me about my Website Appraisal Critique for Accountants.

 

Mark AT BookMarkLee.co.uk or telephone 0845 003 8780 (local rate number – Tax Advice Network)

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Should you put your fee rates on your website?

I came across this question recently on a general business forum and offered my view which I have adapted below for ambitious professionals.  I’d be interested in what conclusions others have reached. In my experience very few firms have even considered the point.

I can only recall one occasion when I have seen specific reference to the fee levels of a professional adviser on a website. It  was a menu of prices for completing basic tax returns and the extras for each supplementary page (together with a caveat that additional fees would be quoted and charged if the client’s records were a mess – or words to that effect).

My view on the other forum was to suggest that the service provider indicated an entry level price – to keep out the time wasters.

Beyond that a service business has a choice:
– Commoditise each service and quote typical prices so that those that take longer than average are balanced by those that take less time than average (this is the menu approach outlined above);
– Give indicative prices or price bands but make clear that each case depends on exactly what is required in order to provide the desired outcome in individual cases (this is a variation on the menu approach outlined above).
– Not to mention any specific prices – which is by far the most common approach adopted by providers of professional services.

The advantage of the first route is you avoid spending time negotiating fees. The corollary is that you could spend additional time and effort before the work is agreed but you have no facility to reflect this hassle factor in your fee. It also denies you the facility to highlight the value side of your proposition.  Everything is just down to price.  It’s not an approach that would be adopted by many ambitious professionals I don’t think.

The second approach enables you to maximise your fees and to take account of all surrounding factors including the amount of time and effort it has taken to win the piece of work in question.

The last approach is, in some ways, akin to the expensive clothes shops that have garments in the window but do not put price tags on them. If you go into the shop you know it’s going to be expensive. Is that the impression you want to give?

In practice the first approach is generally preferable for low value work. The middle approach is better for high value work.

Some might say that the final approach is used by those who are unsure and don’t mind confusing their audience. However in the context of professional service firms it is the predominant approach so there’s not much chance of confusion.  But just imagine if you became the first to break the mould and to give some indication of your fees for recurring ‘compliance’ services on your website. Do you think that would increase or reduce the number of enquiries you receive and the number of good new clients you create?

There’s an obvious question that visitors to my BookMarkLee website might like to ask me in the light of my observations above.  I look forward to hearing from you!

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Client testimonials: A key mistake to avoid (part five)

I introduced this topic in four previous postings on this blog. Parts one and two introduced the subject and in part three I explained one simple way for ambitious professionals to obtain testimonials. In part four I explained how to choose which testimonials to use.

In this final posting in this series I want to highlight a classic mistake that people make when using testimonials and how you can destroy your credibility if you do the same thing.

First though let’s just remind ourselves why we want to use testimonials in our marketing materials. It is to add credibility to our sales messages and to evidence the promises we have made. Essentially we are acting as a conduit for a third party who is telling our prospective client how good we are.

So what is the key mistake that we need to avoid?Well, let me ask you a question. If you were thinking of engaging me to mentor you which of these two (fictional) testimonials would have most impact?

I have overcome the issues that were halting my progress in the firm and, thanks to Mark I am now a confident networker and more effective in my new partnership role.
-Joe Soap, KPMG

I have overcome the issues that were halting my progress in the firm and, thanks to Mark I am now a confident networker and more effective in my new partnership role.
– Joe Soap, Wander, Cloak and Co (6 partner firm, Hertfordshire).

The only difference is the name of the firm. The first one is recognisable. The second is not.Which is the best one to use?

It can be a big mistake to assume that the quote from someone at a large firm or big name company is automatically the best to use. Why? Well, the starting point is, as always in marketing, to go back to think about who is your audience? Am I trying to influence people in other large firms or in smaller practices? Will my prospective clients relate better to someone in a Big 4 firm or a smaller practice? Will they be more interested in the impact I can have on someone in a Big 4 firm or in a smaller practice?

These are key issues to consider. Whilst it might be nice to have testimonials from recognised names and from partners in the largest firms and high street companies, this can work against you. It can alienate your target audience who may well conclude: If he works well with people in companies like that he’s probably not right for us.

Of course if you have a range of testimonials and the ‘big name’ is just one of many, it may add some further credibility but don’t make it the first one in the list just in case it works against you.

As I’ve already said, the key thing is always to focus on your audience. The primary audience for your testimonials is likely to be prospective clients that need further evidence that you are a credible adviser and right for them.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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