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>>>

by

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.

by

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?

by

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>>>

by

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?

by

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.

by

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>>>

by

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 [at] accountants [dot] co [dot] 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?


by

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.

by

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>>>

by