Effective websites – a checklist for accountants

It seems I’ve not updated my generic advice on this blog about accountants’ websites for ten years. This is because I routinely say pretty much the same things to almost every accountant I talk with.  And few of my views have changed. If anything I was ahead of my time and others are now catching up.

Accountants often tell me their website was a waste of money and doesn’t do anything for them. My typical response is that I’m not surprised. Often the website was built as a ‘me too’ response to everyone else having them. “You must have a website’ screamed the marketing gurus. And so were born the templated websites for accountants. All you had to do was to drop into them the content specific to your firm. But few accountants had time to think too deeply about this so many websites ended up with very similar content. And, guess what? This rarely led to accountants winning over the type of new clients they wanted.

Even accountants who invested more heavily in their websites are often unhappy with the return on investment. Where this is the case it is probably because the website content and focus is less then ideal.

Before I share my website checklist let me start by making some key points about accountants’ websites.

Firstly, it is all but crucial to have an effective web presence IF you want more clients. BUT, having a website – even a good one – doesn’t guarantee that anyone will find it or get in touch with you. Your site needs to tick a number of boxes. Otherwise you will only hear from random strangers looking for a low cost accountant. Chances are these are not really the people you would really wanted to target.

Most accountants want their website to help them win new clients. This means the site typically needs to communicate effectively with 3 types of visitor:

  1. People who are searching online for an accountant just like you. Typically this will be an accountant in their local area or with particular expertise in their business type.  NB: Few accountants want to target ALL such random people. Only those likely to value your services and who are both willing and able to pay you a decent fee. That is NOT everyone who is searching online for an accountant.
  2. People you have met who know your firm’s name. They may remember part or all of what you said when you spoke with them. They probably want to check you out a little further. Again, you may want to be a little more precise and NOT target those simply looking for the cheapest accountant around.
  3. People who have been recommended to you and want to find out something more about you before they get in touch.  Again, probably NOT all of them – for the reasons summarised above.

There are 3 other types of people you might also want to influence with your website:

  1. Prospective staff – if you are looking to recruit or may do so in the future
  2. Prospective partners – if you are looking to take on a partner
  3. The media – if you want to be interviewed or contribute articles etc

Recognising who you want to influence with your website is a key starting point that many accountants have missed. Knowing who you want to influence should impact your decisions as to what content and messages you need to include on your website.

It can be worth going back to this most essential of first principles. Then you can ask yourself to what extent each block of text and each page of your current website is likely to contribute to influencing your target audiences.

It is for this reason that I am not a fan of accountants’ websites that contain loads of technical briefings, news, jokes about accountants, stock-photos or standard lists explaining, in general terms, all of the services that most accountants provide.  is there any evidence that any of this has a positive influence on the people you really want to target?

Ok. Now here is my checklist. Does your website:

  • Highlight your local area(s)?  – No one in Birmingham is going to look for or appoint an accountant in Bournemouth (unless they need a specific area of expertise).
  • Say something that makes you STAND OUT from other local accountants? – The accounts and tax returns you produce may be much the same as anyone else’s but your style, approach, focus, background and experience will be different.
  • Make clear who YOU are? – If you’re a sole practitioner stop pretending otherwise. It’s not helping you win the clients you want.
  • Include a professional photo and brief biography of yourself and of colleagues or staff who are also providing client facing services in your practice? – People like to know who they are engaging. Photos help.
  • Show people how they can reach your office and explain relevant local travel and parking issues?
  • Display properly on mobile devices? – Old sites don’t do this which means that visitors checking you out on their smartphones will give up.
  • Highlight your specific expertise, style and approach – perhaps by reference to your background?
  • Provide some degree of focus re specific types of work, clients, businesses etc? – Anything that makes it more likely you will interest and influence people looking for such expertise. This approach will invariably be far more successful than suggesting that you can do anything for anyone anywhere. It’s too random.
  • Make clear whether or not you are targetting start-ups and people who have never had an accountant before? – The way you describe your services should reflect the type of people you are keen to take on as clients.
  • Contain testimonials from happy clients explaining why they love you? – These clients should be comparable with those who you hope to target and influence.
  • Reference your minimum fees for different types of clients? – This is useful if you want to discourage time wasters who are looking for a cheap accountant.
  • Calls to action to encourage the RIGHT SORT OF PEOPLE to get in touch?
  • Make it easy for visitors to get in touch – in whatever way THEY prefer? Your office phone number is key here. An email address also helps. Few visitors will want to complete an online form so this should never be the only way you encourage contact.

That’s my checklist. The relative importance of each point depends on your style and practice. You may notice that the list excludes many of other things you might have been encouraged to include on your website, such as a ‘lead magnet’, a blog, free downloads and invitations to subscribe for your regular (generic) newsletter.   Done well, most of these additional items may be helpful, but they are rarely crucial in my view. And often are not done well enough so do not help influence target audiences.

I would also add that, for sole practitioners, most of the content on my checklist can be set out on just 2 or 3 pages of a website. It does’t need the services of an expensive website designer or web developer. You can do it quite simply and without spending a fortune, using a local website designer who is familiar with wordpress or wix.

Conclusion

Whenever I talk with sole practitioner accountants who want more clients, I take a look at their website – if they have one. If they don’t, or if it doesn’t contain the info on my checklist above, I suggest they get it sorted out. Otherwise they can wish away to their heart’s desire. But they won’t win as many clients as they want as fast as they want.

For completeness I should stress that having a good (enough) website will not, of itself, mean that you will win all the clients you want. But it’s a good start.  If you’d like my support to enable you to become more successful, let’s have a chat >>>>

By |2018-07-31T14:23:45+00:00July 31st, 2018|Accountants, Business messaging and branding, Websites|

About the Author:

Mark Lee FCA is an accountancy focused futurist, influencer, speaker, mentor, author and debunker.

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