Websites – advice and a checklist for accountants

Sep 13, 2022 | Marketing and promotion, Sole practitioners, STANDING OUT, Websites

It seems I’ve not updated my generic advice on this blog about accountants’ websites for some time. So I have pulled much of that advice together into this post. I say pretty much the same things whenever websites come up in conversation with accountants. They know I do not consult on, build or repair websites so I have no vested interest here.

I do however talk with lots of accountants who have websites that aren’t delivering the leads they want in the way they should. It seems few of my views have changed over the years. 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 idea of template websites for accountants. All you had to do was to drop into them the content specific to your firm. But few accountants made 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 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 to generate significant numbers of new 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.

And, even if you get most of your new clients thorough referrals – just think how many more you might get if your website was more effective. Do you have any idea how many other referrals you have lost because of your website?

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. And, as I indicated above, who knows how many people who have been referred to you didn’t feel engaged by your website and thus didn’t get int touch?

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 every decision you make 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, as regards each paragraph, each block of text and each page of your current website why it is there and which of your target audiences it is intended to influence. And also what’s missing?

Every element of your website should help build trust and evidence that you know what you’re doing, that your style and approach is distinct and enhance your authority. You want to avoid perpetuating the misconception that accountants are all much the same same. Simply stated, anyone who thinks this will simply look for the cheapest one. And then, next year, they will switch to the cheapest again.

It is for all these reasons 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?

My checklist is much simpler. Does your website:

  • Highlight your local area? – No one in Birmingham is going to look for or appoint an accountant in Bournemouth (unless they have been recommended by a neighbour or 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 other accountants, but YOU are the only accountant with your background, focus, experience, approach and style.
  • Contain an ‘ABOUT’ page that genuinely explains who you are and why clients seem to love you and stay with you.
  • 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.
  • Refer to your or your firm’s ethos, values or mission. The ‘why’ of why you’re in business, who you best serve, the way you think and what’s important to you? These elements can help visitors identify with you as a person or team. And determine if you are the right ‘fit’ for them. For many people this is what helps them decide whether it’s worth investing more of their time on you and your firm.
  • 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.
  • Highlight your specific expertise, style and approach – perhaps by reference to your background?
  • Show people how they can reach your office and explain relevant local travel and parking issues? Only where relevant of course and there may be good security reasons for not doing this in some cases.
  • Include ‘Calls to Action’ – on every page where your content makes visitors think they might want to ask you for more info or help?
  • Display properly on mobile devices? – Old sites don’t do this which means that many visitors checking you out on their smartphones will give up.
  • 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 most keen to take on as clients. You want them to feel that your website is talking to them as individuals.
  • Show that you understand what is worrying your target visitors – re either appointing their first accountant or switching from one to another. If you think you can make this easy for them – say so, but do not fall into the trap of saying it’s always easy to change accountants – as this doesn’t help make YOUR case.
  • Contain testimonials from happy clients explaining why they love you? – These clients should be comparable with those who you hope to target and influence.
  • Contain client case studies that evidence how you solved their problems or got them results? Making sure of course that these are from your target audience.
  • 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.
  • Contain 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 – ideally top right of each page – as this is where it is easy to find on most decent websites. 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. If you do provide this option at least make it clear that a copy of the completed form will be sent to the visitor too. And how soon they can expect a reply.

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, videos, 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 positively influence target audiences.

Pre-qualifying visitors

Many of the elements above will help visitors to your website recognise if they are within your target audience and likely to deliver the sort of service and advice they want. In some cases they may conclude that you are not right for them. This saves both you and them time.

Another way of doing this is to include some form of questionnaire or scorecard and to provide a decent incentive to visitors to complete this. I’ve seen this done well and I’ve seen it done badly.

There is one other related element you could include on your website and it is perhaps the most controversial.

This is whether to make any reference to your fees and service packages? This is a big subject so in brief, I will just say that the same questions apply as regards every other element of your website. Who are you targeting? What will they be looking for? Will referencing your fees etc encourage or discourage visitors from getting in touch? Do you WANT to attract or discourage those looking for a cheap/expensive accountant?

EDIT: A more recent blog post addresses this issue in more detail: Should-I-reference-my-fees-on-my-website-if-so-how-can-I-do-this?

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.

And, please remember your website may still have a key role even if you feel that you get most good new clients through referrals. Many of those clients may well have checked out your website before getting touch. Do you know how many other good referrals you have lost because your website lets you down?

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, give me a call >>>>

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