Many accountants who seek my input or advice want to know how to get more clients. Implicit in their question is the idea of identifying, attracting and securing the right type of strangers as clients. By which I mean people who did not know of them previously.
Often these accountants want quick solutions and are disappointed when I explain that’s like chasing rainbows. Unless you don’t care who you take on as clients, what work they want you to do or how low are the fees they are prepared to pay.
Sure. Anyone can find simple clients, who will pay low fees for you to do the absolute minimum to help them satisfy their compliance obligations. But that’s not ideal really. Such clients are inevitably price sensitive, aren’t interested in a relationship or in paying you to do any of the things you really wanted to do when you studied and qualified as an accountant. So they are frequently a ‘time suck’ and don’t stay long enough to justify the time and effort invested in winning them in the first place. You end up disappointed, frustrated and even more desperate for new clients – and so the cycle continues.
Of course there are plenty of marketing ‘experts’ and social media ‘advisers’ who will try to convince you that you should pay them to help you. None of the reputable ones promise overnight success though. And many of their solutions are more complex, costly and time consuming than you really need.
Or you may want to do as many others have and make all the mistakes ‘in-house’ by appointing one of your team to ‘do your social media and social marketing’ – tho I can assure you this will invariably lead to the same disappointment I reference above.
A couple of years ago I summarised on this blog a checklist for accountants willing to take an objective look at their websites. It was also relevant for those who have yet to build a website. I explained why so many accountants are disappointed with the performance of their website and that it is NOT necessary to spend a fortune rebuilding it.
For the purpose of THIS post let me just repeat a key point if you want your website to help you win new clients. This means being clear who you want to engage with your website. In this context it typically needs to communicate effectively with 3 types of visitor:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
In my previous blog on this topic I set out all of the key elements you need to have on your website for it to ensure it engages effectively with each of those audiences (and others too).
My 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. Indeed, if done badly they be counter-productive and offer a poor Return On Investment (ROI).
Now let’s focus on the first of the 3 type of visitor I reference above. This is probably the one you have most in mind for your website, for your marketing and any PR activities. You want to be found and to appeal to people looking for an accountant just like you. So, not only do you need your website to look the part you also need it to show up when the right sort of people are searching online. Building a website and hoping, wishing or dreaming of it working will rarely pay off.
So let’s debunk the hype and answer that key question of how you can get more of the traffic you want to your firm’s website:
- SEO: Your starting point will often be some basic on page Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – making sure your website copy includes relevant key words – including your local areas – as part of well written natural English sentences. Sadly it can still take the search engines weeks or months to recognise and rank your website even after you do your basic SEO.
- Advanced SEO: This tends to be costly and aims to move your website up the search rankings further and faster than with basic SEO. Often though it ends up being a waste of money and doesn’t lead to the hoped for new website visitors and clients.
- Pay Per Click (PPC) adverts on search engine websites: What you’re aiming for here is to engage people searching online and to get them to click your advert rather than one of the natural search results. PPC only works well if the advert both appeals to the visitor and takes them directly to a specific page of your website that answers the question the visitor was searching for. And makes it VERY easy for them to get in contact with you to learn more. Many accountants waste time and money here as their websites let them down and also because their PPC adverts are being shown to too many of the wrong people.
- PPC adverts on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc: Whilst many consumer brands use such advertising techniques they tend not to work so well for accountants who want yo attract decent quality clients to their website. Save your money.
- Blogging: Plenty of people will suggest you should be writing topical articles for your website (or paying someone to do this for you) to attract people who are searching for more info about whatever it is you are writing about. The problem here is that these people may not overlap sufficiently with your real target audience. And I’m not at all convinced that your ideal clients will be influenced by how much you write on your blog. But if you can focus this, much as I do, then maybe it will help evidence your expertise, advice and skills; and so help influence your target audience. MAYBE.
- Social Media Marketing: This is another highly hyped activity – but again, it’s also likely to lead to disappointment. Social Media Marketing is even more misunderstood now than it was a few years ago – party due to the proliferation of ‘experts’ who fail to distinguish the differing benefits and audiences of each of the various social media platforms. I estimate that nine out of every ten smaller firms of accountants are disappointed by the failure of their time, effort and money invested in social media to secure an adequate return on investment.
- Linkedin: This can work for you. Think of it more as an online business networking site than as a social media platform. If your profile and activity there appeal to your target audience they may follow the links to your firm’s Linkedin business page and then, from their to your website. MAY.
- YouTube and video marketing: Again, despite all the hype, I remain to be convinced that enough of your target audience will be searching for a video to help them choose a new accountant. If you have the time and money though, a good video can certainly help you and your firm’s website to stand out positively from others. Done badly it can put off the very people you would like to attract to your website.
- Free listing websites: Ensuring your website is included on lists like those promoted for the users of your preferred cloud bookkeeping software. These tend to cost nothing and can help generate new clients who have chosen to use that software – although, almost by definition, they are likely to be the more straightforward of clients.
- Paid for listings: Paying a nominal sum to be included on a website like the Tax Advice Network where your profile will immediately be promoted to local people who are looking for someone with your specific tax expertise. Although many visitors want a real tax expert the site also attracts thousands of visitors whose tax issue is better suited to a local accountant. By definition most of these visitors do not have a current accountant or do not think they can help. [Full disclosure: I established the Tax Advice Network in 2007 and remain Chairman]