Creating a Website For Your Accounting Firm
Creating a Website For Your Accounting Firm
In the early days of the World Wide Web most websites were published using a language called html (hyper-text mark-up language). Where web pages had static content this worked fine but the downside of html websites was that you needed a programmer or a web developer to make even simple changes to a page.
An important step which enabled the web to expand into the mainstream was the developed of content management systems (CMS). Content management systems enabled non technical users to create, edit and maintain web sites and web pages with the same ease as writing a letter in a word processing application. The main problem with early CMS’s was the price tag which usually ran into tens of thousands of euros/pounds/dollars and sometimes, hundreds of thousands.
Good websites are very expensive to build! – Think Again!
Here is a little tip for you, what if I told you that you could have the same content management system that powers The White House, Economist.com, Fast Company, The United States House of Representatives, Digital Dollhouse, Warner Brothers Records, The World Economic Forum plus countless other great websites for free. You might think I am a little mad, after all you are a trained accountant and you know to be suspicious of such ludicrous promises.
Think again, all these websites are all built on a platform called Drupal and it is part of a new generation of open source software that is absolutely free.
Here is another tip for you, instead of spending $100,000 to have somebody re-invent the wheel and design and code every last detail of your website you can buy a spectacular looking, thoughtfully designed, fully working pre-built theme for Drupal for as little as $50. Of course there is the possibility that someone else somewhere in the world might use the same off the shelf theme that you have chosen so you will spend somewhere from $500 to $1,000 to have a designer customise the theme with your logo, colours and fully customise the theme to your exact specification.
There are those who are critical of “website templates” and in part they are right, but like every other product in the world there are good ones and bad ones and believe me when I say that some of the good template creators are spectacular.
Here is tip number three. You can have your website powered by the same infrastructure that Amazon.com uses for as little as $20 per month at your choice of location across the US, Europe or Asia.
Here is the catch “THERE IS NO CATCH”
Simply put, what would have cost you potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve on the web just a few years ago can now be achieved for less than the price of a good night out. For clarity we are not talking about using outdated technology at a knock down price, this is leading edge in every possible way and if you implement this you will be years ahead of all your competitors.
Of course there are still plenty of web agencies who will try and separate you from buckets full of your hard earned cash and try to convince you that need to build every last detail of your website from the ground up. These guys are either delusional for doing their work this way or rip-off merchants for essentially doing what I have just described here and charging you through the nose for it.
To illustrate this point consider the last time you bought a car. Did you?
A: Hire a team of designers and engineers with whom you spent countless months tied up in meetings discussing detail after detail. Get excited when you all agree on an acceptable design and specification. Pay to have every last component of your design created from scratch, tested and assembled before finally getting to drive your new car. Literally re-inventing the wheel.
B: Go to your local dealership, decide what make and model suited your needs best and then decided on the colour, finishes and optional extras that you wanted.
There is no excuse anymore for not having a great website.
I should mention that there are a number of other great open source products available similar to Drupal including WordPress and Joomla but I have a strong preference for Drupal.
The important stuff
Once you have your all singing and all dancing Drupal or WordPress website in place, it will look great. Now the important work begins.
The work you do as an accountant is complicated, this is why you spent several years in college and many years more training in practice before achieving your qualification. No matter how hard you try you will not be able to explain all the detail of what you do and how you do it in a few pages on your website, so don’t even try.
If you can tell it, you can sell it
What you need to do is educate your prospects in a way that they will easily relate to and demonstrate how you can help solve their problems. The way to do this is to use a story. Stories have motivated people to take action for millennia and are just as powerful today as they have ever been. We are all much better adapted to making an emotional connection with a story than we are at making that same connection with facts or data. Better still we have the ability to picture ourselves within a story if it is relevant to us. If your prospects make an emotional connection with your story they are far more likely to remember it, to tell the story to others and to take action if you prompt them.
Your website should have a dedicated section for each main strand of business you want to promote. You should open each of these sections with the appropriate marketing message you created earlier and simply continue down the page telling your story about who you help, which problems you solve and the results you achieve for your clients. This should not be a 100 page essay, it should be relatively short and engaging and where necessary supported by additional sections which you can link to. It is worth keeping in mind that most website visitors spend very little time on a given page so it makes more sense to keep your story short and memorable.
The Dreaded About Us Section
As far as your accounting firm’s website is concerned there is a bit of a paradox when it comes to the about us section. One of the main messages we have been driving at is that your website should be more about your prospects and clients than about yourself or your practice.
However keeping in mind that one of the main functions of your website is to help to create and foster relationships with your prospects it is inevitable that the conversation will need to include something about yourself.
When created correctly, the about us section of your website is a great way make an emotional connection with your prospects. Instead of doing what most of your competitors do and stuffing page after page with impressive but boring facts and details you should instead tell interesting and engaging stories covering topics like how your firm got started. Add a human face to your firm by including pictures of the partners and senior staff, start your bios by including some personal interests and passions about the people involved and include some of the professional detail afterwards (if you must). Remember that people are already going to assume that you have the qualifications required to do your job to a professional standard and very often it can simply bore them to tell them nothing but the obvious.
You can experiment with how far you are comfortable pushing this point but my experience has thought me that prospects are left with a longer lasting and more positive impression of you when you focus on one or two passions or hobbies that you have before or instead of the other details.
Consider the following;
“Jeffrey Sommerfield FCA qualified in 1974 and became a partner in Bramley & Cox’s London office in 1983 before establishing Sommerfield & Sommerfield with Susan Sommerfield ACA in 1995.”
“Jeff is an avid golfer and yachtsman. When he is not at the office you will most likely find him teaching some of our client’s sail trimming on his yacht off the west coast. Fuelled by his passion for helping startup technology companies Jeff jointly founded Sommerfield & Sommerfield with his wife Susan in 1995.”
As a prospect I would far prefer to speak with and do business with the second guy, he seems far more human, more fun, how about you?
Many people get stuck on the idea of creating the structure and content of their website homepage before working their way through the rest of the website content. This approach is as understandable as it is flawed. It would be the equivalent of trying to create a P&L before you understood a business or had access to their transaction details.
Your homepage should include most of the obvious things you can think of, your name, your logo and your marketing message. Beyond that you can really think of your homepage as a collection of some of the more important pages on your website. Each of these pages should have a short but interesting intro on your homepage. Of course you will need a good menu structure on your website as well but the really important stuff is organised on the homepage and enables people to quickly scan the page and get to the specific section that is most relevant to them.
You can follow Finbarr on Twitter at @FinbarrMcCarthy