Friday, February 18, 2011

Cut Your CPA Website Setup Costs

By Brian O'Connell

The price of creating a custom CPA and Accounting website design can easily fly out of control, but if you exploit a few simple tricks you can significantly shrink if, not obviate, your set-up expenses.

Do you genuinely need a custom site? There are not a lot of serious reasons these days to endure the expense of a custom accounting site design, so regard your reasons judiciously.

Personally I advise getting a template instead of investing in a custom design.

Graphic design really isn't all that important to the success or failure of a website. Unfortunately a lot of site owners drive up their costs and at the same time get completely bogged down by the graphic design process.

You're going to be up to your eyeballs creating content for your site. It really doesn't make much sense to obsess on the superficial appearance of the site. All this does is add to your costs and make more work for you. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to get the job done in two or three drafts. Will it be perfect? Probably not. But it will be good! 

A custom accounting website design will cost a lot of money; at least $2000. If you have a good reason to spend that much go for it, just be sure it's not a vanity expense, because in terms of building your accounting practice there are usually better ways to spend that money. There are a lot of companies that provide excellent accounting and tax website templates. As a rule template sites are more than adequate for a small accounting firm, and will contain much better content than a low-end custom site.

If you consider all these factors and you still feel that a custom site is the solution for you there are some cheats that might help you keep your costs way down. Look for a company that provides accounting website templates and try to find one that's close to the custom site you had in mind, then contact the provider and ask them to modify it. This can give you what looks like a custom site, but won't cost more than $300 or $400.

Think about a few website design basics before making a final decision. Unless you plan to take up web design your website will never exactly match your vision. Accountants are often type A personalities and, as a rule, are in the habit of (and are well paid for) managing tiny details. This might make you a good accountant, but it may not necessarily make you a good graphic designer. 

Doing draft after draft of your website is going to get very expensive very quickly. It's just not a good idea to indulge in artistic expression when someone else is holding the brush. It's best to approach the design process with an open mind about what the final result will be.

Keep in mind that the look of the site really isn't all that important. If you look at highly successful A-list sites like Google, CraigsList and Reddit you'll see that aesthetics is really not all that important to designing a successful site.

Your ability to provide accurate and timely tax and financial advice and preparation is far more important than your eye for color and balance, so stick to what you do best and trust your designer to do the same.

Overestimating the importance of graphics is the main cause of cost overruns in the website design process. It's a lot cheaper to make design changes to a website during the planning phase than it is once the coding starts. Make your design choices up front using mock-ups, and once you finalize it stick to your guns. You don't want to be tweaking the style once coding starts. Even seemingly minor changes, changing a border color or moving a margin a few millimeters, can force a complete reconstruction of the site; and the designer is going to pass that cost along to you.

If you really want a custom site your best strategy is to hire a skilled and experienced designer who shares your basic vision and try to trust his or her process. Stay focused on the design elements that really matter.

Don't strive for perfection. It breaks my heart to see perfectly good sites sit unpublished for months or even years because the owner is overly focused on making it "Perfect". Even if they succeed it's never worth the time and money they spent getting it "just so". The most ironic part is that while they may have a really nice site, it's a site designed to appeal to the website owner. This is a tragic, but common, mistake in advertising. Too many advertisers are afraid to confront their clients on this issue and just let them do this. You're not trying to get you to hire yourself. You're trying to get your prospects to hire you, so design your site to appeal to them. The perfect shade of blue really won't help much attracting a wide range of prospects. What matters is having useful, diverse content and presenting it in a personable, easy to navigate way.

Closely related to a futile drive for perfection is a need to "finish" the site. This is also a trap. Website design is a lot like building a house. Once the site is up it needs to be maintained and improved. Your accounting website won't ever actually be "finished". I've had clients put off publishing sites for months waiting to finish the site. This is a trouble doubled. It's unhealthy to let yourself think of your website as finished. As soon as you do it will quickly slide in obsolescence.

Once you decide to get a website, make your priority to get it up as quickly as possible. A website only has value if it's public. Not only will it start making money for you, it will also begin accumulating domain authority in the search engines. Once the site is open you can continue to tweak it all you like. Tweaking the site once it's open will actually help you get your CPA website noticed by the search engines.

Your website is an investment in your company. Address it the same way you'd treat a redesigned lobby, a flier, or any normal marketing cost. Whether you decide to set up a custom accounting design or start with a template and shape it from there, get your website up fast and let your contacts watch as it unremittingly gets better.

About the Author

Brian O'Connell is the President and founder of CPA Site Solutions, one of the country's leading website design firms oriented entirely to accounting website design. His firm at present provides websites for more than 4000 CPA, accounting, and tax preparation firms.