Monday, March 7, 2011

The Big Picture with Your Accounting Website Design

by Brian O'Connell

Accounting website design is a well-developed skill. Your website serves a lot of functions, but all these functions boil down to one underlying principle. Your website will entice customers. It will also help you increase client satisfaction and client retention. It will even help you handle your accounting business more efficiently. but these functions all have an identical purpose: Making money. A professional website is a place of business, and it's content should be chosen to that end. If something doesn't make you money, or save you money, don't put it on your site.

The earning and/or saving benefits for most of your content is usually somewhat obvious. Just having a website shows your prospects that you're keeping up with the times, and suggests that you can be trusted to adapt to their needs. Perhaps more importantly it gives people a chance to get to know you a little before calling you. A good web design can go a long way to helping people overcome their natural fear of strangers. Your website is a natural vehicle for providing useful tools to improve client satisfaction. Providing online file transfer and storage and posting tax forms on your website not only improves client retention, it also increases your office efficiency and reduces your expenses.

You save a fortune in postage and printing each year by posting your tax organizer and newsletter on line.

Some of these benefits, however, are not as obvious. At first blush it may look like your website is giving a lot, some even seem to believe too much, away. Features like interactive financial calculators and free reports may seem frivolous, but they are actually powerful marketing tools, and prospecting for new clients is arguably the most important function of your website.

Free reports, I'm often told, give away what the accountant is selling but nothing could be further from the truth. Free reports and financial guides are carefully written to cross-sell your services. They're specifically chosen to showcase ways your client can save money and position you as the expert to turn to fort help. It's a dreadful mistake to remove them, or even make them harder to access. But the ability to increase your billable hours is only one reason to keep these features available and public. This seemingly frivolous content is also central to bringing new clients into the practice.

It's very unusual for a visitor to convert to a sale on the first visit. I've seen it happen a lot, but it's an exception rather than the rule. Perhaps the visitor already has an accountant she likes. Perhaps she's still using a 1040ez. Remember, the average life expectancy of a client/accountant relationship is 6 years. Assuming you're actually planning to stay in business for any length of time this means it would be wise to treat just about everyone who visits your site as a long term prospect. Maybe her accountant is at the end of his practice. Maybe her accountant will get married and move away. Perhaps he'll take a corporate job. Whatever. Even poor folks could need you someday. Income changes. They could marry into different circumstances. Next thing you know they're buying a house or starting a business. I'll never forget the panic I felt the first time I laid eyes on a 1040 long form and knew I needed to fill it out.

A good selection of interactive financial calculators is a really great tool for bringing in new clients. It's remarkably easy to get into the habit of using these tools, and they are carefully chosen to appeal to your influencers. Business owners will also find reasons to use your site. Even if they're not quite ready to change accountant's yet, your site is a handy way to grab a W-2.

By eliminating this content you will be seriously reducing the marketing potential of your site. Even requiring a login is a huge mistake. As a rule people are wary of getting their email address "trapped". Those who give it to you probably won't use your content very often. People are lazy. Even if they have a login they'll rarely use it, and even when they try they'll often forget their login info. The value of having regular users far outweighs the value of any emails you might trap by requiring a login.

Look at the Big Picture

Even if a visitor isn't necessarily ready to hire you today, we still want her visiting your site. Your accounting website design ought to be built accordingly. Give your guests a quality and amount of content that will keep them to return over and over again. You're getting your brand seen by prospects. If you can keep your brand in front of the prospect until they really need you it's a sound bet that you'll be getting a nice, hot phone call from lots of them in the end!

About the Author

Brian O'Connell is the CEO and founder of CPA Site Solutions, one of North America's largest web companies dedicated entirely to accounting website design.