What businesses want is data they can:
1. Easily get
2. Easily understand
3. Easily digest
4. Make decisions with
suite of reports that can be automatically generated (including KPIs) is
1. Ask them what they think is important
2. Ask them what they want to accomplish
3. Ask them why things are the way they are
4. Ask them what their perfect outcomes would be
5. Ask them if they have thought of solutions that might work
6. Ask them what they have tried so far
7. Ask them what worked well
8. Ask, ask and keep asking
Arm yourself with a list of benefits. Why are cloud solutions right for your business?
they're probably most interested in hearing about:
Costs. With a single manageable monthly payment, cloud users don't need to dig deep for the initial investment in hardware, software license fees or server infrastructure. Beyond that, they won't have to worry about the long-term costs of maintenance and upgrades.
Security. The entire livelihood of a cloud provider rests on how secure their service is. That means they invest more in the hardware and expertise that keeps businesses' data secure – a level of security that just doesn't compare to the average business's desktop accounting system.
Ease of use. Clients using cloud accounting software can keep up with their accounts on any device, and in any location. There's no need to send files back and forth, and they won't have to worry about backups, restores and working from the latest version of the data.
Here are a few solid statistics to have at the ready:
Businesses using cloud technology grow 26% faster and see 21% higher profits than businesses that don't.
More than 80% of businesses have saved money by implementing cloud software.
Nearly three quarters (74%) of organizations trust the cloud enough to store their sensitive data on it.
59% of businesses using cloud technology report significant productivity benefits from their IT, compared with just 30% of businesses that aren't on the cloud.
Take the time to walk them through it
So rather than just telling them what's best, you're better off showing them directly.
Gather some literature, arrange a meeting, and present your clients with all the benefits.
Attach a specific monetary value to every benefit for their business.
Give them a good idea of the different stages of transition, as well as the projected costs and timescales involved
Compare these costs to the monetary values of the benefits
Take a step back and let your client make the best decision for their own business – they're more likely to devote themselves fully if they feel like they've decided for themselves
Before you begin your business make sure:
Focus on the benefits to the client – costs, security and ease of use.
Familiarize yourself with all the potential gains, and keep a few statistics up your sleeve
Break down the transition into clear steps to help your clients visualize their path
Work with them to crunch the numbers
How to Start a Cloud Accounting Practice and Fees for services
Many of the typical accounting data entry tasks are now automated, allowing you to be more creative in the accounting services you offer.
Where Do I Start?
Try finding a mentor willing to teach you about the industry—possibly an accounting professor or reach out to the entrepreneurship department at a local university. (The AICPA offers mentoring resources.) Use LinkedIn to search for others in this field and message them to see if they have an interest in answering your questions.
To understand the needs of small businesses, there are online resources available at the Small Business Association. Technology vendors you work with my have education resources on their websites; check them out. Find the right resource that will help you be successful. Put yourself out there and you are bound to find people who are willing to help you succeed. Many accounting software companies host a list of certified advisers on their website. Try connecting with one of them to see if they would be interested in having you work as a contractor. They are likely to have extra work and need a qualified person to help.
How Do You Attract Clients When You Have No Experience?
Try starting with friends and family that have their own small businesses. Working with people you know can eliminate the pressure while learning the business.
Once you have some experience under your belt, attract new clients with the story you have to tell. Having experience around the client collaboration process will help when describing your services to prospective clients.
A good website with search optimization and social media is a must. No one looks in the Yellow Pages anymore, so take the time to set up your website from the start. Call the webmaster of firms whose sites you admire and ask who designed and programmed their sites.
One of the best methods to get the word out is something you are familiar with: social media. Let your social network know about your accounting services and ask for referrals. Share posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. Create your own Facebook business page or LinkedIn business page to promote your practice.
Before you know it, you'll be up and running.
Pricing Cloud Accounting Services
But, how would you price a cloud engagement with your accounting services clients?
The top technology priorities for firms are: securing the IT environment, managing and retaining data, managing risk and compliance, ensuring privacy and leveraging emerging technologies. It also found that the technology initiatives considered having the most impact are information security, remote access, control and use of mobile devices, business process improvement with technology, and data retention policies and structure.
The cost of monitoring all of the regulation, security within your firm, privacy issues, and what is accessible on a mobile device, just to name a few, is a large overhead cost that firms are having to bare. Most likely, paying outside experts to help them make sure they are in compliance due to the large amount of regulation in this area. It is much too complex to figure out on your own, unless you already have an IT background and stay up to date on the ever-changing and increasing regulation and opportunities to be compromised. The efficiency of being in the cloud helps to spread a small portion of the costs you would incur if you did it yourself to manageable costs over all of your client engagements. You pay for what you use instead of having the upfront overhead cost that needs to be covered by your engagements before you even start becoming profitable. Your cloud providers incur the cost of maintaining all the security and privacy regulations and auditing the system. So when pricing your services in a cloud environment, you have a real opportunity to incorporate your cloud costs into a value-billing system with your clients to gain profitability as you become more efficient with each engagement.
Value billing or fixed-fee billing was something I used to stay away from before the cloud. Reason being, in an on-premise environment where I did not control the accounting or the software selection of the client, I could not be sure of the work I was going to be doing each month. The client led the engagement instead of me being able to control the quality of the accounting system and the deliverables it could create. Additionally, the collaboration issue was an expense I could not predict either. Each client had their own setup – different remote access solutions and back-up procedures that made it hard to predict how much non-billable time I was going to incur just to be able to do the work or return it to the client. All of these non-value tasks add up and create those hidden costs that draw down profitability.
In a cloud environment, the costs are face value. The software and hardware expenses, IT security and privacy audits, real-time client collaboration, financial and operational reporting, customer support, and all other accountant program benefits is all inclusive in the price you pay. Therefore, value billing is possible and not a science anymore. So for example, if you have 20 clients you bill monthly accounting services, and the invoice is always variable each month with hourly rates offering little opportunity to become more profitable as you become more efficient, this cloud environment will allow you to value bill. When moving to this model, you can take advantage of the efficiencies you create to drive your realization higher and make the bill more predictable for your client, which makes it a win-win for both parties!
Going back to this example, you may have the following scenario with 20 clients on your chosen cloud platforms.
Let's estimate the annual program fees for your firm from all of your cloud vendors is $2,500. The overhead cost per month for these program fees would be approximately $208/month spread across your 20 outsourced accounting clients.
The monthly per-client fee to utilize the system, including all of your cloud vendors, may be approximately $100/mo/client.
If you have 20 clients on the cloud platforms of your choice, the monthly cost for you to pass through to your client would be (20 x $100/mo) $2,000 + the monthly total of the program fees of ($2,500/12) $208 = $2,208.
In this example, the client services you provide for your 20 clients are bookkeeping (i.e., entering and paying bills, creating customer invoices, bank reconciliations, etc.) and/or controllership (i.e., monthly financial statement preparation and analysis, cash flow forecasting, business planning and budgeting, etc.) for an average of $1,500/mo/client. The total revenue for the accounting services you would bring in each month would be approximately $30,000.
Assuming that you spend approximately $60,000/yr on staff to perform the work for these 20 clients, the monthly labor cost would be $2,500.
Your profit before any other firm overhead costs for 20 clients on a cloud platform would be:
Client Revenue @20 clients/mo (avg $1,500/client): $30,000
Cloud Platform all inclusive costs/mo ($2,208 + $2,500): $ 4,708
Monthly Profit Margin on 20 clients/mo: $23,292
Profit Margin Percentage: 84%
Taking this same example and spreading it over your real client base, you can see the opportunity to change the way you work with your clients and become more profitable at the same time. It is also a large request that I am sure you hear from your clients that they appreciate more predictable billing. Additionally, when moving your practice to the cloud, you can have peace of mind that your cloud vendors are doing the necessary IT security processes and procedures that you would not be able to keep up with on your own. Get involved in the discussion on the social media sites and take the time to learn more this upcoming conference season to assess whether you can incorporate some of these changes into your practice this coming year!
NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW
Technology to Become More Profitable and Productive
As a small business owner, knowledge and a desire to continue expanding your experience is invaluable. With unlimited time and a boundless budget, you could travel the world to participate in live training and educational events. Of course, most of us are restricted by limited finances and time challenges, so that's usually not realistic.
Self-paced training and free online business training programs are an excellent way to expand your know-how, right from the comfort of your own home or office when it suits you best. There are a number of exceptional online business training resources that cover just about any topic you'd want to learn about. Once you know how to select an online business training program, the possibilities are endless.
Open-source software provides small business owners with alternatives to using mainstream commercial applications in the day-to-day management of their businesses. Open-source software is attractive for many business owners because it typically requires no financial investment and frequently has the flexibility to fit perfectly with a business owner's needs.
One of the most popular open-source tools available is OpenOffice.org, an office software suite with word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more.
These days, small business owners are not tied to an office or computer in order to do their work and stay in the loop. One of the ways that business owners can take their business with them is by using an alternative to a traditional landline as their telephone service. Cell phones, VoIP, and virtual phone lines are a few of the options available.
So much of what we do as small business owners has a virtual element. Being able to conduct conference calls with a group of team members and/or clients at different locations is one example of this. There are many teleconference services, some free, that give small business owners the ability to conduct teleconferences with multiple parties -- anytime they want -- without needing special telephone or bridge line equipment.
There are also a number of Web conferencing tools that allow you to connect with team members located all over the world, almost as if you're face-to-face.
Time Tracking Tools
Whether or not you bill your clients hourly, small business owners can find significant value in keeping track of where their time is spent. This has a number of benefits including making your project estimates more accurate and helping you boost your own productivity.
There are many time tracking tools available, including desktop applications, online tools, and even services integrated into larger project management or bookkeeping software.
Online Invoicing Services
Bookkeeping applications come in many shapes and sizes. But depending on your individual needs, you may not need an extensive accounting suite to manage your books. In fact, a streamlined online invoicing service may be an appropriate alternative for your business that allows you to manage your billing process quicker and more proficiently.
When it comes to getting paid, technology also provides many online payment options.
Remote Desktop Applications
Again, technology solidifies the connection between small business owners and mobility. Having access to your primary computer and all of the data on it when you are out of your office -- and being able to view or modify it from your iPad or smartphone -- can give you an edge when it comes to managing your business.
Remote desktop access applications, such as GoToMyPC and LogMeIn, can keep you connected even when you're not sitting at your desk.
Screencasting is creating a movie that shows specific activity on your computer screen with voice-over narration that you can share with others. Screencasts can be used for a number of purposes including tutorials, demonstrations, and lessons. There is quite a variety of screencasting tools available to small business owners with varying levels of complexity and functionality.
Online File Conversion
If you have to convert an unusual file format and don't have the necessary software, or if you're working from a different computer, online file conversion tools can make the process fairly quick and painless. There are services to convert documents, audio/video files and even graphics to a new file format.
Being able to take a picture of something you see on your computer screen is extremely useful. You may need to submit it with a support request to a vendor, include it as part of a walk-through in an operations manual, or simply use it to trigger your memory later on. Some screenshot tools will even integrate with your screencasting tools, creating visually rich demonstrations.
Help Desk Applications
Customer service is important for all business owners. One of the ways you can incorporate customer service into your business and into your website is through a help desk/customer service application. These tools enhance your ability to be responsive to your clients' needs and can make the process of managing relationships a lot smoother.
Online Appointment Scheduling
Whether you need to schedule an appointment with a client, arrange a product demo for a new prospect, or even plan a personal lunch with a friend, online appointment schedules let you manage everything in one place. You can save time by allowing others to select slots from your calendar and see at a glance what meetings you have coming up.
Online appointment scheduling also allows you to create a system that gives someone other than yourself access to your calendar, removing the meeting management task from your own list.
Fully cloud-based systems
It makes sense to move all your computing work into the cloud. That includes data storage, software and communications. There are many advantages to doing this. With everything securely online your IT costs are reduced, and backups and upgrades are handled for you. And, most importantly, you and your staff can access vital data from anywhere, at any time.
Strong collaboration with clients – and within the firm
Communication is the basis of effective business. The more you communicate with your clients, the better you are able to understand their requirements. And this helps you identify areas where you can up-sell your services. Good communications within the business will also help you find new opportunities for growth.
Agile client management
Unlike traditional firms, modern accounting businesses can keep up with their clients' requirements – and even stay one step ahead. This increases your value to your client, which in turn allows you to charge more for your services.
A consultative model
Modern firms are focused on providing knowledge, not just services like taxes and bookkeeping. New software is automating basic accounting functions. So selling knowledge is where the market is heading.
Instead of deals made over lunch at the local Chamber of Commerce, modern firms actively market their services. Marketing is now based on social media and dynamic, content-rich websites. You need to be where your clients are.
The view from the top – three main benefits to your firm
Once you've completed the transition to a modern accounting firm, the benefits are significant. These are the big three:
Cloud-based firms can accomplish tasks in less time than traditional firms. With much of the work being automated, what used to take days or weeks can now be done in a few hours.
Spending less time on basic work means you have more time to work with new clients. You also have the marketing tools to reach new clients more easily than before.
More valuable services
Instead of selling basic services, you can give you clients more value by offering business solutions. This gives you ongoing revenue streams. It's also much more interesting and varied work.
In short, modern accounting lets you increase the efficiency of your firm, making you more agile. It gives you better communication and closer collaboration with clients. It lets you use your assets to their full potential.
Do your research
Find out about the state of accountancy. Read websites and publications such as CPA Practice Advisor, Accounting Today and Journal of Accountancy. Look at national and international resources – sometimes it can help to see what firms in other countries are doing. Attend conferences, watch webcasts and learn everything you can about accounting innovation.
Involve your staff and clients
Change is much easier to achieve once you have buy-in from your employees – and your clients. Start by asking your tech- savvy clients about your current services and technology, and what they'd like from you. Create a 'technology team' of staff from various departments within your firm, but make sure it has a clear leader. Identify inefficiencies in your workflows (you can ask your clients here too). Get expert advice on the possible solutions.
Move some processes to cloud software
A lot of basic accounting work can now be automated – so do it. There's nothing magical about cloud-based software. It just means software that stores data on remote servers. This simplifies workflows and means your data can be more secure than it would be on-site. Look into the popular cloud accounting tools and see which ones would work for you.
Choose some initial clients to transition
Start with clients who already understand new technology. That generally means they are younger, usually with fewer than 10 employees. Choose companies such as professional services, creative agencies and online companies. Steer clear of clients with heavy inventory, high transaction volume, or lots of software integrations required – at least to start with.
Attract innovative new clients
Once you become an innovative accounting firm, you'll want innovative clients. That makes it easier to do business. You can find such clients by having a good social media presence. It also helps to focus on specific channels and industries that work well for your business. Don't forget to market your firm through existing relationships with clients. The easiest way to get a referral is simply to ask for it. You can engage with suppliers and partner companies too.
Set you apart from the competition
For example, there might be dozens of general accounting firms in your area. But if you specialize in retail accounting, there will be much less competition.
Helps prospects find you
People use online searches to find a good accounting firm. You can get to the top of the search results for a specific area of business.
Help you learn and grow
As you take on more niche clients, you'll learn more about the finer details of their work. This will help you improve your service and grow your firm.
Give you expert status
Your company won't be just another accounting firm. It'll be an accounting firm with specialist accounting knowledge. That's great for attracting new prospects.
Finding a niche – four questions
If you've been in business for a few years, you may already have a specialty. But you might not have realized it yet. These four questions will help you find your niche:
Who are your regular clients?
If you have a couple of clients in the same general field, that could become a specialty. For example, they might be: medical clients, including doctors, dentists and other health professionals
franchisees with similar business models restaurant owners and hospitality businesses technology companies
construction businesses legal firms
almost any type of business. What are you good at?
Maybe you're great at payroll services. Perhaps you excel at moving traditional businesses to online accounting software. Or maybe you love the buzz of working with tech startups. The particular needs of serial entrepreneurs might be your specialty – and they're good clients because they'll come back again and again. Think about what you enjoy and what you're good at.
That's a good basis for a specialty. What's your background?
You're an accountant now, but perhaps you weren't always an accountant. If you grew up in a farming community, you may have some insight into agricultural businesses. Maybe your parents worked in real estate. Perhaps one of your partners used to be a lawyer. All of these are opportunities for finding your firm's niche.
What's happening around you?
You don't have to limit your clients to those within walking distance. But if you're surrounded by businesses of a particular type, it makes sense to try to win them as clients. Once you've built a local niche, you can start to expand further afield.
Above all, you should be looking for a profitable niche. You might have a lot of regular clients in the same industry. But if they're not profitable, that's not the ideal niche for you. Keep looking until you find one that ticks all the boxes. Alternatively, look for the niche that you are passionate about, then work out how you can make money from it.
Many firms provide general accounting services to a wide range of businesses. But sometimes it can be more lucrative to specialize.
Five ways to develop your specialty
Once you’ve decided on your specialty accounting niche, how do you develop it? Marketing and branding are important here. Create a new business presence
It doesn't cost much to set up a new website for specialized accounting work. You may even want to spin off a subsidiary business just for your niche. This will look more impressive to prospects and will help you target specific clients.
Provide great content
If you want people to find you, make sure you give search engines plenty of good content. Write regular blog posts – try to provide useful information for your potential customers. You may be surprised by how much business this can generate. Some business owners will be dissatisfied with their existing, general accounting firm. They’re likely to search for someone more specialised. Great content will help them find you.
Spread the word
Promote your firm with social media to market your specialty accounting services to clients not in your immediate area. This can help you develop micro-specialties. For example, there might be little demand for veterinary accounting in your home town. But with online accounting software and social media, you could reach veterinary clients all around the country.
Why stop at one?
Having one accounting niche is great, but why stop there? If you have the expertise in-house, you could expand into other markets too. Talk to your staff and find out about their specialized business knowledge. Let them help you expand into new markets.
Keep your finger on the pulse
your clients' field of business. Keep up with emerging trends and watch out for new legislation. As well as maintaining your expert status, this may help you find new niches. New markets appear all the time – consider Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts, for example.
Benefits for everyone
Developing a niche can give your firm greater insight into your clients' needs. So when you create a specialty accounting service, it's not just your firm that benefits. Your clients do too.
The more you learn about their businesses, the better you'll be able to serve them. This will help keep them happy with your service. It may also encourage them to recommend you to other businesses.
So building a niche can result in a virtuous circle that helps both you and your clients. Sometimes, thinking small can help your firm grow bigger.
Building a niche accounting business
In part one of this guide, we covered some of the advantages of specialty or niche accounting. Your firm would probably benefit from finding a suitable niche and then exploiting it. But what's the best way to identify a specialty for your firm? And how do you make niche accounting work for you?
In part two of this guide, we look into specialty accounting in greater detail. This will help you identify a niche that will work for you. It will also help you make the transition from a generalized accounting firm to a specialty one.
Zoom in to find your niche
A niche is narrow, by definition. You need to focus on a particular business group if you want to carve out your own specialty. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Consider these examples:
Firms that claim to specialize in serving small businesses are not true niche firms. Almost every accounting firm does that, so you need to think differently. Perhaps you could serve small medical practices, legal firms or real estate offices instead.
Providing management consulting to growing businesses is not real niche accounting. But it could be if, for example, you restricted your clients to service-based businesses.
So don't be afraid to zoom in on a narrow segment of the business world. The internet allows you to market your services far and wide. Once you're known for your specialty accounting services, new clients in that niche will come to you.
Identify some potential specialties
Deciding which niche to focus on can be difficult. You may have several different ideas. That's great – in fact the more you have, the better. You can compare and contrast your list of possible specialties to see which one is best.
You could even take on more than one niche. That might increase your chances of success – though it could also strain your resources. If you do go down this route, you could have secondary specialties related to your main niche. Alternatively you could choose entirely different ones.
A great starting point is looking at your current client base for industry or niche clusters. To help you decide which niche – or niches – to focus on, talk to your partners and staff to see what they suggest. Ask business advisors and chambers of commerce too.
Critically analyze your list of specialties
With the help of trusted advisors, write down a list of niche services that your firm could offer. Then go through each possible niche in turn and ask yourself the following questions:
Have I worked with similar clients before? Do I properly understand their needs? Can I win enough clients to build this as a niche area of work?
Are there many businesses in this niche locally, or will I have to win clients online? Am I happy for my business to be known to be working with such clients?
Is there any conflict of interest between the new niche and my existing clients? Is my chosen niche a potential growth area, with lots of new businesses?
Can I do a better job than firms offering similar services?
Would providing this service, or working with these businesses, be interesting and stimulating? If you can answer “Yes” to five or more of these questions, you may have found your niche.
Your ultimate goal is to attract high-quality clients. Ideally you'll want those who will pay premium fees for your premium services. If you take shortcuts you won't achieve this goal. So don't skimp on the planning. Get whatever help you need to guide you through the transition.
Some firms build their specialties around existing clients whose businesses share a common theme. That might work for you too. But be careful about building a niche around the field of work of a single member of staff. If they leave, your firm could be back where it started. So be sure to train other employees to do the same specialty accounting work.
Make your niche your own
Building a specialty accounting business will take time and effort. But if you do a good job for your niche clients, word will spread to other businesses in the same sector. Eventually you'll build a strong reputation for your niche accounting services.
Even then, it's important to stay nimble. The niche you choose today might serve you well for the next few years. But the business world changes fast. So keep your finger on the pulse and be prepared to investigate new opportunities as they appear. That should get easier each time, as you build on your existing knowledge and experience.
The future of accounting lies in meeting the specific business needs of your customers. Niche accounting services will give you the insight to understand and fulfill those needs.
Five accounting services to
diversify your business, grow revenue
1. Tax planning and financial planning
Use your credibility in the tax space as a springboard into more strategic work. Schedule an annual planning session to help your clients achieve their financial goals in the most tax-efficient way.
happens once a year (generally in the final quarter) can be done in a one-off, face-to-face meeting
draws on your client’s financial plan for the upcoming year is usually charged out as a one-time consulting fee
Develop some key performance indicators (KPIs) to help your clients track the progress of their financial goals. But don’t stop there. Regularly share simple reports that let clients see how they’re doing. It’ll help you demonstrate your relevance year- round and it’s an ideal first step to diversify your business.
2. Virtual CFO services
Small business is leading the transition to the cloud. Some studies say two-thirds are already using cloud software, others say 87 percent. But everyone agrees it’s trending upwards – and fast. Take advantage by offering virtual CFO services where:
you act as CFO from your office, using cloud accounting software
your client gets previously unaffordable financial oversight, on an as-needed basis
This is one of the main reasons small business love the cloud. It gives them access to services that were once limited to corporations. Read more about becoming a virtual CFO and add a recurring monthly revenue stream to your business.
3. Payroll processing
It wasn’t long ago that no one wanted to do payroll. It was manual and labor intensive. However, a recent Accounting Today survey estimates 65 percent of firms now offer the service, with another 6 percent planning to add it in 2016.
Now that payroll is automated, you can process several clients with minimal hands-on time. That means you can offer a competitive rate for the service while still generating solid revenue. Good cloud accounting platforms with payroll will automatically:
apply the correct taxes track employee hours manage pay runs
fill out tax forms
You can also customize these systems to meet specific client needs.
Payroll’s becoming an increasingly popular accounting service to offer and is in high demand – making it a great way to diversify your business. Find out more about profiting from payroll services and start asking your clients what they need.
Small businesses are changing firms to find more proactive financial advice.
4. Business consulting
Global spending on management consulting went up six percent in 2014. Big firms like PwC and Deloitte are using the trend to drive big revenue growth. Could you be doing the same in the small-business market?
Small businesses are increasingly eager to get business advice from their accountants. They’re even leaving accountants that don’t take enough of a lead.
Look at our tips on how to build your advisory services and see if your clients are interested in expanding your relationship. Don’t be afraid to sell the idea. They may not be aware of all you can do for them.
5. Forensic accounting services
With the right accounting knowledge and investigative skills, you could offer forensic accounting services. This can be useful for small businesses who haven’t previously had an accountant involved in their business. You can help them:
check all their sales are legitimate prepare financial statements for investors protect themselves from fraud
This is a great opportunity to deliver peace of mind and underline the value of accountancy to a new client.
You might even take forensic accounting a step further and provide expert witness services. Expert witnesses explain complex financial issues to judges and juries in court cases.
Keep looking for ways to diversify your business
Many accounting firms are adding advisory services to their compliance work. Fortuitously, this move comes at a time when small businesses are looking for extra insights from their accountants.
Chances are that you already provide some of these services. And you probably have the expertise within your firm to grow this side of your business. Test the water with your clients and try promoting these services harder.
Consider bundling them with your bread-and-butter tax work and giving clients one price for everything. It’ll help introduce them to your full range of capabilities, while helping avoid some of the workflow and cashflow crunches that affect tax and compliance-focused practices.
NEW NEW NEW
Effective websites for accounting and bookkeeping firms
Every firm needs a website. Your customers and prospects expect to find you online easily. An effective website will help you generate new business and keep existing clients. So how do you make yours work for you?
A mature marketing channel
The first commercial websites were launched about 20 years ago. In that time, many accounting and bookkeeping firms have taken advantage of the benefits they can bring. According to the AICPA, more than three-quarters of firms now have one.
This leaves almost a quarter that don't. And many existing sites are less than perfect when it comes to engaging with clients and prospects.
In this guide we'll look at how you can make your firm's site useful, interesting and engaging. We'll explore what you should be trying to achieve – and how to achieve it. And we'll give you tips for creating truly effective websites.
Your firm's website is an online shop front
Few firms have prominent main street stores with shop windows advertising their services. The accounting and bookkeeping business just doesn't work like that.
And the days of prospects flipping through phone directories to find you are over. So how do potential clients find out about your firm?
One of the most common methods is an online search. Most people in need of accounting or bookkeeping services are likely to use Google, Bing or Yahoo! to find what they're looking for.
If you have don't have an online presence, your firm won’t turn up in the search results pages. Because of this, it could be your competitor with the great website who wins the new client instead. So effective websites are vital for modern firms. Without one, you're losing business.
Start small and simple
It's possible to spend thousands of dollars having a site designed and built for you – possible, but unnecessary. If you're not sure of the benefits a website can bring, there's no harm in starting small.
Services such as Wix, Wordpress, Squarespace and many others will let you quickly and easily build your own site. You won't need any programming knowledge. This will get you started quickly, and prices start from just a few dollars per month.
Once you have an account with one of these companies, you can start to build a site to suit your firm. Get the basics right
If you get the foundation right, your website will look professional right from the start.
Register your domain name
Your own domain name, such as www.yourfirm.com, is more professional than yourfirm.freehostingcompany.com. Domain names are cheap and they add value to your web presence.
Use a simple design
Web service companies give you a wide range of templates to choose from, so you can change the look of your site. Some templates will be colourful [US: colorful] and loud, but try not to get carried away with the options. People expect a mature, professional look from their accountant and bookkeeper.
Include the important pages
You should have pages explaining your firm's services and providing contact information. It's a good idea to introduce the partners and other senior staff too. And it doesn't hurt to list your firm's experience.
Keep it up to date
As your firm changes, so should your website. Keep contact information up to date, add new services and maintain staff profiles. If your site appears stale and outdated, your prospects and customers will notice – and it may put them off doing business with you.
As your firm changes, so should your website. Keep the contact information up to date, add new services and maintain staff profiles.
Effective websites are all about content
You've probably heard about SEO (search engine optimization) and the value of good content. Quality content encourages search engines to include your firm's site in their results. And that will bring you new customers.
Good content is useful to your clients and prospects. This could include: interviews with people of interest to your client base
blog posts about accounting or bookkeeping issues for their industry
hints and tips to save your customers time and money news stories to keep your clients up to date frequently asked questions about important topics.
Effective websites need good content to bring people back – again and again. Our guide to content marketing has many more ideas.
Build an online brand
Your website should reflect your business identity. It will work best if it represents an extension of your firm's brand in the real world.
So take the time to add personality to your site. Don't just copy another firm's design and layout. Think about the way your firm operates, and then try to apply that to your online presence.
Get staff members involved if possible, but keep a tight grip on who can publish content on your site.
An engaging, regularly updated site gives prospects a great first impression. It indicates that your firm is also engaging and up to date.
Four ways to add value for your visitors
Once your website has been live for a while, you can add new features. Different types of content will interest different clients. Think carefully about what your customers and prospects might want. Some ideas include:
These can provide a quick way to compare loans, check debt consolidation rates, and calculate salaries or tax refunds. They're too complex to create yourself. But a web search will bring up lists of companies that will supply calculators for your site.
then ask them to sign up to receive your newsletters. Just make sure you don't spam them though. Once every few weeks is enough.
It doesn't hurt to have someone from your firm as an industry expert. Regular blog posts, links to news items and even webinars (online seminars) can all add to your firm's reputation.
Social media integration
If your firm has a Twitter feed, link to it from your site. Other business-related social media content can also add value. Our guide to promoting your firm with social media has more ideas.
Keep your site alive
Effective websites are engaging, fresh and relevant to the target audience. Your firm's website can be all of these things – and it doesn't have to be expensive.
There are plenty of resources to help you, including forums and other firms with established websites. There's no need to copy anyone else, but you can learn from them.
Over time your site will evolve as your firm does. It will become an extension of your firm's marketing efforts – working in the background to generate new business for you.