Is blogging good for business if you’re an accountant?
You’ve probably seen those articles advocating how everyone in business should be blogging. How applicable is this advice to accountants in practice? asks Mark Lee.
The key question
Nikki Pilkington’s otherwise excellent article for AccountingWEB in 2010 (‘Do blogging and accountancy really mix?’) missed the key question: Is blogging a worthwhile activity for accountants in the first place?
My answer is “Yes, it ‘could’ be”. But on a case-by-case basis the answer depends on whether the blogging accountant has any clarity of purpose. Nikki’s focus was on whether accountants ‘could’ get readers to keep coming back for more. You have to start though by determining why you might want to start blogging in the first place.
Who would be the target audience for your blog? Typically this will be prospective clients and potential advocates of your services. Larger firms may have more diverse targets which may require different blogs which will appeal to different audiences.
In this context it is especially important to remember that people are far more interested in what you can do for them than in what you do. So your blog posts need to provide some valuable insights, views or advice.
Back to basics
What is a blog? For our purposes it’s a regular magazine article or comment piece that the accountant posts on a dedicated area of their website. Blogs are easily found by the web search engines and if the blog is regularly updated this makes the site more attractive than one that is static and rarely changes. This can make it easier for your website to appear higher up the search results when someone searches for a local accountant.
Dedicated blogging websites are more search engine friendly than custom-made blogs within tailor-made websites. This is one reason for the rise in interest of websites that use the popular ‘wordpress’ platform. The other very popular blogging platform is blogger.com
To find out how to use them, simply Google: How to start blogging. There are loads of step-by-step articles available online.
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So you’ve identified your niche audience and you’ve started writing blog posts. How do you get people to read them?
When you write articles for the press (or for AccountingWEB) there is a ready-made audience. The host publication or website is seen by thousands of people already and your articles will appear as part of the content mix. But when you write your own blog there is no automatic audience.
Some people will tell you that topical pieces will be picked up by search engines and will appear in search results when people search for the subjects on which you have written. In time this may happen but don’t bank on it – especially when your blog is new.
You have to tell people about your blog and about each new blog post. Five years after starting my blog for ambitious accountants I still send out newsletters that reference the most recent blog posts.
But remembering who your target audience is, how can you let them know? It’s easy to reach clients, contacts and advocates as you can email them a link. You can also include links to your blog posts in your newsletters.
Beyond this though, how can you get your blog posts seen and read by prospective clients? I think this is FAR more challenging than most blogging advocates would have you believe. They typically encourage bloggers to promote their blog across various social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and online business forums). But this will achieve very little if you are not otherwise engaged on those media and forums. None work well as a broadcast medium for anyone whose sole aim is to drive traffic to read their latest blog posts.
Getting readers to come back
There are a number of little ‘widgets’ you can add to your blog that may encourage the casual reader to return when you add new posts. One is an ‘RSS’ feed. Standard blogging platforms have this built in automatically. Another idea is to encourage readers to subscribe for automated email notifications whenever something new is added to the blog.
An up-to-date series of well-written blog posts can help evidence your credibility and mark you out as someone ‘better’ than the competition.
During my talks for accountants I often stress the benefits of focusing on a niche and of highlighting a specialism. The strength of the argument for doing this sometimes comes as a shock after years of trading as accountants serving anyone and everyone.
A regular focused blog can help emphasise your niche and specialism. Again this should help make you stand out as compared with other less focused and less ‘expert’ local accountants.
Bigger firms vs smaller practices
Many larger firms have jumped on the blogging bandwagon, but are failing to secure the potential benefits. Their blogs are unfocused and impersonal. They are an extension of the regular newsletters that try to have something in them that will appeal to all clients. In my view this is all about ‘box ticking’. “We have a newsletter. We have a blog. What’s next?”
Far better to have separate blogs for each specialist area and niche, and to be clear who the target audience is for each blog. It’s easy and cost effective to publish separate online blogs that are each relevant to different client sectors.
Another useful post about blogging appeared on AccountingWEB in August 2010. Titled: ‘How to run an effective corporate blog’ - it contained some top tips which are equally applicable to everyone who is keen to start blogging.
Ray Stewart is a qualified certified practicing accountant of a similar vintage to me. His website is built around his blog which started in September 2007.
Ray claims that his blog enjoys an astonishing number of subscribers and visitors. This includes existing clients who like showing off to other business people whose accountants do not blog. It therefore helps Ray’s clients feel they belong to something special and allows prospective clients to get an insight into him and how he works before they contact him.
So Ray sees it as worthwhile and his is clearly a practicing accountant. I think this is far more telling than any view expressed by Nikki by me or by any general marketing expert. What works for other businesses MAY be applicable to local accountants but often this is not the case.
Are there any other blogging accountants who consider their efforts are worthwhile? Do tell. Please also share your views if you’ve tried blogging but not had the results you had hoped for or were promised.
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