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Making do is not enough: A website to match your business ambitions. By Richard Sergeant

25th May 2007
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Richard Sergeant, of PracticeWEB, begins a series of features that offer guidance on how firms can turn their website into a business asset

What unites a firm of accountants with a football team?

Like accountants, all football teams conform to a common template. They all field 11 men on a pitch and play a game according to a set of established rules and guidelines. They all wear a kit, have a badge, have certain colours associated with themselves and all play with a round ball. But it’s everything else – history, attitude, style, etc that makes each team unique and inspires their fans to loyalty

So it is with accountants. If you were to list all the services available from UK accountancy firms of a similar size side by side, there would be barely a 64-8 between them. So what makes one firm different from another?

Presentation, profile, branding and corporate identity. It’s who you do business with, where you do business, how you do business, it’s the personality of the partners, your office space, your location, your membership to the various associations, institutes and local networking groups. Its your sponsorship of the local rugby team, and your advert in the yellow pages. It’s the pictures you have on your walls, the signed Liverpool FC football in your office, and the amount of car parking spaces you have outside for clients. All of this makes your firm absolutely unique.

So when you turn and look at your most public facet of your firm – your website - what does it say about you? Does it convey that difference, that individual character?

An “it will do” attitude to your website simply will not do any more. Presence is not enough.

I heard an interesting story this week about a partner who had a new copy of the Yellow Pages delivered and went to the general staff resource area to replace last years. When he got there he realised that the cellophane wrapping hadn’t even been taken off the 06 edition…the internet has now taken over as the primary reference source for business and professionals. So you cannot let yourself down. The lost opportunity costs could be enormous.

For professional service businesses a website usually appears somewhere near the end of a prospect’s buying cycle. It is most likely that new business will still come your way through referrals. Jill will mention your name to Jack, who, may not use it immediately but will store it away for future use. In the meantime he will continue to moan about his current accountant; but might also drive past your office and see your sign, notice your ad in the local paper, hear one of the partners speak at a local charity dinner; and next time he talks to Jill and she tells them about you he’s more inclined to check you out a little more.

It is at this point that your website clicks in. He does not want to make a fool of himself by approaching you until he’s confident of your ability. And where will he seek reassurance – your website.

Your site must quickly tell Jack three things. Who are you? Where are you? How can you help?

He needs to know that he is on the right website, that you operate in his area (most small businesses will gravitate to a local firm), and that you either offer the broad headline of services he may be after or deal with his particular sector. So, he knows that yiu CAN help him. But that is only the beginning. Jack will be assessing you on a myriad of other factors. These roughly break down to three main areas - presentation, information and experience – and it is these that will make him WANT you to help him?

The quality of your site design, the impression and consistency of your branding and the overall look and feel of the site will carry huge weight. Add all the little things that give colour and personality to your firm – the images and descriptions of your partners, the latest news about the firm, images and directions to offices, regular updates… suddenly it all comes together and Jack can see that he not only can do business with you, but also that he wants to do business with you.

People do business with people. You may find that your prospects slipping away if your website does not convey the personality of the firm and reflects nothing but a web designers skill to make a cool looking site. Similarly if your site looks out of date, old fashioned, lacks consistency and doesn’t actually tell people what you do – guess what Jack is going to think?

In a similar vein, filling the site with quality, regularly updated, relevant content provides enormous dividends. You are demonstrating to users the range of your expertise and depth of your experience, plus illustrating the level you are prepared to go to provide a great quality service.

The better the user’s experience, the greater the likelihood that they will visit your site again and refer it to others, and the better the impression they have of your firm, the more likely they will view you as a trusted resource and – hopefully - give you their business.

Over the next few features we’ll explore presentation, information, and experience in more detail and how you can differentiate your firm to bring out your unique personality. The prize on offer is the potential for:

  • new routes to market;
  • new clients;
  • more fees from existing clients;
  • better value for your clients
  • more efficient business processes
  • a fantastic staff resource

What more could you or your users ask for?

Richard Sergeant is the Client Relationship Manager for PracticeWEB which has been providing content rich, unique designed, secure websites for accountants to UK practices since 1999.


Replies (1)

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By AnonymousUser
26th Jun 2007 17:47

At last, another sane take on the practice website!
Well done Mark. I have been preaching the "technical content is bad" line for some years now.

We don't want clients looking around for answers on our website, we want them callng us for a personal, relationship-building discussion. In my view the only pages on your site that clients form some of the audience for are your News items and online Resources - everything else should be aimed at prospects.

Incidentally, clients shoud be able to access your news items via an RSS feed, directly into their browser.

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