To demonstrate Accounting Excellence in 2019 you need excellent digital marketing, writes Ray Newman, the head of content at PracticeWeb.
These days, a credible online presence is vital not only for generating leads but also to push referrals towards the finish line into fully-fledged clients.
All the excitement around MTD seems to have prompted many accountants to get posting content.
Statistics from AccountingWEB shows firms stepping up their blogging regime – 23% said they regularly blogged in 2017; up to 43% in 2018.
In 2019, though, it’s dropped back to its lowest level with only 15% producing blogging content - lower even than 2013 when AccountingWEB’s records began.
Perhaps it’s a post-MTD hangover. AccountingWEB’s John Stokdyk has wondered aloud whether the conversations opened last year might be sustaining firms through 2019, thus reducing the urgency of content marketing.
And no other topic quite hits that sweet spot of complexity and urgency, with such an easy call to action.
Maybe it’s because Brexit, the elephant in the room for many business owners, is controversial – climb off the fence and you risk having your ankles nipped by one half of your client base or the other.
It might also be a reflection of the limited time available for what can feel like a nice-to-have.
“We’ll invest in the website and marketing when we’re making more money,” say the sceptics.
“But we won’t make money without leads,” replies the marketing champion, “which means we need a better website and more content.”
This circular conversation plays out in all kinds of businesses but in accountancy, it seems particularly acute. After all, every minute spent on marketing is time not spent on billable work for clients.
What’s more, return on investment can be hard to demonstrate with the kind of hard numbers accountants tend to prefer.
But right now, in the lull, is exactly the time to be investing in content and in your online presence.
Shipshape before the storm
Economists predict a recession with the only debate seemingly over its duration and intensity.
Changes to IR35 are threatening to snatch away the work that many firms have built their businesses around.
And it’s still unclear what the ongoing march of cloud accounting will mean for the accounting profession in the long term.
In that context, even if things feel good right now, it’s sensible to be looking ahead to 2021, 2022 or beyond.
After all, firms that really benefited from the conversation around MTD were those that started talking about it in 2016, rather than scrambling to join the conversation on the eve of rollout.
This is partly down to Google’s algorithm, which ranks websites based on three factors: expertise, authority and trust (EAT).
Although the exact mechanics are kept secret, we do know that good content gains credibility and collects meaningful inbound links over time.
In other words, it’s about staking a claim on the topic with a substantial page or blog post before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.
If you share something genuinely useful and keep it updated, Google is likely to rank your content above the Johnny-come-latelys.
If that recession does come, meaning fewer clients to go round and belts tightening, you need your firm to be the one that stands out.
Digital marketing, especially content marketing, is the best-value way to position yourself in the market, to make the case for your practice over the competition, and to demonstrate your professionalism.
Earlier this year, PracticeWeb undertook research to find out what the owners and operators of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) want from their accountants.
A key finding was the value they placed on professionalism, with 52% choosing this as an important or very important quality ahead of honesty (47%), reliability (39%) experience (32%) and integrity (25%).
But what does professionalism mean in practice? For the clients and potential clients of most businesses, not only accountancy firms, a significant factor is presentation and content.
Some factors to consider:
- Is your Google My Business listing complete and up-to-date?
- Does your firm have a distinctive name that reflects your values?
- Is there a properly designed logo?
- Does the design of your website convey professionalism?
- Is the colour, typography and tone of voice consistent across all your communications?
- Does your firm’s blog demonstrate technical and political nous, or is it just fluff?
- Is third-party content you’ve acquired from agencies or freelancers well-written, technically accurate, engaging and on-brand?
- Do the ‘about us’ and ‘meet the team’ pages on your website tell a story about your capability and experience?
- Have you used cartoons or visual gags? (Babies in business suits... Oh dear, no.)
- Do your team’s LinkedIn or other social media profiles compromise your firm’s professional image?
- Is your approach to SEO ethical and strategic?
People these days spend all day online, and whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re sensitive to brand and can detect shoddiness, corner-cutting or shady behaviour.
Just do it
The most compelling argument for getting your digital marketing strategy in shape and activity under way is simply this: if you don’t, at least some of your competitors will.