Accountants looking to create or update an existing website can be overwhelmed by the options available. With so many providers and different ways of building a website, which one is the best to pick?
After a recent wave of Any Answers queries on the topic, AccountingWEB has put together this brief overview of the options available, the purpose of a website and links to top tools and suppliers.
Questions about websites have covered why firms need websites, how to account for them and who are the best providers.
Back in August, sanjay100 set off a debate about website pricing. Was £750 a reasonable price, he asked the community. Opinions varied on what was an acceptable amount to pay, ranging from £300 up to £1,000. You could cut costs by opting for a 'do-it-yourself' package, or go for sites created for you on a platform such as Wordpress, or go whole hog with a bespoke site with all the trimmings.
What kind of website do you want?
The "piece of string" principle applies to websites - how much you pay depends on what kind of website you want. It could be a shop window for the firm, a lead-generator or a functioning zone for clients to compile their books and share documents. This rest of this guide explores the options in the following areas:
Tools, suppliers and options are explored later on in the article. But first we’ll tackle a regular question for AccountingWEB members. How do you account for a business website?
The tax treatment of website costs cropped up in a query from woolley11 in September. In response, andy4151 pointed to a useful HMRC agent toolkit on the subject that explains: “A website that will directly generate sales, subscriptions, advertising or other income will normally be regarded as creating an enduring asset and consideration should be given to treating the costs of developing, designing and publishing the website as capital expenditure.
“Whilst a revenue deduction would not therefore be allowable, this capital expenditure will generally qualify as expenditure on plant and machinery for capital allowances purposes.
“Expenditure on initial research and planning, prior to deciding to proceed with development, is normally allowable as revenue expenditure.”
Remember that HMRC advice like this is not legally binding. But having considered the department’s stance, members felt justified in viewing a lead-generating website as plant and machinery qualifying for the annual investment allowance.
Before you go full pelt into building your site, think about why you want a website - or why you want to improve it. What sections, content and information will you want there and who will maintain it?
Key considerations, set out in this year's Start Up in Practice Guide, include:
- Choose a quality provider (a selection is outlined below)
- Choose what information you want on your website; keep it all simple, easily accessible and clearly visible
- Personalise your website and inject a sense of your or your firm's personality
- Learn about search engine optimisation (SEO).
The view has been expressed many times in Any Answers, most recently in this thread started by Jim100 in August, that a website is ultimately a “shop window” into your firm. Depending on how much time and effort you want to put into it, it can also be a source of new business and referrals.
Some members felt their websites lent the firm extra credibility (for example that it actually exists) by demonstrating that it kept up to date with web technology. But more people said they do get queries and recruit clients through their sies, including JimH, who updates his blogs and content regularly. JimH also keeps on top of social media, SEO and Google Places to ensure he retains the number one spot on Google searches for his area.
Cardigan and Maslins, along with others, argued that if you’re going to maintain a website, you should make sure it’s a good one. “Good” means any site that is regularly updated, looks modern and fresh and makes use of new features such as “responsive” design. Because people will be accessing your website from a variety of devices - such as smartphones and tablets - a responsive site will sense the dimensions of the client browser and adjust its size and layout so that it remains readable and easy to use.
Other elements to consider include whether you want to add extra features such as document portals, cloud accounting, tax calculators and how you will deal with client or prospect enquiries. Whether you But this is firm and website dependent.
And now for the potentially difficult part - which service provider and tools to use. Here are seven of the leading suppliers currently catering for accountants:
Price: Monthly licence - price varies depending on which package you choose: Starter, Pro or Tailored.
Features: This also depends on your package. But all websites are designed with you and your customer in mind.
Support: Phone based or face-to-face account management for some packages, and client support.
Price: Its bespoke package is £95 per month. Templates range from £55 per month.
Features: Bespoke websites get you personal branding, the ability to password protect pages, tax helpsheets, Budget summaries, newsletters and CMS Templates come with similar features minus the newsletters, Budget summaries, CMS and password protection. The company is now part of IRIS, which markets the same services under the name IRIS Open Website.
Support: Unlimited phone and email support
Price: £50 per month
Features: A range of website templates and themes, site wizard to update and maintain content, pre-written accounting and tax related content, ability to host website on Digita's domain and a client portal.
Support: Initial pre-set-up of your website and a one-to-one online training tutorial. Also ongoing Digita web builder product support.
If you're a DIY sort of person, or know a decent web designer, why not get a Wordpress site?
Price: You can sign up to Wordpress for free, but a domain name will cost about £15 a year. Add an extra £50 or so for a theme such as this one. If you maintain it yourself, you've got a very cost effective site. But if you want a designer to build it from scratch, it may set you back £150-£600 depending on what you want. Some companies provide hosting services from around £10 per month.
Features: This depends entirely on what kind of website is built. But Wordpress features generally include a CMS, up-to-date statistics and a customisable interface. You may need to add all the content yourself however and support will depend on who (if anyone) is hosting it. Wordpress has its own app and its websites are responsive.
Price: £99 per month for an already-designed website. Bespoke costs around £800 - 2,000 plus the £99 per month fee.
Features: A range of designs to choose from, responsive, an SEO strategy, regular newswires, website managed by Mercia, a suite of content, a document exchange system and a contact manager. Mercia will also supply content for your existing website if you just want to freshen up.
Support: Information, resources and a team to work on the website included in the cost.
AccountingWEB members suggested a range of other options. Your choice will depend on your needs, but some of these sites range from basic custom-built offerings to full blown, fully managed websites:
What have been your experiences with websites - and are there other providers who do a particularly good job for accountants?