Why Accountants Need to Bolster Their Online Marketing Before Busy Season

google search for accountants near me
Google Trends over the previous year for “accountants near me”

Before I started preparing tax returns in 2002, I had no idea that the workload of accountants was so intensely seasonal. My tax returns were always pretty simple, and I never had trouble doing my own taxes and filing well before the deadline. Now I’m keenly aware that accounting is a highly seasonal occupation.

Did you know that Google searches for accountants and income tax are also highly seasonal? Paying attention to this can get you a bigger bang for your effort if your web presence is firmly in place when public interest peaks. Google Trends is a useful tool for tracking the frequency of search terms around the world and by country over time.

This shows trends in Google searches for “accountant” in the US over the previous five years:

google trends in searches for accountant
Google Trends in searches for “accountant” over the previous 5 years

The two spiky low points each year coincide with Thanksgiving and Christmas, times when most people are focused on family and the holidays. But once those W2s, 1099s and other tax forms start showing up, interest in accountants quickly rises and stays at a steady, elevated level until April 15, when it quickly drops again. Another steady state holds through summer, before plummeting again come Thanksgiving.

The summer of 2016, however, shows a different pattern with two odd peaks in mid-May and late July. These two peaks coincide with the releases of new trailers for the upcoming movie The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck. These two peaks are of almost the same magnitude as the peak plateau of tax filing season, but I suspect it’s Mr. Affleck himself who’s inspiring lots of Google searches, not the occupation of his character.

This shows results for searches of “income tax:”

google trends in searches for accountant
Google Trends in searches for “income tax” over the previous five years

Here the spiky peaks coincide with the times of greatest interest in tax — the first week of February when W2s arrive, and again, right around April 15. This looks rather like a heartbeat.

Synch your online presence with the peak times of interest

This data shows that certain times of the year are crucial for having a strong online presence and for attracting new clients. It’s no surprise that pressing tax filing deadlines spike interest for   tax and accountants. Perhaps there’s been a change in their life situation and this year is the first time an accountant’s services have been needed. Or perhaps they’re unhappy with their current accountant and are looking for a new one. If your firm doesn’t have a strong online presence, you’ll miss out on the wave of people looking for you.

How to take advantage of timing

Online marketing is best regarded as a cumulative effort, a marathon rather than a sprint.  Google rewards websites that regularly add new information, so you might not see much change in search engine rankings until you’ve been adding fresh content for several months. Periodic changes to Google’s search ranking algorithm seem to be an attempt to reward the websites that are most useful to users, and to punish attempts to game SEO. Regular updates of new quality content seem to carry the most weight for improving search ranking. Weekly or monthly blog posts are a great way to do this.

As you begin publishing new blog posts, keep the peaks and valleys in online search trends in mind. It’s easy to lose interest in online marketing initiatives if they’re implemented during slow times of the year when there’s little interest in accountants and tax.

Regular content publishing requires discipline and commitment, which can be a challenge during the busiest times of the year, when everyone at your firm is already working long hours. This means it’s important to start developing the habit now. Most business owners find that after a few months of regular updates, they get into a comfortable routine, and it gets easier with time.

Tips for getting started

  1. Commit to a regular schedule for updating your blog. Block out the time on your calendar, and stick to your schedule.
  2. Plan out topics for your blog ahead of time. This alleviates the biggest problem of not knowing what you’ll write about this week. If there’s a sudden change in tax law or regulations, you can always slide that in.
  3. Consider publishing a newsletter. If you’re already publishing regular blog posts, these can also be sent out as a newsletter with just a little extra effort.
  4. Plan time-intensive projects such as updating your website for summer or late fall when you have more time.
  5. If you’re planning a website update, commit to having it completed by January. Then your new prospects will see your new website when they start looking.

Did you know that blog posts can be ghost written? You pick the topics, and I write the posts. As a CPA and a member of NACVA, I’m already up to speed so it just takes a short phone call to sketch out your posts. Call me at 505-440-3317 or email me at liz@farrcommunications.com and we’ll get started.

Does the Website for Your Accounting Firm Make this Mistake?

This morning I flipped through the pages of our local paper’s Entertainment section, and came across an article about the season finale of a show on Showtime, “Penny Dreadful.” Even though this was its third season, I had never heard of it. So I scanned the article to see if I’d like to watch it, looking for at least a summary of the series so far, or some reason to catch the last episode.

Alas, I was disappointed. I learned that the cast was full of great stars, that many people involved in the show had worked on other well-known shows and movies.  The theme was horror, and it was “well-done.” The set was beautiful and that the show had won all sorts of awards.

But not a word about why I should watch this show. What was it about? What made this “well-done” horror? Was it funny? Scary? What about the main characters — were they engaging? Did they have any secrets? Were there ongoing conflicts between them? Was the season finale anticipated to be a cliffhanger, or the resolution of earlier conflicts?

Just lots of features, but not a hint of any benefits I could personally reap from watching the show. I suppose the mass of awards associated with the show should have sufficed to let me know that this was a show worth watching, but this article gave me no reason to watch it.

Features vs. Benefits

The same can be said about the websites for most accountants. Most accountants’ websites say pretty much the same thing: we give great service, we do quality work, and we are known for our responsiveness and professionalism. And here are how many years we’ve been in business and all the credentials we have: CPA, CA, CGMA, CFE, ABV and more. Where we went to college and all the Big 4 Firms we’ve worked at. All of these are the features — the characteristics of an accounting firm.

But very few websites for accountants describe the benefits of choosing this firm over all the others in town. Nothing about the peace of mind that comes from working with people who have the knowledge and experience to guide a client through difficult business decisions. Nothing about how I as a business owner or successful professional would benefit by handing over my financial information and a wad of cash to you. Will it make my life easier? Will you help me achieve my life and business goals? Will you be available to answer questions about my books and my business? Can you help me make my business more profitable and save tax at the same time? The benefits of a firm are why a prospect might choose you over all the competition.

For us accountants, a feature-filled description is comforting, and we can clearly see the benefits of choosing a firm with lots of credentialed staff, and that having the foundation of working at a Big Four firm can give us a leg up over the competition. And of course, all those benefits are implicit in who we are. That’s just what we do.

Is your website a deal-maker or a deal-breaker?

But try to put yourself in the shoes of a prospect who has no idea what any of these features mean. If they’ve already visited two or three websites in their quest to find a new accountant, their eyes will likely glaze over when they land on yours and see the same language that’s on most accounting firms’ websites. It’s like looking at the facade of a modern high-rise building instead of seeing the warm and inviting spaces within.

Today’s entrepreneurs always check out your website before they commit to you. If they don’t find any real benefit of doing business with you, they may just cross you off their list before they even talk to you. A poorly-done website can be a deal-breaker.

Does your website help visitors find what they need?

A potential client lands on your website because they’re looking for something. Maybe they have a tax question. Maybe they realize they need help with their bookkeeping or that their tax situation is now beyond TurboTax. Maybe they’re unhappy with their current accountant. Whatever they’re seeking, they’re looking for answers. They want to know what’s in it for them to use your services. And they want those answers quick.

You only have a few seconds to grab their attention, so you better put those benefits out there quick. Your website will be more successful as a marketing tool if you emphasize the benefits of working with you rather than just listing the features of your firm.

Features give you the specs of what you’re buying. The benefits are why you buy it. Features appeal to the logical side of your brain. Benefits appeal to the emotional side of your brain, and spell out what those features can do for you. We humans make key decisions based on emotion, then seek out logical reasons to justify those decisions.The features of an accounting firm include your office location, how many partners and how many staff members are on board. The benefits are what those features can mean to a client.

What are the benefits of an accounting firm? 

Here are some examples of translating features into benefits:

Feature: We’ve been in business for 30 years.

Benefits: We’ve been helping businesses and their owners save taxes and improve their businesses for 30 years, so we can help yours too. Our company has been through many changes, so we know what works to keep a business going. We’ll be here to help you today, tomorrow and for years to come.

Feature: We’re responsive.

Benefits: If you call our office with a question, we’ll get back to you that day. If there’s anything you need, or if you have any concerns, we’ll take care of it right away. We won’t leave you dangling, wondering if we got the message.

Feature: Our Tax Partner, John Smith, is a CGMA.

Benefit: John is a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). People with this designation have specialized knowledge and experience with strategy, management and operations. John can analyze the strengths of your organization to help you with the best business strategy. He understands what it takes to lead a business and can offer you guidance in yours. He can help you streamline the operations of your business so you can take it to the next level.

Feature: We provide bookkeeping services.

Benefit: We’ll take care of your books so you can run your business. We’ll keep you on track so you always know where you stand. With timely, accurate financials, you’ll know how your business is doing.

See how much more inviting it is to hear about the benefits of a firm? Which firm would you choose — the one that just lists all its features, or the one that paints a picture of how those features benefit you?

I’d go with the one that spells out the benefits and explains what they could mean to me. That’s why I still haven’t watched a single episode of “Penny Dreadful.”

If you need help translating the features of your firm into tangible benefits for your clients and prospects, call me at 505-440-3317 or email me at liz@farrcommunications.com. I’ll help you find what makes your firm different from all the others out there. 

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3 Blogging Tips I Learned from Gardening

“In late spring, when your jasmine vine is done blooming, prune it back one-third.” 

I felt like I was destroying this plant that I had coaxed and nurtured from a single cutting. It was lanky, with long leafless vines that produced only a few flowers in early spring. But after the drastic pruning, new growth sprang out and grew all summer. Next spring, I was wowed by the results – instead of a few blooms, a profusion of fragrant white blooms exploded. Now I eagerly wait for the last flowers to drop so I can hack off another third of the plant.

This same principle applies to businesses. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he slashed the product line drastically, and the once-struggling company became the one that produced the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and the iWatch. According to Steve McKee’s book When Growth Stalls, one reason the growth of many companies plateaus or plummets is lack of focus. Narrowing a company’s focus to a small profitable niche can overcome market forces and keep a company growing.

This same principal applies to your blog. Too many ideas and too many words can dilute the one message your readers will grasp from this piece. They’ll be confused, or they may not even finish reading your post.

Here are some ideas to help you keep the unruly vine of your great ideas in check and flourishing:

  1. Choose one idea as the focus of each blog. Before you start to write, pick just one concept to write about. You may have to break that one idea into several pieces if you find your writing branching in too many directions. This can give you several blog posts instead of just one.
  2. Keep it simple. Keep your sentences short and use simple words. Word has built-in review tools that will give you readability statistics, including the grade level. You may need to turn these on under Options. Paying attention to these stats will make your writing easier to understand. Here’s an article that demonstrates that simple writing doesn’t mean the ideas are simple – just easier to read.
  3. Keep your posts short. Your object is not to teach your readers everything you know, but to educate them enough to let them see your expertise. To alert them to issues they may not be aware of. To encourage them to call your office for advice, which is the main reason an accounting firm should have a blog.

Following these ideas will help your blog grow its followers and produce the intended fruit of more and better clients.

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6 Reasons Why Every Accounting Firm Needs a Blog

We CPAs and accountants are in the relationship business. Yes, we have technical skills and knowledge that tells us which line on a tax return or financial statement a number should go on. And we know how to fight the IRS and state tax authorities (and win!). And we do our job well. But what keeps a client coming back year after year isn’t the typeface we use, or the binding on a set of financials, or the folder we put the client copy of a tax return in.

Today’s changes in technology make it easy for businesses to do for themselves what used to be our bread and butter. The plethora of accounting software packages from QuickBooks to Xero to FreshBooks makes it easy for many small businesses to keep their own books. And there are so many free or low-cost tax preparation options that many people now have the confidence to do their own taxes for significantly less than our fees.

So what do your clients still need you for? Why do so many of your clients who could do their own tax returns keep coming back and paying your fees?

It’s the relationship.

It’s the trust you’ve built up over time, the intimate knowledge you have of their financial and business lives. The relationship a client has with their CPA has always been among the most trusted of relationships. You know details about their lives and their finances they don’t share with anyone else.

And how do you keep that relationship going?

You can do it the traditional way by meeting with them once a year to collect their tax information. And maybe take them to lunch a few times. Invite them to a community event you have tickets for. Or play a round of golf.

But let’s face it – you don’t always have time for the extras beyond the once a year tax meeting. And neither do today’s energetic young entrepreneurs. And what about those clients who’ve moved out of the state or country, but still send you their tax documents every year? How do you stay on top of their radar? How do you keep the low-cost alternatives from poaching your clients? How do you let them know you’re still the best choice for them? How do you keep them informed about tax strategies they should implement?

A blog can do all that, and more.

  1. Help prospects find you online

A blog is a powerful marketing tool. Not just for your current clients, to keep them coming back, but for the new clients you don’t even know about. Adding fresh information to a website enhances its profile in search engines. It gets the word out to a broader market than you can reach from membership in community organizations.

  1. Share ideas and information

You can share new and timely information with clients (and prospects).  You can share tax strategies or business ideas on a regular basis. If your clients are unaware of the latest changes of the IRS or the latest FASB pronouncements, they won’t be able to take advantage of them.

Today’s entrepreneurs have grown up with the internet. They’re used to getting loads of free information, and they use that to decide on a course of action. If the most useful free information comes from your website, who do you think they’ll call when they need help?

You can demonstrate your expertise and knowledge of specialized areas. From developing a reputation as an expert, it’s a short leap to becoming a trusted advisor to that client.

  1. Stand out from the competition

A blog will also make you and your website stand out among the competition. Very few accountants go to the trouble of keeping up a regular blog. Those that do will write different things. Your blog is a way to show what the leaders of your firm think.

A blog gives you the opportunity to show your personality, to show that you’re not just dull bean counters. That you care about more than just the tax return or financials. Without a strong relationship, your clients may jump ship when a cheaper alternative comes along. And the personality of your firm can also be a powerful tool for turning prospects into clients. This can help you eliminate the prospects who aren’t a good fit, and attract the ones who will thrive in a partnership with you.

  1. Let clients know what else you can do for them

A great blog informs your clients about the other services your firm provides. Yes, that information is in your website. But how many of your clients visit your website on a regular basis? How will they find out that in addition to tax work, you also do business valuations? Or that you perform audits? Or that you can help them set up their accounting system? Do you want a client to go elsewhere to get those simply because they didn’t know your firm also provides those services?

  1. Spread your name far and wide

A blog can also be repurposed and have a life beyond your website. It can be used in your newsletter. You can share it in social media. You can repackage a series of blog posts as a special report available on your website as a lead-generation tool. Or as a book for sale on Amazon.com.

  1. Get clients and prospects to call you

Most important of all, a blog gives your clients and prospects a reason to call your office. Who has the time to call every client every time the IRS does something?  And even if you do, the timing might not be right. But if your blog draws clients and prospects back to your website, they might find that blog post from six months ago that speaks to their needs now. And they’ll call your office, thanking you for putting that information out there.

The power of the written word

A regular blog announces to the world that you’re willing to share your expertise and that you have something to say. This is one of the simplest and least expensive of tools that an accounting firm can put in its marketing arsenal. A way to show your firm’s unique personality and a way to stay in front of your clients. It requires patience to reap the results, and persistence to keep it going. But with so few of your competitors putting out regular blog posts, it’s sure to get your firm attention as a knowledgeable expert.

OK, now you agree that a blog is vital. But accountants aren’t generally known for their writing skills. No one in your firm can write. No one has time to sit down once a week or once a month to write a post, and especially not during busy season.  How can you possibly implement this?

Did you know that blog posts and newsletters can be ghostwritten by an outside copywriter? I’m a CPA and a copywriter, and I can do the writing for you. Your name shows up as the byline, but your contribution is a 15-minute phone call to me to discuss the topic, and a simple review before it gets published. Who doesn’t have 15 minutes once a week or month?  Email me at liz@farrcommunications.com so we can get started today!

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Missing the Mark in your Marketing

A few weeks ago, my neighbor Frank, who had been in poor health for years, passed away. In the last hours on the last day of his estate sale, my husband and I walked up the street to see what was still there. It would have been a bonanza for someone with an eBay business selling collectibles: whole rooms filled with ceramic Hummel figurines, elegant Japanese geisha dolls in glass cases, stacks of hand-painted porcelain plates with portraits of every dog breed imaginable, rows and rows of tiny ceramic dogs and cats. Bookcases in every room were filled with an eclectic mix of hard-back books from the 1950s.

And since it was the last day, everything was 50% off.

Yet the truly valuable items remained unsold. A dealer of collectibles could have made a fortune re-selling those figurines and painted plates and dolls. And my neighbor’s estate would have also profited.

What went wrong? Surely it wasn’t that no one knew of the sale. For days, our quiet street had been lined with cars of strangers eager to find treasures. And most of the furniture, kitchenware and tools were gone by the time we arrived.

The problem was that the advertising for the sale hadn’t reached the right audience. There was no strategy behind their tactics.

The tactics were limited to posting hand-drawn signs on hot pink poster board pointing the way from the main street of this small rural town. A brilliant strategy would have alerted antique dealers and eBay resellers across the state. All those goodies would have been swept away on the first day of the sale.

Without strategy behind the tactics, advertising is just a shot gun approach, and can be a complete waste of money.

Putting out print ads blindly with little consideration of who exactly you want to communicate with is the same as posting those pink signs on street corners and hoping the right people will stumble across them. Thinking about who your best customers are and putting signs where they will see them is strategy. Growing by accepting every client who comes in the door is a tactic. Growing by accepting only the clients you want to work with and that you can serve best is a strategy.

Here are five steps to make sure your marketing has strategy and isn’t just tactics.

  1. Take time as a firm to define your ideal client. Do you have special expertise in a particular industry? Does it seem like you have an awful lot of attorneys or veterinarians or restaurants in your practice? And are those the kinds of clients you enjoy working with? How do you want to grow your business? It’s a worthwhile exercise to consider the strengths of your firm and what makes you different from the other accounting firms out there.
  2. Assess the skills and knowledge you have now, and fill in the gaps. Do you have the expertise to offer those clients additional value beyond tax returns and financial statements? Do you read the trade journals of their industry? Do you have tools that give you industry benchmarks to compare to your clients’ performance? You may need to invest time and money to learn what you need to know.
  3. Craft a message that speaks to your ideal client. Too many accounting firms put out bland, impersonal messages that sound the same. What are the special concerns of your clients’ industries? What keeps those business owners up at night? How can you help your clients beyond the tax return and the financials? What are the benefits of working with you as opposed to the firm across town?
  4. Get your message out where your target audience will see it. Does your firm specialize in attorneys? Do you have an ad in the magazine for your state bar association? Are you experts in real estate? Have you offered to speak at local chapter meetings for the Commercial Real Estate Development Association? Have you considered partnering with an attorney or financial planner serving the same client base and offering a class on tax or financial planning? Do you have an ad in the trade magazines your veterinarian clients read? You may be able to trade articles in magazines for free advertising.
  5. Measure and track your results, and adjust accordingly. Whenever you get a new client, ask them how they heard of your firm, and track the responses. If a particular marketing campaign is getting great results, see if you can make it even better. Ditch those methods that don’t do anything, or tweak them and see how that change affects results.

Putting strategy behind your marketing tactics is the most important thing you can do to grow your firm. Without strategy, you might as well be waving signs on street corners, like many of the low-cost tax preparation offices do during tax season. Strategy in your marketing will ensure that you’ll find clients who value your expertise and are willing to pay top dollar for that expertise.

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