By Susan Clegg, AVN.
Like it or not, we live in a virtual world now. The COVID pandemic has only accelerated a shift that was already happening and put simply, if you don’t move with it, your accountancy practice will be left behind. A strong digital presence is more crucial than ever.
In a recent AVN webinar, Jo Edwards of JE Consulting had this advice for accountants. “For the last few years, professional services firms have started to transition from what we see as traditional business models to more virtual digital ones. And the last year has introduced a new urgency for that. The simple message around that is, what we have to do is gain more attention online. There are lots of tactics that you can employ as a practice to be able to gain attention online, in the same way that you would have been able to gain attention by running events, having face to face meetings, doing lots more networking. This is the new normal, which is about getting seen and found.”
So how do you get your accountancy practice noticed online?
Referrals aren’t enough
And if you have previously relied on referrals for new clients, the bad news is that these are becoming less significant. Studies show that a web search is the number one way for businesses to research solutions to a business challenge, followed by reading an online article or blog post. And even if potential clients have been referred by someone they trust, they will still do an online search. So if you don’t have the kind of content that gives them the confidence that you’ll be able to help them, they’ll go elsewhere. Your online presence simply has to be up to scratch.
What kind of content to create?
When you’re thinking of ideas for content, it’s vital to look at it from the point of view of your target audience. With the average attention span online a mere 8 seconds (according to Microsoft research) you have to provide something of value or they will very quickly go elsewhere.
Jo Edwards again. “Make sure that what you’re producing is benefits driven and not just features driven. Educate rather than sell, focus on pushing insights, not just pushing for a sale, and communicate your expertise. In all of this digital footprint it’s the most helpful content that will always win.”
One of Jo’s top tips is to use existing research as your content. But where do you get relevant research from? “There’s lots out there at the moment,” Jo says, “Produced by professional bodies like the ICAEW, ACCA, lots of business organizations. By way of example, one of the research studies we picked up on recently, was put out from a think tank that was talking about wealth tax. So with the Chancellor’s statement about the Coronavirus debts having to be paid back through wealth tax, they did a big study into what if scenarios around CGT, what if scenarios around IHT and we piggybacked on that. We were able to use that research to create lots and lots of content.”
As an accountant, you have knowledge and skills that are incredibly valuable for business owners – you just have to communicate that knowledge in way they will understand. The topics that you might think aren’t ‘sexy’ enough for a video are often exactly what business owners want to know. ‘How to…’ is the most searched phrase on google and YouTube so think about the ‘how to’ questions your clients ask you and create content around those.
An accountant who does this really well
Hampshire accountant Dan Heelan is a great example of doing this brilliantly. His videos regularly attract thousands of viewers – How Does Self Employment Tax Work has been watched 10,000 times and How To Start A Limited Company has a staggering 14,000 views!
His advice is to keep it simple. “Write or speak like the person has no clue what you are talking about. Like explaining how to make a cup of tea to an alien that’s never seen a kettle or heard any of the terms. Write creatively and with good openers. No one will read a post that starts ‘Here are the latest tax allowances for 2020/21’, but they may read ‘More money in your pocket from April!’.”
And he adds: “There are some wildly successful accountants on various platforms in terms of follower numbers that post mostly antagonistic opinion posts as a way to gain reach. This drives engagement (which then gets you more eyes on your post and more followers), but personally I don’t think that converts the type of people we personally like to do business with, so I guess it’s about presenting your brand and attracting your ‘tribe’.”
Update your website
Your website is the flagship of your digital presence. It’s where you ultimately want people to go, even if they find you first through a different channel. So make sure it does what you need it to do i.e. communicate what your firm is about in a way that connects with the kind of clients you want. Make it easy to find your contact details. And avoid too much or too little content; focus on the services you really want to be known for.
Claim your business listing
And make sure you set up a Google My Business listing (and do the same on Bing). This means you’ll show up in local search results and also on maps, so for people who are looking for an accountant in a particular area it’s a very effective – and free – way of being found. The more information you include in your listing (photos and videos as well as contact details) the more Google will like you! It’s easy to manage your listing and the analytics are very helpful in tracking the number of clicks and calls you receive.
Setting up a business listing also means that clients can leave reviews for you. The role of online reviews is growing and even if they don’t seem relevant to your practice now, they’re likely to be in future. So keep an eye on any reviews (through the analytics) and respond to them all. This is particularly important if you get a negative review. As with any complaint, ignoring it won’t make it go away. So engage with the reviewer, address the issue and do what you can to resolve it. Negative reviews can be very harmful, but if you handle them well, you can turn that around. Just remember that you’re responding to the review in public.
Which format to use?
The easiest format is probably a blog on your website (which you can also post or link to on LinkedIn). A good library of blogs demonstrates your expertise and really helps potential clients to find you.
To make sure your blog is effective, as well as choosing the right content, keep these points in mind :
- Don’t use jargon or obscure words – as Dan said above, keep it simple and easy to understand.
- Use an active voice, not passive. For example, ‘the form needs to be completed’ is passive; ‘you need to complete the form’ is active. It’s much easier for readers to grasp the meaning when you write in an active voice.
- Use subheadings so it’s easy to skim read.
- Keep your sentences short – remember that 8 second attention span!
But don’t stop at a blog.
Jo Edwards suggesting maximising your content by adapting it to different formats. “A lot of firms struggle with trying to find good relevant to content put out there. And one thing that we found gets lots of traction is when you’re able to piggyback off of a piece of research. And just to show you that, imagine you’ve got a piece of research about a particular topic, and you’re able to produce social media content around that. E-shots, webinars, blogs, maybe a guide from that, a video, etc. Maybe even do some digital advertising on the back of that.”
Leveraging your content like this stretches your digital footprint very efficiently.
A note of caution about videos though. Dan Heelan says, “If you are good on video, do video; otherwise don’t – it’s just awkward. Do blogs or audio instead.”
You can of course, create a video without you in it. Animated videos can be effective and there are plenty of video makers online (on Fiverr for example) who will do this for you for very little outlay.
There’s no end of advice out there on promoting your practice online. And as algorithms evolve and technology changes, there will always be something new on the horizon. But the fundamental principles remain the same.
A few final words from Dan Heelan
“No one cares about your follower numbers, milestones etc – they like practical info that’s helpful, or feel good/motivational. People do like to see personality though, and sometimes personal stuff (like I had a popular post around my weight loss journey). I tend to look at the really successful (not the ‘middle’ pack) and they just bring great value, or cause people to feel something good.
I found once I concentrated on bringing value and talking less about me/us (thinking ‘how does this help / make someone feel) we had more success. It’s an ever evolving challenge…….
Oh, and most importantly. Consistency and time. It HAS to be a long term, organised game plan. It has to be part of what your business does.”
If you’re an AVN member, you have dozens of resources available to help you with all the topics discussed above. Take a look in System Builder or ask your Practice Growth Expert for help.
If you aren’t an AVN member, talk to us about joining – email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01246 571191. Or why not subscribe to the AVN Know How Hub? It’s packed full of valuable resources with recordings of our popular weekly webinars (including sessions from Jo Edwards and Dan Heelan). Find out more.