Column: From the Trenches
From the October 2011 Issue
Most of us have built our businesses based on relationships. Some have built a reputation around a specific expertise. Others have built a business based on service levels. All of these strategies are still extremely important, but an increasingly important factor in the last 15 years is being found on the web. Many of us are not trying to build a national business, but as new, younger clients look for services, they are often turning online. Potential clients with more specific needs are also using Internet search to find new sources of expertise. What does your business home look like? Is your front door and waiting room inviting? Do you physically visit many businesses today? How many of your supplier’s businesses have you been in? When was the last time you turned to a phone book to find business services?
There are clear factors that make certain web presences stand out more than others: design, readability, ease of navigation, ability to be found by search engines, localization including local search, and the ability to run in different browsers on different devices. Your website should support your business model, and that may well include portal capability, integration of online accounting, news feeds and content that you produce yourself through social media. If you have a relatively static “yellow page” website that merely lists team members and services, you are highly unlikely to attract new business to the firm. That approach is “so” last decade.
Before explaining the options available, consider your website as it stands today. Would you be pleased and honored to have unknown guests visit your site? Does it represent the quality and values of your firm? Is your site understandable? To test this, ask your family members, friends or non-employee associates to evaluate your site with you. Although this is clearly an amateur approach, it will give you an immediate sense about the issues with your site. Consider your goals for the firm’s website. Are these clearly communicated and accomplished? What do you want the website to do for your firm? If your current website is accomplishing everything you want it to, well, excellent for you! If not, you are now ready for a conversation with a website professional.
You can acquire or build websites multiple ways, but there are three methods that dominate. The first is to obtain a site from a provider that has canned content and templates, usually for a small upfront fee and a relatively low recurring monthly expense. Most tax & accounting firms take this approach since it carries the least expense. Examples of this approach include CCH ProSystem fx Site Builder, Thomson Reuters Web Builder CS, AccountantsWorld Website Relief, Build Your Firm, Emochila, CPASiteSolutions, CPAsites, etc.
The second method involves greater risk and expense. This is where expertise is sought out, sometimes locally and sometimes from a national or international resource. These sites are often built based on a local referral, and the thinking is that you can customize the site to meet your needs and to give your firm a unique look and feel. The issue with this method is that when the website programming resource becomes disinterested or unavailable, you may have to rebuild your entire site. Sometimes the programmers of custom sites can commit to other projects and become unavailable for maintenance or updates.
The third method involves a hybrid of the two other approaches, where professional design and marketing is used on a site and content updated inside these wireframes or designs. Sites built with this technique are cleaner with clearer messaging than the template sites using canned content. Examples of these types of sites include the work being done by the RootWorks team or by Network Management Group, Inc.’s WebCare team.