From the December 2005 Issue
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Think about that
when you undertake the task of designing a new or improved web site strategy
for your firm. Your web site will continually evolve as your virtual office
of the future, serving as a gateway to new clients, a service center for existing
clients, a recruiting tool for new employees and more. It is highly likely that
you will have more client interaction via your web site rather than through
client visits to your office.
There are some distinct advantages to conducting business through your virtual
office (web site). Clients can come and visit anytime, from wherever they are.
They don’t need an appointment, and they can pick up and drop off documents
and files (electronically). With the current evolution of web conferencing tools,
they can even have face-to-face meetings with you via your web site. One thing
you can be sure of is that your clients will want the option to be able to conduct
more and more types of business with your firm via your web site. Therefore,
you are well advised not to take your web site and its design lightly, anymore
than you would casually design, build and furnish your bricks-and-mortar office.
Therefore, in this magazine’s endless pursuit to help you improve the
quality of your practice, we present this review of web site building tools
and service providers focused on the accountant community.
Continuing with our analogy between your bricks-and-mortar office and your
virtual office, let’s consider the alternative methods available to design
and build your office. At one end of the spectrum, you may want to establish
an office at the lowest possible cost that meets your most basic needs. This
typically means you’re going to lease pre-built space in a multi-tenant
office building that requires limited “build out” and may even be
pre-furnished with office partitions and desks left by the previous tenant.
At the other end of the spectrum, you may view the office as the most important
investment your firm can make, second only to your staff. In this scenario,
you might buy your own real estate, hire an architect to design it to your exact
specifications, construct it and then have an interior decorator design your
“theme” and recommend your furniture selections and wall, window
and floor coverings, etc. The same spectrum of options applies to web site design
and construction. At one end, you can utilize a pre-fabricated web site design
with minimal customization that is relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can hire a web site development firm to
design and build a completely customized web site to your exact specifications.
Each approach has its pros and cons.
The purpose of this review is to focus on the “pre-fabricated”
approach. We are featuring web site builder tools that streamline the site development
process at a fraction of the time, cost and complexity of a completely built-to-order
site. The good news is that the tools we have reviewed are increasingly offering
a greater array of functionality and features that give you the best of both
This review of web site builders courting the accountant community is focused
on the following evaluation criteria:
Design Theme — This refers to the capability to design
a site that is easy-to-navigate, visually pleasing and flexible enough to allow
you to convey the desired image of your firm’s virtual office. This criterion
covers items such as templates, color schemes, navigation tools, etc.
Content — This refers to the breadth and depth of pre-fabricated
content that you can customize or brand for your firm, allowing you to have
a site worth visiting without the burden of having to constantly develop content
from scratch. Examples include electronic newsletters, tax and accounting bulletins,
news releases, etc. Typical tax and financial calculators are included within
this section, as well.
Site Maintenance — This refers to the “under
the hood” work that is inevitable, including web page editing, design
changes, custom links, application integration, hosting services, etc. The better
this functionality, the less dependent you will be on the vendor to make changes
and additions to your site.
Utility Software/Applications — This refers to the
various software applications that the vendor provides for you to integrate
into the web site. These cover a wide range of applications such as e-mail,
online payroll, document/file storage and exchange, practice management applications,
Site Marketing — Building your web site is step one,
but helping potential clients find it (and your firm) is the goal. Many web
site development companies provide assistance with marketing the web sites,
from making it easier for search engines to find your site to inclusion in local
directories. Another common option is paid placement of a listing. This section
also notes how the domain name is managed — is it www.bobsaccounting.com?
Or is it www.bobsaccounting.vendor_name.com? A firm really needs its own domain
Vendor Service & Support — This section focuses
on the vendor’s overall ability to help you design, build and market your
site. This includes consultation on how to use specific features and functions
and getting your web site registered with the search engine services. Some of
the metrics used to assess this aspect include years of service and the subscriber
Pricing/Value — This section covers the cost of the
service relative to the breadth and depth of features and functions provided.
Generally speaking, this typically includes a setup fee, a recurring fee (monthly
or annual) and then a la carte fees for specialized applications, functionality
While this review is intended to help you research and select web site builders
that are compatible with your firm’s objectives, the best way to evaluate
a particular application is to get the names of some of the vendor’s customers,
view those customers’ web sites, and contact them directly to get their
candid assessment of the vendor’s services as well as the behind-the-scenes
functionality provided. Before jumping into the vendor reviews on the following
pages, please note that an overall lower rating doesn’t necessarily mean
that service provider has a poor service offering. The lower ratings are generally
the result of fewer features and functions. For many of our readers, such applications
may be the most suitable solutions.
- AccountantsWorld — Accountants
- AccountantsWorld has built its entire business
model around the concept of accounting firm web sites serving as the foundation
of online client services and collaboration.
- CCH Tax & Accounting —
ProSystem fx Site Builder
- CCH Tax and Accounting’s ProSystem fx
Site Builder initially entered the market in 1997 as Execusite. It was
subsequently acquired by CCH in December 2001 and rebranded under its
current name a few months later.
- CPASiteSolutions — CompleteWebSuite
- CPASiteSolutions was introduced in 1999 and is
currently on version 12 of its CompleteWebSuite. Enhancements are made
on a monthly basis with the most recent enhancements at the time of this
review including new editable monthly e-mailed newsletters and new e-mail
marketing system improvements.
- Drake Software — 1040.com
- Drake Software provides its 1040.com Preparer Websites
to users of it tax preparation software. The web site building service
was introduced in 2000 and is currently on version 3. The previous version
added full modification of layout, look, feel, color scheme, ease of use
and edit capabilities.
- Drake Technologies, Inc. —
- Drake Technologies, Inc. offers custom design web
site building services to accounting firms. These web sites are built
from scratch using the firm’s own graphics as well as local news,
attractions and events. The company’s CPA Sites.com service was
introduced in 1997.
- E. Mochila — Websites
for Accounting Professionals
- E. Mochila, Inc. offers its web site building services
under the name of Websites for Accounting Professionals. The service was
introduced in February 2004, and is currently in its fourth version.
- Gear Up Tax Seminars —
Accountant-City & Tax Beacon
- Accountant-City originated in 1999, providing basic
business card-style web sites to accounting professionals. The newest
version of the service, version 3.0, was released in 2003, with much more
content and customization capability.
- Tax-Aid, Inc. — Accounting
And Financial Site Builder (AFSB)
- Tax-Aid, Inc. offers a low-cost web site building
service called Accounting and Financial Site Builder (AFSB). The service
was introduced in August 2000 and has offered ongoing enhancements on
a regular basis, such as an image uploader, integrated client e-mailing,
user-optional HTML programming, e-mail forwarding, a setup wizard and
optional digital brochures.
- TaxWise — My Website
- My Website is available free to users of Universal
Tax Systems’ TaxWise tax preparation product.
- Thomson Creative Solutions —
Web Builder CS
- Creative Solutions’s Web Builder CS (formerly
Web Builder Solution) has been on the market since 2000. The company has
enhanced the product over the past several years to include a comprehensive
library of templates with text and graphics to simplify building a firm
- Accountant Website Builders 2005
— Executive Summary
- The main point to take away from this review is that
you should be thoughtful in the design and development of your web site.
It will likely become the primary place where you conduct business.