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2010 Review Feature of Website Building Tools for Tax & Accounting Firms

Your Firm’s Branding & Marketing Starts with Your Website

From the October 2010 Issue

Those of us in the northern hemisphere are noticing some gradual changes in
the sunrise and sunset times … and in where the shadows are beginning
to shift. If you are not enjoying the changing of seasons, maybe you need to
get out of your office more!

But before you head out the door … or maybe after you get back from enjoying
some time outside … take a few minutes to evaluate your to-do list. You
know, that list of prioritized items where certain entries may have been neglected
or pushed to the bottom, not because they don’t need to be done but because
the Important/Urgent items seem to land in your inbox daily, slowly easing other
tasks down the list. Busy season is just around the corner and will start making
its way to your doorstep at lightning speed once the holidays start. You want
to make sure you invest some time now in those items that may have fallen into
your Important/Not Urgent list. And one of the items that should be somewhere
on that list is: “Update my website!”

Most likely, you’ve had some staff changes (adds, deletes, promotions),
and maybe you’ve changed the focus of your practice. Don’t hide
your light under a bushel basket, as the old saying goes; let the world know
who you are, what you do, and why you are the best at it. This special feature
highlights a number of offerings that specialize in helping tax and accounting
professionals build and maintain a website. As noted throughout this issue,
building your brand is essential to the success of your firm, and one of the
first places your clients and potential clients will look is online. There is
no better time to start building or re-evaluating your firm’s online presence,
and these tools can help. We looked at several factors that you’ll want
to consider as you determine the route to take for building or updating your
website.

WEBSITE DESIGN & SYSTEM TOOLS
A hybrid approach to website development is to have design professionals create
a site, and then make minor modifications yourself using and on-screen editor.
Anyone familiar with document editing will find this to be fairly simple. Web
page editors typically use templates that control the overall look and feel
of all the pages, which is an important component to maintaining a consistent
and professional look and feel. If opting for web hosting and customized design
service, you will likely have a larger gallery of images and templates from
which to choose. You’ll want to look at their reference sites to get a
feel for what is available. Some design and hosting providers will handle all
changes themselves, which may be the best option for those who don’t have
experienced or dedicated staff for website design and maintenance. This level
of service means you can communicate your updates and get back to what you do
best.

TECHNOLOGY FEATURES
With a few exceptions, the design and hosting providers covered here allow or
require a unique domain name for your firm’s website, and can handle all
the technical details of registering new domains or moving your site to their
hosting service. You’ll also want to think about email options and support,
particularly if your firm maintains its own email Exchange server and wants
to continue down that path. For state-of-the-art web features, you may want
to use Flash animations, so check to see if this is supported.

CONTENT
Websites for tax and accounting firms should have several goals. You want to
make it easy for prospective clients to contact you. You want to define your
image and brand, and invite inquiries for new engagements. You want to encourage
visitors to come back for more and even bookmark your site because of the valuable
resources you provide, such as financial calculators, guides, reference material,
tracking tools, etc. Some firms will also want to provide online collaboration
with current clients through portals, allowing for secure transfer and exchange
of documents.

WEBSITE MARKETING
Your website will begin to appear in search engine results not long after going
online, and you’ll want to know where your pages rank. One approach is
to pay the search engines for preferential listing. But you’ll definitely
want to use tools for search engine optimization (SEO), which will help you
manage where your pages rank. Using these tools to effectively tag your pages
will help ensure you move up the search results list based on relevancy and
content. SEO is a specialty field and is probably best left to the people who
work in it every day. You’ll want to carefully evaluate the SEO services
and capabilities to determine the expertise available. And of course, you’ll
want to know what monitoring and tracking options are offered for measuring
traffic and statistics on your site.

CLIENT INTERACTIVE FEATURES
With the right investment in time and tools, you should expect that your website
will be easy for your clients to navigate. If your website does not yet have
client portals for secure file transfer, you’ll want to get this set up
and tested long before busy season, and you’ll want to get your clients
comfortable with the process now. Many of them probably already use online portals.

The bottom line with developing and establishing your online presence is to
make sure your website is up to date, interesting, useful and ranked high in
the search engines. The website building tools featured here are a great place
to start your search. They can help you get a professional website up and running
and updated quickly without compromising on quality. After all, your firm’s
branding and marketing often starts with your website.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AccountantsWorld — Website
Relief
Website Relief by AccountantsWorld is a website
building solution that integrates into the AccountantsWorld Power Practice
suite of web-based applications. The service has been online since 2002
and currently boasts about 2,400 websites for accountants and tax preparers.
Typical sites have about 20 pages, and can consist of a maximum of 40
pages, including a home page, About Us, Partners’ Profile, Services,
Useful Resources & Links, FAQs, Testimonials, and an interactive Contact
Us page. Website Relief has a focus on web marketing for accounting firms
and collaboration with existing clients.
AFSB — Accounting and Financial
Site Builder
Accounting and Financial Site Builder (AFSB) is
a website builder solution provided by the Tenenz family of products for
accounting and tax practitioners. AFSB offers easily customizable website
designs as well as support for self-maintained web pages.
AFSB targets accounting firms that want the ability to create and edit
their own web pages, with a robust WYSIWYG editor for interactive creation
and changes by end users. A good selection of site templates is included
to help end users create an effective website quickly.
Build Your Firm — Website
Development and Internet Marketing
Build Your Firm is a marketing and practice development
consulting firm focused on accounting and tax practitioners. The company’s
website building product can be used on a stand-alone basis, or as part
of a firm’s system for marketing and selling professional services
to new clients. Their Website Development and Internet Marketing product
is used by more than 300 firms, and includes advanced features such as
Flash-enabled pages and integration with the firm’s social media
presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
— CCH Site Builder
CCH and its parent company Wolters Kluwer are well-established
organizations that have provided software, authoritative guides, and content
to accounting and tax professionals worldwide for many years through its
ProSystem fx, TaxWise, and ATX professional software application suites.
CCH offers firms customizable websites using stock or user-submitted content,
and currently hosts more than 4,800 websites for accounting and tax professionals.
ProSystem fx Site Builder provides a good mix of do-it-yourself webpage
creation through an easy-to-use interface, with the option of support
from the vendor’s staff to make a professional and useful website.

CPAsites.com
CPAsites.com is a traditional web design firm specializing
in custom websites to meet the unique needs of accounting firms. Its business
model is to have its professional design staff do all creation and modification
using materials, text and images supplied or licensed by its clients.
While most hosting plans include monthly or quarterly site updates by
CPASites.com, an included website management application makes it possible
for sophisticated firms to modify and maintain their own websites. Typical
sites will have about 10 pages of content unique to the firm, and about
100 pages of stock content provided by CPASites.com, although there is
no set maximum number of pages. The customization provided by the vendor’s
web designer helps the website convey the firm’s individualized
messaging, as well as a look and feel consistent with the firm’s
existing marketing plan.
CPASiteSolutions — CompleteWebSuite
Accounting and tax firms that want to have a professionally
designed website done by experienced and dedicated professionals should
take a close look at CPASiteSolutions. CPASiteSolutions has been serving
accountants since 1999, and currently manages the websites for over 4,000
accounting firms. A typical site will contain almost 300 pages, mostly
consisting of syndicated content provided by CPASiteSolutions. Although
the client firm can make changes using the powerful WYSIWYG editor, in
practice most major design changes are handled by CPASiteSolutions’
professional staff.
Drake Software — 1040.com
Preparer Websites
Drake’s Preparer Websites at 1040.com are
one of the many applications and services included with a subscription
to its value-priced tax compliance software. The complete online presence
is hosted at Drake’s website, 1040.com, or at a custom Internet
address (for a nominal domain registration fee). There is no charge for
this do-it-yourself service, and anyone with some text editing skills
can get up and running in a few hours or less. Existing Drake users can
log on to the Drake support website, select one of the provided templates,
personalize the website with images and information on the firm, and be
online very quickly.
E. Mochila, Inc. — Websites
for Accountants
E. Mochila is dedicated to providing website design
and hosting for accounting and tax preparation firms. It has a professional
and experienced staff to take the basic information and preferences to
create a great looking website. E. Mochila does all of the website setup
and maintenance, and the client firm will get an effective website design
with very strong features at a reasonable cost. E. Mochila has been building
websites for accounting professionals since 2002, and is currently hosting
over 2,250 websites for accountants. Its basic packages include a wide
array of tools; hundreds of pieces of syndicated content; and advanced
collaboration features.
Thomson Reuters — Web Builder
CS
Thomson Reuters offers a suite of software products
and services for tax and accounting professionals, including the Web Builder
CS website building service. Thomson Reuters has offered website building
services designed specifically for tax and accounting professionals for
over 10 years. With more than 2,500 firms currently using Web Builder
CS, Thomson Reuters has a solid presence in the accounting market, offers
a steady flow of new features, and is adding new firm sites at a steady
pace.


See inside October 2010

Branding Your Firm on the Cheap and at Warp Speed: 3 Tips for Creating an Effective Brand

Just reading the few words that make up this story’s headline, branding purists have already made up their minds that I don’t know what I’m talking about. After all, doesn’t branding take months to accomplish through a bevy of paid consultants who want you to spend a lot of money on concept, testing and implementation?

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Are Your Clients Prepared for Increased 1099 Headaches?

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