Monthly Archives: September 2016
In today’s online world, 85% of consumers say that they read online reviews about local businesses as part of their decision making process. Whether this is looking online for a movie, restaurant, contractor or hiring an accountant, we all use online reviews to lower our risk of a bad experience.
There are review websites that rate contractors, employers, products, doctors, and all kinds of professional services. These online review websites make the world more transparent for buyers and shoppers of all kinds. Eventually, it will be very hard to hide underneath the online review radar screen.
Focus Your Efforts
Because obtaining reviews takes a concerted effort, we recommend that you focus your efforts on the review websites that will give you the highest return. Typically, this means trying to obtain reviews from your clients in Google, Yelp, and Intuit Find-a-ProAdvisor. We would recommend skipping things like Angie’s List, Judy’s Book, and smaller review websites. For our industry, they just don’t have enough market share to support the effort.
What Is Taboo
The review websites take reviews to heart and go the extra mile to protect their brand. For example, Yelp actually reviews nearly all of your reviews and looks for patterns to filter out fake reviews. Google looks at your IP address to see if the review is the same IP address as the business and filters this out. Here are some of the things that are taboo in this new online review world:
- Placing testimonials on my website – In today’s jaded world, most website prospects will tend to ignore your carefully crafted testimonials on your website. That’s because most realize that you ignore the negative reviews, only show the positive reviews, and probably wrote the review for your client. Quite frankly, negative reviews often are very enlightening and helps the buyer more than you realize. For example, Amazon has made this into a major selling point for their online reviews (e.g., best/worst review).
- Asking clients for reviews – Yelp has a policy of discouraging businesses from asking clients to post happy reviews. One way that they spot this is if your accounting firm has 0 reviews for years and then all of a sudden, gets a few in one day. To avoid getting filtered out, space out your reviews over time so they appear more organic. However, it is fine to make customers aware that you encourage their feedback and online reviews. Yes, this is a subtle difference.
- Fake reviews – This is a major no no and has consequences. In 2013, Samsung was fined over $340,000 for building fake reviews. In NYC, there was a major sting operation called Operation Clean Turf and fines totaling over $350,000 were dished out to 19 companies for fake Yelp reviews.
Process We Recommend
The process for Google, Yelp and Intuit are very different. Below is my recommendation on how you can proceed down this path and develop a 5 star reputation online. I will assume that your back office is worthy of 5 star reviews and seldom has complaints.
- Local Listings – To obtain reviews, you must “claim” your business in Google and Yelp.
- Google – To obtain reviews in Google, the person posting the review must have a Google account of some kind (e.g., Gmail, Google+, etc.) to authenticate who they are. While a pain, we all have to play by Google’s rules given their market share. Their intentions are valid because they want to validate your identity before posting your online review on their review service.
- Yelp – Given the filtering process that Yelp has created to weed out suspicious reviews, we recommend posting a few reviews of your favorite restaurants. After posting 3-4 online reviews, then you should post online reviews for business clients that you genuinely support and recommend. Pace this out gradually at say 3-4 per day. Start with business clients that will appreciate this the most like restaurants, retail outlets, fitness trainers, subcontractors, etc. In other words, pay your clients a compliment forward by scratching their back before asking them to reciprocate for your accounting practice.
- Intuit Find-a-ProAdvisor – If you want more QB clients, then create a profile within Intuit’s Find-a-ProAdvisor website fully and support the profile by obtaining QB Certifications. Then, create a list of satisfied QB clients. These reviews will be the easiest to get posted.
Having a solid online reputation generates leads, increases your conversion rate on prospects, and creates word-of-mouth advertising benefits that benefit your practice in ways you never anticipated.
Generally, 98% of visitors to your website never take that next step. In other words, they read a couple pages on your website, may like what they see, but don’t call or register on your website. If you think about your own behavior, this probably makes sense to you as a prospective buyer. In other words, you like to browse online for tons of information and prefer to shop online incognito.
As a business owner, what proactive steps should you take to increase the number of inquiries and target your advertising to people who are actively shopping for accounting and tax services? Have you considered behavioral retargeting?
Behavioral retargeting (aka – remarketing or retargeting) is a form of online advertising targeted to consumers based on their previous internet shopping behavior. In other words, suppose you were shopping online for an SUV and noticed that you were all of a sudden seeing lots on ads for SUVs. In fact, the ads were for Jeep and Ford Expedition, all of which you were seriously considering. Is this a coincidence that you were seeing tons of online advertising after visiting the Jeep and Ford Expedition websites? No, this would be an example of behavioral retargeting where these brands have placed a cookie onto your browser after you visited their website, and they are now targeting ads based on your potential interest. This is behavioral retargeting, at its best.
Another example might be Salesforce contact management. You may have visited their website to better manage your marketing and realize Salesforce is advertising everywhere you visit online. This is retargeting and they are trying to raise your awareness of their brand, seeking to influence your perception of them, and encourage you to return to their website.
Amazon uses retargeting as well. It’s very cost effective.
Basically, retargeting is serving ads to people after they left an advertiser’s website. Retargeting pinpoints advertising to prospects soon after they visit a website and is very effective. Retargeting helps companies advertise to visitors who leave without making a purchase – which is approximately 98% of all website traffic.
How We Do It
Build Your Firm is combining the power of pay per click advertising (aka – PPC) from Google Adwords in conjunction with organic search engine optimization to drive prospects to your website. After these prospects visit your website and browse elsewhere on the internet, they will soon see online ads for your accounting firm, in an effort to raise the brand awareness of your firm and seek to motivate them back to your website so you ultimately obtain a lead. Within the accounting space, Build Your Firm (BYF) is the only marketing firm providing this combined service to maximize your lead generation.
The availability of BYF’s combined service of pay per click campaign management along with retargeting advertising is limited on a market by market basis. Call Nita Sabo x156 to see if your market is available and the projected costs.
Build Your Firm is a certified Google Adwords Premier Small Business Partner and has been providing pay per click advertising services since 2005.
Here is one example where a accountant has effectively used an free book offer and a free consultation to generate leads galore. Yes, the website is optimized in the search engines and is easy to locate but what makes the difference is that this website speaks to the website visitor so quickly. It’s simple, to the point, and extremely effective.
If you truly want more leads from the internet from small business owners, consider the free book offer approach that will motivate small business owners to give up their contact information and meet with you 1-on-1. This approach is a classic direct marketing technique that dates back to the old record clubs (Columbia House, CBS, etc.) and Time Life Books. Yes, I am dating myself just a little bit but many of you know the reference.
This particular example is a CPA Firm in Baltimore that is using a paperback book focused on marketing tips.
Consider the free book offer if you want to get in front of more prospective clients. Yes, it takes work to write the book or get one that has been ghost written, get it printed, and fulfill it but if you understand our industry model, it works in the long run.
About ten years ago, you would win the website marketing race by having a well designed generalist website. Heck, it worked well and the return on investment (ROI) was a no brainer.
As more accountants eventually caught on five years ago, it became more challenging to stay ahead of the curve and still get more than your fair share of website leads. That’s when the general public became aware of search engine optimization and pay per click advertising. The ROI was still very attractive but you had to spend more to acquire the same number of leads.
Today, it is harder and harder for a single, generalist website to be placed towards the top of the search engine results pages for all of the services provided in your practice. And if you operate in multiple geographic markets, it is even harder to be towards the top because your message to the search engines is more complex and watered down.
As more accounting firms have integrated blogs, social media, pay per click advertising, retargeting advertising and reputation management, it becomes more competitive to dominate the online lead generation game.
While there is no single solution, many savvy accounting firms have deployed a multiple website strategy to obtain dominate search engine placement for a limited set of keywords. Essentially, search engines scan your website and look for patterns which identify what you do, where you are located, and compare your website against a set of criteria within their algorithm. The more you do to support the website using their best practices and the more consistent your message, the higher placement you will receive within Google, Bing and Yahoo which translates to more leads.
Secondarily, the multiple website approach enables you to tailor your message to the prospect to create that aha moment for the prospect. In other words, some small business owners are searching by location and others are searching for a type of accountant (e.g., bookkeeper, enrolled agent, CPA Firm) and others are looking for a specialist (e.g., restaurant accountant, non-profit accountant, etc.). There is no rule that says you accounting firm can only use one website to deliver your message to the community.
In the example below, we have a sole practitioner CPA Firm in Jacksonville FL that is very small in size. However, to accelerate their lead generation and acquire a disproportionate amount of high quality leads, they are using five (5) websites. The first website is a generalist website trying to target small businesses based on location and leverages two office locations. The second website is a QuickBooks Certified ProAdvisor website and attempts to attract business owners searching for a CPA that works with QuickBooks users and is certified. The next website focuses on church accounting and faith-based organizations. And the last two websites focus on real estate accounting and dental accounting because there is an audience out there looking for a “specialist.”
The business rationale is that websites are relatively inexpensive and the value of each small business client is very high over the lifetime value of that relationship. Net, each website is a profit center and generates an attractive ROI if done properly.
Here is the goal for each website:
- Attract leads from small business owners searching for a CPA Firm in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra and surrounding suburbs.
- Attract leads from small business owners who use QuickBooks and searching for an Intuit QuickBooks Certified ProAdvisor nearby.
- Attract leads from churches in north Florida and south Georgia searching for a church accountant.
- Attract leads from real estate businesses in Jacksonville looking for a real estate accounting specialist.
- Attract leads from dentists in north Florida and south Georgia looking for a dental accounting firm.
If you are serious about website marketing in today’s competitive environment and want more than your fair share of leads, then you should develop a multiple website marketing approach to improve your marketing.
- Lack the Time – Most accountants get sucked into the operational side (back end) of their practice by staff and demanding clients. We all know that the squeaky wheel gets greased. As a result, accountants typically lack the time to aggressively market and generate enough leads.
- Skills – Let’s face it, accountants are technically proficient but not marketing savvy. The road to becoming proficient at accounting and tax has nothing to do with lead generation, reputation management, and branding.
- Desire – And worst, most accountants simply don’t have the desire to peddle their own wares. They enjoy operating in a consultative manner but hate working a crowd.
Why Is Outsourced Marketing growing within the accounting industry?
For most accountants, the market value of your accounting practice is the most important component of your retirement plan. That’s right, the value of your accounting practice on the open market is the linchpin to how prosperous the retirement years will be.
Here are some of the other reasons why more accounting firms are outsourcing their marketing function to companies like Build Your Firm:
- Marketing is not a core function of the firm and not what we excel at.
- It is less expensive to grow with marketing than buying another firm. That’s right, outsourced marketing is approximately 50% cheaper than buying someone else’s practice.
- Outsourced marketing is more sustainable, 365 days out of the year. As a result, the annual new business acquired is higher with a sustained marketing approach than binge marketing for short periods of time.
- Partnering with marketing experts yields better results. By partnering with marketing gurus, my practice will become easier to sell, more profitable and worth a higher multiple. It’s not about doing more of the same thing, it’s about improving our profit margins, hourly realization rates and obtaining a better balanced lifestyle.
If you’d like to learn more about Outsourced Marketing, I recommend that you listen to a educational session that I hosted earlier this year at the Scaling New Heights conference. Yes, it’s long but it will explain why accountants struggle with marketing and then you can hear a panel discussion from three practicing accountants who answer questions from the audience on their experience with outsourced marketing.
To illustrate the effectiveness of outsourced marketing, the three accountants in this video have been outsourcing their marketing for 5-10 years and will continue because it delivers results that are easy to measure and quantify.
All business owners love inbound marketing when it works effectively because it brings motivated prospects to our front door. However, we hate the work required to get the end results. As Americans, we are lazy and want the results without all of the hard work.
The fact is that prospects for your accounting services search online for solutions to their problems. To become the firm (or person) best suited to solve their complex issues, you need to create a presence on the internet which motivates the prospect to call you. In other words, all roads direct them back to your firm, or you.
Blogging first started in the late 1990s as a unique way for people to share ideas, experiences, thoughts and opinions. Today, everyone from mom-and-pop businesses to Fortune 500 companies utilize blogs to increase their visibility online, improve their reputation, develop a following, and generate new business.
Here are the reasons why having a blog integrated into your website is imperative.
- “Google says” – Google has a voracious appetite for fresh content. They reward websites and individuals for providing unique content by elevating your website in the search engine results pages. They especially like blogs because the content is easier to index and is date stamped so they know how fresh or old it is.
- Showcase your unique talents – A blog is a wonderful platform to demonstrate your knowledge base for a boutique type of service and create a following. Rather than blog about general accounting and tax related topics, which are too broad, we recommend that you narrow the range by developing a niche within your accounting practice, have a niche website developed around that niche service, and then add a blog within the niche website. By narrowing the range of topics and constraining the subject matter, you can now laser focus on blogging about your expertise.
- Build trust and create a brand identity – Now that you have a niche website along with a themed blog to support it, the stage has been set to create an identity and establish trust. The next challenge is to write 3-4 blog posts per month which help your followers and demonstrate the depth of your expertise. If you do this successfully, you will eventually create an identity as a subject matter expert who prospects reach out to when they need help.
While it’s hard to believe, accountants struggle to get paid promptly. That’s right, most accounting firms are downright terrible at implementing a payment processing system to get paid quickly and minimize their uncollectible write offs. Even worse, they dread calling slow paying clients for fear that it will end the engagement, which perpetuates the problem.
If this describes your practice, then here is a process for reducing your write offs by 99% and dramatically improving your cash flow.
- Invoice clients electronically. If you are still mailing out physical invoices to your customers, you are delaying the payment process. Instead, you need to email out invoices and encourage electronic payment processing to speed up payments. In fact, many customers prefer to pay electronically.
- Send out invoices right away. Rather than wait until the end of the month, invoice clients immediately upon completing their work. While this tip seems blatantly obvious, most accountants kick the can down the road and bill at the end of the month. Billing at the end of the month for work completed the first couple of weeks within a month makes no sense. Instead, operate like most businesses and present a bill when the work is completed.
- Integrated electronic payment system. Rather than wait for bills to arrive in the mail, savvy accountants are using an online payment system which accepts electronic payments by eCheck (ACH), credit cards and debit cards. Three forms of electronic payment integrated into one system for maximum convenience. BizPayO was designed to accept multiple forms of electronic payments so waiting for checks to arrive in the mail ceased.
- Distribute hyperlinks everywhere. To make it easier for your clients to pay you electronically at all times, BizPayO provides a secure hyperlink program so you can integrate electronic payment processing into your website, imbed hyperlinks into your invoices, and even in your email signature thus eliminating the check is in the mail routine.
- Accept mobile payments. You electronic payment processing system needs to be mobile friendly these days. And, you should consider accepting mobile payments on your cell phone. It’s so easy today to become “mobile friendly.”
- Integrate online payment processing into your new client process. Going forward, all new business clients for your accounting practice need to sign a client engagement letter AND authorization to debit their account (e.g., ACH or credit card) for payment. Whether the client’s bill changes each month or is the same fixed fee, you need authorization to capture payment. This provides you with the ability to control getting paid immediately after your work is completed. The reality is that the general public trusts accountants so asking them to sign a document stating that they authorize you to pay yourself is no big deal to most small businesses.
- Existing clients that fall behind. If one of your existing business clients falls 60 days behind, then it’s time to contact them directly, provide a reasonable installment payment, and demand that they sign your authorization to debit their account to prevent this from happening in the future. If they don’t have the cash, then credit card payment is the fallback alternative.
- Coax clients to pay by ACH (eCheck) over credit cards. As the trusted advisor for your clients, you should advocate that clients pay by ACH. The BizPayO electronic payment processing system reinforces this message by providing you with an Upcharge feature on credit card payments, thus encouraging clients to pay by ACH.
This 8 Step Program will reduce your uncollectible write offs by 99%. The biggest challenge is your own aversion to change. That’s right, your own fear is the biggest obstacle.
Here are some quotes from accountants who have used this process to take control over getting paid faster.
“BizPayO’s convenient link creation tool speeds up payment and provides us with control over getting paid. Our goal is to get 90% of our clients onto this system to improve our cash flow even further. The days of waiting for checks to arrive in the mail are thankfully over.”
“I have integrated BizPayO into my billing system to provide one holistic solution, rather than two merchants. Using one merchant for credit cards and another for ACH was inefficient. BizPayO’s hyperlink tool enables clients to pay rapidly without me taking a phone call for payment.”
“All new business clients must sign our engagement letter plus the authorization for ACH processing to become a client of ours. That provides us with the control to get paid a few days after invoices are generated. As a result, our Accounts Receivable is $0 and we never have write offs for bad debt any more. It’s how we operate a modern, tech savvy accounting practice and have total control over getting paid rapidly.”
- No monthly service fees (used to be $29/month)
- Credit card fees are 2.99% and most accounts will use the upcharge feature to recapture 100% of their credit/debit card payments
- ACH fee is 0.89%. There are no transaction fees. Most companies tack on $.25 to $.50 per transaction.
- No PCI or equipment costs.
- Accepts one time and recurring payments.
- Sign up process takes less than two minutes.
Occasionally, accountants are willing to take their marketing efforts on the road for a trade show to fish where the fish are. In today’s case, Mark Feinsot, CPA went on the road to a trade show for private aircraft owners, plane manufacturers, and various aviation professionals. Mark’s practice has an expertise for Aviation Accounting and Tax helping private airplane owners, aircraft management companies, pilots, flight crews and aviation professionals throughout the United States.
Earlier today, I visited the NBAA Regional Show in Westchester NY to witness the one day show myself. Personally, I don’t know the difference between a Bombardier, Falcon, Gulfstream or Cessna but Mark sure does. Heck, he used to be a chief pilot for a general aviation company and still teaches future pilots how to fly.
Today’s show was unique in that it was held at an airport in the middle of the airport, not a convention center. Parking was valet only (mandatory). Yes, there was continuing education sessions like most trade shows but this was truly unique.
Mark was like a kid in a candy store answering tax questions and meeting aircraft owners and pilots.
The point is that there are many ways to reach your niche audience but occasionally, it requires getting out of the office.