McKinnon Patten is a Dallas Texas based CPA firm that has been operating for over 40 years. Like many established CPA Firms, they operated by word of mouth and old fashioned hard work until a newer practitioner, Mark Patten, joined them last year.
Mark’s background prior to joining the McKinnon team is impressive ranging from a Duke MBA, ten years at Ernst & Young, Global Audit Director and CFO at Morgan Stanley, and Managing Director at Stout Risius Ross for business valuations and forensic accounting.
To turn up the volume on new client acquisition at McKinnon Patten, here is path that Mark is on.
- Responsive Web Design – McKinnon Patten currently has three websites to market their practice across the Dallas metroplex and each website is carefully constructed in a responsive web design to gradually get to the top of Google, Bing and Yahoo.
- Rich Content – The content on each of the McKinnon Patten websites is well organized and educates prospective clients on the collective firm services in a consultative manner.
- Niche Marketing Using a Multiple Website Strategy – To capitalize on the firm’s core competency, McKinnon Patten has niches in Oil and Gas Accounting, Business Valuations and High Net Worth Accounting. And like most established firms, they are also a generalist with various successful clients in private equity, real estate, and entrepreneurial businesses.
- Search Engine Optimization – Each website is search engine optimized to attract high levels of traffic onto the website page that closely matches what the prospect is searching for.
- Eye Catching Photography and Graphic Design – Each website incorporates photography and visual images that pull the prospect into the page so they are more likely to learn more about McKinnon Patten.
Full Disclosure – McKinnon Patten works with Build Your Firm in the Outsourced Marketing Program. Mark first connected with me via LinkedIn in 2012 (prior to joining the firm) and ultimately engaged BYF in 2014. I have no idea what Mark typed into LinkedIn to find my profile but I am sure glad he called me.
In today’s world, we are accessing the internet on wrist watches, mobile phones, tablets, talking to Siri, large screen TVs and traditional desktop computers. Given the variety of devices, Google Bing and Yahoo are advocating that we all jump on board with responsive designed websites. Here’s why you need to scrap your traditionally designed website and switch to responsive web design now.
One Website, Many Devices
Although Google is usually very guarded about their POV, they are now giving preferential treatment to websites that were developed using responsive layouts and actively recommending to webmasters that all new websites should use the industry best practice of responsive web design.
Essentially, Google prefers responsive web design because your website content resides on one URL rather than duplicate URLs (e.g., one for traditional monitors, another for mobile). This makes their job of indexing content much easier.
If you want to remain towards the top of search engine results pages, you need to obtain a responsive website now. Otherwise, your website will slowly drop further down the list and be visited less frequently.
The future of web design is responsive web design. The sooner you jump on board, the better off you will be.
The search engine optimization (SEO) landscape is constantly changing and dynamic. Here are the things that we see changing and the implications for your accounting practice.
- Local Search gets more important and specific – The use of mobile phones and tablets now represents 50% of internet usage and search engines are improving their proximity based searches (e.g., physical distance from searcher to business location). This means the role of maintaining your listings within Google My Business, Yelp, YP.com, and smaller local websites will take on a greater role. Second, the location of your office becomes more important as well because search engines will steer their results to providers closest to the prospects physical location.
- Social Signals become more important – The value of having online reviews in Google, Yelp and other review websites will take on a greater role.
- Voice search will become popular – Voice based search capabilities within smart phone and smart watches will catch on, thus making Local Search critical to this feature.
- Bing and Yahoo gain market share in 2015. Google will lose a little market share as Firefox switches to Yahoo as the default setting and some mobile browsers re-evaluate their options (Safari, etc.).
- Content Oriented Accountants grow faster – As more accountants embrace content marketing to support their inbound marketing efforts, more accountants will become adept at driving prospects from Google+ and LinkedIn to their blog, thus supporting their website placement and creating a local following. Yes, savvy accountants will be forced to embrace blogging to obtain top placement within search engines.
- Responsive websites become imperative – Now that half of the internet usage is from mobile devices, being search engine optimized for mobile devices will become important as well. That means that nearly all websites that have been around for longer than two years will become dated and need to be redone. If your website is not responsive, it will be analogous to having a flip cell phone.
Obtaining more online reviews in Google, Yelp and YP.com right now is important because:
1.) Establishes Your Trustworthiness
2.) Google likes it and will raise your website placement (higher SEO)
3.) Reviews are more positive than what you can say about yourself
If customers take the time to write a review about your firm, then it means you are doing something right. Prospects are searching for firms like yours and want to avoid a bad experience. Help them find you and hire you.
Google has about 75% market share and can refer new business to you. Positive reviews give Google the confidence to recommend prospects to you. Google’s algorithm is trying to refer the best providers in each local area. And while it’s just a computer code, they are looking at the number of online reviews, star rating and how frequent the reviews are. Yes, new reviews in January 2015 matter more than reviews that are six months or older.
Client reviews are more convincing than what you say about yourself. While we all hate to brag, the reality is that your clients are not afraid to brag about how good you are. Let your clients sing your praises. They will if YOU ask….
New reviews matter. People look at the dates of the online reviews so you need to refresh them now we are in 2015. Also, Google looks at dates too…
If you need more meat on the bone, below are a couple more articles on the topic:
While tax season has not started in earnest yet, now is the best time to get more reviews posted online.
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.
For accountants that are willing to blog and showcase their unique talents, we do design and host WordPress blogs.
Back on August 18, 2014, I shared an example of a tax accountant in Northern California in the East Bay area who was doing a great job marketing his practice on Yelp using BYF’s reputation management tool. Here are his results after seven months of proactive reputation management work with Yelp.
- 23 five star reviews in Yelp posted live (23 live, 29 stuck in filter, 52 in total)
- 2 live reviews in Google
Personally, I would like to see a more balanced approach between Yelp and Google, but have to admire the amazing work they’ve done with Yelp. Twenty three reviews in Yelp is incredible and will keep his practice busy in the months ahead.
Here are some tips that Navjeet Chahal shared with me on the phone back in August:
a.) Navjeet has downloaded the Yelp app onto his cell phone so it’s easier to post reviews when he has free time. He writes about 2-4 reviews each week and his badge status has been elevated from Rookie to Pro. Yelp has a badge program designed to encourage Yelpers to compete amongst each other and obtain certain levels of status.
b.) Steady does it – Getting lots of reviews in one week will get more reviews stuck in Yelp’s filter. Approach this process as a marathon, not a sprint. Make it part of your weekly task list. Navjeet writes 2-4 reviews each week from different locations (many are business clients of his accounting firm) and the Yelp app does look at locations he is posting from. Net, post from different locations, not just your accounting office.
c.) Pay It Forward – Writing genuine reviews for your clients is a nice way to signal that you appreciate their patronage. It also indicates that you might be open to reciprocal treatment. While blatant review requesting is frowned upon by Yelp, subtle hints and making the public aware that you accept reviews is fine.
d.) BYF’s reputation management tool makes it easier for your clients to post reviews onto multiple review websites (e.g., Yelp, Google, Intuit, YP.com, etc.) from one landing page.
e.) Clients that are not active Yelpers will most likely be filtered out. However, if they ultimately post reviews gradually over time, some of their reviews will move out of the filter and go live.
g.) Yelp reviews are longer and more in-depth than Google reviews. Google focuses on the number of stars while Yelp wants longer, more in-depth reviews. Use a balanced approach to protect your reputation.
At the end of the day, Yelp appears to be making their best effort identifying passionate reviewers who understand the “community” of Yelp and want to share information to avoid bad experiences. Yelp does make an active effort to reward and recognize active Yelpers with their badge program.
Overall, Navjeet realizes that reputation management is a numbers game and is willing to put in steady efforts to receive the love back in the future. You’ve got nothing to lose by paying it forward with some well written online reviews. Download the Yelp app onto your cell phone and integrate this into your weekly to do list.
As we look ahead to 2015, most of us would like more high quality leads so we can become more selective about the new clients coming in the door and become more adept at screening out marginal clients.
The vetting process is critical to the success of all professional service firms, whether it’s accounting, law, management consulting or architecture. The most successful professional service firms strategically identify what types of clients they want more of, and which types of engagements they want to avoid. After completing this process, the next step is to target the engagements that deliver higher fees.
Below is a multi-partner CPA Firm that is moving down this path using a multiple website strategy. By all means, internet marketing is just one facet of their marketing plans but it’s easy to see how multiple websites can create a compelling message to segmented audiences of prospects while still branding the firm holistically. In each case, the website is designed to create an aha moment for the prospect who feels that their needs are complex while not compromising the brand imagery of the overall firm.
As background, the firm below is an established CPA firm in Miami with three partners. The roots of the firm trace back 65 years.
CPA Accounting Firm – Main website positioning them as a generalist accounting firm serving all types of clients.
Using a four (4) website approach enables Canner Brody and Yan CPAs to change their message and go into much more depth on each of the niche accounting services they provide, thus enabling them to compete with much larger CPA Firms for prospective new clients.
If you’d like to maximize your lead generation from the internet, give Build Your Firm a call. You’d be surprised how impressive we can make your firm appear on the internet.
Many of the accounting firms that we work with have relatively modest growth goals for gross sales and are very concerned about the quality of the work they produce, which is understandable. However, most don’t focus enough on improving the bottom line and look at all clients equally. To us, this makes no sense.
If this rings true at your practice, here are some quick suggestions:
1.) Invest in growing your higher profit margin services now. In many cases, savvy accountants will strategically invest into concentrations (aka niches, areas of specialty) to enhance their overall profit margins. I think of this as margin blending in the right direction. In other words, they will invest their limited marketing investment into niche areas that yield higher hourly realization rates so they can offload lower profit margin sectors (or clients).
Here are some examples of accounting firms proactively investing in niches to improve overall hourly realization rates and average firm profit margins. Keep in mind, each of these firms also have regular clients and a generalist website too.
2.) Cull Out Lower Margin Segments – Rather than “fire” less desirable clients, we suggest that you package them up and sell them. Over the past year, we’ve had several clients package up their payroll clients and sell them off recognizing that the hourly realization was much lower than the niches above. Others have packaged up individual tax clients so they could focus more on higher value clients.
Now is the time to invest a little into your higher value segments so you can cut loose some of the dead wood (lower margin) after tax season. Just saying….
When Peter Freuler took over his father’s Orlando, Florida CPA practice in 2005, it was highly dominated by 1040s, which included filing 700 individual returns and 125 business returns. At that time, his firm’s revenue was approximately $245,000. Today, his firm has more than doubled its revenue and profit margins are much more attractive.
How did Peter change the direction of his business and grow revenue? The first step was to hire Build Your Firm (BYF) for outsourced marketing and lead generation in 2009. The second part was to restructure how work was processed in the practice and third, he culled out a portion of the practice and sold it to another firm, thus freeing up capacity and enabling the firm to focus on higher value clients. Today, Peter outsources all of his marketing to BYF and views them as an extension of his practice.
“We’ve steadily and strategically grown more business- focused,” he said. “We don’t turn down individuals, but we are not trying to be H&R Block, either.” Our mix of revenue is primarily business oriented, which is the opposite of what the practice was in 2005 and my work-life balance has steadily improved.
Focus on Niches
Peter recognized a need to market his firm to attract more clients. He knew that targeting just anyone with the need for CPA services would not work, so he decided to create industry niches to differentiate his practice, attract a certain type of client, and gradually strengthen our firm’s knowledge of that particular industry sector.
“Our original niche in dental and medical accounting started with just one client. This part of our business has stabilized as the healthcare industry has gone through regulation changes and some hospitals are now buying medical practices,” he said.
As a result, the need for another business evolution occurred. Peter decided to augment his medical practice accounting niche with a real estate accounting niche. About 2-3 years ago, the local real estate market started to turn around so we decided to create a niche within the real estate sector amongst commercial property owners, residential property investors, and even non-resident property owners, which there are many in the Orlando area.
“Around 2008, the drop in the property value of vacation real estate dropped in the Orlando area,” said Peter. “Individuals and investors started buying vacation condos as investments and called our practice, asking questions. Pretty soon we were able to answer those questions easily; and our second niche was born!”
Peter’s clients include international investors who have purchased property in Orlando, as well as brokerage firms, property management firms and individuals who purchase the property as an investment.
“Some of our clients receive an easy 15% to 20% yield on rental property investments, but they need help with some of the more complex tax issues they face,” he said. That’s where we now excel.
The Niche Advantage
As Peter can attest, establishing a niche helps accounting firms and other businesses market themselves. The niche differentiates you from the competition, establishes you as a subject matter expert and enables you to reach your target market more easily. Over time, these type of business clients become easier for our entire staff to manage because of repetition.
Yet, creating a niche alone does not necessarily increase your business unless you complement it with marketing that effectively reaches this target audience. In Peter’s case, he uses a combination of print newsletters designed specifically for real estate businesses in conjunction with direct mail letters to generate new leads amongst local businesses. He also has a website designed specifically for real estate businesses that targets local businesses and non-resident property owners who may reside in Europe, South America or throughout the United States. The Orlando area is very unique in that it has many residential property owners who come there periodically for vacations and manage it remotely as a rental property.
About 60% of our new business comes from Internet leads, which more than offsets the cost of maintaining three websites. The nice thing about internet leads is that the prospect has been hunting for a particular accounting firm, is ready to buy, and then takes the time to call us with their specific questions. And often, they are more than willing to work with us remotely, so they are more efficient to service over the old fashioned hand holding client.
“A lot of clients call us because their former CPA could not answer their real estate tax questions, so they start searching and find our website,” said Peter. This puts us into a consultative type situation, which we enjoy, and is very easy to close.
Peter added that CPAs need to understand that achieving measurable results takes time and a continued commitment. “I’ve often been asked about the ROI of my marketing. I tell people it is a long-term investment and I rely on BYF to generate quality leads. Interestingly, I recently got a call from a prospective client who received a direct mail piece from me three years ago!”