10 June 2010 By Northern Lights
As a freelance consultant, I’ve had to search the market to find an accountant for myself – and my wife’s start up business.
And I’m still left stunned at how bad accountants are at marketing themselves. And content management on websites is making it even worse.
I started my search for an accountant with the governing body (in this case the ICAEW) to find out who I should be talking to. They had dozens of pages of free listings of their members in Yorkshire, so I started sifting through them. Believe it or not, of about 12 pages of accountancy businesses listed in West Yorkshire, nine or so pages had membership details only and absolutely no information on the business. The businesses concerned simply hadn’t bothered to fill them in. What’s the matter with them? It’s free!
So having figured that I was only interested in accountants that were interested in talking to customers, I then started to pick out those with a website – approximately 50% of the remainder. After a couple of other ‘filters’ my list for the whole of Yorkshire came to 58.
Then I started looking at the websites themselves, and, being a PR person, I wanted to know what the ‘news’ was about my prospective new accountants. So I looked on the news pages. I was STUNNED.
58 accounting companies (well, 57 really as two were branches of the same national company) had bothered to invest time, effort and money in a website. And after thumbing through ‘The Bluffers Guide to Marketing’ they had decided to ‘differentiate’ their website from their competitors by ‘adding value’. And the method that 50% of them chose was to add a ‘News Feed’. Not only that but these feeds were universally buried away in the back of beyond (or at least several tabs back on the website). And not only THAT, but they were almost ALL using exactly the same news feeds from the same news aggregators.
AND THESE ARE PEOPLE YOU AND I GO TO FOR BUSINESS ADVICE?
I can hear them; ‘Oh yes Mr. Webb. You are in a highly creative industry, so I recommend you do exactly the same thing with your website as all your competitors. Innovation is purely there for people who want to take risks and you don’t want to be doing that now, do you?’
Of the remainder, five made no attempt whatsoever to engage in or acknowledge the news agenda. A few made attempts to create value-added commentary and analysis on legislation and regulation. And a very few recognised that they have something to say to the world. They are creating proper, usable news stories and case studies that can be read by clients and also sent out into the world to spread the word about how good they are.
Now maybe I’m a bit critical over such things. I’m a PR person and therefore I’m probably more plugged into news and current affairs than the average person. But I don’t think this is about that. I think this is common sense. After all, if I want news I’d go to the BBC, not to my accountant.
If you’re going to bother with a website and news feeds, do it right. Invest properly or don’t do it at all.
When I was at Coda, we set up a comedy website www.extreme-accounting.com for accountants to take the mick out of themselves. You know what, the online marketing efforts of some of the accountants I’ve looked at over the last few days are an even bigger joke – and for small businesses looking for vital advice and guidance, that’s not funny at all.