Now that most tax and accounting professionals -- even the smallest storefront tax preparers -- see the business sense in building a Web site, the next question is usually -- "Who's going to do this for me and how do I choose the best provider?"

Although it may be tempting to go with the low bidder, here are some questions you should ask yourself and prospective providers before deciding where to spend your money.

  1. How easy is the site to use? If you want the freedom to constantly update the site (and any site worth its salt should be frequently updated), this is an important consideration.
  2. Does the provider understand me and my business? Hundreds of companies sell Web site design and hosting for a living, but only a few truly understand service businesses like yours, and fewer still -- the tax and accounting business.
  3. How long have they been in business? Make sure you don't hook up with a fly-by-night operation that might not be in business in a few years, imperiling the vital information, time and effort spent on your Web site.
  4. How good is their service and support? Errors can easily crop up -- especially on frequently updated sites. You need a provider who's quick to respond and make necessary changes. Ask to speak to some of their customers to get a better idea of how they operate.
  5. How much content can they offer you? Most practitioners won't have a lot of time to update material on their sites on more than an occasional basis. It's probably a good idea to hire someone who can provide fresh, compelling content like news and feature articles.
  6. Can they grow with you? You may want a bare bones site today, but next year you'd like to add tools and calculators and maybe some downloadable newsletters, and pictures and bios of your top staffers. Not every provider can offer upgraded services.
  7. Can you count on their technology? If you choose a provider that constantly suffers outages or other technical difficulties, take that into consideration. If visitors can't access your site, it hurts your image, not theirs.

This issue, along with many others involved in using Web sites and e-mail to build a tax and accounting practice, is discussed in my upcoming presentation to the New Jersey CPA Society's Accounting, Business & Technology Show.For a copy of my complete presentation, "Powering Up -- How to Effectively use Email and the Web to Build a Practice," check back next week on WebCPA.com under "WebCPA Exclusives."

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