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3 approaches to boosting your online presence

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Your CPA firm’s online presence is critical to your success. In my last article, I discussed what should happen when prospective clients Google your firm. Now we’ll discuss how to implement the strategies that boost your online presence: your website and your newsletter.

We’ll weigh the pros and cons of three different approaches to creating an impressive online presence. Depending on your time, budget and resources, you can figure out the best fit for your firm.

3 ways to launch a website and a newsletter

I’ve learned through trial and (lots of) error there are three basic approaches to building a website and newsletter for your firm:

1. Do it yourself.
2. Hire a professional agency.
3. Use templates and turnkey solutions.

1. Do it yourself (DIY)

There are some great “build your own website” tutorials and tools on the web. The benefit of DIY is obvious: You’ll save money on hiring an agency. But you’ll face a big opportunity cost: the value of your time. If you choose to go the DIY route, make sure you budget enough time to learn how to use the technology (and to use it well). Also, budget time for client emergencies and normal disruptions to your daily workflow. Suppose a frantic client calls you with an emergency? Are you really going to tell them, “Sorry, I have to call you back; I’m busy working on my website”?

I don’t think so.

If DIY seems like the only affordable solution for you, I’d highly recommend using templates and other turnkey solutions. For more information on that approach, see Option 3.

2. Hire a professional agency

For a fully customized solution, you will need to spend time interviewing full-service creative agencies or web design consultants. They’ll want to sit down with you and do a deep dive into your mission, your branding and your core messaging. They’ll also want to interview your clients and gain an in-depth understanding of how people feel when they work with you.

They’re doing their job, but it might be more horsepower than you need.

After lots of “kickoff meetings” and flowcharts, a full-service agency will build you a beautiful website with all kinds of bells and whistles. If you have the resources, this is probably the best way to assure the end result will be really nice.

Just note that working with a full-service agency can be even more expensive and time-consuming than you think. There will be a lot of meetings, approvals and sign-offs before you’ll have a final product. And as I’ll explain in a minute, the end result may not matter as much as the investment warrants.

3. Use templates and turnkey solutions

There are some great pre-built services for CPAs available. They’ll help you create a logo, build a website and a newsletter. But they use pre-existing templates — you don’t have to start from scratch. By the way, these pre-built templates aren’t random — they’ve been battle-tested in the real world and people know they work. They’re fast, easy to use, and highly optimized. You can find them by Googling “CPA website providers.” Lots of great providers will come up. Once you start a dialogue with a vendor you like, ask them who their two biggest competitors are. Now you have three good options.

This turnkey solution is pretty inexpensive. It’s largely done for you ahead of time, and it works. Note: The website isn’t custom, so it may not be exactly what you want. But for 10 percent of the time you’d be spending on Option 1 or Option 2 above, you’ll get 90 percent of what you want. Does it really make sense to spend 90 percent more time, just to get that last 10 percent on your wishlist? Maybe not.

I know many of you like to get under the hood and get immersed in technology. In fact, CPAs are probably the most tech savvy professionals, at least compared to doctors, lawyers and architects. But just because you’re good with tech doesn’t mean you have the design skills and creativity to build a professional website. And again, there’s the time commitment and learning curve to consider.

How I launched my website and newsletter

First, I hired a full-service agency and spent a lot of time and money with them. Ultimately, they didn’t understand what my firm was all about. Being somewhat of a tech geek, I figured I could just do the website myself. But that turned out to be even more time-consuming than I expected — and more challenging to get exactly what I wanted in terms of look, feel and branding.

Finally, I went the turnkey route (Option 3). The pre-built templates could get me quickly to 90 percent of what I wanted and, frankly, I have way better things to do with my time. Chances are, Option 3 is going to be the best path for you.

As I discussed in an earlier article (The 64/4 Rule), two-thirds of your results (64 percent) come from just 4 percent of your most effective time. Bottom line: Your time as a CPA is spent serving your clients — not building websites or newsletters.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.”

I know CPAs who have succeeded with each of the options above. Just know the pros and cons before diving into the deep end:

1. Do it yourself. On the surface, this is the cheapest option. But when you factor in the value of your time, it will probably end up being the most expensive (and most time consuming). Trust me. I’ve been there, done that.

2. Totally custom solution. Hire a really expensive agency that promises to do a really amazing job for you. Yes, it will be fully customized. Chances are it will be stunning and cutting edge. Great, but it won’t really matter. You’re not trying to win web design awards. Clients just want to know where they can find you and how they can reach you. Prospects just want to know what your firm is all about.

3. Pre-built turnkey solutions, i.e. templates. For most of you, this is the option I recommend. Find a provider that already works with lots of other accounting firms. It’s usually a monthly fixed fee — and you’re done. It’s inexpensive, easy to implement and highly optimized. By the way, you can always shift to Option 1 or Option 2 once you’ve learned the web design ropes and have a better idea of what you do and don’t want in a website or newsletter.

When young couples tell me they’re ready to become homeowners, I always tell them not to do a “custom build” for their first house. I advise them to buy a pre-existing home that’s in decent shape. That gives them a few years to figure out what they really need in terms of kitchen islands, bathrooms or having a master bedroom on the first or second floor, etc. After you’ve lived in a few homes, you can always move up to the custom-built option. Same goes for your website and client newsletter.

What’s your take? I’d love to hear from you.

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