Online sales across Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2017 blew away previous years’ revenues for the same period. That’s good news for American businesses, and an important wakeup call for accountants and other professional service firms.

This year’s online sales amounted to $7.9 billion on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a 17.9 percent increase over 2016’s figures. Monday’s forecasted $6.6 billion is 16.5 percent above last year’s total. While some of the growth can be attributed to a relatively strong economy with low unemployment, the exceptional increase in online sales illustrates a general trend among American consumers to do more of their shopping through the internet.

It’s not just desktop shopping, either. Mobile has shown a particularly impressive leap, with ecommerce marketing firm Criteo reporting that 40 percent of 2017’s Black Friday and Thanksgiving online transactions were completed on mobile devices. That’s up 29 percent since last year. Adobe Analytics’ data supports this pattern: 54.3 percent of visits to online stores and 36.8 percent of online sales happened via mobile during the most recent Thanksgiving/Black Friday shopping period.

Clearly, Americans have taken a real liking to their ability to shop and buy online. The question for accounting firms is whether they have taken this opportunity as seriously as they should. Many have, and devote a significant portion of their overall marketing budget to building modern, attractive and highly functional websites. These industry leaders also dedicate resources to creating quality content they can regularly share with readers, keeping their brand visible online where their audience spends so much time.

Firms that have not responded aggressively to the growing movement toward an internet-intensive lifestyle are now at a serious disadvantage compared to their more tech-savvy competitors. Leaders at these firms typically say something like, “We get almost no customers from our website or social media, so I don’t see the point in spending money in these areas.” While logical on its face, that’s a short-sighted and counterproductive approach to marketing.

If your web presence isn’t contributing to firm growth, that’s a sign that it needs more attention—not a reason to abandon the effort.

Your clients are researching, comparing firms and selecting providers based on what they see online to an ever-increasing degree. Your competitors are taking pains to provide potential clients with the information they need to learn about tax, business and accounting issues right where they are spending their days—on the internet. In doing so, they are positioning their firms to become the preferred provider, leaving your firm in the dust of an older, brick-and-mortar world.

That world still exists, but it increasingly stands in the shadow of the larger online realm. To keep their firms relevant and allow them to thrive in a digital economy, CPAs must recognize and respect the power of internet marketing. You are being judged by the quality and variety of your online content, whether you like it or not.

The days of building a strong business pipeline based solely on personal referrals and a basic “online brochure” of a website are gone. You need a mobile-friendly, responsive website structured around carefully crafted copy that showcases your firm at its best, along with an active stream of high-quality content that educates and informs your audience while helping you nurture relationships.

Your reputation—arguably your strongest asset in marketing your firm—is created through your online presence as much as it is through your personal interactions with current clients. Take heed of this year’s leap in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, and reassess your marketing strategy with the knowledge that your clients are finding what they want online. Make sure they’ll find you there as well, and that when they do, they’ll be impressed with what they see.

Shoppers at Menlo Park Mall in New Jersey on Black Friday 2016
Shoppers at Menlo Park Mall in New Jersey on Black Friday 2016 Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
Sarah Warlick

Sarah Warlick

Sarah Warlick is the owner and founder of Proof Positive Content, a content development firm dedicated to helping accountants and other professional services providers build their brands through customized, niche-specific content.