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What happens when client prospects Google you?

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As the old Aesop fable goes, “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.”

Every professional I know lives and dies by referrals. But if you’re getting a lot of referrals and they’re not committing to meeting with you, then something unexpected might be interfering — it’s called Google.

The changing face of referrals

When people are referred to you, what’s the first thing they do? They Google you (or your firm). If you thought online reviews were just for restaurants and contractors, think again. More and more people are finding their CPAs through Google searches.

Prospective clients are well-educated consumers. All the research they need to make any kind of purchasing decision is just a click away. The internet is the first place — sometimes the only place — they turn to find a CPA in their area (or check out a referral from a friend or colleague). Trust me, prospects will be checking you out plenty before they ever step into your office or commit to an introductory Zoom call with you. Today, the due-diligence phase happens well before (not after) the get-to-know-you discovery meeting.

According to a study from Pew Research, the under-50 crowd, many of whom are growing businesses and hitting their peak earning years — the web is sometimes the only place they go. You only have a few seconds to make a good first impression. That’s why you want to make it as easy as possible for the right kinds of clients to find you.

That being said, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that half of CPAs in America were in the Witness Protection Program trying to hide. You just cannot find them anywhere, including on the Internet, no matter how hard you look.

How’s your Google presence? How’s your LinkedIn profile? You don’t necessarily need all five-star reviews on your website. But people need to see your smiling face and know how to contact you without making a FOIA request, hiring a detective or turning to the dark web.

Word-of-mouth referrals are nice, but the web is essential. Instead of asking one friend if they know a good CPA, prospects can instantly find 25 good firms in their geographic area on the web. Still don’t think your online presence matters?

Suppose you got a referral to yourself

Go ahead and Google yourself. What shows up? Pretty unsettling, right? Are you making it easy for the right kinds of people to find you — or are you still in the digital witness protection program? Is it easy to find directions to your office? Is it easy to find a phone number, email address or online scheduling tool? If people don’t know what you look like and can’t quickly determine what you’re all about, what your firm does really well and what your firm’s values are, they’re going to move on ASAP.

Suppose you were referred to a doctor and after Googling him or her, the only thing that came up were a few lame listings on health care aggregator sites? Or suppose you actually find the doctor’s website and see only two reviews and they’re both two stars (out of five)? Do you think you’re going to book an appointment? Heck no. Same goes when vetting CPAs. People treat their financial health just as seriously as they treat their personal health.

The clients you really want are online

I can’t tell you how many CPAs have told me, “I have all the clients I can handle. I don’t need random people calling me from the internet.”

What they’re really telling me is they don’t want strangers calling them on April 10 with the dreaded words: “How much do you charge for a tax return?” or, “I haven’t filed in five years. How fast can you get this done for me?”

If your goal is to build a sustainable business with more of the right kinds of clients, then you’re going to have to make it easier for those ideal clients to find you on the web. Is your online presence designed to attract your ideal client? Do you share your firm’s values? What’s it like to be a client of your firm? What do other people think about you? (That’s where the online reviews come in.)

Suppose people are searching for CPA firms in their area and you have no reviews on your website, but your competitor across town has three dozen positive reviews on their website. Guess who’s going to get called first.

The great thing about digital is that you can describe exactly who you want to work with. You can set minimums. You can set up intake forms that screen out undesirable prospects before they even get to you and eat up a lot of your time.

The trend is your friend

Eventually we’ll discover a safe COVID vaccine. People will start returning to their offices and seeing clients face-to-face. But that doesn’t mean your online presence won’t remain critical to your success. If prospects can’t find out everything about you with a click of a mouse to determine if you’re the right fit for them, they’re going to move on to another firm that makes it easier to do so.

I hear CPAs tell me, “I don’t want any more business.” Unless you have the perfect practice, you always need more of the right kind of clients. Clients are the lifeblood of your business. Like it or not, more and more of them are going to find you on the Internet.

The pandemic has forced us to go through six years of innovation and evolution in just the past six months. Digital has become significantly more prevalent in our lives, whether we like it or not. Has the transition been easy? No, but I don’t see us ever going back to the old way of doing things.

As I explained in an earlier article, anti-fragile firms are leaning into this new reality, not trying to ignore it or run away. In my next article, I’ll share the key components of building the right kind of digital presence.

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

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Client strategies Google Client acquisition Referrals Digital marketing
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