5 Steps to Building an Online Brand for Accountants

When it comes to web marketing and campaigns to find prospects and retain clients, things have grown since the early days of posting a one-page calling-card website and going about your business. Today, you have analytics, logo design (which can stretch into traditional marketing), self-hosted vs. cloud-hosted sites, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (or pay-per-click) and, of course, still-hot social media, which is in its infancy and growing very rapidly.

What does all this add up to? Getting noticed online isn’t as simple as it used to be. Yet, there are specific ways to increase your online presence. Here are 5 steps you can take to expand your brand:

Step 1: Pick a hosting provider and/or cloud content management system (CMS). This has a trick to it. Remember those “Terms of Use” we all like to scroll to the bottom of and skip? Cloud-hosted CMS solutions occasionally have language that prohibits commercial use and banner ads. The example that comes to mind is WordPress. The last time I checked, WordPress.com prohibited running commercial banner ads on your site, so depending on your service level, this immediately strikes down the ability to develop a passive revenue stream through website advertising.

Whether you want to have third-party ads or affiliate marketing on your site is a business decision. Just make sure you read the Terms of Use. If you do like WordPress, but decide you want to develop this revenue stream, check out WordPress.org. You may need some technical skills to get it up and running, but its terms of use and terms of service are a little more forgiving. If you intend to have a blog, I really like WordPress for the behind-the-scenes dashboard. Some websites that are intended to be sites, first, and blogs, second, are a little more limited in their blogging UI and outward-facing technology.

Step 2: Get that logo. One of my personal preferences is to research or ask your designer to research the current year’s Pantone colors. Why? Because these colors will start to pop up everywhere, and if your logo is associated with them, it will reflect a more modern and relevant appearance. Your website should work around your logo, in my opinion, not the other way around. For a self-marketer on a budget, a logo is well justified in its investment. Make sure you have high-res versions on disk, and keep them separate from any resized ones you change for your site. Don’t Clip Art this one! Your brand will evolve as your business grows, so allow for some growing room.

Step 3: Make sure you have relevant content. I am a fan of blogs, and their cousin, the newsletter. While your blog can be updated perpetually, a newsletter is a great way to grab intermittent site visitors to let them know there is new content to be viewed.

A few tips:

  • Always know the terms of the CAN SPAM Act, the authority on who you can add to your newsletter list.
  • Don’t cold add. Get permission first. Always. Double opt-in is becoming more and more popular.
  • Make sure any meta tags tie into your content, and give your local SEO firm a courtesy call. A short conversation is a great way to learn the value of targeted SEO marketing and the pitfalls that can happen if you aren’t careful. What is a tragedy? Building a beautiful website (using steps 1 and 2, along with some self-research), and having it lost in the annals of the web because your meta tags and content don’t mesh. If you don’t have a relationship with an SEO firm, ask your colleagues for recommendations, or perhaps, use Yelp to find some local resources. Of course, the firm could be located anywhere.
  • Your web presence should reflect the care you give your clients. Add in some testimonials. Find a way to create what can be a cold platform into something warm and inviting.

Step 4: Analytics! It’s a subject that can be engrossing if you get wrapped up in it, but my recommendation would be to start with a simple Google analytics account (all you need to do is sign up and tag your site, as instructed, to show ownership). This will give you some basics on referral sources and other data, and you can go from there. Looking for a mobile analytics tool? AnalyticsMatter by PAZ labs is a great iPhone app that starts out free and links to your Google Analytics account.

Step 5: Social Media. This is a subject with a wealth of information available, so I won’t beat it to death. At the very basic level, after (or while) creating your website, you should have a Facebook and Twitter page – and make sure they are updated on a regular basis. My favorite pages are those with a personal voice, but there are a number of options available for content. Link these to your website and research some ideas on client engagement.

Depending on your budget, you may want to allow for a critique by a professional, but to start, I hope these 5 steps are helpful. Your logo, and by extension, your brand, should be a reflection of who you are as a person (if a solo practitioner) and as a business. Finally, be authentic. There are a number of voices that think e-marketing is a primary focus, and I agree to a point. However, growing a strong reputation in the industry and with your clients will give you a level of engagement that may not be found on Facebook or Twitter.