Improving your online business presence

What can small business and self-employed accountants/bookkeepers do to improve their presence online?

We look at what an online presence actually consists of, how many social platforms are realistic to manage, and how much of it can be done for free.

Maximising your online opportunities

Half of all online purchases are now made via mobile phone, according to figures published by eMarketer at the end of last year. We now use our tablets and mobile devices to shop, work, catch up on news, communicate with friends and track our health and fitness.

“A website is now the core of everyone’s digital footprint,” says David Harris, managing director of One2create Ltd, and a marketing expert with 27 years of experience who advises companies from start-ups to FTSE 250 companies.

“You might not be an ecommerce site, but your online presence is still a core part of your business,” he explains. “As an accountant, people might drive past your shop window and then look up your details online before they contact you.”

As a consequence, you need a website that works on all types of devices.

“It needs to be fit for mobiles and tablets, and with imagery that fits the content and resonates with the demographic of your customers. Being found in Google search should be the foundation of your marketing strategy.”

With accountancy, you will need to create a “brochure” website – with calls to action for the prospective client to make contact by phone or email. You’ll also need biographies of the key members of your team, some backstory about you and your business, and interesting details that are unique about you.

“People buy from people, and your website can set out what makes you different from the competition,” he says. “Research has shown that the majority of users will look at the “About Us” pages and also look at your social media presence. It’s about building trust.”

He also believes that being active on social media is an important part of your marketing activity.

“LinkedIn is very business orientated. Twitter is a very good business platform and people can reach you and start a dialogue with your brand.”

Making content key

Liam Bateman, Managing Director and founder of The Think Tank, is a trained Chartered Accountant and has worked in the marketing for more than 25 years with a variety of leading brands such as Kodak, British Midland, Nespresso, Formica.

He says that being found in a Google search is very important and that there are ways to make your site more visible.

“Fresh content on your web pages helps with the search – it needs to be relevant to and right for the audience. Google likes to see links into your website from different places. That includes Google Plus and your Google Business account, which should have all your business information including a map, opening times and updates.”

A strong profile on LinkedIn is important when dealing with a business customer and you can post content there with links back to your website.

Key words will help optimise the chances of your website being found by search engines, and that includes the tags and titles you give to the pictures on your website as well as the written content. Joining online directories will also mean links come back to your website.

If you are looking for local business opportunities, then you can post content that picks up on issues that are current in your local area or county, as well as wider issues around the Budget or legislative changes.

Make sure that you add fresh content regularly – posts don’t have to be too long and around 200 words might be enough to get your thoughts across.

Twitter is a very good business platform and people can reach you and start a dialogue with your brand

Communicating your message

Carol Mann, co-founder of We Get Digital, a leading digital agency helping small businesses with their websites and on-line promotion, says that accountants and bookkeepers need a call to action and the right message “above the fold” – that is, on the top half of the screen.

“Try to keep your writing succinct,” she says. “It’s about having a single message for each page. The structure of your website needs to be really clear so that people get the answer they need quickly and decide you are the right person to solve their problems. Think about your demographic and what would appeal to them.”

David O’Keefe, digital account director from Fat Media says good content includes:

  • Key messages – what you are trying to say or sell.
  • Tone of voice – have a style, which reflects your brand e.g. corporate style or more friendly and informal.
  • Engaging – content needs to be interesting to your audience, otherwise you won’t get their buy in, and ultimately readers won’t convert to customers.

As a minimum I’d recommend writing a blog each week, this allows you to rank in more “long tail searches” and shows Google your site is active, really contributing to those all important domain rankings,” he says.

As for social media sites, you need a specific goal for your social activity, which contributes to your wider marketing activity.

“You should also only use the channels that are relevant for your sector and target clients,” he says. “For example if you are an accountancy practice, there’s no benefit from being on channels like Instagram, firstly it’s consumer focussed and secondly you probably won’t have any nice image content to share! LinkedIn however could be key for your business.”

His tops tips for social are:

  • Use tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule posts, it saves a lot of time.
  • Be active, try and post at least five times a week.
  • Get invovled in conversations that are trending, with Twitter for example look for relevant hashtags.
  • Connect, like and follow key influencers in your sector to help boost your own following.
  • Crate engaging content e.g. polls, questions, competitions to boost your own channel’s popularity.

“A solid strategy combined with little bit of time a week dedicated to your website, content and communication channels, will pay dividends in the long run,” he says.

Planning your marketing strategy

Mollie Powles, Marketing Manager at Browser Media, says there are three key aspects to a successful online presence:

  1. Audience: Who are you marketing your product to and what are you providing this audience with? Where does your audience congregate (digitally and physically) and where do you need to be marketing in order to reach the greatest number of potential consumers?
  2. Budget: What budget can you afford to dedicate to your marketing efforts? Remember that this is not just initial budget, but the maintenance of your website and digital activity.
  3. Competitors: Do your competitor analysis. If a marketing technique is working for them, then it’s likely to work for you too. Equally, learn from their mistakes, it’ll save you the time of making the same mistake but more importantly for a smaller business, it’ll save you marketing funds that could be put to better use.

“A blog is the perfect way to showcase several areas of your business in one place so the secret to a successful blog is variety of content,” she says. “Create informative, high-value content on products or industry aspects to demonstrate your knowledge in your field. Opinion-based blog posts will highlight the values and internal culture behind your brand.”

It’s also important to optimise your blog content to ensure you are appearing at the top of your audience’s web searches. Conduct some research into the types of keywords and phrases your target consumers are using to search online and make sure you are including this terminology in your blog posts.

“The great thing about having a blog is that it feeds beautifully into other areas of your marketing strategy,” she explains. “For example, you’ll have material to link back to on social media, which will encourage traffic to your website too.”

Make sure you’ve done your homework on your audience’s social media habits; if your market research indicates your target audience engages most with Facebook, then focusing on Twitter is going to be a futile exercise.

Finding time to manage your presence online

One of the more intimidating aspects of online marketing is the potential time involved in keeping up with social media.

Liam Bateman says that one way to tackle this is to use your mobile to check and update social channels on mobile phone on the way to work or in the evening, finding ways to fit it in so that it doesn’t become too onerous.

“Just don’t update at 10pm when you are heading back from the pub – in social media terms that is the worst thing you can do,” he says.

You can use scheduling tools such as Hubspot, which enable you to send out posts over the coming weeks in order for you to manage your social media presence most effectively.

David Harris says you should work on the 80/20 principle of 80% entertainment, information or value added content, and 20% sales, so that people are listening to what you say.

“We plan monthly in advance and look at the calendar and see if there are any soft content opportunities,” he says. “There are a lot of scheduling tools such as Buffer and Hootsuite, which are free.”

Increasing leads and turnover

Carol Mann says that the web creates great opportunities for SMEs because it is a level playing field.

“A solo entrepreneur can compete for business with a large organisation. It doesn’t matter whether you have two people or 200 people if you can solve the problem for the client,” she says. “Small companies have the advantage that you will be dealing with he owner who has the skills and expertise, rather than a junior account manager and you can get as a good a service from a reputable small company as you can from a big one.”

Another way to build trust is to pull in Google reviews onto your site, as readers know these can’t be faked. You can also add video testimonials.

“These could be shot at an exhibition or conference. They don’t have to be professionally done because a good, candid video above the fold can be an excellent form of marketing.”

If you do receive a poor review, don’t panic. Dealing with that person with tact and diplomacy can turn them into a advocate of your business if you apologise profusely and deal with them as you would like to be dealt. Great customer service when things go wrong can turn a complaint into one of your biggest fans.

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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