As business becomes increasingly digital, it’s easy to get left behind by the myriad of websites you should be on or innovations you should be considering. Technology expert Dean Evans is on hand with the top five you should start with to get your business online
What makes a business truly digital? Is it simply having a website? Or do you need to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account to go with it? Can you really work by email? What on earth is a Dropbox? And should you stick to traditional working hours?
Accountancy is being pulled into a digital future, where email is ousting the fax machine, filing cabinets are being replaced by Internet servers, and businesses can be browsed, tweeted and Liked. If you’re getting left behind in the rush, here are five steps to help you catch up.
1. Understand what your customers want
Before you think about a website (see below) for your business, you need to understand what clients want from a digital accountancy service. Businesses that are thriving online aren’t simply making their existing services accessible via the Internet.
They are working hard to expand their offerings, eliminating jargon, reducing paperwork, championing convenience and driving down costs – all while maintaining a professional and expert approach. Just take a look at Clever Accounts, Crunch and CloudBook Accountants to see modern digital businesses in action.
2. Build an effective, responsive website
A website is vital. It’s the home base for your business, acting as both an online storefront and an Internet advert, capable of generating leads 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
A good website should be cleanly designed and hosted on its own domain (i.e. yourcompanyname.com). The design should also incorporate a ‘responsive’ element, which optimises the site layout for different screen sizes, specifically mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.
A good website not only shows what you do, who you are, and why people should choose you, it focuses on the benefits behind your services. Think about what sets you apart? What makes you different? What exactly do clients get for their money (and what, if anything, do you throw in for free)?
Perhaps you’re cheaper than your competitors, or you’ve chosen to specialise in a certain area – business startups, for example, or landlords. Anticipate any questions about your business or its services and create web content to answer those questions. And don’t forget that due to the proliferation of mobile devices, many potential customers will be viewing the website on a phone or tablet, so make sure any design is mobile friendly.
Funnel everything towards a contact page and make it easy for people to get in touch with you. Give them an office address (if you have one and encourage walk-ins), a landline number, mobile number, email address and Twitter ID (see below), and aim to respond to enquiries as quickly as possible. Not everybody wants to do business between 09:00 and 17:00. Convenience is king.
3. Don’t get seduced by social media
For some businesses, a social media presence is just as important as having a website. But accountancy isn’t one of them.
Don’t waste time setting up a Facebook page and chasing Likes – it’s not likely to drive you any new business. Twitter might be more useful. Not necessarily for posting interesting articles, but for providing client support, firing out tax-related reminders, and giving clients another way of keeping in touch with you.
4. Invest in an email list
Keep your existing clients informed about your business by sending them monthly email newsletters. Include pertinent tax information, reminders and use it as an opportunity to cross sell other services or to gain a discount by referring new business. Get this right and your existing clients can help you generate new business on autopilot. Happy customers are the best advocates for any business.
We know what you’re thinking. Email doesn’t have the high-tech appeal of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But it remains wonderfully effective.
Everybody has an email account, they usually check it every day, and email is easily accessible on a variety of devices. The easiest way to manage a list of email addresses is to use a paid service. Check out Aweber and MailChimp for more information.
5. Upgrade your tools
Sign up for a Dropbox account to allow you to share large files with drag-and-drop ease, although make sure any cloud account is properly protected. Or use a service like Dropsend to whizz big chunks of data via email.
Again, put your clients first by supporting online accounting software such as Freshbooks and Xero; and let them sign documents digitally using DocuSign. It’s perfectly possible to go paperless and office-free in accountancy’s brave new digital world.
Do you run a digital business? What advice can you give somebody following in your footsteps? What lessons have you learned? Leave us a comment below.
Dean Evans is Editorial Director at That Media Thing Ltd.