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Firms and social media

Firms who aren’t on social media are missing out on some of the most significant opportunities this digital era has to offer. Social media has the power to improve a firm’s brand, communication and understanding of client needs and expectations.

Just like firms were considered to be uncommitted to change or lagging behind the times if they didn’t have a website several years ago, the same is now assumed of firms who aren’t using social media.

Building a greater awareness of, or improving the visibility of a firm can be particularly challenging for small to medium companies. However, social media platforms can assist in leveling out the playing field. Social media gives firms the opportunity to showcase their firm, services and products for free, which generates online exposure and increases brand awareness. This kind of exposure can help firms to develop positive brand association and encourage more traffic to the firm’s website.

Social media platforms also open up opportunities for firms to listen in and communicate with people. Firms can follow and monitor what current clients, prospective clients, and even competitors are saying about their firm, as well as stay up to date with any hot industry topics or discussions that are trending on social media. Firms are then able to learn more about clients, uncover new business leads and expand their industry reach.

Staying active on social media sites shows clients that firms are remaining in touch and staying up to date with the changing marketing and communications landscape. Firms who make this conscious effort to connect with current and prospective clients online through the sharing of relevant and informative information and sources have a greater potential to foster stronger relationships based on trust.

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How social media is affecting your SEO

Changes to Google will mean that firms who are active on social media have a better chance of increasing their SEO ranking. This is due to Google’s algorithms now including social signals as indicators in search rankings.

Another factor is that SEO strategies and those using social media have the same goal: to produce the most relevant content for their audiences. This can be seen through ‘tweeting’ on Twitter, social sharing and social media influences.

Search engines like Google now use the social media platform Twitter to discover new content. By taking into consideration how many people tweet specific content and the time frame of when content was shared, Google can stay up to date with new trends and information, and save time usually spent trawling the internet for relevant content.

Sharing content on social media is also like link building. Because it’s easy to manipulate backlinking to a website, Google now looks into social signals like Tweets and Facebook posts as a non-manipulated way of getting links. So the more relevant and accurate links companies and firms share on Facebook, the more likely their presence will be ranked higher by Google.

Google not only ranks websites higher or lower based on whether they are a credible source or not. Google also now considers a company or firm’s social media influence, and the way this is determined is based on factors such as their relevance, reach and resonance on social media platforms.

When working in sync with each other, social media and SEO can help to acquire online clients and increase website traffic.

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Blogging: What is it?

A regularly updated blog gives firms the opportunity to boost their SEO ranking and communicate with clients online. A blog is a collection of articles or posts which are targeted to a particular industry.

For firms, it is a communication tool that can be used to provide online clients with valuable content, useful information, industry news or any special offers that might be on. By posting this kind of content, firms can effectively maintain client relationships and give online users a reason to visit their website.

Blogging can also enhance a firm’s SEO strategy. Writing blog articles that include targeted keywords can help firms improve their website ranking in search engines. If firms also publish unique and valuable articles, other websites are likely to link to this content, and as a result, a firm’s website backlinks will increase.

To experience the full benefits of blogging, firms need to post on a regular basis. This requires both time and dedication. However, if firms plan ahead, it can be fairly easy to publish fresh and relevant content several times a week.

Once firms establish a routine of posting articles, they can expect to build an audience of followers, who can be directed to a firm’s website, leading to an increase in traffic. This kind of engagement is excellent for SEO purposes.

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Modern website design

Firms who allow their websites to become outdated risk being penalised by search engines. Search engines aim to provide internet searchers with the best user experience possible. New technologies, social media and the rise of mobile device use has changed how internet users interact with the online landscape.

Therefore, if a website is not kept up to date with user requirements, it is not considered to be user-friendly by search engines, which inadvertently lowers the page rank of the website. To increase opportunities for more traffic and exposure to their website, firms should consider the benefits associated with the elements of modern website design.

Navigation
Online visitors will not stay on a site for very long if they can’t find what they are looking for. A website’s navigation should be easy to use and consistent across every page.

Content
Publishing great content on a website can improve the reputation of a firm, and result increased visitors, sales and SEO benefits as well.

Mobile-friendly
Web users have moved to using mobile devices to browse the internet. Making sure a website is mobile-friendly can avoid any losses in potential website traffic.

Social media integration
Incorporating social media into a website may allow a firm to reach and interact with potential clients in ways that a website simply does not offer.

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The secret of sales success

The secret of sales success often comes down to having two goals; to get in the door and to secure the prospect.

Getting in the door
To get in the door, try a the three-step approach of:

  1. Try to make direct contact with the prospect. Are they approachable? If so how approachable? Can you approach them as one member of the business community to another? For example, is there a social or charitable interest that you share that you can use as an opening?
  2. If that does not work, try an indirect contact. Who can help you through the door? Who among your clients, leads, referral sources, or other contacts can help you get in front of this person?
  3. If all else fails, ask your receptionist to phone the prospect’s secretary. Sometimes using a secretary or receptionist can be extremely effective in getting into prospective companies.

Securing the prospect
Once you have gotten through the door and said your piece, use the following follow-up strategy to secure the prospect:

  • Gather as much information as you can on the lead. Find out if they are bankable and what kind of reference network you can develop to close them.
  • Send an initial hand-written follow-up note listing three areas he needs to address. This serves to confirm the problem areas that were uncovered during the initial questioning period.
  • Prove your discernible difference – how your firm can provide a specific service or level of quality that our competition cannot.
  • Make sure you meet the client for the first two times at their place.
  • For cold and lukewarm leads, try waiting two weeks after the initial contact and follow-up note before resuming contact.
  • After resuming contact, make at least three practical suggestions relating to the problem areas.
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Three appreciation emails your firm should send

Sending out a variety of genuine client appreciation emails can help boost a firm’s client retention rate. Good business for accounting firms is all about client retention, as future revenue is far more likely to come from existing clients than new ones.

An easy way to retain clients is to send out a client appreciation email. By doing so, firms not only remind clients about the great value they receive from the firm, but it also can make them feel appreciated and valued.

Using a variety of genuine client appreciation emails can help your firm thank particular clients for being part of your success, break up the routine of newsletters, event emails and offers, while also building a connection and trust with the client.

Here are three examples of appreciation emails every firm can send out during the year to convey their gratitude to clients:

  • An after purchase email

After a client has engaged with your services or purchased one of your products, send them an email thanking them and telling them how they’ve contributed to your firm’s business.

  • An ‘after referral’ email

Sending clients an email thanking them for sending a referral your way is a great way to stay in touch in a positive and appreciative way. Make clients feel even more special by adding in a discount or special offer to the email; this could also encourage clients to continue sending in referrals in the future.

  • Ask for feedback

There is no one better person to provide feedback to your firm about your client service than a valued client. Sending an email to clients that affirms that you’re asking for their opinion specifically because you value them as a client is an effective way for firms to show their appreciation. Soliciting honest feedback regularly also allows firms to keep their ‘finger on the pulse of clients’ needs and expectations.

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The importance of follow-up

Many accountants feel that a prospective client should be ready and able to sign with them after one meeting. In an ideal world, this would be the case, but in reality, it can take a number of meetings before a prospect feels ready to sign.

Here are some tips to help you through this period of ‘courtship’:

  • Demonstrate a sincere and personal interest in the prospect.

Ideally, you want the prospect to come to see you as a ‘partner’ in his or her business venture. Try to get the prospect to feel a special connection with you.

  • Learn something new about the prospect each time you meet him.

A relationship builds up gradually, but it should never feel as if it is standing still.

  • Bring something new to the table each time you meet the prospect.

There will be a trust hurdle early in the relationship. Your ability and willingness to impart helpful advice and find a new angle each time will do more than anything else to keep you in his favour.

  • Move forward – improve the relationship each time.

If a relationship is not moving forwards, it is probably moving backwards.

  • Get the prospect to make a decision – even if it is just a ‘decision to decide.’

He needs to take an active part in building the relationship. This is his contribution.

  • Make a bridge to the next contact.

Never leave a meeting without connecting to the next one.

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Three types of social media content that will give your firm the greatest value

A core component of every successful social media strategy is the act of posting valuable content regularly. Valuable content creates results that every firm wants to see; engagement, virality, likes, shares, followers and more.

The question facing many firms, however, is what kind of content is considered valuable and will produce that sort of activity. Here are three types of content that have been proven to provide the most value to those firms on social media:

  • Infographics

Infographics have been found to be the most socially shared form of content. Infographics provide small, easy to read snippets of information in a graphics format, making complex information eye-catching and shareable. They are incredibly engaging for online readers since humans process visual information faster than words.

  • Content with images

Image-rich content is incredibly shareable. Humans love images, so when firms sprinkle their social media content with images, online eyes will gravitate towards the content. Keeping a steady output of image-rich content on social media platforms is a surefire way of increasing reader engagement.

  • Newsworthy content

While news articles usually receive more social shares than any other article type, it can be hard to share news as it happens if you’re not in the news industry. However, firms can get around this by publishing articles or information relating to anything new or changing in their industry or their clients’ industries. Example topics could be anything relating to the Australian tax system, superannuation industry, or business news and strategies.

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How clients choose accountants

Most prospects find it difficult to evaluate an accounting firm. They understand little or nothing about the accounting process itself and so do not feel they can evaluate a firm simply by asking the right questions.

Because of this, many clients may look to use external measures to evaluate an accounting firm and the services they offer. These external measures may include:

References
With so much at stake and so little to go on, prospective clients tend to rely heavily on the advice of a trusted third party. In other words, they rely on professional and business references. They trust the recommendations of professionals such as bankers and lawyers about the quality of your work, and they trust the views of other business owners who use your firm about the quality of your service.

Following others
Prospects may choose to simply follow what others are doing. If a prospect knows people who are already clients of a particular firm, then he or she may simply follow in their footsteps and join the same firm. Firms with a large following and an excellent reputation, are more likely to gain these kinds of clients.

Visual cues
When presented thoughtfully, visual cues can be invaluable tools to promote a firm’s brand and reputation. Visual cues include logos, websites, signs, pamphlets, newsletters or email newsletters. High-quality and visually appealing visual cues add to a firm’s credibility, and can leave prospective clients with a positive perception of the firm’s services.

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The importance of motivation

Motivation is the fundamental driving force behind successful marketing. Motivation is fueled by the desire to grow, and the belief that you can engage larger clients and provide them with the services they require. This desire and confidence is the root of the marketing mentality.

Many accountants these days pay lip service to marketing, since very few seem to have the energy for aggressive marketing. And yet it is the firms that market aggressively that are the most successful. Partners in aggressive firms openly seek new business. This may sound obvious, but it is surprising how many accountants simply expect referral sources to send business their way without them actually asking for it.

‘Why do we need to ask referral sources for business?’ they may ask, ‘They already know we want it.’

The truth of the matter is that the only thing a referral source knows for sure is that an accountant who asks for business, wants business. People tend to admire and trust firms that actively seek new business. They assume such firms are more organised and more client-focused, and believe they will receive better service from them. This trust is usually well founded because firms that market aggressively usually have the capacity to take on new clients and provide the service and personal attention they expect. They also regularly remind their clients how much they appreciate their business. It is quite often that the quality of the follow-up, partner accessibility and attention to client detail that distinguishes a successful marketing firm from more conventional firms.

Remember, the marketing activities of an aggressive firm are not just targeted at bringing in new clients, but equally, if not more, at bringing in new business from existing clients. The more services you can sell to a client, the more loyal that client is likely to be. It is one thing to consider changing accountants if all he or she does for you is your annual audit, but it is quite something else if he or she is also, a key business adviser, corporate finance consultant, or trustee.

The insurance industry has long recognised the importance of securing client loyalty by selling a broad range of services to clients. Thus in addition to insurance cover, they might also offer pension schemes, savings plans, medical cover, and so forth. There is a saying in that industry that if an adviser sells a client just on policy there is only a ten percent chance he will still have the client ten years down the road; but if he sells that client two policies the chances improve to sixty percent, and for three or more policies to ninety-five percent!