When’s the last time you checked your accounting firm’s online presence?

Accounting firms that are not visible online can miss out on attracting potential new clients. This came home to me recently when I set about engaging an accounting firm and found it surprisingly difficult to identify suitable firms in my local area. It’s not that the firms don’t exist. There were actually quite a few listed in various directories but these listings provide little information and, like most people these days, I do my homework online before making that initial phone call.

Accountants are trusted advisors and it is important to find someone you can get along with.  Being in the content business, I wanted someone who understood digital media and marketing and I also wanted someone younger than me because I hope that the firm I choose will continue to look after my needs until I retire.

Whatever the combination of factors likely to influence a potential client’s choice, the chances are the first place they’ll look for a service provider is online.

Accounting firm's onlineSo, how easy is it to find your firm?

One way to check your accounting firm’s online presence is to ask a friend or neighbour to run a Google search and see where your firm’s website shows up. If you made it on to the first page of the search results, congratulations! If you didn’t, you may need to look at your website design and content. (Those are topics I will discuss in future blog posts).

For now, let’s assume that the potential client found your firm, clicked the link and they’re now on your website. What they see may depend on whether they are using a mobile phone or tablet,  a laptop or desktop computer.  Unless your site is easily readable on each of these devices, you risk losing your potential new client. Responsive sites display correctly on all devices and with more web searches now done from mobile devices, it’s really important that your site is mobile friendly. You may have heard of Mobilegeddon earlier this year when Google introduced a change in favour of websites that are mobile friendly. So, if  your firm’s website is not responsive, you again have work to do.

Assuming that your site is responsive, your potential client is now browsing your firm’s content and is likely to be interested in a range of details such as location, services, recommendations, personnel, qualifications and regulation. It is worth checking that you have covered the following:

  • Does your site provide your address, telephone number, email and social media links?
  • Does your site list – and describe – the services that your firm provides?
  • Does your site provide testimonials from satisfied clients?
  • Does your site provide an ‘About us’ page with photos and biographical information about your firm’s partners and key staff focusing in particular on their qualifications and individual areas of expertise?
  • Who regulates your firm and have you included the relevant details on your homepage?
  • Does your website provide an easy means for clients to contact you? If your website provides a contact form, is the inbox for messages from that form monitored and responded to on a timely basis?
  • Are your social media links easy to find and have you included links to the LinkedIn profiles of your key personnel and your business’s LinkedIn page? Potential clients may be more likely to contact you if they find that you have contacts in common.

It is useful to provide some additional options since not every potential client will be ready to call you following their first visit to your website.  You can improve the chances that they’ll come back when they’re ready to talk if you provide an option for them to subscribe to your firm’s newsletter, request a free report or ask to join the mailing list for your next client briefing.

Finally, while this article has focused on websites, remember that potential clients are also likely to search for you and/or your firm on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. So, if you have a presence on those platforms, it’s worth considering whether the information you provide is sufficient to meet your potential clients’ requirements.

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Charles Handy on the advantages of The Second Curve

Having recently embarked on a new career for the third time in my working life, I am encouraged by Charles Handy’s latest book The Second Curve — a collection of 16 essays in which the Irish-born social philosopher sets out his vision of how society, organisations and individuals will change over the next 20 years.

“The Western world seems to have gone into retirement mode, settling for a cautious life after the financial scares of the last decade, hoping that the comfortable life we had become used to will soon return if we only keep our nerve. The reality, however, is that we can neither bring back the past nor prolong the present indefinitely. When the world changes around us we have to change as well…”

Handy says many things that work today will not continue to work into the future and argues that now is the time to embark on a ‘Second Curve’. To avoid decline, he believes that societies, organisations and individuals must reinvent themselves. He suggests that the Second Curve is most likely to succeed when it starts before an existing growth phase has peaked.

Second Curve

He says that the Second Curve “is our chance to make up for any shortcomings on the first curve, to redeem ourselves and to show that we have learnt …”

Handy is not afraid to be provocative and challenges many prevailing attitudes. For example, he suggests that economic growth is a simplistic goal and favours a broader measurement system that would take into account flaws as well as successes and focuses on ‘enough’ rather than on ‘more’.

“Better not Bigger, says Charles Handy

“Better not bigger“  is Handy’s mantra. Indeed he goes so far as to suggest dismantling some large organisations into their component parts and he’s certainly no fan of the bonus culture:  “To me it seems demeaning to have to be bribed to do your best in your job.” He blames the priority given to shareholder value in the 1970s for creating a harmful emphasis on short-termism and says that if capitalism is to survive it must be seen to benefit all not just a favoured few.

Charles Handy The Second Curve
View details of the Kindle edition on Amazon

Handy sees opportunities for individuals who embrace the Second Curve by proactively reinventing their careers before age or ill health force an unwelcome change on them. By embarking on their second (or subsequent) curve before the first curve peaks, he suggests individuals can enjoy longer and more productive working lives. Indeed he predicts that self-employment will become increasingly prevalent as improved life expectancy prolongs careers well past the traditional retirement age.

Thoughtful and thought-provoking The Second Curve is a welcome addition to Handy’s existing work and a good introduction for anyone new to his social philosophy.

[Disclosure: The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society by Charles Handy is published by Random House UK/Cornerstone. I received an advance review copy]

Search Engines and Serendipity

Search Engines
Image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Search engines are having a significant impact on the information that we consume. Indeed even articles like this one are influenced to some extent by how they may be retrieved by search engines — perhaps by using the ‘Search Engine’ term instead of simply ‘Search’ in the title. But let’s forget about the theory for a moment and concentrate instead on the practical effects and what they may mean for our ability to learn in the longer term.

Positive Benefits of Search Engines

Two elderly gentleman were browsing on iPads over their breakfast comparing  ailments and medications and browsing for information on related topics. There was nothing remarkable about their conversation but their use of the iPads highlights  how much the ways we obtain and share information has changed in recent times. The iPad in particular has delivered a user experience so intuitive that the hardware is no longer a barrier between user and content: it has taken away the fear.

Downside of Search Engines : How algorithms limit the information we retrieve

Without question, developments in technology have empowered end users but it is important to remember that behind the scenes algorithms — sometimes assisted by humans — are making decisions about the information that we see in our search results based on what they have learned about us from our previous Internet behaviour. This matters a lot when you consider that the gentlemen browsing in my local coffee shop are probably seeing search results biased by commercial interests and that they may be making decisions based on that information, perhaps even going so far as to self-prescribe and purchase medications online.

Personalisation

More worrying still is that every search and every click potentially feeds into a personalisation process that means the results presented come from an increasingly narrower set of potential results (which is one of the reasons why the EU Cookie law is important). Some months ago, I clicked on an ad for a dress. Since then, the ads I see most often as I browse the web are for dresses from the same supplier. You might think that doesn’t matter but what if I had clicked on  a political link? Would I  increasingly see results that reflect the particular bias of the original clicked link? Would I only see results from points of view that are similar to my own and what would that mean for my worldview? And what about those two gentlemen in the coffee shop? I suspect they may be seeing a lot of online ads for medications.

Loss of serendipity?

Attempts to deliver ‘quality’ and ‘relevant’ results  in response to often poorly defined search queries take into account factors such as the searcher’s location, previous search history and many more individual user behaviours so that the highest ranking results come from a much narrower base than most searchers realise. And, while some algorithms try to build in an element of serendipity or ‘chance discovery’, I can’t help worrying that the delivery of  ’personalised’ search results — which include content that has been manipulated to achieve a high search engine ranking —  ultimately diminishes those results and limits the potential for the searcher to learn.

Paid Content

Amazon, Netflix and iTunes have demonstrated that users will pay for access to content that meets their needs. Perhaps the time is coming when users will also contemplate paying for search — if only in those areas where quality and trustworthy results are most important.

For now, perhaps the best advice is to keep in mind that the top results returned on your search may well have been manipulated into that top position for commercial or other reasons. Try to remain curious when searching by clicking not just on the stories you agree with but also — at least now and then — on those that challenge your point of view thereby creating your own serendipity and maximising your potential to learn.

Crowdsourcing the Digitisation of National Archive Collections

Any researcher who has had to rely on microfilm to read old newspapers for research will welcome steps to digitise and make searchable the newspaper holdings of national libraries. In an initiative that takes advantage of widespread interest in history and genealogy, the National Library of Australia is using crowdsourcing in an interesting project to move forward with digitising the NLA’s newspaper collections.

What is crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is a process that engages large numbers of individuals in projects that have some public benefit. The National Library of Australia’s Trove  project allows users of the the NLA’s newspaper archives to correct the text of digitised news. For example, if you are searching for your Australian ancestors and come across relevant news or announcements in any of the newspapers in the Trove archive, you have the ability to correct typos in the text and submit the corrections. It takes only a couple of minutes to correct a block of text but if enough people do it, it greatly speeds up the process for the project as a whole. The National Library of Australia is leading with a great example that demonstrates how crowdsourcing can be used by national libraries to improve access to collections and enhance their services for the benefit of all users.