Stimulating and Growing Your Practice in a Slumped Economy

Here’s how.

June 8, 2009
by Sukanya Mitra

The economy sucks, that we all know. So what’s a CPA practitioner to do? Should you hold onto your clients? Look for new ones? Let your competition lure your clients away? Or just enjoy the lull?

Hey, but there is an alternative in which you can be the social butterfly, be in touch with your existing clients and develop new clientele. It’s called the Internet.

“Accountants must adopt a new rewarding technology every decade. Therefore, you need to fix what ain’t broken. If you don’t, eventually someone else will do it for you. Sooner or later every CPA will have to move online,” advised Dr. Chandra Bhansali, president of AccountantsWorld, an online accounting community, portal and Internet solution provider. “The smartest thing any CPA can do for their practice is to adopt new technology at the right moment. This is the ripe time to harness the power of the Internet to derive the most benefit. If you wait until the last moment when you are not left with any option, migration to the Internet will become far more difficult and you’ll lose the benefits of migrating now when the time is right.”

Bhansali was one of the keynote speakers at last month’s 2009 Accounting Technology show in New York City, where he enlightened show attendees on how CPAs can not only survive and thrive in this economy, but also gain new clients. I had the opportunity to sit down for a tête-à-tête with him on this and other issues.

What can the Internet provide CPA practitioners that traditional marketing tactics cannot?

Dr. Chandra Bhansali: The Internet can provide numerous capabilities that traditional marketing won’t:

  • Enhanced experience. A traditional marketing campaign is typically one dimensional. It uses a single channel of communication, e.g. direct mail, which is print-based and TV, which is audio-visual.  But on your Web site you can integrate all channels of communication — text, Flash demos, podcast and videos — to give visitors an enhanced experience.
  • Interaction. This is an important capability. With the Internet, CPAs can add interactive tools such as financial calculators to engage prospects. E-mails make it easier to take the next action with appropriate links.
  • Measurable ROI. CPAs should find this aspect very palatable. First, unlike traditional marketing in which there is no guarantee of achieving desired results, in Search Engine marketing you pay for performance. If this is implemented properly, you are able to measure return-on-investment (ROI) from search engine marketing.
  • Integral component. Internet marketing must be an integral component of any marketing campaign. It is very difficult to create an effective marketing campaign today without incorporating an Internet marketing component.

Thinking of overhead costs, is Internet marketing practical for the sole practitioner or small CPA firms?

Bhansali: From the cost perspective, Internet marketing is the most practical way for sole practitioners or small CPA firms to market their practices. Since a Web site is a must for any CPA firm — whether they use it for marketing or not — why not make your Web site a marketing channel by using simple, no-cost online marketing tools such as a listing in the Google and Yahoo local directories. Make sure you promote your Web site in any traditional marketing as well.

Lately industry pundits have been touting reliance on face-time as a predominant way CPAs can be more accessible to their clients and grow client relationship. In your opinion, doesn’t the Internet take away the ‘personal’ touch? What advice can you give CPAs to make the Internet more ‘personal’ and give it the human touch?

Bhansali: The Internet has become more social and personal. The explosive use of social networking is a proof of that. Face-time is certainly important, but there is a lot more to enhancing client relationships. The Internet allows for very close collaboration between CPAs and their clients regardless of physical distance, thus making the Internet extremely effective in cementing client relationships and reducing the need for face-time.

Another important aspect of growing client relationships is constant communication. Use of broadcast e-mails on important issues affecting clients, e-newsletters and self-serve interactive tools not only provide constant communication with clients, but also improve client satisfaction. These are highly effective low-cost ways to enhance client relationships.

CPAs are often skeptical — and worry for obvious reasons — about breach of security. How secure is the Internet? How can CPAs make sure there are no information/security breaches on their sites?

Bhansali: Security is certainly a very valid concern. And every CPA must be concerned about security breaches, because when you’re concerned about security you’re more likely to do everything to prevent security breaches at your end. Once you secure your PC and network, you should feel very comfortable using the Internet for all your business, because most security breaches occur at the user’s PCs.

While we occasionally hear about security breaches at major corporations’ data center, most data centers are very well secured technologically and physically — far more than your personal computer at the office or at your home. The probability of identity theft at a data center where your data is secured is far less than identity theft or security breach in your office, home or trash can. If you feel comfortable running your practice offline, you should feel even more secure running your practice online, provided you have taken all precautions to secure your PC and network.

There are many good tools available to secure your PC and network. The best source to learn about Internet security is — you guessed it right — the Internet itself!

Furthermore, as you must have read in the news, the administration recognizes the need for a virtually iron-clad secure Internet infrastructure. While Internet security is very good right now, expect it to become even better in the near future.

Finally, your session was packed with chockfull of information. It may be impossible for attendees to remember all the information you provided. Can you provide some key items that you want CPA Insider™ readers as well as conference attendees to remember and take away from your session?

Bhansali: The Internet is going to reshape the accounting profession for the better, and this is a vast subject matter. Here are the most important “take-away” points from the presentation:

  1. The three Cs of the Internet — Integrates communication, computation and collaboration seamlessly — giving the Internet its tremendous power.

  2. A new breed of Web-based Accountant-centric solutions has made it possible for accountants to work collaboratively with their clients while remaining in full command. These solutions will change the way accountants perform their client engagements. These Accountant-centric solutions offer tremendous benefits to both accountants and their clients.

  3. CPAs should create their Web sites with one single goal in mind — to harness the power of the Internet to enhance the areas most crucial to advance their practices. If marketing your practice is important, use your Web site as an important part of your marketing initiative. If you have a very busy practice, you may want to use online solutions to save you time and enhance your productivity. Web sites can be very effective for improving client services and enhancing client relationships. Every CPA firm must fully utilize this aspect of their Web site.

And there you have it … the ABCs of Internet marketing and retaining and gaining clients even in this economic slump. What are you waiting for?

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Sukanya Mitra is Managing Editor of the Insider™ e-newsletter group.