There is no question that accounting firms must have an efficient and effective website as the cornerstone of their new business strategy, yet the thought of developing a new one can make even hardened adults cry.
By any account, a new website project is fraught with peril -- full of possible pitfalls and marketing mistakes that can derail even the best-intentioned efforts. Today, organizations looking for a professional services partner such as an accounting firm depend heavily on websites for their initial research. And because hiring the right accounting firm is a crucial step for most enterprises, the sales cycle can be complex and long, raising the stakes even higher for having the right website.
Fortunately, there are some common pitfalls that are responsible for the vast majority of website derailments. Here’s how to spot them so you can avoid them:
Death by committee: Often large projects require a committee of stakeholders to oversee it. Perhaps the most common pitfall for medium to large organizations, “death by committee” refers to the paralysis that comes with any large group attempting to achieve consensus and make timely decisions. Problems arise when committee members have conflicting interests, axes to grind, jobs to protect, or a status quo to maintain. Committees are often where many projects go to die.
The fewer people involved in website design, approval, and implementation the better. Ideally, a team of two to four qualified individuals should be tasked with shepherding the project from concept to completion. Open, timely communications with stakeholders and management are key for maintaining accountability and keeping the project on track.
Fuzzy planning: Websites can be conceptually daunting: what do we want it to accomplish? How should it look? What about navigation? All of these – and more – are questions that need to be answered before the project is even started. It’s critical to establish key website features and functionality so that -- with apologies to The Rolling Stones -- you may not always get what you want, but you’ll find you get what you need.
The pipe dream: It’s important to be realistic about what a website should be for a firm of your size, scope, and budget. Just because someone might like the form and function of Apple’s website doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to request one just like it.
A closely-related pitfall to the pipe dream is mission creep. This occurs when straight-forward design projects metastasize into marketing mistakes with requests for more website bells-and-whistles. All these unnecessary add-ons can cause these projects to bog down and eventually grind to a halt.
The torpedo: A high-ranking stakeholder or manager with veto power and no time to get involved is a cause for concern. Often this person will come late to the party and find something he or she doesn’t like, delaying or even sinking the new website. If someone like this exists in your organization, try to engage them early and often to keep them in the loop so you can anticipate and head off potential problems.
Looking for the right web design firm? Ditch the RFP
What? Don’t issue a Request for Proposal? The very foundation of professional service provider searches since time immemorial?
Yes. Get rid of RFPs because they are not your best tool for evaluating web design firms. While an RFP may level the playing field. This very effect also stifles what makes those individual firms unique.
Because they must restrict their input to fit your inquiry, you may be preventing them from presenting their real strengths and true value. Even worse, if you’re not familiar with the technology and process involved in designing, building, and launching a website, you may not ask the right questions in your RFP, blunting its usefulness even further and tainting the evaluation process from the get-go.
Then there’s the stultifying effect that RFPs can have. A significant portion of firms roll their eyes when an RFP comes in because to them it represents a tepid, even disinterested, attempt to find a vendor. All they see is a wasted expenditure of time and effort to put together a response that may or may not even get considered.
Take the time to find the right partner
Instead of wasting time crafting an RFP and then waiting for responses, get proactive and go find the firm you want. Start by getting recommendations from colleagues and looking at companies that specialize in accounting firms. A web design agency that understands the accounting field and the unique requirements of accounting firms will have a significant leg up on firms that need to come up to speed.
Pick a handful of prospects and put them through the paces. Ask open-ended questions that enable them to shed light on their thought process, client relationships, and work environment. Ask specific questions too, such as:
- How do they stay on budget?
- What is their discovery and design process?
- How do they keep projects moving?
- What pitfalls do they commonly see and how do they avoid them?
Talk to References
Check out site samples and test drive them if you can to see how work. Make sure you are introduced to the people who will actually be working on your website. As you walk through this process and get a more accurate feel for how firms think and work, one or more strong contenders will emerge.
Being aware of the common marketing mistakes that can affect website design projects and finding the right design partner will go a long way in helping you get not only the website you need, but the website you truly want.
Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to...