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How to Get the Firm Website You Need

May 9th 2018
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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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Replies (4)

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Shawn DeWolfe: WordPress and Drupal Expert
By dewolfe001
May 9th 2018 12:42 EDT

My company isn't as high profile as other local firms. When things go sideways with a traditional agency, clients will approach me, tell me their horror stories and ask me to come in and clean up the mess that an agency left them.
The key things I have seen:
- Clients should find an opportunity to loop the designer into the call with the project manager. Designers and the hands-on engineers need to do their work at arms-length from the client, but the client needs to get a read of whether or not their work is getting off-shored. If the agency can't make contact available, it's a tell.
- Agencies will miss some key aspects of the Internet: mobile first, search engine optimization (SEO), web architecture, user experience, and server load. We had one agency we interacted with that didn't know the difference between screen resolution (how many pixels go on a page) and screen size (how much of the wall it fills up). One agency built a design that orphaned half of the pages in their design. We had an agency delivered a design that was processing intensive that it seized up the server.
- Consider post-design: when you are done working with the agency, the hammers go away and the worksite is cleaned up. The web is all about temporary structures. More work is going to be done on the website at some point. Request that your designers produce hand-off notes: those will be handy if you need the designers to pop the hook and tinker later. It serves another purpose: some designers leave a nightmare of code in their wake. You may not want to work with them. If they have left a mess, you need to find a way to guide your next designer though the previous work.

Thanks (1)
Replying to dewolfe001:
Seth F
By Seth Fineberg
May 9th 2018 16:41 EDT

thank you for sharing your insights. We exist to be a platform for you, the accounting professional and what you share here only serves to help others. If you wish to blog further you are always welcome to.

Thanks (1)
Replying to dewolfe001:
By poonam123
May 12th 2018 04:33 EDT

Nice, Brilliant post

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Rajvir Jhala
By Rajvir
Jun 2nd 2018 10:09 EDT

I have been trying to restructure my firm's website. This will surely help me.

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