You’re an independent consultant that works out of your home office. Should you create the image that you’re a big, corporate company, or be yourself and market individually? Let’s explore what tends to work better with a look at independent accounting services.
We’d like to talk to you about the marketing strategies of two accounting services. The strategies are very different, though the services are quite similar.
Both are independent, individual CPAs. One has a small local office, the other works from home. Both offer small business personal and business tax services.
However, if you look at the websites of these two businesses, your perception of each will be completely different.
The first engages a fairly common practice used by independent accounts, financial advisors, counselors/life coaches, fitness trainers, and other consultants. While they are an independent practice set up as an LLC or sole proprietorship, they use their website content to give the appearance of being a large, multi-employee enterprise.
Although these are independent operations, these businesses use language and imagery to create the perception that they have large staffs, national or international client bases, and enterprise-level solutions. They use the pronoun “we” in their content, and stock photos to make it look like they have large, deeply staffed offices. They develop a brand name that makes the business sound like it’s a major player in the vertical (a version of TD Ameritrade or Fidelity Investments, for example).
This homepage typifies what we see with these types of businesses:
The second type of business is the independent consultant who presents himself as exactly that. He doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s a single person that primarily works with local clients.
In this case, he uses his actual name for his DBA. He talks about his services and background on basis of his personal experience. Instead of a stock photo, he has a photo and description of himself:
So which approach works better?
Well, in the case of these two businesses over the last 90 days:
- The first website has a conversion rate of 0.49%. 1 out of every 200 visitors convert.
- The second has a 5.03% conversion rate. 10 out of every 200 visitors convert.
In this instance, the independently branded site is converting 10x better than the one with general corporate branding.
Big Fish in a Small Pond
Let’s backtrack and think about why independent consultants create website content that makes them look like a big brand.
To do this, let’s go back a decade. It’s 2008. Small business website marketing is still an emerging discipline with far fewer established parameters. Data tracking tends to be sporadic, and conversion rate optimization still involves a lot of assumption.
In other words, a lot of people are still feeling out what type of website design will work.
However, design elements are robust and powerful. There are more templates and content management systems available, making it easier to develop and edit website content. Stock photos are all the rage, making it possible to give an enterprise gloss to any type of business.
So businesses like small financial firms get an idea. Instead of just looking like small-time locals, why not make ourselves look like Edward Jones? We could expand our reach and take market share from the big boys. After all, we can make a website that’s every bit as professional as theirs.
Businesses started taking the tactic of website design and applying it to their marketing strategy. It was possible to design a website that made them look like a big-time firm, so why not try to win clients from that market?
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The Power of Authenticity
Fast-forward to today, and the data tells a different story. In our experience, consulting businesses trying to be a “big fish” usually fail to leave their “small pond”.
In fact, most businesses that use this approach have poor results from their marketing. There are a number of reasons for this.
First and foremost is the website ploy doesn’t work anymore – if it ever did. Consumers today are savvy about website design, and they can easily recognize a major brand from a wannabe.
One of the biggest problems is the impersonal feel of stock photos (Why are the people in the first website we noted high-fiving?). Blatantly staged stock photos don’t impress anyone anymore. They’re just content filler that carries no useful information.
Add to that an unknown (if important sounding) brand name and general content that offers few specifics about the business, and you have a website people can see is trying to be something it’s not.
These businesses usually don’t have the budgets necessary to market against brands that actually have vast resources. You might develop a website that makes you look as good as Fidelity, but that won’t matter if you can’t reach a national audience. Many of these businesses totally underestimate the budget they need to compete in the big pond.
But the problem that’s most striking today is not being authentic. Consumers today value transparency and they strongly favor the personal touch. They expect a business website to give a realistic, clear idea of what to actually expect in a business relationship.
So what do you think happens when a lead calls a business under the false impression that they’re a big brand, then discovers it’s one person working from a home office? They’ve sacrificed trust right from the start.
On the other hand, someone calling George Spencer will know exactly what to expect. He’s clear that he’s a local CPA serving the Jacksonville area. His service descriptions are detailed without over-promising. He has testimonials and reviews that describe the value he delivers his clients.
And the picture on his website is actually of him. He looks professional and friendly. How much more genuine and authentic is this than a stock photo of models in an office?
Today, there are few advantages and many perils in trying to market a small, independent consulting service as if it were a major brand.
Be good at what you do and show people who you are. You’ll generate more leads, and you’ll most certainly convert more of them into loyal, paying customers.