CPA Pitfalls to Avoid
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid : Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the title of qualified accountants in numerous countries in the English-speaking world. In the United States, the CPA is a license to provide accounting services directly to the public. It is awarded by each of the 50 states for practice in that state. Additionally, almost every state (49 out of 50) has passed mobility laws in order to allow practice in their state by CPAs from other states. Although state licensing requirements vary, the minimum standard requirements include the passing of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, 150 semester units of college education, and one year of accounting related experience.
Continuing professional education (CPE) is also required to maintain licensure. Individuals who have been awarded the CPA but have lapsed in the fulfillment of the required CPE or have requested to be converted to inactive status are in many states permitted to use the designation “CPA Inactive” or an equivalent phrase. In most U.S. states, only CPAs are legally able to provide to the public attestation (including auditing) opinions on financial statements. Many CPAs are members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and their state CPA society.
State laws vary widely regarding whether a non-CPA is even allowed to use the title accountant. To illustrate, Texas prohibits the use of the designations “accountant” and “auditor” by a person not certified as a Texas CPA, unless that person is a CPA in another state, is a non-resident of Texas, and otherwise meets the requirements for practice in Texas by out-of-state CPA firms and practitioners.
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid
Online marketing offers a CPA firm a range of opportunities to provide clients and potential clients with a depth of information that’s impossible to obtain through traditional advertising, direct mail programs or firm brochures. Providing information alone, however, is not enough. The information needs to be specific and targeted to the needs of existing and potential clients.
Additionally, many marketers take a scattershot, non-strategic approach to online marketing. They charge right into a project without thinking through what they want to accomplish or how the project will fit into the rest of their marketing plan.
Often, firms may launch their Web sites and forget about them. Just as a firm must be promoted, so too, must a Web site. Without proper promotion, a Website will attract few visitors. This approach is akin to opening a retail store on a second floor with neither a sign nor any advertising to make potential customers aware of its existence.
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid
Online marketing involves the use of the Internet to deliver marketing messages to the target audience. Compared to traditional offline marketing, online marketing is very different and at the same time, very much the same. On the one hand, the tools available to the online marketer are different from the ones traditionally used by CPAs print advertising, direct mail solicitations, newsletters and free seminars. These new tools include:
- Web sites
On the other hand, many classic marketing principles apply no matter what medium or marketing tool is being employed. For instance:
- The marketing message must reach the appropriate target.
- The marketing message must be clear, comprehensible and relevant to the target audience.
- The tone and manner of the message and the entire marketing communication piece must be appropriate to the nature of the marketer, the target audience and the subject at hand.
Integrating Online and Offline Marketing
An essential truth of marketing any type of product of service is that to be effective, the imagery and messages contained with all pieces need to be consistent and integrated. This consistency applies to online marketing as well. If a firm’s overall image promoted in advertising, brochures and office decor is one of a conservative, prudent advisor, then a Web site with bold graphics and flashy animation and MTV-style language would create quite a disconnect in the minds of clients and prospects.
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid – Benefits of Online Marketing
In general, online marketing efforts cost a great deal less than their traditional, offline counterparts. For example, consider the case of replacing a direct mail campaign with an email campaign. The firm will still incur the costs of copywriting and perhaps designing the piece, but will eliminate completely the costs of mailing and printing.
Online marketing – email and Web sites – provides clients with a quick and easy mechanism for responding to a marketing message. While traditional print advertisements or direct mail campaigns require clients or potential clients to pick up the phone or mail back a response card, online marketing makes responding as simple and fast as making a few keystrokes. Online marketing allows for easy, unobtrusive, two-way communication between a firm and its clients or potential clients. The speed and simplicity of email communication allows firms and clients to maintain ongoing dialogues, as well as issue-based discussions around their workday schedules.
Another benefit for firms is that online marketing dramatically increases the ease with which clients and potential clients can share information. There’s nothing simpler that forwarding an email from one’s CPA to a friend or colleague. In this way and many others, online marketing reduces paper and clutter in the marketer’s office and in the recipient’s mailbox. This is a tangible benefit to both parties, as well as to the environment.
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid – Creating a Web Site
There are several ways to create a Web site. The method chosen will likely depend on a firm’s size and budget. The first choice is whether to take a do-it-yourself approach or to use a professional Web developer.
If you choose the do-it-yourself route, there are two basic choices. The first is for someone within your firm to learn HTML programming and create the Web site in-house. The second option is to use a Web service where you can create a Web site using a template, eliminating the need for any specialized programming knowledge.
Remember, as with any marketing communications piece, one of a Web site’s key purposes is to showcase your firm in a positive light. Make sure when you develop your site that you use professional photographs and professionally written copy.
If you decide to hire professional help to develop your Web site, the choices basically are related to size and budget, ranging from local individuals who design Web sites for small businesses, to advertising and marketing agencies that handle online work.
There are a number of Web developers and Web hosting services available on the Internet and many cater to professional services providers. These can be found through popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo and AOL.
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid – Web Site Tips
- Make certain that your Web site includes complete, current contact information. Always include your firm address, phone and fax numbers, as well as an email address for a key contact person.
- Take care to choose a contact person who is well informed about your firm and its capabilities.
- Make sure your site is easy to use. Ensure that first-time visitors can navigate the site intuitively and find what they are looking for easily.
- Avoid using extensive, non-essential graphics, which can cause Web pages to download slowly, encouraging visitors to leave your site.
- Don’t just recreate your firm brochure electronically. Most brochures lack the depth needed to hold the attention of Web site visitors, who are looking for relevant and specific information.
- Provide site visitors with something that is free and useful. Tips, tools, information and the promise of more will interest potential clients and provide an incentive to return to your site.
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid – Benefits of Using Email
Email can be an effective, powerful and highly affordable marketing tool. The benefits include:
- No cost for postage.
- The elimination of printing and paper costs.
- A significant reduction in the time needed to create and launch a campaign.
- A process for communicating frequently.
- A method for reaching the intended recipient, rather than an assistant who serves as a gatekeeper.
- A system for getting messages to recipients the same day they are sent.
- A method that allows recipients to respond quickly and easily.
- A mechanism for encouraging recipients to visit the firm’s Web site by clicking on a link included in the email message.
The ease and simplicity of creating and sending email messages allows CPA firms to engage in direct marketing and formalized client communications more frequently than with traditional marketing methods. Whenever a firm has new and important information for its clients, regarding tax law changes, the firm’s services or on some other topic, email offers an opportunity to communicate that information in an efficient, professional manner. For example, a firm might alert its clients to relevant changes in the tax code as in the sample below.
Recent changes in the IRS rules governing the deductibility of home office expenses may require you make some changes during this year. We would like to inform you of these changes personally and plan to call in the next few weeks to discuss them in detail. Please feel free to call our office at 555-555-5555 if you have any questions in the meantime.
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid – Permission Marketing
Email is particularly well suited to permission marketing. Permission marketing is the practice of asking a prospect or client for permission to communicate with them on an ongoing basis. By obtaining a recipient’s permission to communicate, your firm can be sure that the recipient is actually interested in receiving your communication. The firm efforts become far more effective because less time and effort are wasted on prospects who are not interested. In fact, the firm’s response rates rise because recipients are predisposed to paying attention to the firm’s messages.
For example, a Web site can offer visitors the chance to sign up for a monthly email newsletter. A simple and effective way of creating a regular email campaign for clients and prospects is to utilize an email newsletter template. Some state CPA societies may have email newsletter templates available for their members to use with clients.
A monthly email newsletter may provide summaries of and links to useful financial and tax information and is typically designed so firms can easily customize it with their name and contact information, creating the impression of a proprietary newsletter. This type of marketing tool is a great way to keep in contact with your clients and increase your communications with potential clients.
CPA Pitfalls to Avoid
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