How consumer trust and professionalism can be built through a website
Over the past number of years, professional services companies have increasingly adopted online as a core part of their businesses. This has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. I met with Conor Gavin Accountants, who are based in Ratoath, Co Meath to hear about their online journey.
Conor began by telling me he set up the business in 2009, which as we all remember, was during the difficult recession. He had been financial controller of a large food wholesaling business but due to the recession they went out of business. As experienced by many others, he found that jobs were not readily available at his level of experience. Conor decided that going down the self-employed route was the best option and Conor Gavin Accountants was formed. The business built slowly, with three or four clients and has gradually grown over the years. He built his client base initially by word of mouth and some local print advertising. Networking was vital, especially the BNI business network. He was also very involved in the GAA as a coach for both hurling and camogie. Ireland is a small place, so pressing the flesh and letting people know he was going out on his own was important. These initial jobs resulted in happy clients who gave word of mouth referrals to their networks and the business took off.
First steps on the digital journey
His first set up a website in 2012 and he says it was a very basic 2 – 3 page website. Social media hadn’t really taken off at that stage but in the intervening years there have been a lot of online developments. As he didn’t have the skillset to build the website himself, he hired a web developer to do it. He had been told every business should have a website, so that’s why he put it in place, but initially did very little with it. At the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic, he was setting his business goals and wanted to grow the business. He did quite a lot of research, looking at websites in the UK, US and Australia, specifically for accountancy practices.
He says that a lot of practices in Ireland have websites, but they don’t add a lot to their marketing or branding. He got a lot of ideas from researching other countries. Although he had great plans, for example adding a blog, he didn’t quite get around to it. He now has plans to take payments online and provide the facility for clients to upload their documents and records so he can produce and maintain their books a lot faster. A series of webinars is also planned and Conor sees the online opportunity as limitless.
Impact of Covid-19
The impact of the pandemic has meant a lot of fire-fighting for the business. More established clients have become friends over the years and he spent time guiding them through the wage subsidy scheme, business restart grants, getting payment breaks from landlords, dealing with banks, being part psychiatrist, part psychologist and he says he has never worked so hard. Initially, people were shell shocked so he held their hand and kept as many businesses going as possible. Clients use bookkeeping packages such as Quickbooks and Xero. This is easier for the client and more streamlined for the accountancy practice as files can be uploaded securely. Most clients are very happy to adopt more digital ways of working, but they definitely need guidance, Conor states.
Importance of a website
Conor uses a range of different tactics to promote his business. People from his area/village are aware of the business from print advertising and prominent office signage. Motorists see the signage as they are driving through the village. Clients tell him they were recommended or they saw the signage but the first port of call after that is that they check out the website. It is important that the website portrays a professional image. Every time he gets a new client he asks how they heard about him. Invariably the answer is that a contact recommended him and then they checked out the website. This happens 80% of the time. The website is a crucial tool that assists in getting new clients. It is a key part of the marketing mix. He has also used social media advertising in a limited way on Facebook and Google ads. He plans to expand this in 2021 and become more active on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Conor chose a .ie domain because his research showed that it indicated an Irish business and .ie was recommended by his web developer. He has no plans to do business internationally so .ie was the perfect fit. Conor notes that during the pandemic there is a real appetite for supporting local Irish businesses, especially on the retail side, but also people are mindful of supporting all local business including professional services.
In 2021, Conor plans to add more features to his website and make it work hard for the business. His view is that a website is vital for professional services companies.
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Additional Resources: SME Start and SME Evolve, practical insights and business supports that enable you to thrive online.
Oonagh McCutcheon is our Corporate Communications Manager and National Director of our .IE Digital Town Programme.