The rise of digital marketing has made it critical for brands to own their reputation online. And that’s as true for accountants and tax professionals as it is for celebrities and politicians.

Lee Reams II, CEO of ClientWhys, is in the business of helping CPAs and tax accountants invest in and protect their brands online – something he says makes a world of difference in their ability to attract new clients.

Some accountants are starting to understand how reputation marketing fits into their current referral funnel and new lead generation, Lee says. The market leaders are more responsive and are not afraid to stick their necks out to attract clients, and are heavily invested in user reviews to tell their story for them.

And with 40 percent of accountants still not having a web presence, it makes it that much easier for the market leaders to dominate their local markets.

“Those who are afraid or don’t get digital marketing will continue to hemorrhage clients,” Lee adds.

We recently checked in with Lee to learn more about the marketing challenges facing accounting professionals today, and get his insight on what business owners in niche industries can do to grow their online presence. Here’s what he had to say:

Can you tell us about your professional background?

I have been involved in marketing for over 20 years, working primarily with tax and accounting professionals and helping them grow and manage their practices.

Before founding ClientWhys Inc., I was the founder and COO of ImageOne Inc., which was acquired by Greatland in 2007. ImageOne had a client base of 40,000 professionals across the country. We developed and produced client presentation folders, client newsletters, brochures and tax accounting-related print material.

ClientWhys was formed in 2007 to focus on the online marketing channel. We help CPAs and tax accountants showcase their expertise and safeguard their online reputation. We work with thousands of clients; and now, with the launch of TaxBuzz.com, our goal is to manage the online presence for the top 10,000 CPAs, accountants, enrolled agents and tax professionals.

How do you help your clients at ClientWhys market their businesses?

With any business built primarily on word-of-mouth, we use push technology like email newsletters, blog RSS feeds and social media to build strong networks for our clients. We developed an all-in-one software platform that helps tax and accounting professionals manage their website, blog feed, reviews, CRM, social media, SEO, lead management, landing pages, marketing automation, appointments and much more all in one place.

What are some of the unique marketing challenges for those in accounting?

Smaller firms do not have the budgets needed for pay-for-performance marketing campaigns like Google Adwords. They are not inherently marketers, so cutting through the noise of aggressive SEO companies can be a challenge. Their businesses are built on referrals and their reputations.

Technology is challenging for them, but so is creating huge opportunities for accountants. As we say, “bad bookkeeping is more expensive than good bookkeeping.” With 50 percent of small businesses failing within five years, these DIY accounting systems can only automate tasks, not provide key insights on KPIs, accounting standards, tax planning, budgeting and much more. Garbage in, garbage out.

The challenge most accounting firms have is how to communicate their unique selling propositions to show prospects that they are an expense worth investing in.

Why do you think it’s important for CPAs and other tax professionals to have a platform specifically tailored to them?

The web is built on content. Tax and accounting regulations keep changing. To properly service their client base, accountants need to be proactively communicating with clients and sharing their knowledge. It is very time consuming and technical to develop this content on their own.

People hear the word “accountant” and it doesn’t necessarily generate a lot of excitement. How do you think professionals in less flashy fields can garner interest for their services?

Well, we get excited.

Accountants are the backbone of the U.S. economy. They help create startups, drive business growth strategies, raise capital, and aid in tax planning and budgeting for the most successful companies in the world. Over 1 million professionals call themselves accountants, representing a significant part of the workforce. By 2018, this industry is expected to generate around $160 billion.

But, yes, number crunching is the stereotype when people think of “accountants.” The radical accountant of today is more CFO than number cruncher, and more tax planner than tax preparer. Those are the types of professionals we attract and help market.

I would suggest that other “less exciting” professions should find a way to reinvent themselves out of a “commodity pigeonhole” to more of a value-added partner. They are not a cost center; they need to communicate their role as a profit center. They should create their own unique selling proposition that they then promote online through their website, social media, videos and email marketing channels.

What type of web content do you think is most effective at growing traffic to a site?

We have had more success with targeted content that focuses on specific niches or subjects. Those trying to go national with their content marketing will have a tough time getting found. We also target long tailed keywords that we know are generating traffic.

What type of content do you think is ineffective?

Anything that is very thin or duplicated on another site will do very poorly. You can’t hire a spinner or nontechnical writer to create tax and accounting content that will get read and indexed well.

What are some of your favorite marketing tools right now? Why do you like them?

AutoPilotHQ is a great marketing automation tool. It is easy to use and provides greater intelligence when setting up marketing automation campaigns. We use Zopim chat to interact with web visitors. This helps start a conversation that we usually pass on to a consultant.

As a firm with our own SaaS platform, we obviously are biased toward our technology for most tasks.

What online marketing news or trends do you think business owners should be following right now? Why are they significant?

The move to mobile and Google’s changes in the local pack are big updates that accountants need to address. They need their websites to be responsive so they don’t miss out on mobile search traffic. As far as the shrinking real estate on the SERP results, business owners must embrace vertical marketplaces that are getting indexed above their smaller brands.

We built the TaxBuzz.com marketplace because we saw small businesses getting pushed down the search pages by review sites and other vertical directories. We have already seen this strategy pay huge dividends for our clients, with traffic soon to be surpassing 1 million unique visitors.

Reviews have changed the game. Consumers trust what they read online. They feel it gives a transparent look into the service, expertise and responsiveness of tax accounting professionals. Not being proactive in attracting five-star reviews leaves your business open to competition – and even worse, a negative review. This is a significant part of how all brands, especially local ones, are indexed today.

Secondarily, the move of traffic to directory and marketplace sites helps consumers quickly compare professionals in their area without exhaustive research. They can match up quickly with an expert who has glowing testimonials and meets their service requirements. Both of these trends are game changers for the brands that embrace these new marketing channels.

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