The internet offers infinite space in which to carve out a piece of blogger stardom.
By Christine Bockelman
When CPA and financial fraud expert Tracy Coenen started her accounting blog The Fraud Files in November 2005, she intended it to be a way to market her name and experience. Five years and hundreds of posts later, she’s getting 30,000 unique visitors a month. She also credits the blog with bringing in at least 30 percent of her firm’s annual revenue. “And when I say 30 percent, I mean actual money in pocket,” says Coenen, owner of Sequence Inc., a forensic accounting and fraud firm with offices in Chicago and Milwaukee. “Not bad for a little bean-counter, eh?”
Not bad at all.
There were more than 145 million blogs in existence in August 2010, according to BlogPulse.com, which tracks blog statistics. Of those, about 190 are written by practicing CPAs for their business development, says Michelle Golden, who maintains a list of accounting blogs at GoldenPractices.com, and is the author of the forthcoming book, Social Media Strategies for Professionals and Their Firms. In other words, there’s a huge amount of opportunity for new accounting blogs.
“Blogging, in my opinion, is the holy grail of marketing options for CPAs,” says Golden. “In the business of selling intellectual capital, a CPA can demonstrate his or her unique knowledge and experience using blogs as a medium, and simultaneously develop career-changing relationships with prospects, key trade people, media and other thought leaders. Blogging affords firms a level of visibility unimaginable just 10 or 15 years ago. And it’s free, or darn close to it. The key to success is picking the right topics.”
A look at the accounting blogs on GoldenPractices.com reveals CPA-authored blogs on topics such as farming, dentistry and women’s financial success, among other industries and niches.
“The more specific a blog is with regards to its intended audience, the better,” says Golden. “If you are thinking about starting a blog about tax, ask yourself, ‘Who will actually care to read tax updates every few days?’ A client? Or perhaps just other CPAs?”
If you’re going to put in the effort to write and update a blog—bloggers recommend about three posts per week, an investment of a few hours, at least—you want it to draw traffic and interest. A blog about broad tax issues isn’t providing much value beyond what someone could get through a quick internet search, since most of that information could be found on accounting news sites.
“For business development, you’re much better off with a blog focused on an industry.... If I’m a farmer, you can speak to financial topics plus virtually any other issue, including floods, seed technology, or the newest bailers. As long as it continues to pertain to me, I’ll keep reading,” Golden explains. “Readers are quick to unsubscribe to content they don’t perceive as relevant. Is the chairman of a family business going to read tax updates every few days? Don’t lose them.”
If an industry focus seems too narrow for your practice, “Consider a market segment like family owned businesses or women business owners, or a demographic audience such as a specific ethnic or age group,” Golden advises. “Your content should stand apart; defining your desired readers enables you to deliver value and relevance,” she says, adding that, “When you effectively illustrate your distinctions, you’re also able to break free of competing on price. Through good content marketing, you achieve multiple benefits.”
Coenen completely agrees. “My blog readers are not my clients, but they use the same search terms in search engines that my clients do,” she explains. “I figured out that my readers aren’t engaging me for consulting, but they’re enhancing my Google mojo enough that when a potential client is searching the internet for forensic accountants and fraud information, they get pulled to my site, which pops up first for many relevant search terms.”
Accounting blogs can be successful networking tools, too. Joel Ungar, CPA, CFE, founding principal of Silberstein Ungar, PLLC outside Detroit, has a blog called Ungar Cover on AccountingWEB, an online media company for accountants. Ungar’s blog focuses on topics related to the profession, and is primarily read by accountants. Recent topics, which are often tongue-in-cheek (his particular differentiator) include, “Counting the Ways FASB Codification Has Improved My Life” and “10 Ways to Know You Were Born to Be an Accountant.” Some of Ungar’s posts get about 200 hits within two or three days.
“The blog is part of an overall effort to get myself known out there,” he explains. “I’ve also met a lot of really interesting people, other accountants, and networked quite a bit. It’s helping to build some brand recognition for myself and my firm.”
No matter what your blogging intentions—networking, attracting clients or exploring industry interests—there’s plenty of room on the internet for your thoughts and expertise. You just have to be committed to the effort.
“The reason I’ve been successful is I’ve kept up with it,” says Coenen. “I’ve seen a lot of people start a blog, do 10 articles and never touch it again when it doesn’t generate a lot of traffic. You need to keep doing it to see the results.”
So start writing, CPAs.
Blog Style Primer
Writing style and tone, as well as length of post, are all important factors in a blog’s success. Generally speaking, conversational, informal styles of writing are the most successful in drawing followers. And it’s important to be “consistent with your tone, voice and subject matter,” says Bridget O’Malley, who blogs about campus recruiting for Protiviti. “If you’re not consistent, things can get chaotic.”
It’s also important that your voice be imbued with authenticity. “Be yourself,” says Golden. “You have an opportunity to create relationships through your writing. Don’t secretly let others post on your behalf without disclosure, and be sure that each post reflects an author’s name, not just ‘admin,’” she warns. “People can’t develop relationships with ‘admin.’”
What’s more, while a blog can boost your presence and recognition, it shouldn’t be overtly used for self-promotion. That’s just a big turn off for blog readers.
Three Golden Blog Rules
Before you start posting your musings online, there are legal issues you need to know about, says Michelle Golden. Here’s a primer.
1.Be original. Don’t excerpt more than 20 percent of someone else’s content, and always credit the original author or organization, naming and linking to the source. “With proper attribution and directing people to the original work, you’re helping the other person, which they’ll appreciate,” she says.
2.Tread carefully with images. “If you use pictures, be sure to honor licensing terms. You can purchase photos or find free images on sites like flickr.com,” she suggests. “Become familiar with ‘creative commons licensing’ [creativecommons.org] and always give the photographer appropriate credit for his or her work, or it’s stealing.”
3.Be tag savvy. Tagging—the social media term for identifying individuals who appear in a photograph you post online—without first obtaining the subject’s permission, is also a big no-no. “It’s just not appropriate to use an image of someone publically, for business, unless they’ve said it’s ok,” she says.