Good design makes for great content

Good content makes your accountancy firm marketing more powerful. But how do you get great content?

The answer is to join up your good content with good design. Those two goods make something great.


Last week my marketing tip was about your accountancy firm brand – and it did begin to cross into the area of design.  Because as we’ve seen, your branding identity comprises all of these things together: your personality, logo, style, fonts, wording, and of course your design.

Remember that good content, first and foremost, puts your audience first. If you have a chosen niche area, you’re writing and sharing information that is helpful. Relevant. Based on the very issues they face every day. Read “Choosing the content that fits your niche”

But making an effort on the right topic, or good wording, is just a start. Your design can take that content and push it forward into a higher plane – without ever changing a word. Here’s how:

Design follows content.

One of the greatest lessons I learned early on in website strategy and design is that having a clear plan of your content is absolutely essential to the design process. As we built more websites (and wrote ebooks and designed infographics and other such items), we discovered that if the content was ready, the design came easy.  But it is not possible to create brilliant design simply on its own.

The words and the structure tell the designers what to do. Is the intention of your website landing page to encourage visitors to sign up for free resources? That puts a high priority on the location of the “Sign up now” button.  Is your ebook all about raising finance? Then the imagery chosen reflects that process.

It goes further as well. Your style and tone of voice also direct the design. One of the first things we do at The Profitable Firm when we are working with a new accountancy firm is to complete a style sheet, which provides for our team a description of the type of firm, tone of voice, personality, and brand identity.  Some firms have a friendly, casual, laid-back tone. Others are cheerful whilst keeping a professional voice. And still others are, as one of my content writers put it, “like a small PWC” in tone. None of these are a negative or positive – it is simply a reflection of who you are. Of course, if your existing style and tone is not a reflection of who you want to be, then it will alert you to changes that need to be made internally. Your current design, content, and tone of voice IS reflective of where you are: but you can change that if you want to. It does need to come from within the firm, though. We can make your blog posts more chill, more personable, and less stiff: but if your firm and the people in it are fairly old school, your prospects are going to sense a mismatch.

Good design forces you to re-think what you’ve written

When you see the words put in a design context, you re-think them.

I can’t tell you how many times I have done this with our own marketing. Even when I was working on our own Content Marketer site, I would put together wording for a headline or a page section and then when I saw it on the draft site would change my mind.

Design gives your wording more power: and it quickly becomes evident the true message you are delivering.  We put together some simple cards for our Content Marketer programme to hand out at #xerocon, and when we looked at the first design on the screen, we realised that because they were business card size, the message we had chosen made it look like we were promoting a new marketing agency. The Profitable Firm is a marketing agency: but that wasn’t the point of the cards. The idea is to help you grasp quickly that this is a 12 month programme you can sign up for, a unique item, almost a product.  The card itself was not created for the purpose of promoting marketing in general, but a specific, new programme.  So we changed it.  (If you want to see the result, come find one of the Profitable Firm team at #xerocon – they will be in the yellow shirts with PF on them!)

The colours you choose can affect the actions your prospects take

We’ll talk about this more deeply in a future marketing tip, but for now, begin to think about – and notice – how colours affect your impression of marketing.

I am writing this marketing tip on an Easyjet flight. Everything is bright orange and grey.  The bright orange is cheerful, friendly, modern, new; the grey is a nod to the professional market and intended to convey security and safety.  Later I will be taking a British Airways flight. Their colours are blue, white, and red. British. Traditional. Professional. Clean.

It isn’t just about the logo, of course – but these are large brands so all their marketing uses these colours, because they want to give that impression across everything they do.

Look at your own accountancy firm design.

I am willing to bet that many of you have a real dichotomy of design – some items you cobbled together yourself; others you purchased and customised for your firm; still others you may have had custom designed.  You might have a leaflet that uses orange and purple and white, which you like because it feels modern and fresh.  But then you have a Word template you created yourself, and it uses some bright green and blue, because those are your logo colours.

Setting aside the consistency factor (and the resulting confusion that multiple styles of design gives to your client), you can see at a base level that your chosen colours tell you something.  What do they say? And more importantly, what will they encourage your prospect to do as a result?

Think about the formats that are preferable to your niche market

Design is not merely about colour and style. Format is also key.

Everyone likes the idea of an ebook. But is that the best format for your design and content?

Go back to your audience, the issues they face and the problems they need solved. Their style of doing business. If they are online constantly and love good imagery and creativity, an infographic or a video may be the best format.  If they are professionals with a high level of education and a tendency to do extensive research, a whitepaper or webinar might suit better.

The format of your content item is determined by the characteristics of your target audience: and it is critical that you know what those are.

So where do you get good design?

Most accountancy firms I talk to do not employ a graphic designer. They don’t employ a marketing manager or team.  This is a result of the fact that marketing has not historically been seen as a “core” business element. It is a bonus extra, a nice thing to focus on if you have some extra time, a bolt on to the personal recommendations and referrals on which you rely.

For those of you who are keen to own your corner of the market (or more), this misunderstanding of the importance of marketing by other accountants gives you one of the greatest opportunities available. You can have a real edge when you put your mind (and time, and effort, and money) towards good design. Great design, even.

You don’t have to start by hiring the most prestigious marketing agency in your local area, or one in London that is used by the ‘big brands’.  You can begin by testing out a few small projects. Hiring an intern. Working with an outsourced marketing agency (like us! Ta daaaa!). Asking a graphic design client to work with you on a small project.

As a side note, be cautious when working with clients, or with very recent networking contacts.  It is always dangerous to hire someone simply because they are there, not because they are the best or because you like them or they have the expertise.

There are so many accountancy firms I speak to who choose to work with us not because we are the best marketing agency in existence (we continue to strive!), but because we know accountants and the accounting industry so well. We had an organisation recently tell us that they have a marketing agency, a graphic designer, and a PR agency. But they want to work with us because they won’t have to explain everything – Xero, cloud accounting, VAT, auto enrolment, cloud integration, pricing packages, IRIS, and the like.

When we build a website for an accountancy firm, we are often asked to refresh their logo at the same time – because the conversations held around a website strategy are so similar to those held around a branding identity.  Why repeat yourself? Why pay twice?

Here are a few places you can source good design:

  • A marketing agency
  • A professional graphic designer
  • A freelancer or startup creative
  • Interns or university students
  • Outsourced sites such as People per Hour or 99designs
  • Website build platforms such as Rocketspark
  • The Profitable Firm! (obvs)

One final idea you may want to consider is joining forces with several other non-competing accountancy firms.

If four or five of you banded together, we could hire a full time graphic designer to which you have exclusive access.   Now that is cool.  Let me know if you’re in.