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A guide to They Ask, You Answer’s ‘Big 5’ blog categories, and how they apply to your firm’s content

As I type into google “the best sleeping bag for summer/autumn in the UK” I’m reminded just how impactful Marcus Sheridan’s big 5 blog categories are, and why we suggest accountants prioritise them when they’re writing blogs and creating videos.

We live in a world now where it’s second nature to go to Google to problem solve, carry out research and explore options – before we even consider buying yet. In his book ‘They Ask, You Answer’, Marcus Sheridan found the the top five content subjects to render the greatest amount of traffic online were:

  1. Pricing and costs
  2. Problems
  3. Versus and comparisons
  4. Reviews
  5. Best in class

And he found an interesting paradox. He said:

“As consumers we obsess over these five subjects when considering a purchase”

However,

“As businesses, we generally ignore or even hide from these questions, hoping they’ll either magically go away or, worst case, willingly address them only when we are face to face with the prospect or buyer”.

We already know on average 70% of the buying decision is made online before a prospect gets in touch with a company. If your prospects are obsessively doing their research in these five key areas before they’re filling in your online form or picking up the phone, it can only build more trust to focus your attention in these key areas too.

Not only will focusing on these five subjects build trust with your prospects because you’re addressing the questions they’re obsessing over, but it’ll also give structure to your marketing strategy.

Pricing: why accountants need to talk about money

Think for a minute about your own buying habits. The cost of a product or service may not be the ultimate deciding factor, but you do want to have some understanding of what something costs.

A new business owner may have zero idea about how much good accounting support costs.

Some prospects may have been in business for years, but your support is wildly different from the accounting they know, because their uncle has been doing the books, or they’ve had a bad experience with a previous accountant, or they’ve been making it work with the cheapest software they could find.

It’s so important to educate your clients on what it’s really like to work with a great accountant and get real value, but it’s equally important to give them some expectation of what it’s going to cost, so they can make decisions based on information, not assumptions.

It’s common to think including your prices on your website or in your blogs will scare prospects off. But actually, not including any information or expectation of price could be the thing scaring them away.

When I was younger, I lived in Milan for some time. Every day on my way to work, I’d walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping gallery and a major landmark in the city. In the Galleria, none of the shops included price labels on their products, and it was renowned as a hotspot for the rich. The whole time I lived in the city, I never bought a thing there. The lack of price labels told me “this must be expensive”. In fact, I barely ever ventured into the shops at all, feeling like I was out of my depth and didn’t belong.

Similarly, not giving any indication of price on your website or in your marketing materials might be causing your prospects to make assumptions. They might not even make it past the page they land on for fear of being out of their depth. Worst case scenario, your website may not even appear in the results of their Google search, because you haven’t addressed their key question.

You might be wondering where pricing questions can go beyond “how much does it cost to work with an accountant”. Here are some actions you can take to come up with content topics:

– Think about any question you’ve ever been asked about cost. Go back into emails and look for any conversations that include “how much…”.

– Look back at the times a proposal hasn’t been accepted based on price. What content could you have written and shared earlier in the process to either:

  • Better educate the prospect on the cost of working with you and the value they will get from their investment.
  • Manage their expectations early allowing them to pre-qualify themselves out of your sales process, saving you and your team time on a prospect that wasn’t a fit.

– Think very specifically about your audience and how you work. You’ll find there are more more specific questions about pricing, things like:

  • How much do I need to budget for Xero/QBO?
  • Is a subscription for this [industry specific] app worth the cost?
  • How much does it cost to get a cash flow report?
  • Will it cost more to add another person to my payroll?
  • Why can’t I just use free software and do the accounting myself?

When you dig deep, you’ll find there are plenty of cost related questions to cover.

Problems: the questions you get asked all the time

  • How do I…?
  • What do I need to do about…?
  • Where can I find…?
  • Why do I need to…?
  • I’m finding it difficult to…
  • I can’t figure out how to…

Many business owners are navigating their first experience as owner and boss. Most see an opportunity to go out on their own and live their passion or commoditise the thing they’re good at, meaning they’ve had little training or experience in all the complexities of running a business.

If your clients didn’t go into business as a well-experienced owner, they certainly didn’t go into business as a well-experienced accountant either.

This is all stuff you know, because you’re addressing the gaps in your clients’ knowledge all the time. And if your existing clients are asking you, your ideal clients are out there in the mist alone searching for someone to answer the same question for them. They’re worried they’re doing things wrong and having real feelings about failure and its impact on their lives. You have the know-how to ease their pain.

You might be thinking “yes but if I share my know-how they won’t need to work with me”. It’s a common worry, but it’s simply not true. Or at least it’s not true for the ones you want to work with. (It could be true for those you didn’t want to work with, anyway, which is also a success.)

You need to give away information and charge for implementation. Give your prospects the solution they need to solve their problem – at least, the information you can give which applies to many people. If it’s more specific, they’ll need to get in touch with you.
Giving away this information:

  • Builds trust – it shows you mean it when you say you want to help. You’re telling the whole story rather than giving them vague unhelpful statements or guarding trade secrets. Be as helpful as possible: enormously helpful.
  • Gives them enough information to decide if they want to tackle it alone or get help – they might realise it’s more complex than they thought and you really know what you’re talking about, which could cause them to skip the DIY difficulty and jump straight to your support.

Read more about what to give away, and what not to give away, here: Give away information, charge for implementation.

Versus and comparisons: helping people weigh up options in a world of choice

Now we can shop the world online, we have access to products and services like we’ve never had before. We’re also wiser than we’ve ever been to advertising, and can spot when we’re being “sold to”.

Research shows we’ve moved past the days of simply picking the household name because it’s the biggest and the loudest. As consumers we’re looking for a product or service to solve our problems and a brand we connect with.

To feel confident we’re getting the best, we do our research online, and it’s very rare to find a product or service without some kind of competition, somewhere.

The most obvious comparison you might be worrying about is accountant vs accountant. Firm vs firm. If a creative is looking for accountants who specialise in creative businesses, what’s to stop them comparing every ‘accountant for creatives’ in the town? In the region? In the country?

This is why it’s so important to create content that shows your uniqueness. Not to say “we’re the best” but to say “we’re your kind of people”. Share your values, philosophies and principles. Identify the characteristics of your ideal client and create content that speaks to their specific problems and desires. Here’s a blog from Karen all about how good marketing divides. You want to make all your marketing about your ideal client: so much so, when they see your content, they think, “Oh! That’s me!”.

Firm vs firm isn’t the only comparison your ideal clients will be making online, though. You’ll know from running a business yourself there are tonnes of decisions to make all the time. Many of those decisions will be researched in the Google arena first. Your audience might be asking:

  • Which is better – Xero or QuickBooks?
  • Which is more effective – doing the books myself or hiring an accountant?
  • Should I hire a bookkeeper in-house or outsource it?

What if you could go beyond accounting and financial advice, and share your opinion on an industry specific comparison? As a creative agency, we recently looked at updating our project management software, and our team did their research on the top 2 in the running.

If you could write a blog on the “best project management software for a creative agency – Trello or Monday?” your clients will be impressed by your authority and understanding of their industry needs. It may not instantly sell your services, but it sells trust.

Reviews: show authority through transparency

Many websites shout “we’re the best, we’re the best, we’re the best” and give the impression of a superiority complex more than showing themselves as truly the best option.

Your prospects are looking for honesty and transparency about people, products and services, and you’ll show more authority and credibility when you can provide a helpful review of their options.

That’s not to say you need to write a blog underselling how great you are. It means you could increase trust by writing a blog that says “here’s a detailed review of ALL your options to help you make an informed decision”.

Avalon, a great client of ours in Canada, did this really well. Here’s a blog they wrote reviewing online accountants: Online Accountants In Canada: Who Are They and How Are They Different?. The blog helps the reader understand why they might choose an online accountant, and lists the names of some recommended firms.

At the end of the blog they write “Avalon Accounting is an online accounting firm and we would love to earn your business. Have a look around our site and see if our services fit your needs and if our values align with your own”.

Avalon aren’t taking themselves out of the running. Their transparency will have a profound impact on the reader. It shows they’re confident enough to discuss their competition, and more concerned about their prospect choosing the right fit. This will encourage the right fit to get in touch. It will also send the wrong fit away with a positive impression of the firm, and therefore more likely to recommend them to friends and peers where it suits.

What other important topics might your ideal client be looking for an authoritative opinion on? What have you tried and tested that will save them time figuring out? Maybe:

  • A detailed review of an app – the good, the bad and the ugly
  • A new software update
  • A review of a book you know will help them do business better

Best in class : a quest for the best (or the easiest)

You could argue the ‘best of’ is ultimately what prospects are trying to find when they’re googling for comparisons and reviews. It’s still really important to talk about independently though because of how often we use this term “best” in our searches.

Like my google search from the very beginning of this blog “the best sleeping bag for summer/autumn in the UK”, you can probably think of lots of instances where you’ve searched for the best of something.

Where the “best of” might feel more connected to products – “best moisturizer for sensitive skin”, “best gift ideas for Dads” – an accountant might replace the word ‘best’ with quickest or easiest. Because one thing you know for sure is your busy business owners want to save time and stress.

I bet you can think of plenty of instances where you’ve been asked for the fastest, easiest or best way to do something by clients in the past. Maybe:

  • What’s the best way to let an employee go?
  • What’s the best bank for a startup?
  • The fastest way to get an injection of cash?
  • How easy is it to do your own tax returns?

Stuck for Big 5 ideas? Do a TAYA workshop and invite your team

Hopefully these examples have given you enough food for thought to create a big long list of blog topics for your audience.

To generate an even bigger list, invite your team to read this blog (and the book, if they haven’t already) and bring them into the process.

When you collaborate with your team you’ll find ideas and perspectives you hadn’t considered because they’re all working with the clients in different ways every day.

We’ve found the best way to get all the best juiciest ideas flowing with the team is to run a They Ask, You Answer workshop, either on your own or with the support of the PF team. We recently ran a session with our clients at Thrive, and James shared the following in the PF Facebook community:

Here’s everything you need to know about how to run a TAYA workshop for your own firm. Watch how fast you become the ones obsessing over these subjects!

If you’d rather sit back and be a part of the session yourself, ask us how we can help to facilitate it, so you feel like you have enough material for a million blogs too.