Setting up a website is very easy. Setting up a good website takes more skill and experience. There's a lot you need to know if you want to create a website from scratch. It certainly takes more than just buying a copy of Dreamweaver and whipping one up on your own. Fortunately, there are products and services for creating websites for accountants that can make the job a lot easier.
This article introduces you to four website creation products aimed at accountants and accounting practices. All of them are roughly similar in price and they have many basic features in common, but there are many individual features and options that are likely to make one product stand out from the rest.
What Should You Expect in a Website Builder?
All website builders will offer you enough features to get a good-looking, integrated website up and running quickly. There will be templates, or themes-prepackaged designs that look good and work well-that are customizable for content. Many website builders let you change template colors, add pictures and logos, and move screen elements from one place to another. (You may also be able to add pictures and graphics from a built-in library of royalty-free graphics.)
A website builder should offer hosting services: a place to run your website from. Yes, you can get your own hosting service and set something up on your own, but the reason you're likely to use website building software is to make your life easier and not have to jump through a lot of technological hoops. The hosting service should also offer domains, so you can buy something that brands your company, and email. After all, it's more professional to have your email come from your own domain than from aol.com or gmail.com. It's also safe to assume that the hosting service for your website, email, and file exchange features are all reasonably secure and backed up against possible disasters. Federal and state requirements for security and encryption are pretty good, so it's unlikely that data will be stolen or compromised.
Other features that are usually available included syndicated newsletter or other articles that add continually updated web content, add-in financial calculators, credit card processing, and online stores. Some packages include search engine optimization (SEO) features, where information about your website is added to Google, Yahoo, and other search engines and online directories. Depending on the website builder, these features may be part of your basic fee or available as add-ons.
Finally, many website builders will have an option that lets you turn everything over to the company and have the company put it all together for a fee. This is particularly useful if you're just not sure what you want to do or you've run out of time and the few extra bucks isn't nearly as important as getting something set up that you know is going to run smoothly.
CCH ProSystem fx Site Builder
Price: $1,080 per year.
CCH ProSystem fx Site Builder
CCH Site Builder from CCH is a website builder aimed exclusively at accounting professionals. It has several features that will be particularly attractive to CCH accounting software users.
There are slightly fewer than 100 templates to choose from. You can customize the page content but not the page layout. Everything is conveniently form-driven, so it's easy to see and change the page content. There are newsletter options, including a CCH-supplied newsletter and tax alerts that automatically update with financial and tax articles for your clients.
Several modules from the CCH product line are included as part of the annual cost. ProSystem fx Portal lets you swap files and documents with your clients. GainsKeeper lets your clients aggregate investments from multiple accounts and track cost bases. GainsKeeper also provides capital gain calculations for Schedule D. Clients can post tax information to their files via Tax Notebook. There are also a lead generator, built-in calculators you can add, web site analytic tools, and options for social media weblinks.
Your annual subscription buys you a one domain or you can point to other domains that you're hosting elsewhere. There is also only a single email user account included, but more email accounts can be purchased.
If you're already a CCH customer and you don't need a lot from your website, this is probably a good choice for a website builder. Although it's a little limited, it is also very easy to use and understand for someone who is not a web maven and just wants a good website up and running with as little fuss as possible.
Redwood City, Calif.
Phone: (650) 944-3100
Price: Starter package, $4.99 per month; Business, $19.99 per month; Business, $59.99 per month.
Homestead Websites is an easy-to-use website builder that has three different pricing options and a host of features that make it a good choice for any business. There's a 30-day free trial so you can experiment with the features and options before committing. After registering, you can pick a domain name or use one you already own. (If you just want to try things out, you can skip this step at first.)
The designer lets you choose from several hundred templates. When you select a template, you can see how various pages, such as menu, about us, or services, will look with your company name and contact info. You can then edit the template in the Website Manager to further customize the pages by changing colors, adding text about your company or services, uploading pictures or logos, and moving page elements around.
You can create online forms for collecting leads and customer questions. There is also an online polls feature so you can run your own surveys. Other features include a blog, photo albums, and a gallery of 250,000 royalty-free images for enhancing your web and blog pages. File exchange is handled by email: you set up an online email form and have your users attach the file to the email.
At $4.99 per month, the Starter package is good for someone new to website design and want to play around with things at first, or who just need a very minimal online presence without a custom domain. The Business package ($19.99 per month) offers a domain, a blog and up to 100 web pages. The Business Plus package ($59.99 per month) supports three domains and unlimited sites and pages, as well as logo design, web consultation, and credit card processing. (You can buy these services as add-ons with the Business package.) In addition, your website is registered with over 100 search engines and online directories. Additional services such as SEO consultation, setting up online stores, and custom design work are also available. (If you prepay for two years at any service level, you get six-months service free.) Customer support is free at all levels.
Homestead Websites is an attractive and inexpensive system that will appeal to accountants who don't want to spend a lot of time getting their website up and running, but who don't need anything that ties directly to a specific accounting product.
Web Builder CS
Price: $70 per month.
Web Builder CS
Web Builder CS is part of the Thomson Reuters CS Professional Suite. It offers a solid array of features and a reasonable price.
All the setup is done by Thomson at no additional cost and after registering, you can create a website quickly using the range of templates. You can then customize your basic information using the web editor and add a variety of features. Web Builder CS comes with a collection of online tools called AppMan, which let you create a blog and newsletters, as well as distribute posts on many other social media options including LinkedIn, Google+, Yahoo360 and others. AppMan also comes with other useful features, including a payment gateway and web site analytic tools.
You can link to a new or existing domain (there's a one-time $30 setup fee for buying a domain name) with up to 10 email accounts included. (Additional email accounts are $1 per month.) Email can be hosted using POP or Microsoft Exchange or you can use your own email server. Basic SEO is included in the monthly fee; additional SEO support and consulting can be purchased.
Web Builder CS offers a very good assortment of syndicated newsletter articles about finances, taxes, accounting, and the economy as part of the package. You can display stock tickers and indexes for your favorite stocks. Financial calculators can also be added to your website. Add-ons include even more newsletter options, tax alerts, custom design and coding are also available.
Web Builder CS does a good job of providing website creation and maintenance for CS Professional Suite users at an affordable price.
Price: $59 per month of $595 per year.
Website Relief from AccountantsWorld is fully integrated with Accounting Relief and Payroll Relief, but it's a great standalone website builder for accountants, too.
The product has hundreds of templates, many of which have animated banners you can add customized scrolling text to for added pizzazz. There is a library of royalty-free graphics you can use to customize your pages with, too. Mobile browsers are supported.
Included as part of your fee are a paycheck calculator and financial calculators. A calendar provides tax dates for clients and the tax organizer lets you collect and store client tax data. This information can then be exported from an Excel spreadsheet into your tax software. After taxes have been filed, clients can track their tax refunds through your website. Other features included for the basic fee are a credit card merchant account and assistance with SEO.
Website Relief has good support for client outreach. There are syndicated news features and some social media integration (limited to Facebook widgets and Twitter buttons). There is also support for broadcast email using either your own content or content from any one of dozens of syndicated newsletters. There is also an appointment scheduler, which lets your clients schedule appoints that are then integrated with your other appointments and dates using your Practice Relief software. You can also set up an email reminder feature to your clients so they get pinged when their appointment is coming up shortly. Website Relief also offers direct access to all AccountantsWorld cloud applications.
Website Relief offers a wide range of templates, features, and options for a very affordable price. Even if you don't use any of the other Accountants World features, you may want to check Website Relief out for use as a standalone product.
This review has discussed four popular website builders for accountants. All of them are worth looking at. If you don't find what you need here, there are many other website building products and services on the market for businesses that may offer features that will be appealing to you.
There's no reason you can't do a lot of the website design and creation yourself, but remember that designing and building a good website requires strong skills in technology, design, and graphics. While this may be an appealing project to some, it will nevertheless be a lot of work, work that may be more profitably spent on the business itself. Using one of the website builders in this review will give you a leg up: you're working with good web designs and you don't have to worry about the many issues and costs of setting up and maintaining web hosting.
Your time as a professional is worth a lot and setting up a website takes a lot of time. Also keep in mind that building a website is never a one-time thing. You build your website, release it, change it, expand it, update product and service information, and so on as long as your business is operating. Website maintenance is continual. Minor price differences are trivial compared to the potential for saving time. Choose a website builder that not only gives you the features and support you need now, but also gives the features and support you'll want to use later.