We’re living through a moment when it’s not enough for accountancy firms to simply declare their personalised approach, professionalism and ‘proactiveness’ – they have to demonstrate it through their actions.
For us, as providers of content for accountancy websites, it also serves to underline why those admittedly desirable qualities aren’t sufficient to set one accounting practice apart from another.
How many of the following words appear on your website?
- ‘with a difference’
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that language and, in a controlled way, we still use that vocabulary in the copy we produce for clients.
After all, being friendly, professional and proactive are all positive qualities for an accountant to have, and they’re certainly things that most clients would value.
But they also ought to go without saying.
When was the last time you saw an accountancy firm advertising how unfriendly and lacking in professional discipline it was? Or boasting that every client gets the same bog-standard service, regardless of their needs?
Even if professionalism is something you pride yourself in, it should be something your actions, and your copywriting, demonstrates, rather than merely declaring.
What your website copy can do is build an impression of the kind of firm you are, using language to give the reader subtle cues about your personality.
One problem is that this established vocabulary feels comfortable because it’s what everyone is doing.
When you look at enough professional services websites, you’ll start to see the same words and phrases appearing, creating a kind of standard language.
Some people get hung up on that when they come to writing their own website’s copy – it’s safe, feels risk-free and is a quick, effort-free way to send vaguely the right signals.
On some level, it works, too, as a way of telling your reader right away what kind of organisation they’re looking at. Use a certain selection of words, and you’ll be immediately recognisable as an accountant – or a lawyer, or a business consultant.
The downside is that it probably means your reader won’t pay any attention to what you’re actually saying.
When you’ve read the same phrases enough times, in the same contexts, your brain starts to just skim over them, and they lose whatever distinct meaning they once had.
It’s almost like background noise – linguistically beige.
Using language that has become a cliche among accountancy websites could also lead your reader to associate your firm with negative stereotypes of the accounting profession: stuffiness, unapproachability, dryness, and so on.
Worst of all, it makes you forgettable. If there’s nothing in your language that distinguishes your firm from another, a potential client won’t have much by which to remember you.
And when the time comes for them to make a buying decision – to choose or change accountants – you want to be remembered.
Show, don’t tell
The ‘show, don’t tell’ technique is often attributed to Russian playwright Anton Chekov, who talked about those small details in writing that work together to build up an impression in a reader’s mind:
“You’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”
The principle of this quote, often simplified to “don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass,” has been repeated time and time again, applying just as well to commercial copywriting as it does to fiction.
When you’re describing your firm on your website, it’s always best to give specific examples about what you do, and how that helps your clients. But there are other ways you can show your firm’s positive qualities, too.
For a start, ensuring your copy is free of errors and has a consistent style is a good way to convey professionality, without ever having to describe yourself as professional. It’s like the fine details on a well-tailored suit.
Adjusting your language to reflect a friendly and approachable tone, and making sure that’s matched by your customer service, is much more believable than simply putting those words on a page.
Showing your reader that you know what you’re talking about, by publishing thoroughly-researched guides and sharing your professional opinion on the latest developments in your sector, will come across as more credible than just saying you’re experienced and expert.
And for firms that claim to be proactive, now is the real test. If you can go out of your way to provide your clients with advice and support that gets them through an incredibly challenging time, those actions will stick in their mind more than the word ‘proactive’ on a webpage ever could.
Another reason certain words seem to pop up frequently in corporate copy is the idea that a longer and less common word will appear more credible than its simpler alternative.
Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect, making copy appear unnecessarily pretentious and harder to read.
Saying ‘utilise’ instead of ‘use’, for example, generally doesn’t add any extra meaning – it just adds more syllables. Similarly, you could swap most uses of ‘proactive’ with ‘active’, without noticing much of a difference.
Some of our clients have fallen into this trap in the past, but when we get to know them through content or brand workshops, it’s obvious that’s not really how they communicate.
Thinking about the way you talk to other people in real life, and drawing on that to create an authentic tone of voice, can be a really powerful approach.
Finally, even if you do steer clear of the words themselves in your copy, being a ‘friendly and professional’ firm isn’t really enough to make you stand out against the competition.
To be different, there should be something else that defines you.
That could be where you’re based, the sector you work in, the approach you take, or the kinds of people on your team.
Don’t be afraid to be unique or to specialise. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
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