Nowadays, many small business owners in the tax and accounting profession have the option to grow their businesses from the comfort of their homes. With cloud-based accounting software and communications tools like Skype, technology now makes it easier than ever to work from home. In fact, we work with many accountants and tax pros who have very successful home-based practices.
While some professionals choose this as an alternative to working for a bigger firm or working out of an office space, there are some important pros and cons to consider when running your practice “virtually” from home.
Pros and cons of working from home
Some of the benefits to working from home include having a flexible schedule, lower overhead costs, tax benefits and virtually no commute time. However, some downsides may include less in-person interaction with clients and co-workers and needing to invest in making your home office fully capable with quiet space, computers and software. In terms of your brand image, you may also run into some potential credibility issues with clients and referral sources if you work from home.
In addition to these more obvious downsides of a home-based practice, there is another aspect that many accounting pros may not realize: Google and other search engines give preferences to practices with physical office locations.
Should you display your home office address online?
Many home-based accountants and tax professionals come to us for advice and they sometimes tell us that they do not want to publicize a physical address for their business online. This is often for security reasons as they do not want to share their home address with the world. In addition, some pros do not share their location as they may not want to limit their potential client base to their home city. These pros assume that, with cloud technology and a “virtual practice,” they can acquire and serve new clients anywhere in the country or around the world.
Why is listing a location for your business so critical?
Yes, displaying your home address online may be a valid concern. And, yes, you can technically work with anyone around the world virtually through the Internet. However, the reality is that it is very difficult to grow your practice without having an office address that you are willing to disclose on your website and other online business listings.
To grow your practice, you really need to list your office address
As we covered in a previous blog post, showing a business address is important for several reasons.
First, if you are not willing to disclose your address on your website and other pages on the Internet, it will be very difficult to get clients who are searching for accountants and tax pros online. Google, TaxBuzz and other informational websites usually require a business address to get listed and to be shown in searches. When prospective clients use a site like Google to search for pros, Google can detect where the user is searching from and gives strong preference to accountants who are physically located near the searcher. For example, if you are located in Newport Beach, CA and search using the phrase “small business accountant” in Google, nearly all the results that Google provides are for professionals located near Newport Beach. It would be very unlikely to have Google show a “virtual” accountant located in Kansas or to show a pro who does not disclose their address.
Second, if you do not show your office address on your website, prospective clients may question whether or not you have a legitimate business. They may wonder if you are located oversees or perhaps outsource the work elsewhere. Like it or not, having a physical location sometimes is equated with having a more established business.
Finally, even if a client is OK working with you virtually, some may still want to know that you are nearby in case they need to get paper documents to you and/or in case you need to meet in person.
Tips for your home-based practice
While these can be challenging aspects for home-based practices, there are many ways to overcome these issues – enabling your home-based practice to compete with much bigger firms. Below are a few tips and suggestions:
1). Get a “virtual office” or rented mailbox address:
- If you do not want to list your home address as your office address, you may be able to get a “virtual office” through companies like Regus, Davinci and other local companies. Depending on the market you are in and the features you need (you can even have someone answer your phones), the costs can run from as low as $70 per month to $150 per month or more.
- A similar, but potentially more complicated option is to “co-locate” your business along with another non-competitive firm and share the mailing address. For example, some accountants partner with law firms or similar professional services businesses to “rent” the ability to receive mail at their office location. You would just want to be sure to have an agreement in place and may need to consult with legal counsel on this.
- Another less expensive option is to rent a postal box from companies like The UPS Store. These are usually $30-$70 per month in most markets.
- Note: while many pros do just fine with either a virtual office or a postal box, Google has increasingly warned that they may soon begin to crack down on businesses using these types of office addresses (at least with regards to the Google Maps feature). We have only seen issues in a few cases, but this is definitely something to keep an eye on as Google could choose to suspend your Google Maps listing in the future. Furthermore, having a P.O. box is usually not allowed by Google. P.O. boxes also do not provide much in the way of credibility for your brand anyway, so we do not recommend them
2). List and promote your office address:
- Once you have an address you can display online, you should always list it on your website, social media sites, Google My Business and other online listings.
- Be sure that you use exactly the same address format across your website and other listings as having inconsistencies can hurt your visibility. Your “NAP” (no, not sleeping… it stands for Name, Address, Phone) should be consistent and up-to-date. Having this NAP information be distributed and consistent is an important criteria in search engines and other websites like TaxBuzz.
- The city of your office address may also be something you want to include in your business name (such as “San Diego Taxman”) and/or in your domain name (such as “sandiegotaxman.com”). For more on domain names, see our other recent article on How to choose a good tax and accounting domain name.
- Be sure to claim and optimize a “Google My Business” (GMB) listing for your business. This gets your business to show on Google Maps and makes it easier for customers to find information about your business online. Be sure to list accurate hours of operation, add photos and work to generate and respond to reviews and comments.
3). Get access to a bigger/different city or market:
- Another reason some pros do not want to list their address is because they are in a very small town or market and they do not want to limit themselves to getting clients only in that city. In this case, you may want to get a virtual office or rented postal box in the next closest big city. As long as it is still within driving distance, you could still potentially be able to drive there to meet with clients. Many virtual office buildings also have conference rooms you can rent by the hour if needed.
- Some professionals list both their home office AND virtual offices in order to attract and serve clients in more than one location.
- If you do get a virtual office in another city or if you have multiple offices, be sure to list them all on your website, social media sites and also be sure to get individual GMB listings for each one.
Having a home-based, virtual practice can be very rewarding, flexible and lucrative. Keeping the above factors in mind and following the above tips can help to put your home-based practice “on the map” in order to attract and serve more of your best clients.
If you have any questions about your online marketing strategy or would like suggestions tips on how to have a more successful home-based accounting and tax practice, contact us today at 1-800-442-2477 or set up some time to speak with one of our digital marketing experts. We’re here to help!