Immersive accounting with new website for Billings + Ellis

Almost every accounting firm in Australia has a website, and most of these are full of visual cliches. I wish I had a hundred bucks for every photo-library image of a finger on a calculator I’d seen on the home page of an accounting firm’s website (does anyone still use a calculator?). Or just one dollar for every irrelevant image – like one heavily-advertised accounting firm’s website that I’ve visited (at a cost to their Google Adwords account of $6.57) – their home-page full of downhill skiing shots. Hmmm?

When we received a brief to come up with a new website concept for Billings + Ellis, accountants and business advisors in Melbourne, it was with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation.

Could we develop a website for Billings + Ellis by avoiding all of the obvious cliches and adding something almost unseen and unheard of in the marketing of accountancy firms – emotional appeal? I believed so, should Billings + Ellis choose to embrace it.

Inspired by the magic of Melbourne

I’m often in Melbourne for days at a time and it’s no secret that I’ve fallen in love with the place. Sydney has it’s glorious harbour and brazen beaches, but Melbourne has a warmth and concentrated sense of cultural vibrancy that can wrap around you like a warm embrace within a couple of air-kisses of landing there. Eating out and drinking coffee in various Melbourne laneways and holes-in-the-wall became a series of research excursions, as I looked around for just the right images to connect Billings + Ellis with place, as well as purpose – given that hospitality businesses represent a significant slice of the firm’s clientele.

After a particularly rich string of Melbourne repasts, including an exquisite dinner-meeting at Lord Cardigan in Albert Park thanks to the gracious directors of CMS (who know how to home-in on a fresh-shaved truffle within a range of 2kms), I was ready to return to my bushland retreat in regional NSW, and another reclusive lock-down period of dreaming-up powerful, evocative concepts in words and images (or so I hoped would soon happen).

Sometimes the ‘big ideas’ come quickly, but this wasn’t one of those times to begin with. I lost count of the number of image and word combinations that started out different but ended up looking like every other cliched accountancy website. I had to admit it, I was really starting to struggle with this one. Even the guys in my tech crew were starting to get that same nervous look in their eyes as sheep as they’re being mustered towards the chute. We’re all only as good as our last achievement in this field.

Then one weekend – yes, I was working – it all came to me at once. I’d said “avagoodweegend” to my crew at 6.00pm on a Friday, and when we all logged-in again first thing Monday morning, there was the new Billings + Ellis website concept. It was still in the early stages of technical development – and there was a lot of image retouching and design refinement work remaining to be done – but the ‘big ideas’ were sufficiently apparent for Geoff Morris of Billings + Ellis to have a good look at them, and give us the go-ahead.

Arriving at visually-stunning home page slider concepts

The first home page slider positioned Billings + Ellis as: “Your accountants in South Melbourne” – BANG! It’s who they are, what they do, and where they are – all in one line of text over one fabulous location shot – the viewer straddling the Melbourne CBD and South Melbourne precinct from above the Yarra, a “Talk to us” call-to-action button for one-sight, one-click to contact Billings + Ellis.

This first slider wasn’t to be the whole header messaging, of course, but we set up the transitions of subsequent slides in the series to proceed at a pace that is almost meditative. The psychological effect is to slow-down the mental processes of the average visitor, and the metaphoric effect is one of calmness and orderliness – exactly the kind of feeling you want from an accounting relationship.

The second slider used a cloud background, definitely a cliched image for cloud accounting, but it related to the first image of the Melbourne city skyline with its clouds, so we went with it. The words became the heroes for our second message: “Your go-to guys for cloud accounting,” establishing Billings + Ellis as very approachable in this high-demand market for professional accounting services. The clouds themselves were not a random choice, but selected for their heavenly qualities and seen from above, suggesting that if you “Talk to us” you will rise above whatever problem it is that’s got you searching on the internet for a switched-on, cloud-hip accountant.

Slider three was a purely emotional image (for Melbournians at least) of Brighton’s brightly-painted bathing boxes – again seen from an elevated perspective of roof-tops and sky, the boxes themselves largely left to the imagination (because we weren’t actually selling bathing boxes, they had to be suitably subjogated). The quirky, beautifully-maintained bathing boxes at Brighton allude to Melbourne’s history as much as to modern aspirations, and the headline: “SMSF and personal wealth portfolio experts” held promise as to the visitor’s own aspirations for the future being more achievable with help from Billings + Ellis.

The fourth slider was one of the tougher challenges to resolve on the new Billings + Ellis website. Being ‘hospitality accountants’ is a major service area for Billings + Ellis, but it’s certainly not all of their business – their expertise extends way beyond hospitality accounting. We surely needed to evoke a connection to hospitality in the visitor’s mind, but without excluding the interest of potential new clients from any other small-business sector. I must have reviewed and rejected scores of images that ticked-the-boxes in general but never felt absolutely right. Finally, I came across some stock video footage and we captured one single frame from it. I just loved this image straight away. It said everything we needed to say, but nothing too exclusively. “Business accounting made easy” was my headline and counting your cookies, or macarons in this case, the visual metaphor. The iPhone snapping the macarons? Gently alluding to new cloud accounting software which ends the nightmare of expense-receipt tracking by uploading images of receipts in real-time. Whether the visitor owns the cafe, or is in a cafe on some expense account – it’s left up to the visitor to connect the dots in their own way. Whatever the purpose of a visitor arriving at this home page, the ‘macarons’ image is warm, inviting, and reassuring, and these are the kind of feelings we want visitors to get when they’re looking over Billings + Ellis as potential accountancy service providers for the first time.

The final slider took a twist on the old calculator-image cliche. We cast it in a fruity green with the headline: “Taxation accounting where you’re not just a number.” If there is anything more certain in life than taxes, it’s that everyone feels anxious about them, and would like to feel that their taxation burden is not just lightened as much as justifiably possible, but well taken-care of.

People and the elusive “X” factor

Geoff Morris wanted to target four key areas for growing his client base. These were (1) cloud accounting, (2) small business accounting, (3) SMSF and personal investment portfolio accounting, (4) taxation accounting. We made sure these were well-covered with dedicated content pages, and thought about what else we could do to differentiate Billings + Ellis from the rest of the certified and reputable accounting firms in the same competitive geographical patch.

People! That’s what it’s really all about when a small-business owner goes looking for a new accountant, once they’ve established that the prospective new accountant has the necessary skills and experience to manage their financial record-keeping and reporting. For small-business owners, the relationship with their accountant can be very intimate indeed. There could be involvement in very personal matters such as retirement planning, succession planning for the business, perhaps even dealing with accounting matters in relation to divorce or Family Law proceedings. The ability to have and feel comfortable with this kind of relationship is very big part of deciding on which accountant will be a person’s next (and hopefully last) accountant.

Fortunately for Billings + Ellis, Geoff Morris and co-director Graham Morris are both genuinely approachable, personable guys who happen to look something along the lines of (younger) Hugh Grant and (younger) Michael Parkinson in their headshots. Neither of these professionals were overly-enthused about being featured on the home page of the Billings + Ellis website, but then they were both quick to recognise the competitive advantage of personalisation and authenticity being established up-front for website visitors.

Near-instant results from new website launch

Aside from improved performance in search engine results, another of Geoff’s objectives for the new Billings + Ellis website was the ability to update news items without having to call on a web developer (or give up altogether), one of the major causes for complaint with custom-coded websites and their content management systems. We created the new Billings + Ellis website in WordPress, allowing Geoff to post his news-update drafts directly from his desk or iPhone, where we can pick them up and expand them with images, links, and more generalised background information when expanded content is needed.

Now that the central marketing asset of a great new website is up-and-running for Billings + Ellis, their site is verified with Google and running full Google-suite integration, the next steps are being taken towards expanding their newsletter subscriber database, increasing visitor traffic from organic search results and Adwords promotional campaigns, and stimulating their social media presence with ongoing updates and activities.

We’re excited for Billings + Ellis with their new-look website, and the best news of all to us is that inbound enquiries from prospective new clients have been feeding through steadily since the website was launched – the first within hours of going live. And that’s the proof-of-the-pudding really – when all the images and messages come together to attract the right kind of new business for a client, we know that we’ve got the mix right.

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