Massive resources for the CPAwith minimal investment.
Accounting Links Can Be Pretty
M any CPAs have created link-laden sites that are useful for their clients and fellow accountants, but few have done it with as much style, using as few resources, as Brenda J. Mizgorski, a sole practitioner near Monterey, California. In less than a year she found and organized some 650 accounting related links as a service to the worldwide accounting community. This "intense hobby," as she calls it, received 5,000 hits between September 1996 and February 1997, and shes only beginning.
The site, called CPAnet, had its start when Mizgorski first began struggling to find resources for CPAs on the Internet. "I began collecting a few sites that I thought would be useful for me, and for other CPAs, so we could all find our way around." Now CPAnet has gotten attention from government agencies that come across it looking for financial links and from CPAs around the country and from visitors as far away as Taiwan. And it has two especially distinctive attributes: It isnt designed to market Mizgorskis services (although it is getting her attention) and she is planning to turn it into a viable revenue source on its own.
JUST US LINKS
The CPAnet home page is a gateway to 15 major areas. At the top is the CPAnet logo, a vividly colored geometric concoction with a motto: "If you are a CPAyou need CPAnet" This logo appears on every page on the site. The home page also offers visitors a chance to add themselves to an e-mail mailing list, which has 150 names and is growing by about 20 a week. The main advantage of an online mailing list is that sending to 15, 150 or 15,000 recipients costs about the same.
The home page links to other areas in two ways: The 15 areas appear on top in an eclectic mix of typefaces. Below is a "quick jump index" that lists each area again in smaller type, plus major subheads. "Ive seen so many Web sites with useful links that were poorly organized," said Mizgorski. "A simple, logical flow was very important in setting up CPAnet." The 15 main areas in alphabetical order are articles archive, audit zone, CPA toolbox, continuing professional education, feedback central (e-mail), government roundup, international, Java break (purely fun stuff), news and magazines, new stuff, organizations and firms, real audio (for those with the right software, soundcards and speakers), tax zone, technical reference and search YAHOO. New links are placed in "new stuff" for a brief period before being sorted in one of the other areas, just like a library puts a new novel on the new releases shelf before filing it with the rest of fiction.
Visiting CPAs in any field will find what they are looking for. Business and industry CPAs will find links to Controller articles, those in government can link to virtually any government agency that has a Web site and financial accounting specialists can link to the Financial Accounting Standards Board. Looking for CPE? Check out different vendors. Confused about new pension laws? Go to the Department of Labor. Afraid even CPAnet doesnt have everything you need? CPAnet has links to different sections of each Big 6 firm Web site. Mizgorski does show some discrimination, however. "People e-mail me suggestions, and sometimes something pops up during online research, but I dont add everything. If the site becomes too large and unwieldy to use, its lost its purpose."
Making money. Theres an Internet maxim that says the best way to make a small fortune from the Internet is to start with a large one. Sites rarely generate enough revenue to sustain themselves until theyve been up for a couple of years. Still, Mizgorski is cautiously exploring revenue-producing possibilities. One companyessentially an online advertising agencyprovides Mizgorski with a series of banner ads she can splash across the top of her pages. The upside is that this costs Mizgorski nothing; she just gives up a small portion of her site. The downside is that her fee is based on the number of hits she gets on her page. "So far I havent received a dime," she said. "Im a CPA, not an advertising or public relations expert, but Im learning, and I have plans to expand the site."
PULLING IT TOGETHER
Like many, if not most, CPAs, Mizgorski is a self-taught Webmaster who learned hypertext markup language (HTML) by playing with it and reading a guide from QUE, the computer book publishers. She knew there were programs that would allow her to create a site without knowing HTML but found she had much more control by being able to write her own codes. To enter HTML she used Windows Notebook, a utility that automatically comes with Windows. She pays her Internet service provider about $25 a month. She used inexpensive shareware to design the site, and despite the use of bright, contrasting colors, it is deceptively simple. "I wanted it to load very quickly, even for those with slow modems. Who has patience to wait for complicated graphics to load?" she said.
Name: Brenda J. Mizgorski, CPA.
Personnel: Sole practitioner.
Location: Pacific Grove, California.
Type of clients: Small to midsize businesses, other CPA firms.
Client services: Outsourcing and other special projects for businesses, serving as interim controller, contract work for other firms.
Web site: http://www.cpalinks.com
FOR THE FUTURE
Mizgorski is bursting with plans for increasing the sites options, making it more attractive to other CPAs and, no doubt, to advertisers. "I want to do more original content. I want to provide reviews and synopses of large government sites. As ancillary sites, I could create advice and resources for entrepreneurs." This would tie in with Mizgorskis background, which includes accounting consulting projects and serving as a temporary controller for small companies. "I want to set up programs that would give me details about who was visiting my site and what pages they were interested in. I could set up discussion groups, similar to what is on the CompuServe Accountants Forum." Mizgorski will be pursuing an MBA at Wharton this fall and plans to learn more about entrepreneurship with Internet ventures in mind.
Meanwhile, theres really only one page of original copy on CPAnet, and thats Mizgorskis abbreviated resume. It doesnt even have her full address or phone number, and very little description of her services. "I didnt set out to market myself. I put my resume up only because people kept leaving me e-mail messages asking who I was," she said. But a well-run Web site has a way of garnering attention no matter why it was created.
Richard J. Koreto