An elder care consultant

New technology helps the older client.

A Practical Site Reaps Marketing Rewards

I t was not Karen Stevenson Browns intention to create a Web site to market her practice, which consists mostly of elder care consulting. Two years ago she started a Web site to create links to the few resources she could find to help her in her engagements. As more resources began creating their own sites, Brown made more connections, and now my site has a life of its own, she said. Its original plain design has recently gone through a major face lift and organizational upgrade. And the site has become not only a powerful online research tool for clients, government agencies and the general public but also, inadvertently, a marketing tool for its creator.

My practice primarily has been providing services for health care providers. But they dont use the Web much, although consumers of health care for the elderly do; families of the elderly now consult me and my site, for example. So now I work with consumers who ask me, Where do I go to get help? With the help of my site, Im becoming a sort of intermediary.

Browns site is devoted mostly to useful links, as opposed to original content. The home page consists of Browns photo, her logo and a brief description of her practice and the Web site. From the home page are links to her rsum (including descriptions of her public practice and industry positions, affiliations and education), a brief list of her services and a personal page with family information and local connections. She is adding new features all the time.

By far the largest part of Browns site is the Eldercare Web, containing about 30 pages of resource links. (Conventional addresses and phone numbers are listed for resources without Web sites.) Brown has organized a list that could be overwhelming into nine categories, each with its own clear logo: health care; living arrangements; aging, death and dying; social, mental, spiritual; financial; law and legislation; statistics, demographics and research; regional information; and other. She also provides background information about elder care, and under construction is a planned series of links to providers of elder care products and services. Examples of connections (for which Brown usually has brief descriptions) include the Alzheimers Association, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and State Resources on the Web. My intention was to become the kind of site people would bookmark and come back to over and over because its the best place to go for information. Basically, I think that if you put up a site strictly for marketing purposes, you arent going to accomplish much. A visitor will come one time, say what pretty pictures and never return. A site becomes useful when it becomes interactive.

By focusing on what is useful, Brown has had measurable success from her visitors. My impact has gone far beyond what I could have ever done using any other medium. Ive been contacted by people at regulatory agencies who compliment me on my resource list and send me even more useful information I might otherwise not have known about. She now has a network of people she contacts in almost any area of elder care. I can send a few e-mails out and connect with anybody I need to. I dont have to know the answer, but I know who does. I constantly get e-mail from people all over the country, and I know my site has positioned me as someone who knows the elder care field.

Brown designed and created the site herself. She bought some books on hypertext markup language (HTML) but discovered most of what she needed to know was posted free on the Web. She used search engines to find online references to HTML and taught herself the language. She advises other CPAs to become familiar with the Web before trying this, however. A $39 program called Hot Dog helped her create and upload the site. Her Internet service provider (ISP) charges a flat $24.95 a month for e-mail and Internet access, with no additional cost for the Web site.

Brown originally had her sites address, or uniform resource locator (URL), as part of her ISPs URL. This prevented her from leaving her ISP, which owned the name. However, her ISP recently allowed her to register her own domain name while continuing to store the site. Many ISPs now allow these virtual domains. Browns new URL is shorter and easier to remember, because it does not include the ISPs name, and is hers forever.

The few graphics on the site are clip art, low-cost art available on disk. She designed her own logo by using a drawing program to merge and modify different pieces of clip art. (Brown used Corel Draw; any CPA who feels artistically confident can find many different programs in a wide price range.) However, its a very text-oriented site. Browns online description of the Eldercare Web says, You have probably not come here for entertainment, but to get information. I try to remember that and leave the bells and whistles off. That makes it faster and easier to get around.

This businesslike site has been good business for Brown. If you are trying to provide a service, people recognize that. And that creates good public relations, she said. Also, creating and maintaining a site is kind of fun.

Name: Karen Stevenson Brown CPA
Personnel: Sole practitioner
Location: Bloomington/Normal, Illinois
Type of client: Mostly health care providers and their trade associations
Services: For caregivers: elder care planning, research and application for elder care services, advocacy. For providers and payors: reimbursement services, marketing and market research, managed care planning. For advisers and others: market research, education on elder care issues.

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