A midsize firm

A straightforward site shows the power of clear organization.

Heavy-Duty Marketing

H erman Yula Schwartz & Lagomarsino of Parsippany, New Jersey, takes marketing very seriously, and its Web site is a serious, well-planned marketing tool. Descriptions of the firm, its partners and its services—based on the firm's printed marketing materials—are short and to the point, and monthly tax tips are designed to keep visitors coming back. What makes the site distinctive is its especially clear organization, with a well-planned internal link system that allows visitors to jump easily from one part of the site to almost any other. And there's a dash of entertainment.

"We see this site as part of our overall marketing strategy," said Heather Greenemeier, HYS&L's marketing director. Most of the site is in fact devoted to marketing. From the home page visitors can link to eight sections: "Who We Are," "Tax Tip of the Month," "Client and Contact Links," "What's New," "Core Services," "Business Owners One-Stop Shop," "Guestbook" and "E-Mail Us." There's also a tax quiz geared for the nonprofessional.

"Who We Are" wastes no words. Visitors read in one paragraph what the firm does and its philosophy. This description is followed by awards and accomplishments and charity work performed by the firm. Each of the eight partners gets a three-part description: specialties, professional memberships and education. For example, visitors learn Lynn Lagomarsino specializes in "tailoring her services to the economic intricacies of professional entrepreneurs" and has served on the forward planning committee of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. They further note that Frank Yula, the managing partner, would like visitors to e-mail him their favorite golf-related Web sites. New appointments to the firm are announced in "What's New" along with an invitation to the firm's annual charity golf outing.

Firm Profile

Name : Herman Yula Schwartz & Lagomarsino, PA.
Personnel : 35.
Location : Parsippany, New Jersey.
Type of clients : Mostly closely held businesses.
Client services : Tax, many consulting services, accounting/auditing.
Web site : http://www.hysl.com .

"Tax Tip of the Month" provides both useful information and a demonstration of the firm's tax knowledge. February's tip was enlivened with a reference to tabloid headlines: The firm informs visitors that under a new law punitive damages awarded in court cases are subject to federal income tax. An example? The $25 million the Goldman and Brown families received from the O. J. Simpson civil trial. The firm invites potential clients to discuss their problems with George Sparacio, codirector of tax.

HYS&L offers a lot of services, which it divides broadly into tax, consulting and accounting/auditing. These are further divided on the "Core Services" page. For example, tax services include compliance, representation, event planning, international and quarterly projection; each subhead gets its own brief description. The firm has a "matrimonial matters" niche, for example, and provides advice on prenuptial agreements: "We have the expertise to handle these matters in a sensitive and expeditious manner."

Many business Web sites have a guestbook, essentially an elaboration of e-mail. Visitors fill out a questionnaire on the screen, entering their names, addresses and descriptions of their businesses. They click a button, and all that information is sent directly to the company. HYS&L's guestbook is especially detailed, with pulldown menus that help visitors categorize their businesses. "We've had a lot of responses to this," said Greenemeier. "It's helped us create mailing lists for marketing purposes."

The site's most novel feature is its shopping section. The firm's partners regularly give seminars; Tax Codirector Ira S. Herman has produced some of these on 60-minute cassettes for purchase right off the Web site ("Far better than music and more educational than books"). Also available is a new business kit designed for start-up companies and four different newsletters: general business, automobile dealerships, health care and attorneys' concerns. Greenemeier said that sales have been slow, possibly because customers are nervous about sending their credit card numbers over the Internet. She said the firm was considering setting up another payment system.

An often-neglected aspect of Web design is the ability to link from one page to another within the same site, or even from one portion of a page to another. In a site devoted so heavily to marketing, visitors must be able to view a lot of information quickly before they tire of jumping from one page to another. For example, at the end of the description of the firm's estate planning services, potential clients can jump directly back to the top of the Wealth Accumulation subcategory or the Consulting Services main category.

Additionally, all service descriptions appear on one very long page rather than on several short ones. Visitors thus don't have to wait several seconds for each page to load; the whole services page loads once. At the bottom of virtually every page is a link to every other key section; there's no need to return to the home page to link to another portion of the site.

The site also provides a selective, well-classified list of external links designed to be of use to clients. Many CPAs and others have already created exhaustive lists of tax links, so the firm links to those online lists instead of creating its own. The site also includes common links to the Internal Revenue Code, state tax forms and federal court decisions relating to tax law.

"The partners wanted to make use of up-to-date technology but they didn't want to spend a fortune doing it," said Greenemeier. Rather than setting up the site themselves, however, they hired a Web design company. The firm comes up with the ideas, and firm members write the copy. The design company takes care of all the technical issues and works closely with Greenemeier and the partners on design and layout. The total cost to HYS&L for the designer and other expenses was less than $5,000. Although Greenemeier is not an HTML programmer, she goes online frequently to see what other firms and companies are doing. Right now, she's working with the designer to change the site to reflect organizational changes within the firm. "Each partner now heads a different specialty area, such as family business, legal services and real estate. We want a page or series of pages for each of these areas."

A key part of the site development actually occurred offline: heavy promotion of the site itself. "We put our Web address everywhere: on our business cards, letterhead and brochures. It started to generate excitement among everyone who saw we were online. It's another way to talk about the firm. Our partners can now say, 'You want more information about us? We can send a brochure-or you can check us out on the Web.'"

Marketing is important to sole practitioners, to midsize firms and to national ones. Although their requirements—and budgets—differ, the need for a Web site to have a clear organization, concise descriptions and ease of movement is equally important to every online firm.

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