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The online accountant.

Michael H. Lester, CPA, JD, started his Web site in August 1995 mostly for the fun of it and for the challenge of mastering Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the computer language used to program on the Web. He filled his page with an eclectic collection of information, links and services. "About 60% to 75% of my links are those that interest me as an accountant and lawyer. The rest are for fun--places that interest me personally" said Lester. The resulting mix of the useful and trivial should bring curious users ("visitors") back for future visits.

WHAT'S ON THE SITE

Lester's site is a mix of the practical and whimsical. The background of each Web page is a series of green dollar signs, and a button on the home page can connect the visitor to photographs of Lester and his wife, Risa, and children, Jessica and Jeffrey. There's even a baby photo of a nowgrown nephew (a computer expert) and a link to the nephew's own Web page, which has helpful computer information. On the practical side, the home page also has a link to a free tax question service: Visitors can type in a simple income tax or legal question and e-mail it directly through the Web site; Lester will respond by e-mail. There's a practical "tip of the month" feature and a free Service that helps visitors get a good buy on a car in Southern California. A resume link provides a list of Lester's past jobs, qualifications and degrees, letting potential clients know why they should choose Lester as their accountant.

LINKS: THE USEFUL, THE OFFBEAT, THE SILLY

The "Web" of World Wide Web refers to the connections, or links, visitors can make from one site to others. Lester organized his many wide-ranging links into categories. For example, he arranged government links into federal, California and Los Angeles groupings for businesspeople needing information about Social Security, the Small Business Administration and the Postal Service. Some useful tax links provide Internal Revenue Service and California tax information.

Other "hot buttons" (the icons that lead to the links) take the visitor to online resources such as business and financial news services. Research resources include general online reference works such as encyclopedias, specialized dictionaries and the complete works of William Shakespeare. A miscellaneous category links visitors to the popular children's action characters Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. An Air Force veteran, Lester provides a link to a Web site he created for his former unit.

For links to other businesses--mostly local--Lester often copies their logos as the hot buttons. A disclaimer promises to remove copyrighted logos if a company complains, but this is unlikely since Lester basically is giving them free promotion. In fact, some companies announce on their own Web Sites that they have waived copyright restrictions for those who want to borrow a logo to create such a connection. Lester provides links to these companies as a service to visitors and has not charged any business for a link for its site.

(Although the practice is not yet common among CPAs and other professionals, many popular commercial sites sell ad space on their sites--mostly to software and other information technology companies, just as this magazine sells pages of advertising to companies that want to sell to the Journal's readers. The most common ad space buyers on Web sites are currently companies that have in-house marketing departments or that can afford the services of outside advertising agencies.)

Lester believes his links will encourage potential clients to take repeated advantage of his Web site, and this eventually will make it a serious marketing tool. His name, address, phone number and e-mail address appear on virtually every page of the site, ensuring users won't forget them.

PULLING IT TOGETHER

Although it is possible to set up a Web page without learning HTML (see "The Small Practitioner," JofA, Oct.96, page 79, for information on how to do just that), Lester's curiosity led him to program his site himself. (This is roughly comparable to drivers who like the control of a standard transmission even though an automatic transmission model is available.) Without hiring any outside companies or consultants, he taught himself the language by visiting USENET newsgroups--online discussion forums devoted to specific subjects. (Those interested in exploring a newsgroup should read the manuals provided by Internet service providers, such as Compuserve or American Online, for information on how to access them.) He spent a few weeks of his spare time asking a lot of questions of experts who offered advice through the newsgroups and also querying creators of interesting Web sites on how they set up their sites. "I learned how to create my Web site by staying up late, surfing the Net and learning by doing--and thoroughly enjoying the process."

Not wanting to go to the trouble of maintaining a server--the computer on which a Web site is stored--he contracted with a service provider. For about $20 a month the provider stores up to 8 megabytes of material. Lester can make changes from his home or office and upload them within minutes. Using a provider also saves Lester the nominal costs of registering his address, because it is already registered as part of the server's name. Lester also downloaded--copied--several programs from the Internet. These were either free, called "freeware," or inexpensive shared programs, called "shareware." Lester used "HotDog," one of the many programs available to create documents for posting on the Internet, and Paint Shop Pro, which creates graphics. A program called WSFTP allows him to add, or upload, new documents to his Web site, and he uses a scanner to add photos.

Of course, there are many options for setting up a Web site; for more details, see "Doing Business on the Internet," JofA, Mar.96, page 42, for details on how to set up a Web site and its costs.

Lester's advice to CPAs interested in setting up Web sites is "do it yourself and have fun." For those who find accessing newsgroups to learn HTML a daunting prospect, Lester provides links to learning the language and setting up a site as well.

This is the first of a new monthly column profiling CPAs' sites on the World Wide Web. Accountants are increasingly using the Web for marketing and for delivery of services. Many CPAs are wondering what their colleagues are doing on the Web, how they're doing it, and what they're getting out of it. This column will show that interesting Web sites are more a matter of imagination than technological sophistication and large budgets.
Smart Stops on the Web

Package Shipping
http://www.fedex.com/track it.html
A Web site for tracking mail sent through
Federal Express.

Conference Planning
http://www.event-planner.com
A directory (Event Planner) with a list of
sources for organizing everything from a
small party to a convention.


Spreadsheet Virus Protection
http://www.drsolomon.com
Protection against a new virus (Laroux) that
infects Excel spreadsheets. Works for Excel
5.x and 7.x whether running on Windows
3.x,Windows 95 or NT. Developed by
Dr. Solomon Software, Inc.

Video Conferencing
http://www.bitscout.com/faqtoc.htm
Answers to frequently asked questions
about video conferencing.


Profile

Firm: Michael H. Lester, CPA, JD

Size: Sole practitioner

Location: Los Angeles

Clients: Mostly in entertainment field

Client services: Business management, including bill-paying,
credit management, income tax planning and preparation,
representation before the Internal Revenue Service,
compliance with reporting requirements, payroll tax, financial
counseling and advice, pension plans, insurance, purchase and
sale of assets, financial aspects of legal matters and purchase
and management of investment properties.

Web site:
http://www4.ios.com/~mhlester

COPYRIGHT 1996 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes short list of Web sites relevant to CPAs; Michael H. Lester's World Wide Web site
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:1280
Previous Article:Small business tax solutions.
Next Article:How to get your news release published.
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