How to be a bold accountant
Making the first steps to being more proactive with clients is undoubtedly challenging.
This brief article sets out the three core elements of being a bold accountant and provides some starter points on each. There’s no time like the present to get going!
The first pillar in becoming a bold accountant is in the conversations you have with clients. I venture to say that these are going to be very different to those you’ve had up until now.
For starters, you will be talking with clients about their future rather than their past. You are likely to be planning what’s going to happen in their world in the next five years, not the next five months.
These conversations will include a range of questions that are different to what you’ve asked before. You’ll be doing a lot more listening and a lot less prescribing.
Happily, it’s not as hard as you might think.
You simply need to develop a set of open-ended questions to get these conversations underway. Here are some examples to get you started.
Is this what you were hoping for when you started the business?
Would you be interested in discussing some opportunities we’ve uncovered when reviewing your financial statements?
What plans do you have to increase the value of your business?
Over time these conversations will become more natural and will readily lead into the ways in which you can assist.
The second pillar relates to the services you are going to provide.
Being bold means having more capability than simply turning around clients’ tax compliance quickly and reacting promptly when they call for assistance. It entails having additional services that you provide as a matter of course.
There are three overriding requirements for a bold service to be sustainable.
- Clients have to see value in it.
- It should generate a superior rate per hour.
- You can industrialise it. By that I mean there are systems to undertake the work, team members are trained in doing it and the right tools are available to get the job done.
I suggest you start with formalising services which up until now might have been provided ad hoc. For example – cash flow budgets, valuations and quarterly management meetings.
Later, you can extend your offering to include a wider variety of services.
The good news is that the same disciplines you have applied in getting your tax practice running smoothly are highly relevant to value-adding services. Team members can be trained in using the relevant software, checklists can be developed so that the work is done efficiently and clients can be guided with respect to the records which need to be kept.
Some of these services will become so integral to meeting client expectations that all team members will need to be conversant in providing. A good example is setting up systems to monitor key performance indicators. Other services such as assisting with government grants may warrant appointing a designated champion.
The third pillar is have the courage to proactively engage with clients about providing a higher level of assistance.
Tragically, many accountants spend more time getting ready to deliver the services than in actually providing them. This stems from fears of being turned down by clients and in some way being diminished in the clients’ eyes as a result. Consequently, there is a risk that any extra capability of accountants becomes a “best kept secret”.
So there comes a time though when you actually have to go through with it. This entails talking to clients about how you can help them and securing their agreement to engage your assistance. Take heart because clients want their accountant to make proactive suggestions. The accountant truly is in a privileged position to do this.
In this regard, commitments to clients and your team members that you will proactively raise these issues dramatically increases the chances of you actually following through on good intentions. So too, making undertakings on your website, in marketing material and during seminars are important ways to “put yourself out there”.
A good way to get started is to pick a “friendly client” who is happy to be the subject of a pilot program. Normally there would be a lower fee applying because the process is untested, in return for feedback and forbearance. So much the better if a favourable case study can be prepared for marketing purposes post the assignment.
By and large, the websites of accounting firms are full of good intentions that sadly don’t get followed through. Clients on the other hand expect their accountant to be a central figure in their financial lives.
There’s never been a better time to be the bold accountant that your clients want you to be.
Scott Charlton, director, Slipstream Coaching