Accountants are much more than mere service providers in the eyes of their business clients. Over recent years, accountants have evolved to be their clients’ most trusted advisors, adopting a more holistic approach of their clients’ accounting needs. Long gone are the days where an accountant just handled the books and that was enough.
This sentiment resonates even stronger with small businesses, who often struggle to succeed and grow, and turn to their accountants for support and guidance. Clients have come to expect their accountants to “walk the extra mile” and provide them with added value - guiding their financial decisions, keeping them away from pitfalls, and actively assisting them. The pandemic made small businesses even more reliant and dependant on their accountants than before.
On the other hand, the pandemic boosted competition in the accounting industry with the accelerating trend of virtual firms and blurring geographic lines.
In such a competitive market, you should strive to not only match your clients’ expectations but surpass them.
Here are some pointers to help you ensure your clients’ happiness:
Create and maintain a “conversation routine” with your clients
Sure, you communicate with your clients all the time. But there’s a world of difference between having ad-hoc conversations with clients and purposefully dedicating time to sit down with them. Here’s why you should start having perioding meetings with your clients:
First, your clients will appreciate the intent. By dedicating a special time to talk to them, you’re sending a message that you’re not taking them and their business for granted, and that you’re making it a point to be attentive to changing their needs.
Second, it prevents you from slipping into inertia with your clients. You’ll have a finger on their business’ pulse, so you can offer relevant advice and guidance at all times.
Third, you can learn a lot about what you can improve in your practice from your clients, if you take the time to hear them out.
- Schedule periodical meetings with each client. You can do it on a quarterly basis, bi-monthly, or semi-annual basis, as long as you keep it regular, so clients know to expect it and can prepare for it.
- Prepare for the meeting and remind your clients ahead of time that the meeting is taking place so they can prepare with any questions or requests they may have.
- Be proactive. Review their business’ financial aspects, compare them to previous periods, provide insights and point out positive/negative trends.
- Ask questions. As a starting point, you can ask:
- What are your main financial concerns and challenges?
- What are your financial and business goals for the next year?
- Do you need help with your business plans?
- Are there any accounting services you need but aren’t getting from me?
- Is there anything else you want me to know?
- Implement the feedback. The process isn’t over when the meeting is over. Use the information from the meetings to learn lessons about your practice, and see if there’s room for improvement.
Inform and educate your clients
In a recent survey by Wasp, more than 50% of the top complaints by business owners toward their accountants were “lack of guidance and advice” and “not educating them.”
Financial knowledge and awareness are the backbones of any successful business. On the other hand, it is also something that many business owners are most intimidated by.
Guidance and financial education are real services that your clients need you to offer them.
- Prepare written materials. Create a written knowledge base you can use with all current and future clients. You can write periodical newsletters, educational presentations about accounting terms, and financial guides. As an added bonus, you can use the material you create as an effective marketing booster.
- Offer webinars and Q&A sessions. Yet another powerful tool to provide clients with quality content is by doing webinars. They don’t have to be long or over-complicated. Just cover basic terminology, principles and offer some essential tips. You can also open your webinars up to take questions from participants.
- Write and talk at eye level. Providing your clients with educational content is only half the job. You also want them to read it. Make your content approachable, simple, and free from complicated terminology, so your clients won’t be intimidated by it.
- Go personal. Take the time to offer specific advice or education for each client separately. Go over their numbers with them and give them specific pointers. Each business is slightly different and your clients will appreciate the personal care.
Give your clients the gift of (more) time
If there’s one thing a business owner never has enough of - it’s time. Managing a small business is a time-guzzling, never-ending task.
Your clients will be so grateful to a person who takes things off their plate and lets them concentrate on growing their business. You, as their accountant, are in a great position to do just that.
Harness the power of technology. The right tech tools can save your clients tremendous amounts of time (and you as well). Opt to move from paper to digital, and from manual to automatic when working with your clients. Here are some examples:
- Introduce your clients to receipt scanning apps to make it easier for them to upload receipts, invoices, and other documents.
- Sending documents over email is cumbersome and disorganized. Use secure cloud services like eFileCabinet and SmartVault.
- E-sign software, such as DocuSign let your clients sign documents you send them from their laptop or mobile phone.
- Online bill pay services like Melio allow your clients to pay with ACH or their debit card (for free), or with their credit card to enjoy the extra float. Your clients can also have Melio send checks to their vendors, free of charge. Offering your clients the flexibility to choose how they pay their vendors is a useful tool that saves them time and money.
Take bill pay management off your clients’ hands altogether. Handling AP/AR is a pain in the neck for almost any business owner out there, and many of them would love their accountant to take it off their hands.
In fact, according to a 2019 survey, 37% of small businesses expect their accountants to help them with their AP/AR.
If you’re not offering this service already, you should consider it. It will not only alleviate your clients’ workload. It will also generate an additional revenue prospect for you.
By applying these three easy tips to your relationship with your clients you will undoubtedly boost their level of satisfaction. This will not only help you not retain current clients, but also recruit more clients by word-to-mouth. Remember - no advertisement is as effective as a happy client spreading the word about their amazing accountant.