If you’re running an accountancy practice of any size, ensuring you know your clients really well should be high up on your agenda.
In this article, we share the answers.
Read on to learn why accountancy practices are sometimes held back from knowing their clients well, the advantages of getting to know your clients better, and how to develop closer working relationships with your clients.
Here’s what we cover:
- Business owners are looking to you for support
- What’s holding you back from knowing your clients?
- 5 reasons why you should get to know your clients better
- How to get to know your clients
- Final thoughts
Business owners are looking to you for support
The better you know the companies and individuals that you work for, the better able you are to provide the kind of services they’re looking for and to shore up their loyalty in these difficult economic times.
The good news is that if you’re looking to know your clients better, you’ll probably find yourself pushing at an open door since many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) admit they already rely heavily on their accountants as key business advisers.
According to research by Sage, nearly half of those asked (49%) use the services of an accountant at least weekly.
When asked what services they would go to when first starting out with a business, more than a third (34%) of SMBs named accountants as the number one ‘go to service’.
The research suggests a changing business landscape is encouraging more SMBs to look to their accountants.
The number one reason why businesses rely on their accountant is the government’s Making Tax Digital programme, with two-fifths (39%) of SMB respondents citing this initiative as the reason for seeking accountancy services.
Meanwhile, more than a quarter (28%) mentioned Covid as the reason and nearly a fifth (18%) named Brexit.
What’s holding you back from knowing your clients?
For many accountants, time – or rather, the lack of it – is the main factor here.
With the pressure to do more with less, you might find your team is too busy completing tasks in the office to spend much time talking to and listening to clients.
However, accounting and bookkeeping technology can help with many of these jobs, especially those with a repetitive nature.
One thing it can’t do is to replace a proper conversation with human beings.
In other cases, you might feel your clients are too busy for more regular meetings or only want to hear from you, as their accountant, when they need to file their quarterly VAT returns or manage their annual corporation tax admin.
Very often, as the Sage survey above suggests, this simply isn’t true – they’ll probably have other questions for you, and they’re very likely to value your business advice.
5 reasons why you should get to know your clients better
1. Increased chance of client loyalty
If you have a better understanding of your clients and a closer working relationship with them, they’re more likely to be loyal to you.
As you know yourself, with a more distant, purely transactional relationship with a supplier, it’s relatively easy both practically and emotionally to part company with them because you have less of a connection and a shared history with them.
Once you’ve developed that personal relationship, they’re increasingly likely to trust you and to rely on your advice and recommendations.
Even if another practice approaches them with what looks like a cheaper offer, they’ll be more inclined to stick with you given this level of trust and connection.
They’ll also be more inclined to recommend you to other people as a result of this close, trusting relationship.
2. Tailor your services to meet the needs of your clients
The better you know your client, the better able you’re to provide the services that they’re looking for.
Even a casual conversation with them might give you an insight into challenges they’re facing or useful information about anything from their procurement procedures to their ability to recruit and retain talent through to their marketing strategy or the board’s succession plans.
This is all useful intel for improving the service that you provide.
3. Identify new services to offer your clients
Increased knowledge and familiarity with your clients will allow you to make sure your current offerings meet their needs.
It can also help you to identify where you might be able to introduce a new service or aspect of business advisory that helps them and opens up an additional revenue stream for you.
And, in turn, this can help you scale up your business.
You’ll also be ensuring you’re future proofing it with a wider portfolio of services, so if one sees a decline in demand, you can rely on others to sustain your income.
Client loyalty comes in here too – the more integrated you are into a client’s business and the more you’re doing for them, the less likely they are to desert you for a new practice.
4. Improve your knowledge of the sectors your clients operate in
Getting to having better working knowledge of your clients is a two-way street.
You can gain a better understanding of their sector complete with the challenges and opportunities that it’s facing.
You might know everything there is to know about finance and professional services but can you learn something useful and relevant from your client in the world of travel and hospitality?
Are there lessons to be learned from a company whose books you do that is heavily involved in new technology?
Similarly, can you gain general business insights and benefit from transferable skills with your client working in the field of healthcare or entertainment?
What you learn from these businesses, once you know them better, could help with the way that you run your practice. It could also offer you a better understanding of the world in which your other clients operate.
As well as this, it could give you valuable information for when you’re pitching for new business as you demonstrate to your potential client your knowledge and experience of their sector.
5. Stay ahead of potential challenges
In this rapidly changing world with constant disruption, greater uncertainty and new challenges, the better you know your clients, the better you’ll be placed to flag up risks and dangers that they might face before they’re actually confronted with them.
How to get to know your clients
How do you develop a better knowledge and understanding of your clients?
What medium should you use to communicate with them and how do you get hold of the relevant information about them in a way that suits both parties?
Simply contacting your clients and being up front about the fact that you’d like to learn a bit more about their business, their goals, their challenges and their aspirations is the best bet.
The ICAEW has advice on how to conduct a survey of clients to identify everything from how satisfied they are with your performance to what new services they might be interested in receiving.
Face-to-face communication is best as you can relax more, and the conversation can become more free flowing and extensive than is the case even with a Zoom or Teams meeting.
Ask your client out for a coffee, drink, or lunch. You can arrange to meet at their favourite venue or somewhere near their office or home.
Make it clear that you won’t take too much out of their busy schedules as well as subtly emphasising that they’ll get something useful out of this investment of their time.
Once you’ve established the principle of these relaxed, informal meetings, you can schedule them on a regular basis – perhaps every three to six months.
Getting to know your clients might feel like a task that’s not as important as preparing tax returns and accountants, auditing financial reports, and dealing with financial forecasting.
However, you could argue it’s even more important.
Understanding your clients and their challenges will help you to support them in the best possible way.
It will allow you to have a view of their dreams and goals, provide the guidance to help them achieve them, and identify the services they truly require, all while being empathetic to their highs and lows.
So take the time to get to know your clients – after all, you’ll find it’s a win-win, both for them and your practice.
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