If accountants have learned anything from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s that previous strategies can’t be expected to meet new and completely unforeseen challenges.
To grow their business moving forward, modern accountants should position themselves as trusted advisers involved in all forward-planning aspects of the client’s business.
In my experience it follows that, in order to offer clients an optimum service, there needs to be a close and ongoing connection.
Moving to an entrepreneurial model
More than 10 years ago, I made a conscious decision to move my accountancy practice from the traditional model to a more proactive and entrepreneurial role.
This means referring those clients who only want an accounts production and tax return service to alternative firms that can provide these essential services efficiently and at a competitive price.
That leaves me free to concentrate on clients who are looking for more specialised advice and services tailor-made to their specific requirements.
My approach is to engage fully with the client’s business operation and personal needs and concerns, to provide a service that is both client-centred and holistic – that’s to say I don’t do ‘one size fits all’.
I expect to look at all aspects to see how they impact on each other, rather than treating different issues in isolation.
Supporting businesses in challenging times
In the past six months, as a result of coronavirus, the majority of businesses have had to take a long, hard look at how they can adapt to a seismic change in their sectors and business practices.
Sadly, not every business will have managed to survive, despite the government assistance packages, which have been generous in several cases.
Those that have survived are facing the fact that ‘normal’ is very unlikely to mean carrying on as before.
I’d like to think that many of these businesses will be turning to their accountant as a trusted adviser for help with the strategies to move forward.
It’s crucial for your business to not only ensure that your clients can access the advice they need at this challenging time, but to educate them, if necessary, to your wider service offerings post-pandemic.
Seven tips to sell an entrepreneurial model to your clients
To sell this service, it’s vital to put yourself in the client’s shoes. Here’s seven ways to do that.
1. Immerse yourself in your client’s concerns
A criticism often levelled at accountants is that they don’t understand the pressures of commerce. It’s the case that, although in a sense, all businesses are the same, each business is also unique.
That sounds nonsense, but what I’m highlighting is that, although business and economic principles remain the same across the board, each business will have its defining quirks.
An accountant should be able to apply one while recognising the other.
So don’t let the client feel that their business is just one among many others. Find out and celebrate its unique features and work out how these can be built into a winning strategy.
2. Clarify what you’re offering
It’s straightforward for the professional to make assumptions about what a service involves. I favour a detailed schedule setting out precisely what the client will get for each type of service.
This saves a lot of misunderstanding.
3. Emphasise the outcome for the client
I’ve already mentioned that many clients will be looking at what it’s going to cost. That’s fine, but it’s only half the story.
In accountancy terms, ROI (return on investment) is a crucial concept.
If you can show your client that by investing in your service, they should be able to significantly increase their profitability over the year by €50,000, or, for example, improve their work-life balance, then most would consider that a good investment.
4. Remember, measuring and monitoring is important
To make the last example work, you need not only a way of measuring and monitoring key numbers but also the client’s acceptance that they will have to put in some effort in working with you on the recommended strategies.
So it’s vital your client accepts this and also understands what needs to be done.
5. Emphasise the bottom line
In accountancy-speak, that’s the last line in a budget and cash flow, which shows you what’s left at the end of the month.
The client may be more inclined to look at the top line (the income generated) and dubious about the chance of achieving that turnover.
The accountant’s role is to demonstrate the strategies that are not only designed to increase turnover but also to minimise costs. In running a successful business, cash flow can be even more vital than overall profit.
6. Be upfront with costs
Be clear about what it’s going to cost, when payment is due and, I’m afraid, the consequences of not paying.
At the same time, don’t forget the carrot and stick principle. It’s much more effective to offer an incentive for early payment than a penalty for late payment.
7. Offer easy, cost-effective solutions
Be aware that, post-pandemic, clients will be looking for the easiest, most efficient and most cost-effective way, whether that’s in bookkeeping, communication, selling or any other aspect of business.
The accountant’s role is to help the client achieve this.
Connecting with clients has always been the key to success for both parties. Post-pandemic has made it more so.
Small business toolkit for clients
Share this free guide, business plan template and cash flow forecast template with your clients to help them run their businesses and achieve their goals.