Your clients are the lifeblood of your accounting firm, right? Without these business clients, you have no work, no revenues and no viable practice. But what do your clients actually want from you, as their accountant? And are you meeting their needs and expectations as an adviser?
Understanding these core expectations can be an eye-opener, and a great way to drive innovation and flex your client strategy as a firm.
So, let's dive in to find out how clients expect you to add real value for their business.
1. An accountant who listens to their business problems
Business owners are busy people – we all know that. With the clock ticking, owners don't have time to explain their business problems to an accountant who doesn't listen.
A good accountant takes the time to sit down regularly with their client, so they have a handle on their business and personal goals, the big challenges they’re up against and the worries that are keeping them awake at night. That knowledge is gold dust when it comes to getting under the skin of the business and offering tailored advice and solutions.
To become a better listener:
- Ask open-ended questions – a good accountant will always ask open-ended questions to get a better understanding of their client's business. You’ll get far more detail and context than if you stick to questions that get a simple yes/no answer.
- Be prepared to listen – listening to the client, and not jumping in with a premade resolution, is so important. Pay full attention to what the client is saying, allow them to explain the whole story and ask follow-up questions to get down into the nitty-gritty.
- Be empathetic – empathy is vital as a good adviser. Clients don’t always want a resolution immediately. What they want is a confidant – someone they can offload on and who may well be a solid shoulder to take on their business burdens. Always aim to put yourself in the client’s shoes, so you truly understand their perspective.
Once you know your client and their business inside out, you’re in a top position to start providing tailored advice, in-depth financial improvements and strategic insights.
2. Simple processes that streamline their financial admin
Financial admin can be a time-consuming and tedious task. When business owners and their teams are up against the clock, there’s a real incentive for them to ditch the admin and free up more time. As their adviser, clients want you to look for opportunities to tighten up their processes, so they can quickly streamline their financial admin and reduce their workload.
This isn’t just about having good processes. It’s about suggesting the opportunities to try new software tools, spotting the potential for time-saving automation and bringing a level of uniformity and efficiency to the client’s underlying finance set-up.
Here are some simple ways to streamline a client’s financial admin:
- Set up cloud accounting software – if a client hasn’t yet embraced the cloud, it’s a good idea to set them up with the most appropriate online accounting software. Platforms like Xero, QuickBooks and MYOB can automate many of the tasks involved in financial admin, such as data entry and bank reconciliation etc.
- Develop financial systems and procedures – use your professional experience to help owners develop better financial systems and procedures. By ditching the dodgy systems, you can help create a financial management process that really hits the mark.
- Provide training to staff – providing training to the client’s staff gets everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. Simple education sessions will improve the team’s use of their financial systems and will keep their processes more consistent. That means less human errors, fewer mistakes to mop up and more time to focus on high-value tasks.
Streamlining the client’s financial admin set-up isn’t just about saving time, of course. With a simple, easy to use finance system, the client has better data, more access to good reporting and a finance team that has more capacity to focus on the big-picture tasks.
3. Easy ways to collaborate and share documents or data
Collaborating and sharing documents and data with their accountant can be a major headache for business owners. Understanding the technical jargon, grasping the compliance deadlines and knowing what documents to share can be extremely confusing and frustrating.
As their adviser, it’s your job to make this collaboration process as easy as possible, helping the client to remove this headache. But to do this effectively, it’s important to have the right software infrastructure in place, and a straightforward way of working alongside the client’s team.
Content Snare is designed from the ground up to help remove the collaboration headache:
- Create an online checklist of all engagement deliverables – a good starting point is to have a full list of every deliverable that you’ll need from the client during the course of the job. Content Snare’s templates makes this incredibly easy to do, allowing you to tailor each checklist to the exact needs of each client
- Use Content Snare’s client portal to share information – Online document sharing tools allow business owners and accountants to easily share documents, such as invoices, receipts, and bank statements. This can save time and improve efficiency.
- Get a complete view of the job and which tasks are completed – the Content Snare dashboard gives you that ‘helicopter view’ of all your jobs, making it childsplay to see which tasks are completed and which still need chasing up or completing.
Ultimately, good collaboration is all about convenience. The easier you make it for the client to send you the right info, the less frustrations, errors and client pains there will be.
4. Access to quality reporting and dashboards
Owners want to know how their business is performing, but that can be tricky without having decent reporting at your fingertips. You can help clients get on top of their performance by including quality reporting and dashboards in their regular management information packs.
You know the client like the back of your hand, and where they sit in their market and industry. That’s essential information for tailoring and customized their reporting so it’s the best fit for their organization. With the right key performance indicators (KPI) in place, you can work with the client to set goals, track their performance and see how they’re tracking against their targets.
To help the client get the best from their reporting:
- Generate custom reports – the more tailored the reporting is, the better reflection it will give of the organization’s performance and growth. Find out which numbers matter to the owner and work these into your regular reporting that’s included in management information. That’s how they’ll make the very best decisions.
- Provide access to KPI dashboards – creating a tailored KPI dashboard brings all the important numbers into one place, where they can be tracked in real time. This could include metrics around gross profit, cashflow position, monthly revenue, aged debt or even non-financial metrics like sales numbers and website hits.
- Explain these reports and dashboards – it’s no use just handing these reports and dashboards over to the client and hoping they pick out the key highlights. Sit down with them to run through the reports. Highlight the main takeaways and where there are threats and opportunities. And explain the technical jargon that can sometimes confuse even the most experienced entrepreneurs and business owners.
Good reporting works like a fitness tracker: showing how you’ve performed over time and where there are opportunities for improvement – and that makes you the client’s personal trainer.
5. Key insights that help them make good business decisions
What’s the BIG thing that business owners want from an accountant? Well, it’s an adviser who can truly make a difference to their business success. In fact, a recent survey found that 78% of small businesses want their accountant to be a trusted adviser. Getting the accounts and tax returns done ticks the compliance boxes, but solid, experienced advice can really set a business off in a brand new direction, and on a brand new journey.
Whether it’s in-depth financial advice, or high-level strategic thinking, your clients want you to be part of their team. A good accountant is on board for the long-haul and someone who can act as a trusted adviser, business coach and long-term mentor.
Here are just a few areas where you can offer advice:
- Identify the client’s most profitable products and services
- Streamline their financial costs and boost their margins
- Mitigate their tax costs, so they have more cash to re-invest
- Make informed decisions about pricing, marketing and sales strategies
- Develop a clear budget and help them keep their spending under control
- Pin down their main business goals and devise a solid business plan
- Help the client get access to the best funding and finance options
- Help with mergers, acquisitions or selling up the business
The more insights and opportunities you can offer to the client, the bigger the impact you’ll have on their business success – and the perceived value of your services.
Content Snare: the simplest way to collaboration nirvana
You can’t meet all of your clients’ expectations at once. It’s a continual process of refinement, innovation and evolution that helps you flex your accounting services to meet your clients’ burning needs. But Content Snare can help you become a far more collaborative practice.
Our practice platform takes all the hassle out of requesting client deliverables and sharing the right documents, data and engagement information. Just send your client a checklist and let them upload each item to our client portal, with the whole process tracked in our dashboard.
Content Snare will:
- Automate the collection of all the information you need to complete a job
- Keep all your client files, docs and data in one helpful, online hub
- Make it easy to chat, send requests and collaborate with your clients.