The relationship between accountants and their business clients has changed radically in recent years. Where contact between client and advisor may have been quarterly (or less) in preceding decades, the modern business owner now expects to see or speak to their accountant at least monthly, possibly even more frequently.
But how do you capitalise on this increased interaction with clients and increase your fees to reflect the additional value and advice you’re delivering to clients?
The answer lies in increasing the scope and detail of client conversations and delivering reporting that suggests new service areas.
The days of accountants focusing purely on year-end accounts and compliance are over. In turn, that means that the focus of your client conversations must shift too. What business owners now require is a business advisor who can guide the future of the company – not someone who can only discuss their historic transactions.
Modern businesses are increasingly adopting cloud accounting and business tools to help them run and manage their companies, meaning they have the financial basics covered in-house.
Where you can add value is helping a business to look up and ahead. For example, in the areas of strategic planning, financial modelling and detailed management reporting and forecasting. Those disciplines that require the knowledge, training and commercial acumen that only an experienced accountant can bring to the table.
The key to monetising this expertise is to build closer and more meaningful working relationships with your clients, and not making it complicated.
A close relationship – where your firm becomes an invaluable element in your client’s management team – significantly increases the potential for upselling services, one-off project work and higher-level consultancy work. With the cloud, it has never been easier to change accountants if the service offered doesn’t hit the mark too. Client satisfaction and engagement should be measured.
So, what should you be talking about in these client conversations?
To have an effective conversation with a client, you need to push them outside of their usual sphere of thinking.
Business owners can easily get stuck in an organisational mindset, where their sole focus is delivering what’s needed day-to-day by their customers. Your role, as their trusted business advisor, is to help them mentally ‘step outside the business’ and look at the whole model from a more strategic and objective position.
And this is where the power of the what-if questions comes into play. Building up a scenario and asking the right conceptual questions prompts the business owner to start considering new options, new processes and new ways of improving the business. With new processes come new ways for your firm to assist them.
What if… a logistics company client was to downsize the number of small vehicles and replace them with a reduced fleet of bigger transporters? Could that reduce the overheads on vehicle leasing and increase the cost-effectiveness of each delivery?
What if… a creative agency client was to employ more apprentices, paying minimum wage, rather than paying big wages for experienced talent? Could they get the same level of productivity but with a greatly reduced payroll bill if they trained them internally?
Posing the question can be the first step in creating a new piece of work for the practice. Your understanding of the client’s business enables you to ask the most pertinent and pressing questions. Talk about standing out from the crowd! Sadly, too many accountants still only contact clients to discuss their tax return.
Providing bespoke management reporting to clients can be a big spur for additional work – as well as providing an increased value fee into the bargain.
Clients may have the capability to run their own bookkeeping and financial management, but they’re likely to still require the technical knowledge and business experience of an accountant to produce truly insightful management information. What they need is an objective sounding board – not someone who merely nods and agrees because they’re on the payroll.
Customise your clients’ accounting and business systems to record the relevant data, which will highlight key areas for them to focus on. Armed with this tagged and coded data, you’re in a position to produce management reports that have the depth, clarity and insight needed to get a clear overview of the client’s business. If they are already on the cloud, it’s even easier. Just visualise what’s there and ‘turn the lights on’ in their business.
This management information can prove to be an ideal conversation starter when sitting down to have regular review sessions with clients.
Rather than simply delivering management accounts each month and leaving the client to draw their own conclusions from the numbers, use that accounting data and management information and push them to take a more considered view of their performance by asking questions and simplifying the meaning.
Targets and KPIs can be set for any area of the business, financial or non-financial. Your client may want to focus on costs and overheads and how they’re being managed over time. Alternatively, they may want to look at sales figures and how seasonal changes are affecting cash flow for the year.
By setting core KPIs and working with your client to analyse performance, you create an environment that’s likely to produce additional work (and increased fees). It could mean overhauling the client’s payment options and credit control processes or suggesting new strategies for sales campaigns. But, in either scenario, there’s a way to offer new business services and increase the average spend for each client.
Whether you’re talking to your business clients about their annual budgets, their monthly sales figures or the cost-effectiveness of their production process, you need the right information to hand to help review and analyse the client’s position.
This is where Futrli’s innovative approach to business intelligence comes to the rescue. Our cloud solution provides management reporting and business forecasting in a way that’s fully customisable and truly resonates with your clients.
Rather than focusing on dry numbers and spreadsheets, our solution gives you a way to represent clients’ business data and KPIs in beautifully designed, colourful graphs, charts and graphics.
So, when you sit down to talk with clients, you can be confident that you have the data and visual reporting needed to start some productive (and hopefully profitable) conversations about the future of their business. And don’t panic: you can view multiple clients side-by-side from one place without logging into various accounts packages. Even better, you can set automated alerts to feed you relevant information. With the cloud, it’s much easier than you imagine.