You might define your practice as a “small business specialist”, but so are plenty of other practices. You’ve got to uncover your Unique Selling Proposition – something that gives clients a big reason to pick you as their business advisor instead of the practice down the road from you.
Practices like Business Buddy and Morrison Creed offer educational events to help their clients grow their business or be fully trained on their accounting systems. The likes of McGaunn & Schwadron have found themselves a niche to focus on with Dentists and Vets – tailoring your services to a particular set of businesses means that you become a true specialist and can be fully aware of the issues that industry faces. Advisors such as Keith Dahl of Reflect Group have taken a unique approach to cater for their clients and be different to their competitors by becoming a “one stop shop” for all things business related – Accounting, Financial Planning, Insurance, Legal, Lending and Superannuation specialists all under the one roof.
The Accounting industry is becoming more competitive by the day, so it’s very important that you find that thing that makes you stand out from the rest.
Do your research
Before meeting with clients, it’s best to take 15 minutes or so to prepare. If it’s a meeting where your team has prepared statements or forecasts to present and discuss, refreshing your memory by reading over them is also a great way to do one final check and ensure it’s all correct. Your clients want to feel like you’re their main focus and if you’re in the middle of a busy day then taking the time to clear your mind and concentrate on the one thing will help that. You might want to get up to date with the issues and new concepts that their particular industry is facing too – reading a few industry-related blogs or news sites will keep you informed and put you in the mind-set of your clients. You might discover some helpful ideas while you’re at it, which could help your clients break new ground in their business – something they’d definitely be grateful for!
Clients expect their accountants to be a source of clear, timely and valuable information and advice. You’re the one they look to as a role model of how to do business, so when in an advisory session Spotlight Reporting suggests utilizing an agenda with a “natural” flow, but be open to leading off the track when circumstances dictate. Be organized and on time to meetings, and do your research as I said above. No one wants a business advisor that appears they’re struggling to run their own business…
Your clients should have a clear idea of what to expect from you, and when to expect it. Stick to deadlines - if you can’t meet a deadline then offer an explanation and an estimated time of completion.
Empathy and Support
Guidance and support is part of the accounting profession, perhaps for some clients more than others. You might find yourself playing the role of counsellor or meeting moderator in the occasional circumstance, so it’s vital to understand the perspective of your clients and take their issues on board. It’s about letting them voice their concerns – then guiding them through resolution. You want to be known as an accountant that helps transform businesses.
Emotional support is valued, but your clients will also appreciate your custom too. Being a customer in their businesses will give you a first-hand view into the service/goods that they offer, and give you an opportunity to suggest improvements. They’ll probably like you purchasing things too – they help fill your pockets, so why not return the goodwill?
Not all your clients will want to meet face to face with you regularly, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out to them through other methods. Communication such as an email newsletter, blog post or social media update with some business tips is likely to be appreciated. It will aid client retention, and should generate repeat or increased business if done well. It’s a lot more expensive to acquire a customer than retain an existing one (six or seven times more expensive, according to Flowtown research). For that reason, allocating a portion of your marketing budget to advertise to existing customers is worth considering.
People engage your services for you to do the things they need help with – whether it be financial compliance or business advice. Their business is their livelihood, so giving them as much information as possible is important. But it’s also important to extend beyond that and help them make sense of that information. Technology can help with both! Tools like Spotlight Reporting can guide both financial and non-financial indicators for your client’s business and help you drill down on what’s working and what needs to be reviewed. It’s easier to offer recommendations if you’re well informed and the circumstances has been validated.
It’s also a good idea to embrace technology on behalf of your clients. With the add-on ecosystem there’s something for everyone, and your clients will appreciate your efforts to help them improve efficiencies. You will likely be aware of the issues and parts of the business that consume time for your customers, so giving them a nudge and suggesting some options to improve their everyday processes will be helpful to them. Whether it be receivables management or rostering, there is something out there to meet your client’s needs (and if it isn’t out there yet then maybe you could develop something new!).
Build a relationship that lasts
Apart from the above, I think the key to building positive client relationships would have to be trust. Trust can only be built over time, so from day one make sure that you’re making the most of your opportunities. Make the relationship rewarding, add value and be different – you’ll be on track to become your client’s longest serving advisor.