For accountants, the only thing better than winning a new paying client is getting an existing client to sign on for more paying work. One of the easiest ways to make that happen is to educate your clients about their finances and ensure they have a clear picture of all the ways your firm can help them out. The more a client understands about what you do, the more likely they are to ask for your help with problems they may have previously thought couldn’t be solved.
A Little Knowledge
Think back to when you started studying accounting. It probably came as a surprise to learn how large the field was and how creative you could be as a CPA or financial analyst. Most people, even people running businesses, have not had the horizon-stretching education in accounting and finance that you have. Because of that, it’s very common for clients to look at you like a walking, talking spreadsheet; as if your only role is to track the company’s income and expenses, and maybe file a tax form once in a while.
As long as your clients are thinking of you that way, they’re not likely to appreciate just how much you can do for them. If, for example, you have a large client who originally contracted with you to analyze the company payroll, the natural thing is for them to continue seeing you as “the payroll guy.” If their need for a payroll specialist naturally comes to an end — if, for instance, you do a good job of saving them money — then their need for you may also end. Then you’re out of work. But if that client knew your firm also does credit analysis, they might have turned to you for help a year or two before taking out an expansion loan. By getting their lending profile in shape for them, you might have shaved a point off of the interest they wound up agreeing to. That kind of thing is worth paying for, and if your clients have some literacy about what you do for a living, the person they pay is likely to be you.
Formal Education for Clients
Be careful when starting to educate your clients. For starters, if you have lots of value-added services to offer, leave that unsaid while you’re trying to land the client. Most clients are not looking for a Renaissance man when they first contract with an accounting firm. They’re looking for a specialist who will do a world-class job on one single thing. A good approach is to start out as that specialist and then gradually start revealing your other talents.
Say you have a client who hired you to help out with an audit. In all likelihood, they only have that one job in mind for you. You can earn a measure of job security while you’re doing that by scheduling regular meetings with the client to update them on the progress you’re making. During those meetings, make an effort to explain why you’re doing things the way that you are, rather than just reporting progress and leaving it there. That expansion of communication and explanation can spark a discussion that turns into an informal seminar on how double-entry accounting works, why it ensures accuracy, and — oh, by the way — if you were doing things this way, you’d be saving an extra three percent on your taxes. Soon, you may have the client actively seeking you out for advice on tax filings, CRA compliance, and maybe even data security, if your firm handles SAS-70 audits.
Casual Ways to Educate Work Well Too
It doesn’t have to be all formal seminars and sit-down meetings when you’re teaching your clients financial literacy. Informal methods work, too, and sometimes they work even better than dry presentations. You can, for example, print small notes with very brief, 100-words-or-less accounting tips printed on them and include those with mailings to clients. You might try sending your clients a small gift card around the holidays as a thank you for their business. Inside the envelope, you can include a tip about how these cards are tax-deductible as a business gift, and explain how that’s reported. Another possibility might be sending your invoice with a brief note about the key differences between payroll expenses and the money paid to contractors. Little extra gems like that not only position you as a great source of advice, but they encourage a client to think about their finances. Eventually, they may ask you for help making the changes you’ve subtly encouraged them to consider.
New Opportunities for You and Your Clients
The changes you’re advising your clients to look into may be small or large. Even a small change, such as filing taxes quarterly rather than annually, can create more work for you to do. Big changes, such as the client starting a string of registered charities to donate excess profits to as a write-off, are gargantuan tasks that can absorb your entire practice for months or years. Either way, by educating your clients about what’s possible in the world of accounting, you may be opening up new vistas for them and new billing opportunities for your firm.
Good accountants can do their jobs professionally and well. Great accountants can do many jobs with skill, and they can talk their clients into choosing them to provide many value-added services. When you put a little work into teaching basic financial literacy to your clients, you are potentially training them to look to you for help in optimizing their accounts across the board.