We accountants have come a long way, haven’t we?
From the old handwritten working papers with red pen references and green pen casting, to our computer-generated prefilled working papers and tax returns completed, reviewed and even signed off by the client – all in much quicker time, and no need for a personal encounter.
It’s wonderfully efficient!
And yet, there’s one very unfortunate disadvantage that we might be turning a blind eye to… the demise of that old face-to-face year-end discussion.
‘But what a relief’, I hear you say. ‘So often they get away from me and go rambling along fishing, family and fiendish taxman trails.’
‘I know I should catch up with my enterprising SME clients, but how can I possibly meet with all of them AND get through my workload? Besides, what’s the point, when so many of my advised changes are never actioned? And most of those conversations are certainly not recovered in billed time!’
Then there’s the question we’d have to ask, ‘How is business going?’
At its best, it opens the way to ‘sell up’ service discussions which relate to profitability reviews, planning for the new year (budgeting) and even restructuring. Or it can lead to tangled territory and befuddled clients.
So we neatly avoid the meeting, because we can.
And that’s become a huge stumbling block causing Australian accounting firms everywhere to miss out on incredible opportunities to grow way beyond compliance/tax only.
They are literally turning their backs on the exciting realm of business advisory.
The face-to-face meetings that far too many Australian accounting practices are not having any more have been proven to hold $5,000 to $30,000 (or more) per annum in potential income from add-on services per client, and that is just related to small businesses.
That number can be a lot higher for those medium-sized businesses.
So, the truth is that some client conversations really are gold. What’s more, there’s no need to go out and find new clients to have them with.
Some of your existing SME clients are actually waiting for you to initiate those lucrative conversations. All you need is a bit of structure and process. And you can still maintain the efficiency of technological automation.
Here’s how to make it happen.
- Start by making a list of your top 10 per cent SME clients – those you think might appreciate the value of these conversations and possibly want your sell up services.
- When their year-end work is finalised, contact the client via a quick phone call and ask ‘would it be helpful for you if we got together for a one-hour complimentary strategy session to talk over your financial performance both past and future?’ If they say ‘no thanks, I’m good’, then you’ve just saved yourself a lot of time and effort. Say goodbye with this reminder: ‘that’s perfectly fine. Just remember this one-hour complimentary strategy session is available whenever you need it. Okay?’
- Make sure the client understands that they will NOT be charged for this meeting – that it’s all part of your value added service. Remember, you are only going to be having these meetings with that top 10 per cent of your clients – those clients you see as having the potential to be more than just compliance/tax clients. For all the other 90 per cent, whip them through the automated system as quick as you can.
Before the meeting
- At least ONE WEEK before the meeting date, send your client an ‘in preparation for our meeting’ email, asking them to put a bit of thought into a few questions like:
o What were your goals two years ago? Did you achieve them? Why/why not?
o What would you like to have achieved two years from now?
o What would you like from me, as your accountant, that you don’t get now?
- Request that responses to these prompts be sent to you at least 24 hours before your meeting, so you can be better prepared to address the issues.
At the meeting
- Invite your senior accountants to sit in the meeting. The purpose is to build relationships between the client and senior staff member/s, and also to create space for trust among more team members. This only applies to those senior accountants who have shown satisfaction in client engagement and discussion. Let’s face it, not all accountant personalities enjoy these interactions. Don’t force it.
- If, while preparing year-end accounts, you are asked to advise on profitability/cash flow improvements/budget preparation, be upfront about the capacity of your role to date. Say, ‘up till now, we’ve been focused on compliance and tax. The scope of our work hasn’t included a deeper look into ways to make these sorts of improvements. If we were to delve into your profitability/cash flow analysis/budget preparation, would that service be helpful to you?’
- Then… get started!!
Process standardisation trumps automation
By Mark Sands, BOARD Australia
Tips for mergers and acquisitions of accounting fees
By Jamie Davison, Carbon Group
Turning year-end conversations into advisory work
By Tracey Loubser, Confident Cashflows PLUS