What can we learn from successful business coaches?
1. Talk about what’s important to the client
In engaging business clients, it’s essential that we have discussions with them about issues that are relevant to them. The only way we can identify these questions is by asking general open-ended questions about their objectives, challenges and needs. We also need to ask probing questions to better understand the decision-making emotional triggers. Equipped with this information, we’re in a great position to get clients over the line. A business health check of some description will work well.
2. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not
Most successful business coaches have specific expertise that they use as the core focus for discussions with clients. As accountants, we know our core competencies and we should use these as the keys to effective ongoing engagement with business clients. Of course, it doesn’t mean you can’t have conversations with business clients about their marketing or HR issues? It simply means that you are working with them to help them make the best possible decisions.
3. Be clear with scope of work and fees
One reason many accountants struggle to get control of their advisory projects is that they weren’t clear about scope of work up front. This means outlining exactly what the client can expect during the relationship and outlining mutual expectations (what I will do for you and what you can do for me). Successful business coaches know the importance of a clear scope of work and also informing the client, up front, if scope changes as the project proceeds. It sounds simple, but it’s still a common challenge for accountants trying to manage advisory and coaching projects.
4. Be proactive with regular contact
How would you feel if you engaged a coach who only spoke with you when you speak to them? One of the most common complaints business clients have of their accountant is that they don’t consistently initiate contact, even if it’s simply to ask ‘how’s it going?’ Effective business coaches use regular touch points (phone, email, meetings) to really demonstrate interest and provide quality feedback. They set the expectations in relation to communication – and they deliver.
5. Review progress on a regular basis
With ready access to reporting through cloud accounting and bank feeds, there’s no reason why accountants can’t review progress with clients on a regular basis. Strong business coaches will identify a small group of critical lead indicators of performance and will then help the client build a SMART list of actions based on overall objectives and specific performance issues. At the very least, quarterly or monthly reporting and meetings should be held with business clients.
How successful are you as a business coach to your clients?
The role of business coach can be a challenging one for an accountant. What do you do when the conversation turns non-technical? How can you effectively provide the strategic, operational and marketing advice your business clients are seeking? What should you do when your business clients don’t follow through with agreed actions?
The best place to start is simply to make the time for more regular, richer conversations with clients about things that are important to them. Then use your financial capabilities to help guide your clients in the right direction.
And always remember: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
As senior advisor with High Tech Soft Touch, Dale has a specific interest in the helping the staff of accounting firms to really engage with their clients. He assist firms with the integration of compliance, business and financial advisory services. HTST’s eLearning platform provides accounting and advisory firms with self-paced learning programs in the areas of business advice, team coaching, workflow management and client communications.