[IMGCAP(1)]Accountants who meet with business clients to deliver tax returns during busy season are understandably pressed for time and attention. These brief meetings, however, are an important part of developing and cementing your role as a trusted advisor, and they can pave the way for cross-selling additional services to existing clients.

As Brian Hamilton, chairman of Sageworks, has noted, one of the most difficult aspects of being an entrepreneur is the sense of isolation and loneliness that many business owners have as a result of a lack of peers or reference groups that can provide them feedback. While most workers have colleagues and most students have peers, business owners often lack a reference group on the job so that they can test ideas or receive reinforcement that they’re taking the best steps for the firm.

Indeed, you may know this feeling from your own accounting practice. Business owners may not like to talk about it much out of embarrassment, but as someone in a consultative role, the accountant can help minimize these feelings of isolation by offering perspective on how the client’s business is performing or by listening when clients present problems. And since you’re probably not in the business of providing charitable counseling, it’s good to know that sometimes taking this approach can actually generate revenue and cement client relationships.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, a partner in WithumSmith+Brown, described how he uncovered one such opportunity recently simply by being a sounding board to a client and offering a creative solution.
During client meetings in the coming weeks, remember that while your client may be extremely talented at juggling the daily operations of the business, he or she may not see understanding financial statements as a strong suit. Consider these tips from experts as you provide your business clients with a brief financial rundown:

1. Keep financial data simple. Heading the list of executives’ pet peeves about financial presentations is when too much data is presented at once and the listener becomes numb from the numbers. Provide narrative summaries of important numerical information, or use graphics rather than simply showing a spreadsheet.

2. Provide the most pertinent data. In addition to keeping the presentation simple, it’s important to provide the metrics that are most important to the client’s success. Business owners are often focused on sales, but looking at profitability and cash flow are critical to the client’s ability to continue operating and grow.

3. Provide perspective. Combine historical data with projections. Consider your client and select the industry-specific key performance indicators (KPIs) you believe will add the most value to your discussion. Using benchmark data to compare a client against their peers is probably more helpful than providing the company’s metrics alone. Many accountants have found additional opportunities to work with their clients once they are shown comparisons to peers.

If you don’t have enough time during busy season to sit down with a business client and review the previous year’s figures, provide the client with a take-home snapshot of performance and ask to do this in a few weeks. Taking a few minutes now to offer clients this view of their financial performance and then asking for another meeting so you can begin helping them improve their financial health will help your client see the true value in your business experience and expertise.

Mary Ellen Biery is a research specialist for Sageworks, a financial information company that provides financial analysis and industry benchmarking solutions to accounting firms.