[IMGCAP(1)]The AICPA recently produced an infographic showing how accountants are viewed by business decision makers.

Good news: 9 out of 10 business decision makers view CPAs as valuable assets to their organization, and more than half rank CPAs as their most trusted advisor. Indeed, according to research for the AICPA by Applied Research & Consulting LLC, CPAs outranked all other finance professionals when it comes to being a trusted advisor.

That’s impressive, but what do you as an accountant do with that information? How can you capitalize on your reputation as a financial expert? Can you sell more services to your current clients because they trust you? Certainly. It all comes down to taking steps every day as you interact with clients so that they will stay with your practice and will think of you first when they need additional services.

Here are three easy steps to consider:

1.Be proactive. Clients may value your opinion, but if you’re not making recommendations or offering strategic advice for the business owner to make better decisions and prevent problems, you could miss opportunities to cross-sell services or even put the client relationship at risk. Some business clients will be embarrassed to admit they don’t understand everything about running their business. Others count on you to save them from making a big mistake. The first step to keeping and building on your status as someone trusted is to resolve that you will look for opportunities to be proactive.

2. Give the advice you’d like to get. One easy way to identify advisory areas for clients is to use your experience in your own practice. Think of questions that would be ideal for someone to answer for you so that you could run your business better. It may be information like:

•    How are my prices relative to the market?
•    Do I need to hire more staff or invest in more technology to handle growth?
•    When I’m ready to retire, what shall I do with my business?

You can ask business decision makers if they know the answer to one of these questions. If not, your door to offering additional help just opened. Many accountants find that using an automated solution that turns financial statements into narrative reports with graphs makes it easier to identify areas to discuss.

3. Teach them something. Even if tax preparation is a major part of your practice, your knowledge about managing financial performance at a business is much greater than many business decision makers’. Your business clients may know an awful lot about making widgets, running a landscaping service or providing medical care, but chances are they would love to learn something about an income statement that can help them make more money. Presenting financial statements? Provide a brief definition in layman’s terms for a few key metrics. Explain why certain metrics are important or how they influence others.

You can also build on your role as a trusted advisor by providing thought leadership through blog posts or client email newsletters. Tackle focused topics, such as defining a few financial terms or discussing a specific industry, and don’t feel you have to provide all the answers in one post.

In all efforts to build on your trusted status, remind yourself that you can benefit even when you take small steps. Business decision makers already put a great deal of trust in you. Working to incorporate simple steps that open up more discussion with your clients will help translate that trust into improved client relationships and additional engagements

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

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