Art of Accounting: Most Business Clients Must Use an Accountant, but They Don’t Have to Use You

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IMGCAP(1)]I met someone last week and asked how she was doing with her accountant. She said everything was fine, but reduced the three interim quarterly visits to once every four months.

The yearend work did not change. This got me thinking. Most business clients must use an accountant, but it doesn’t have to be you.

Her accountant spent a day reviewing her company’s books making sure things were current and tied in, and that there weren’t any obvious errors. At the end of the day she was told that everything was fine and the accountant left. There was the vague value of having someone go over things and that provided some comfort, but no perception of great value. Because of this, the accounting fee was reduced by less work being done. The client also stopped her referrals and even stopped sharing some business problems with the accountant.

Question: What could the accountant have done differently?

The accountant could have spent a little time reviewing what he did, explained the importance of his work and shared the results of some of the analytics he did. Five more minutes of effort could have produced a five-year sales and gross margin graph, some percentages of key costs, perhaps a five-year comparison of the 10 largest customers or five largest-selling items.

The accountant could have provided some big picture insights to the business and created an environment for the client to share her thoughts and possibly problems she was incurring in the business. This end-of-the-day meeting doesn’t need to take more than 10 minutes and can catapult the accountant into a trusted advisor category rather than a nice guy who makes sure everything balances.

I work at this. I look for ways to discuss critical issues with the client and opportunities for them to open up and vent as necessary. I have a speech handout with a description of 77 extra value-added low-effort things that can be done for clients. If you email me at, I will send it to you.

Make the extra effort for the client. You will be paid back for it—maybe not with an extra fee, but by possibly maintaining that client’s revenue stream. Also, while the client must have an accountant, it doesn’t must have to be you.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

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