[IMGCAP(1)]Do your clients hesitate to call because they don’t want to run up their bill? Or perhaps they DIY first rather than reach out for professional guidance?

That’s the curse of a client who views accounting services as a commodity rather than a valued partnership. It isn’t necessarily a reflection on the firm. More often, it’s a result of a company that sees accounting services as transactional (as in “tax time or problems only”) as opposed to a long-term partnership that can yield beneficial results. Business owners fixate on the bill, not the value.

I know because I used to be one of those companies.

I have a business background, not an accounting background. I founded my first business (an internet-based company) right out of school. While I loved my company, I didn’t know anything about accounting and bookkeeping at that time. I purchased QuickBooks and tried to do as much as possible by myself. I had an accountant, but I knew each engagement with him would have a bill attached to it. As a result, I relied on my accountant’s expertise only when absolutely necessary.

When I helped start Two Roads in 2011 with my partner and team, this experience colored my aspirations for providing a different take on bookkeeping services. We wanted to position Two Roads as a trusted advisor to its clients – one that clients felt was in their corner and helping them prosper. We wanted to avoid being lumped into a perception that, at the end of the day, the only difference we offered was the amount on a bill.

With this in mind, here are steps you can take to reframe your business relationships.

Examine Your Billing Model

It can be challenging to develop strong relationships when you’re working off an hourly billing model. Many firms are exploring alternative billing options such as monthly subscriptions. Two Roads has billed monthly from the beginning. I do believe that shifting to value-based billing can make a substantial difference in moving from a transaction-related status to a partnership.

Change Your Mindset

Sometimes, the simplest steps have the largest impact. For example, at Two Roads we call our clients “partners” intentionally. We want business owners to see us as a firm invested in their business. This word choice allows us to set expectations for a new prospect on how we will work together (long-term guidance). It also reinforces our internal perspective for client services. It’s never only a transaction; it’s a true partnership.

Keep it Simple

For a client who doesn’t have a lot of experience with accounting, technical terms can be overwhelming or intimidating. Clients may wonder what is being discussed or lack the knowledge to really understand how the information impacts their business and long-term plans.

Avoid overly technical language and instead lean on education and simple terms. Do your clients understand what you’re saying and how it applies to their business? If not, what can be changed to help them understand? How can you bridge that gap? Can you apply that information – in clear terms – to their business and their industry?

I’m not advocating calling a profit/loss sheet “the report with a lot of numbers.” Instead, use the proper name but ensure clients understand what it entails.

Be Responsive

Nothing rankles a client like an unanswered message. And a rankled client gets even more irritated when a bill comes in after that experience. It can start a “shopping for an accountant” process that is based on prices only.

Many small business owners we’ve encountered will reach out to an accountant only to have to wait weeks to hear back. That pattern of responsiveness can make a client feel unvalued.

Make a policy about responsiveness and stick to it. Will you always have someone answering phones? If a client leaves a message, how long does it take someone at your firm to answer it or respond to an email?

Take Every Opportunity to Emphasize the Big Picture

If you are truly positioning yourself as a partner to your clients, then you must take every chance you can to emphasize it from a service perspective. First, push for touching base regularly – either monthly or quarterly. It doesn’t have to be hours long. Even a 15-minute conversation can impart a lot of helpful information for a business. Share positive and negative trends you’re seeing and the impact on the business, tips on planning for the future, and more. That way, you’re not just the accountant who helps with taxes. You’re the professional helping them maximize their financial future.

This type of discussion can open doors for great conversations and chances to get to know your client and that business on a deeper level.

Take Advantage of Technology

Push yourself on the technology front. Schedule time on your calendar to review new solutions. Work with providers to run trials or to assess if, for example, a solution is right for you or your clients.

At Two Roads, each piece of technology we adopt is used to enable a higher level of service for our partners. For example, by using Bill.com, not only have we been able to cut countless internal hours normally spent handling manual tasks for bill pay, but now our partners can easily review and approve bills no matter where they are.

Who wants to be judged by costs alone? It’s an unfair way to assess the true value of a service provider. By enacting a few of these simple steps, I hope you find that your clients – regardless of how they view your firm – begin to appreciate your guidance and service on a higher level.

Chad Ridner is president of Two Roads, a bookkeeping and tax company that provides financial clarity and peace of mind for small business owners. Intuit recently named Two Roads the top “Firm of the Future” for its use of forward-thinking technologies that ensure clients’ long-term success and reshape the way it meets the needs of small businesses. You can follow Chad on Twitter @chadridner or read his blog at tworoadsco.com/blog.

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