Probably the number one question most clients want to know from their tax professional is, “How much do I owe?” But that’s just the beginning for many small business clients who want their accounting professional’s advice on a variety of business-related questions.
Being able to answer these key questions can help you build a richer relationship that can lead to higher client satisfaction, retention and referrals.
1. How is my business really doing?
Owning a small business can be a lonely proposition; entrepreneurs often feel that nobody really understands their business and the challenges it faces. Their accounting professional often comes the closest, and is someone who can provide real insights.
“I love asking my accounting firm what their thoughts are on my financials,” said Allen Walton, founder of SpyGuySecurity.com. He’s built a multi-million-dollar company in just three years, and worked with a bookkeeper from the beginning, but just hired a CPA last year. With such fast growth, he wants to know whether his business looks healthy and whether there are any areas of concern.
To provide that advice, the small business owner wants you to understand his or her business and industry. That may require specialized knowledge of several key industries. Neil Napier, founder of JobRack, a recruitment platform, says he changed accountants a few times before finding a firm that met his needs. “Since all my business activities are international and online, it was of critical importance to find an accountant who has a thorough understanding of online products, payment systems and dealing with salaries for employees from 16 different countries worldwide,” he said.
2. How can I better run my business?
As a trusted adviser, clients want your advice on more than tax strategy. Scott Toal, president of custom metal parts manufacturer ShortRunPro.com, says that he turns to his accounting pro for a variety of questions, “ranging from purchase decisions all the way to set up of technology platforms that affect areas of operations and reporting.”
Ian Wright, founder of Merchant Machine, a payments comparison website, says he often peppers his accountant with questions: “This includes everything from setting up a business trading account, to life insurance, to pension/retirement planning, to self-employment mortgage advice.” He says he’s definitely receiving value from the relationship, joking that his accountant may view it differently, given how much advice he’s asked for!
Marc Prosser, co-founder and managing partner Fit Small Business, a site that provides reviews and articles for small business owners, says that, among other things, he wants his firm’s accountant to be able to help him understand how to “manage the payment of bills to be more cash flow efficient.”
If you can’t answer your client’s questions about how to better run their business, being able to refer them to experts who can is often appreciated. Wright says that’s what his accountant does. “It's just a huge relief to be able to get people who know what they're doing to handle these things,” he said.
3. How do I grow my business?
Ultimately if you can help a business grow, you will not only gain the entrepreneur’s appreciation, you will likely gain their loyalty as well. As the business grows, so can the scope of your engagement with them. And, of course, a business that is growing isn’t likely to fold shop.
Growth may include advice on how to prepare for financing, and small business loan options. “As my business has grown, I have needed a financial expert who has experience with larger companies and can help me understand what is on the horizon for my business,” said Mickey Swortzel, co-founder of New Eagle, which helps clients take ideas from concept to production. “This takes various forms – direction on how to finance the business growth by advising on what banks and investors need to see in financial statements, balance sheet metrics and how to achieve them.”
Ultimately, if you can help your client better understand, manage and grow her business, you’re more likely to have a client for life. “My accountant acts more like a business consultant than anything else,” said Patrick Patrick West, founder of Be The Machine, an experiential marketing agency based in New York City. “I love that he guides me.”