Savvy small business owners have a mantra: “Grow or die.” In other words, they recognize that it’s a struggle to maintain the status quo indefinitely. Keeping their business thriving requires they continually look for ways to grow, improve, and evolve. For these clients, accountants can occupy a unique position.
By reinventing your role from a quarterly or annual transactional relationship focused on compliance activities, to a more consultative role focused on helping your clients grow their businesses, your expertise allows you to identify areas where they can capture extra profits, reduce the costs of doing business and likely increase ROI. Because they already consider you a trusted advisor, this won’t be a giant leap for them. Rather, it would be a matter of taking action on your part to evolve your client relationships to the next level.
Most small business owners don’t go into business because they love keeping the books. They want to provide the services they are passionate about. But clients are losing profits that could help them thrive and continue to provide those services and make those sales because they don’t know how to recognize opportunities for profitability. Every business needs a profit expert — and that could be you.
Becoming a small business profit expert
While becoming a small business profit expert might require some investment on your part; but it doesn’t require a heroic effort or a lot of capital. Here are eight things you can start doing today to take your client relationships to the next level:
1. Evaluate your client list. Because you are privy to information that is not universally available to other advisors, you can do a cursory analysis to determine which handful of clients would not only benefit from this type of relationship, but those with unrealized opportunities you can help them exploit. This investment of a few hours of your time will not only provide potential value to your customers, it will give you an opportunity to start thinking like a “small business profit expert” when you’re ready to roll out this new program to more of your clients.
2. Don’t be afraid to start small. Depending upon how big your client list is, it might make sense to start with the three or four clients with the biggest potential to get your feet wet and learn the best approach. Once you have a track record, it will likely be easier to reach out to others because you’ll have some success stories to share.
3. Learn as much as you can about your client’s businesses. In a vacuum, financial reports only reveal so much, but as part of a more complete picture of business health when considered alongside sales and production, the value of your insight can increase exponentially. This means you’ll likely need to spend some time with your clients outside of the accounting relationship to learn about how they do business to help you recognize opportunities with a fresh pair of eyes.
4. Be willing to invest in your clients. In other words, launching this initiative may require you to invest unbillable time in these clients to get things off the ground. You may need to demonstrate value before you can start billing for these extra services. You may even decide to call it a pilot program for the first few months with the understanding you will start billing for these services at some point down the road. That will be up to you and the nature of your practice. Remember, this will likely be an unfamiliar idea for them at first, but once your reputation grows as a profit expert, you investment will pay off.
5. Share your high-level cursory evaluation with your chosen few. This could be a good time of year to reach out to your chosen three or four clients. Introduce your ideas, share your initial evaluations, and maybe even make a recommendation or two. Invite them to regularly meet with you so you can learn more about their business, evaluate potential opportunities, and create an action plan. Working together is a critical component of success. In the same way you know things about the business he or she might not, they have insight into the business you don’t have.
6. Set a cadence for regularly meeting to get strategic. Depending upon the profit-making opportunities, you will likely need to meet several times a year. Establish a cadence that makes sense and take responsibility on your end to ensure those meetings take place. You likely already have direct access via computer link to the books, so do your analysis before you meet so you can share your insights during the meeting and use the time to make decisions about which opportunities will be pursued and which will wait. This will also become a good time to follow up on previous action plans to evaluate performance.
7. Make performance reporting formal. Take the time to create a detailed report of successes and challenges so you can demonstrate the additional value you’re providing. Success is more concrete if it can be captured, put on paper, and referenced for future conversations.
8. Establish any fees associated with this new effort. Understanding there will likely be some things you will be unable to bill for, it’s important to determine what you’d like this effort to add to your bottom line. Will this be rolled into your regular fees, be listed as a separate line item, or billed separately? Depending upon the nature of your practice and your relationship with your clients, there are several ways you can do this. Consider the first few clients as an opportunity to learn the best way to approach additional clients down the road.
As a trusted advisor, you’re in a unique position to offer advice to your small business clients while making your relationships less transactional and more consultative. If you’ve already been doing this and have experienced some success, please share those successes here — we’d love to hear about them.