One of the key tenets of medicine is dealing with illness at an early stage, for everything from a virus to a cancer.

By recognizing and treating the problem before it has a chance to take hold and spread, you can limit its potential to threaten the long-term health of the entire organism. While your accounting firm may not be vulnerable to the flu, it can still benefit from a proactive approach to wellness.

The “health challenges” that firms face typically revolve around one or more of four main areas: marketplace perception, messaging, performance and profitability. As CPAs and business advisors, accountants are well positioned to crunch the numbers and find weak spots in profitability as it relates to specific services they provide or industries they serve.

What they don’t tend to do as well is recognize underperformance in getting their message out and educating the public — or their existing clients — about the many ways these firms can help them. They may also fail to recognize weaknesses in a client relationship until it’s too late, or not fully capitalize on what clients most appreciate.

To stay healthy, you need regular medical checkups even in the absence of a noticeable illness. To keep your firm healthy, employ the very same approach by asking those in the best position to give you the information you need: your clients. Regular checkups in the form of independently conducted client interviews allow you to hear their voices clearly, recognize additional opportunities, and align your marketing messaging with your most positive differentiators.

Client interviews are a powerful tool that can yield critical insights you won’t get any other way, allowing you to identify areas for improvement and uncover hidden strengths. Interviews should be conducted by an outside source so that clients are comfortable sharing their unvarnished perceptions. By including open-ended questions and following the client’s lead, interviewers can learn things like:

• How clients perceive your firm and what they see as your biggest strengths

• Why clients choose your firm and what they value most about the relationship

• How well clients think you understand their industry

• What clients wish you were doing more or differently

• How well clients understand the additional services you offer

Armed with this knowledge, you can then tune your messaging to reflect your unique differentiators as clients perceive them; provide additional staff training and mentorship where needed; and better educate both current and potential clients about the ways you can help them. In doing so, you not only ensure that clients get the most value from their relationship with you but also build a stronger, healthier accounting firm.

Sarah Warlick

Sarah Warlick

Sarah Warlick is the owner and founder of Proof Positive Content, a content development firm dedicated to helping accountants and other professional services providers build their brands through customized, niche-specific content.