Temporary periods of success or failure in how a client is running their business can be determined quickly by an accountant reviewing their Xero account. Sales minus expenses and taxes, is the amount left in a client’s bank account going up every quarter or is it not?
This is the most simplistic measure, of course, but the analytical skills of an experienced accountant can reveal so much more to a client.
You can use statistical analysis to give clients an idea of the size of forthcoming tax liabilities and whether they have the cash to afford them.
You can interrogate last quarter’s figures and compare them with the same quarter in the previous year to examine whether turnover and profit margins have increased, remained stable, or declined. You then share with them the course of action they need to take to make more money.
With nearly 6,000,000 businesses out there in the UK and 16,000 accountants competing to serve them, how do you position your practice to win as much business as possible while charging a rate that’s fair and commensurate with the effort you put in?
To do this, you need to get your marketing and selling right. Marketing is the activity by which leads are generated and sales is the activity by which leads are converted into paying clients.
Before any lead is generated or package sold, clients need to perceive and appreciate the value of what you’re offering them. That’s because, without the perception or appreciation of value, there will be no lead or sale.
Why small businesses need accountants
Small business owners need accountants to prepare their tax returns and ensure that those tax returns are submitted on time to HMRC and/or Companies House.
When preparing their tax returns, clients need the re-assurance that their accountant is doing as much as they can legally to reduce their liability to HMRC.
Clients also expect accountants to be able to answer their questions on the methodology used to calculate the amount of tax due and on other day-to-day accounting questions.
These are the main reasons why small businesses need accountants and you’ll notice that, above, what we’ve covered are essentially only your legal requirements.
What small businesses want from their accountants
But clients today actually want much more than that and the way you’ll be able to charge a fair fee for your service is by appealing to and following up on clients’ actual desires.
According to ClearBooks, 68% of clients want an accountant who’s in regular touch with them, someone they can get along with easily, who’s down the road from where they are, and who has a bank of knowledge they can tap.
For only one in five clients, price is the most important thing – this means that, for four out of five of the potential clients you pitch on average, they’re after something more but what exactly?
When questioned by surveyors, the type of assistance clients want the least help from is on tax – only one in 25 were particularly interested in that.
42% of respondents said that the assistance they wanted the most was on business strategy and general financial advice – a clear indication that they’re after a partner on a journey of company growth where you can help them make the greatest return possible while being exposed to the smallest amount of risk.
One in four respondents wanted advice on budgeting – they’re looking to you to help them save money on their fixed and variable costs. They might not really be particularly bothered about growth – instead all they want to do is make more money from the same amount of work they’re doing now.
Around one in seven want help with payroll – that’s great for you because it’s another service you can charge for.
From the results of the survey, it’s clear that your clients want you to be more than a filer of tax submissions – they want you to be a lot more to them and you have every right to charge more for your time and expertise.
Being selective about who you work with
Your accountancy practice is your business and, in the way you’re in charge of the terms and conditions of doing business with you, you’re in charge of the type of client you work with.
One quarter of businesses still rely on paper-based accounting. Around one-third use non-cloud software (like Excel) for financial recordkeeping.
These types of clients will be more difficult to manage unless you can sell them on-site bookkeeping services as part of your monthly fee structure.
Very small businesses may use Xero or another online bookkeeping package but they tend to have the same person responsible for doing the books, managing the day-to-day of their company, human resources, and a lot more.
Some clients, like these, are more difficult to service than others.
If you feel that a client won’t update their online bookkeeping platform regularly enough or you feel that there would be too much work for one of your bookkeepers to manage two systems at once (for example, a paper system plus Xero), are you sure that you want to take that work on?
Likewise on turnover. Two companies turning over £1,000,000+ may require very different levels of management from you and your team if one sells high-ticket items and the other fast-moving consumer goods. Do you have the capacity to manage a client with hundreds of weekly transactions and aggregated payments from multiple sources which need careful bank reconciliation?
The type of client you want to attract will dictate the marketing and sales approach you take so we would strongly advise you to think about who you want to deal with first before you find yourself with a dozen or more clients who take up an inordinate amount of time for little or no extra recompense.
Marketing your accounting firm
Once you’ve decided on the typical client you wish to work with, you then need to know which services they are likely to want the most and ensure that, when you sign them up, you’re capable of delivering those services to them.
Those services should form the core of your marketing message as they will demonstrate the value you offer to future clients. As mentioned earlier, if a recipient of your marketing does not see the value in your proposition, you give them no reason to contact you.
There are three main ways to market your practice other than networking and word-of-mouth:
- online marketing – optimising your website for Google, adding articles and blog posts to your website, collecting email addresses from visitors not ready to become a client yet,
- social media marketing – building an audience on LinkedIn and Facebook through daily posting and creating downloadable content in exchange for contact details, and
- direct marketing – unsolicited contact by email, phone, and mail promoting your services to the audiences you target.
Selling your accounting services face to face
Pre-COVID-19, most clients signed up with their accountant following a face to face meeting. Although this has been temporarily replaced by Zoom and phone calls, we’re certain that face to face meetings either at your offices or at your clients’ premises will continue post-pandemic.
As you do already, make sure that you listen to the client with a view to understanding their business as much as possible, gaining an insight into what personal and professional success means to them, and assuring them that you’ll successfully serve them in the ways they desire and they perceive that their current accountant is letting them down.
Let your client know as much in advance about what you’ll expect from them with specific mention of keeping their online bookkeeping platform up to date as possible.
You may choose to take the approach that, because of the extra backlog created by clients who don’t keep their financial records up to date as much as you’d like, you will only be happy to serve them if they employ the services of one of your bookkeepers to visit them once a month, fortnight, or week.
In sales, you achieve more by being absolutely clear on the value that you offer and by assuring the client that they will get the service promised as long as they carry out their promises to you.
Adding Hindsight to your practice as your workload grows
As you sign up more clients, it’s important to make sure that they use the bookkeeping package you supply them with. By doing that, the work required by client is much more evenly spread out during the year and it avoids you and your colleagues having to deal with near-impossible backlogs at key times of year.
The Hindsight plug-in to Xero has been designed to do just that.
Instead of you and your colleagues logging in periodically to each client’s Xero account and running multiple and various reports each time to analyse each client’s key metrics, Hindsight does that automatically every morning.
You and your colleagues are then presented with a list of tasks and insights related to both financial recordkeeping and business performance for each client. Better still, there are notes with each task on how to explain the importance of each message so that it makes sense to the client.
Clients particularly appreciate accountants who they believe are monitoring their performance, know their businesses well enough to suggest improvements, and intervene to stop them making mistakes.
To find out more about Hindsight and how it frees up your and your colleagues’ time and delivers a better service to clients, please click here to arrange a phone call with our team. Alternatively, please click here to email us.