Owner and founder Prime Entry
Columnist
Share this content

Value-based service: No one wants a tax return or a set of accounts

Do your clients only care about price and whether you submit their tax return before the end of January? Kevin Whitehouse believes they really want something more. 

17th Feb 2020
Owner and founder Prime Entry
Columnist
Share this content
Price and value
istock_Vladimir_Obradovic_aw

Value-based service surely just means accountants providing value to the client in a form of service. Isn’t that what you are already doing? Or to put it another way, it’s helping clients when they need it.

I don’t think this is really the problem. From what I have seen over the past 30 years, pretty much everyone in the profession is a caring, hard-working person who often goes over and beyond what the client expects - and not even charging for the extras. That is perhaps the first clue what is wrong.

We could put this value-based service into several categories: The obvious one is compliance. There is a need to complete a tax return and a set of accounts and submit to the various authorities. There are then more one-off tasks, such as CGT, R&D and other specialist services.

Then, you might offer some sort of forecasting and budgeting service. This might be annually or even quarterly. Not forgetting bookkeeping and payroll services. You might have also developed a service where you might meet once a month or once a quarter, and even offer some sort of part-time finance director role.

So, where is this new value-based service? I believe the value-based service hinges around the value proposition, and I’ve learned that you find this from answering one single question:

“Why should I, your ideal client, buy from you versus any other option, including doing nothing?”

By answering this, you understand what your client wants and you can package your services in such a way that it gives them something of value.

Let’s explore this further. Say you produce accounts and tax and you do this very efficiently. What does your client want? You might believe they want it cheap and done before the end of January?

First, cheap is subjective. What I think is inexpensive and what you think is cheap are two different things. If you’re not making enough money, working too hard in your practice, overworked at Christmas and in January, then the price you charge for your services will have a great deal to do with your own confidence and the way you think. That is a different challenge that should be fixed first.

But, is “cheap and done in January” really what your ideal client wants? Or, is the fact they get their records to you as late as possible and don’t want to pay you very much a clue that they have other problems?

Are they worried about other matters? Maybe they are poor at keeping records, maybe they are scared of owing HMRC, maybe they struggle making money themselves – maybe they have some phobia or fear.

What do they worry about? What keeps them awake at night?  

It’s relatively easy to offer some sort of fancy value-based service at £5,000 a month to a profitable, energetic, entrepreneurial-type business owner, but what about the millions of people who leave all their compliance to the last minute? How can we help them with a “value-based service”?

It starts with talking to them. The problem is most in the profession don’t know the right questions to ask.

If you ask different questions to what you normally do, you’ll soon find most of your clients don’t actually want a tax return or set of accounts. What they really want is an outcome.

Your mission is to find out what their outcome needs should they engage your service.

Understand this and you stand a chance of changing the way you deliver your compliance. That will lead to the client benefiting as you help them achieve their outcome, and you will benefit by reducing your workload for last-minute deadlines.

When you start to understand what your client wants, you get closer to answering the question: “Why should I, your ideal client, buy from you versus any other option, including doing nothing?”

When you can answer this question, you will soon find your fees for your service could go up, or the last minute stresses go down, and if you work at this, you could achieve both.

Replies (15)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By Hannahmc8
18th Feb 2020 10:44

"What do they worry about? What keeps them awake at night?.. It starts with talking to them. The problem is most in the profession don’t know the right questions to ask. If you ask different questions to what you normally do, you’ll soon find most of your clients don’t actually want a tax return or set of accounts. What they really want is an outcome."

Of course they don't want the compliance piece! It's statutory, they have to have it and the value piece there is how cheap, painless and fast will it be to tick that box! What they want is to know they are ok, whatever ok means to them and by asking curious questions you'll uncover that, as well as where you as an accountant can actually add value. I genuinely couldn't agree more - this isn't rocket science, it's common sense. Kevin - I'd love to talk with you about a project I'm running. I think you'd enjoy it.

Bravo on the post.

Hannah Dawson, Futrli founder & CEO

Thanks (0)
avatar
By rich brewin
18th Feb 2020 10:55

Good post Kevin, shows a great understanding of the profession, especially outside the Top 200. I commonly hear the view expressed that 'my clients aren't interested in that sort of thing" but show me a business owner who doesn't want to improve their life or the lives of others. The fact is that clients have the conversations that they expect to have with their accountant and the lowest common denominator is accounts and tax.

It's up to us to change the conversation. Ask different questions, change the angle of approach and we start to get different responses.

Thanks (2)
avatar
By johnjenkins
18th Feb 2020 11:35

What a load of tosh. If you've had a proper Accountancy training you will know from the first interview with the client what is what. In fact I can as near as dammit know what sort of profit the client is making from that first interview.
Added value????? Bob where are you?
We don't need this sort of crap in the Accounting profession.
Let me give you a bit of advice, for free, Kevin. "Less time input"? What is the difference in being an Accountant and a number cruncher? "time input". You are the person the client wants to see and hear from, not a junior (no dis to juniors) who puts everything together.

Thanks (3)
avatar
By David Winch
18th Feb 2020 11:54

Excellent article, Kevin.

Get the clients to tell you how much they value the outcomes you help them create and then charge a fraction of that. Result is "win-win" - Both you and the client receive a huge RoI. Plus you get rewarded if you can find ways of 'working smarter not harder'.

David Winch
Sales & Marketing Consultant, Cambridge

Thanks (0)
avatar
By memyself-eye
18th Feb 2020 12:38

Fees up, stress down...who'd have thunk it eh!

Tosh indeed.

Thanks (2)
avatar
By tedbuck
18th Feb 2020 13:35

It must be me being old-fashioned but it seems to me some clients want an outcome (get HMRC off their back), some want accounts to see how they have done against how they thought they had done, some want more detailed advice on planning for the future and tax planning and so on.
But surely their wants will be different and surely the first thing accountants do is to find out what the clients want - why else are we there? Is there really anyone who needs to be told to deal with the needs of their clients or do we have to feed them a load of bulls**t so they think we are Gurus manque from the highest regions of the business world?
Saving stress at Christmas/ New Year is largely training clients to take their heads out of the sand and help themselves.

Thanks (0)
Profile
By indomitable
18th Feb 2020 14:01

Kevin sorry but have to agree with some of the comments on here that I do not understand your article and all completely obvious.

"It starts with talking to them. The problem is most in the profession don’t know the right questions to ask."

Really? What are all the other accountants doing. This is complete nonsense and sounds arrogant

"When you start to understand what your client wants, you get closer to answering the question: “Why should I, your ideal client, buy from you versus any other option, including doing nothing?”

Again completely obvious and not worth stating.

Sometimes I wonder about the articles on here and why I would never engage so called 'accountancy growth experts'. Better to just pick up a book on marketing or go on a marketing course. Better still get the advice of a real businessman that has built a business from scratch to an IPO

Thanks (1)
By Tim Vane
18th Feb 2020 14:02

Partly patronising. Partly deluded. Mainly nonsense.

Thanks (2)
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
18th Feb 2020 15:13

There only really is one client outcome sought, well certainly down in the lower tiers of the self employed etc,

"How can I keep more of the money I earn without stepping onto the wrong side of the law?"

They may have other particular ones at odd points in time, a need to raise money from debt funders, flatter accounts as I am selling/ buying a new house, hide profits I am getting a divorce, but rule one, year in year out, without fail, is how do I get to keep the dosh?

You give them this and they will pay, you do not and they will not.

Thanks (0)
By Hannahmc8
18th Feb 2020 16:46

I love the responses here. You would think it's common sense, and I wish it was TOSH, but it isn't.
There's a huge amount of fear in many firms, particularly when there is no formal training when it comes to ACTUALLY talking with clients like humans and not compliance box tick exercises.

Partners are often the only people in the firm to have "advisory" (and can we scrap that word) conversations with their clients. The rest of their team don't. So no wonder articles like this are written. If you're taught to look back with 100% accuracy and then are asked to explore the future with far less accuracy then it's genuinely tough for some in the profession. Far easier to prepare a tax return and basic management accounts from Xero...and I'm not criticising. That's ok if that's what you want to do . Just don't purport to being an advisor unless you truly understand business operations.

Ask many firms what operational KPIs they think their clients should be on top of every day/week, why (!) and what difference it would make to the client, not to mention tracking cashflow monthly, target setting and advising on all of the things that come out of actually running a business, then brace yourself - you're not going to get the answer you think you should.

It's such a disconnect, as by god small businesses want to know they're ok, but all too often we hear "my clients don't care about their numbers..." No you're right, they don't care about being sold a PDF. They do care about being given real help and not being made to feel like they are idiots however.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Hannahmc8:
avatar
By memyself-eye
18th Feb 2020 18:54

Huge amount of 'fear'...KPI's... more tosh..by God!

And patronising also.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Hannahmc8:
Profile
By indomitable
18th Feb 2020 20:19

Got to agree with me myself eye here, patronising tosh without any evidence about what firms do or do not offer to their clients, just anecdotal opinions of the writer!

Thanks (0)
Replying to Hannahmc8:
Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
19th Feb 2020 09:43

Formal training- is that where the profession has got to, you need trained to talk to clients; pathetic!!

In my distant youth we were all graduates so had hopefully spent 3-4 years in tutorials/seminars talking with people, talking was not alien. We learned to talk with clients by sitting in on meetings run by the partners/managers, we started to hold meetings ourselves within audit by talking with ledger clerks etc when tracking down answers to audit queries, we formed how we did notes (We had special paper with two sides-query/response but 8 column analysis with a ruler and pen gave the same result), there is no rocket science re client meetings, just go through the file beforehand and list your questions/areas to be discussed and listen and react to responses from clients. (And if you are me, develop a bedside manner, get an understanding of the family dynamics and goals, waste a little time talking about children/grandchildren, in effect get to know your clients)

The only formal training I got re learning to talk was a morning of public speaking in a firm training course at Warwick Uni, where the home counties /southern firm trainess barracked the Northern cohort of trainees and we did likewise to them and a mock audit where partners played the client.

Maybe part of the problem these days is lack of audit experience, whilst audit is often boring doing it did help gain a far better understanding of how business operated and as all limited companies required audited then irrespective of size of training firm virtually everyone worked at some time within audit, asking questions, in effect learning how to be a nuisance.

Thanks (1)
Replying to DJKL:
avatar
By johnjenkins
19th Feb 2020 13:05

I remember well my first "learning to talk to business people". I was doing an audit on a farmers accounts when I came across an invoice I couldn't understand. Managing clerk told me in no uncertain terms "you are an audit clerk, find out". This was my second set of accounts and I wasn't all that confident. Phoned the suppliers, who were more than helpful, then never looked back.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By justsotax
24th Feb 2020 14:54

It is lovely in theory and there is no doubt has a place for some business owners....

But many small businesses are not looking to spend £000's to find out what they already know, to get caught up in extra paperwork in order to prove that 80% of what they already do is great, and that to get the other 20% they will have to spend extra money and time chasing that.

Accountants in most cases are lucky to have a client base which will have been with them for many years, who they know personally and understand what they require.

Thanks (0)