The more successful and truly proactive firms start planning three months ahead of a client’s year-end. Like fixed fees this is now fast becoming standard best practice.
For those of you with client March year-ends looming it is still not too late to change the way you do things and increase both client service and your own efficiency and gross margin as a result.
All grade A and B clients should have a meeting with you three months pre year-end. You are likely to be having regular contact with these client anyway. Agree an agenda, send it to the client in advance and ensure you cover the following points at that meeting;
- Projected results and tax position
- Pre year-end tax planning action to take where relevant
- Agree fee for the year end work and support in the year ahead you will give the client
- Agree payment terms for the work you are about to do for the year-end and the year ahead
- Agree fee settlement plans where you still have WIP to bill out or debtor balance to recover
- When is the job to be scheduled in your work planner - fix a date
- Be clear on what you have agreed as a fee- completeness of records and how you will agree additional fees if more work is required on those records
- Agree a 30-day completion target from the point of starting the job (with the caveat all information required is received before you start work)
- Discuss with the client what their personal and business goals are for the year ahead and what support they need to achieve them
- Offer a personal financial health check (agree a fee and book as a separate project)
- Ask the client for feedback on your service last year and what you can do to improve
The above list is clinical but it works well. It allows you to create a system so all staff work in the same way and all clients receive the same service levels. Clients appreciate the transparency and love to know as far in advance as possible what tax bills and accountancy fees are so they can plan their own cash flow. Clients value knowing when the accounts will be ready for signing and welcome the opportunity to talk about personal and business goals and their own financial position going forward.
After the pre-year end planning meeting, send follow-up notes and action points within 24 hours. Share information with managers and staff involved in servicing that client.
Your manager and staff can then move on to planning the job and booking relevant dates for review and client meeting in the diary.
The final year-end accounts meeting with the client will then be focused on the projected result and tax position (from the pre year-end meeting) versus actual. More meeting time will then be spent on what really matters to the client - future plans and what is happening within their business now. This is where they need your help and guidance and what makes you the trusted adviser. The client wants to look ahead as opposed to spend time looking at historical results.
For grade C and D clients you can use a streamlined version of this process and communicate by email or post where you decide there is no merit in meeting the client pre year-end. Agreeing the fee and dealing with debtors and unbilled work in progress remains a priority however for all clients.
By planning as far ahead as possible and being centred on the clients’ needs you have also improved your own production process. You will be able to set more accurate budgets, reduce write offs of unbilled time, avoid fee disputes, prevent ‘fire-fighting’ scenarios and constantly working up against tight filing deadlines and improve staff morale.
Your time can now be used optimally in meeting with clients, working on your own practice management and achieving your own business goals for 2017.
About Finola McManus
With over 25 years in practice, McManus spends her time helping other accountancy practices change and grow. She is passionate about sharing the secrets of success and working with accountancy practice owners.