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Why accountants need to get hands on with clients

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9th Feb 2010
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Mark Lloydbottom explains how getting more involved with your clients’ businesses can pay off.

My last article focused on the need to get more hands on with clients. Some accountants believe clients don’t want to spend more time with them, while others fear they won’t be paid for their efforts, and then there are those who don’t feel qualified enough to be of much help. While a lot of practice development advice focuses on winning new clients, a practice will never succeed if it can’t hold on to the ones it already has. Therefore, in this article I’m going to go back to the basics and explain how you can better serve your existing clients.

Doing business in today’s challenging and highly regulated economic landscape requires business leaders to have professional input to their developing business situations. While accountants aren’t the only source of advice, we do have capabilities beyond compiling reports that reflect the activities of yesteryear.

Accountants have in-depth knowledge of their clients that has often been compiled since the birth of the business. As a result, we become ‘trusted business advisors’. Even where this is not necessarily the case, most accountants could list two or three different areas where they know they could help around 80% of their business clients. Clients need advice and you have the expertise – so use it.

Time management
Many practitioners charge between 1,000 and 1,200 hours in a year but work far more hours – maybe as many as 2,500 hours. While non chargeable time is essential, the reality is that it’s time you spend with clients (‘visible time’ is my preferred description) which is the most valuable. If you were to use precious metals as a means of characterising how you spend your time, this would undoubtedly be golden time. How much time did you spend with your clients last year? How many meetings did you hold? More importantly, what do your plans look like for the next 12 months?

Accountants can learn from dentists, who book appointments six months ahead. I already have all of my quarterly appointments booked for 2010. Dentists use each meeting as an opportunity to arrange the next one. How many appointments can you book ahead?

Expertise
While your training qualifies you to deliver your compliance services it also positions you as a number one adviser in many clients’ eyes. What are you doing to deserve that accolade? What non compliance expertise do you have? How would you describe yourself (aside from ‘general practitioner’)? What needs do your clients have that are unmet? Maybe the most important question of all is what could you learn in the next 12 months to make yourself more valuable to your clients?
 
Mark Lloydbottom is practice development editor for AccountingWEB.co.uk.

Replies (6)

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Teignmouth
By Paul Scholes
09th Feb 2010 23:27

My experience

I admit to being someone who doesn't go out of his way to seek social intercourse and so for years I tended to keep all but the most important (and pleasant) clients at arm's length but Mark is absolutely right if you do not make the effort to get to know them & their businesses you will always be seen as a 3rd party.  Yes, maybe they will appreciate what you do and it's good enough but could there be more?

In addition to my natural reluctance to get too involved I also found the ticking clock syndrome a barrier both from my side (ie with fee sensitive clients) and obviously from the client's side (being fearful of picking up the phone)  and so, after a great deal of analysis & research, I decided to drop time recording and just quote & bill clients for the work in the year ahead to include the ability for them to contact me as many times as they wanted.  Yes a bit of a cop out but it at least got rid of one half of the syndrome.

The pros & cons of time recording or not, quoted or time based fees, are debated on here ad nauseam (and I have created my fair share) however two years down the line the difference in my working relationships with clients from removing what I and many clients saw as a barrier to the natural flow of information is dramatic and, contrary to what others thought, the exercise has naturally lead to me being able to generate extra work & advice, some of which they needed for years without me knowing it.

For any out there is a similar boat I'd recommend trying it with a sample of long standing "static" (aka boring) clients.

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By cymraeg_draig
10th Feb 2010 11:44

Makes them feel important

I decided to drop time recording and just quote & bill clients for the work in the year ahead to include the ability for them to contact me as many times as they wanted.  Yes a bit of a cop out but it at least got rid of one half of the syndrome..

 

Posted by Paul Scholes on Tue, 09/02/2010 - 23:27

 

We stopped time recording years ago. Amazing how much time you save simply by not having to mess about recording your time. And paying "by the minute" really does wind clients up. Taking an interest in client's businesses, as opoosed to just their profit & loss account, also makes thyem feel more important, as though you actually care about them, not just the fees.

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Della Hudson FCA
By Della Hudson
12th Feb 2010 11:22

Getting it right first time

I thought that it was just GIVING a better service to include free telephone advice for my clients but I have found that I benefit too.

If clients are free to contact me their book-keeping is better and saves me time at the year end. They're happy to ring to discuss what they were told by that famous tax adviser "a bloke in the pub" which also makes my life a lot easier.

I'm fairly new so I still record time for my own internal use so that I can check that my fixed fee levels are correct and see where I can tighten up on my own time management. I must remember to add a new category for all the time I spend on Aweb!

 

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By chatman
12th Feb 2010 23:22

No meetings

My USP is that my clients never have to see me. It is a huge time saving for me and them.

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Teignmouth
By Paul Scholes
13th Feb 2010 09:10

No Meetings

Fortunately it will take humans another 100,000 years of evolution before forming & maintaining relationships via email & telephone takes over from one to one interaction. 

Unfortunately I accept that, for accountants, it may have already arrived.

 

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By chatman
13th Feb 2010 11:29

No Meetings

@Paul Scholes -  Ha Ha. I agree.

I must admit, the larger and more complex the client, the less my method works.

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