Historically, unemployment for accountants has been between 2-3% lower than the general unemployment rate. But that doesn’t mean it is always easy for accountants.
Did you know?
As many as 67% of accountants feel that the profession is more competitive than ever.
Additionally, accounting continues to become more uncertain and more challenging.
Technology has greatly impacted accounting. Business owners and individuals can go anywhere to find an accountant that specializes in their unique problems and can meet their needs.
Clients can easily find an accountant across the country without leaving their business. Technology has made it so that accountants no longer compete with just the other guy down the street.
Now, they compete with everyone in town and in the county. Sometimes, they are competing with accounting firms in other states for local business.
That’s not the only challenge!
New software makes it easier than ever for clients to “feel” like they can self-service their own accounting needs. These programs empower the clients to do their own accounting for a lot less money.
Unfortunately, this means that clients miss out on the strategic, advisory, and education that a skilled accountant provides. Do your clients understand this?
- The competition is broader and more widespread than in the past
- Software competes with accounting services (but it doesn’t have to)
- If ignored, the internet is a stumbling block for accountants
- Information Age means more educated clients (Step it up)
There are several key steps you can take to grow your accounting business.
1. Better Communication is Key to Growth
George Bernard Shaw said:
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”
Do you send out a form letter or a newsletter and consider it “communication”? Do you return clients’ calls, and after answering their question, count it as “touching base” with them?
Do you ask the questions needed to understand them?
Have you effectively communicate how you can help?
Are you communicating effectively with your clients?
How do you communicate with your clients?
Have you considered?
Using technology to communicate with your clients?
In the traditional model of accounting, the majority of all communication is done vía office appointments. Although face-to-face communication is important, it can detract from the quality of your communication.
The key is to be strategic about communication.
New technology makes it simple for you to have face-to-face meetings online. Many meeting services are free including Google Hangouts and Skype.
In-person meetings will continue to be important. But, consider when you should use technology for face to face meetings.
Consider scheduling online meetings as 15-minute consultations. This can be done throughout the year. It can save your clients drive and wait time of meeting in person.
Electronic meetings provide a deeper personal touch than an email or long phone conversation. It also helps you to maintain more control over your schedule than face to face meetings.
Also, have you considered that:
Today’s business leaders expect greater levels of communication, even instant access. That means on days you are tied up for 4 or 5 hours with back-to-back appointments, your clients are stressing out and talking to the competition.
Instead, consider communicating vía instant messenger. This provides a way for you to provide quick answers to client questions.
If the issue looks more complicated, then schedule an online face-to-face meeting. This improves the connection between you and your clients and helps them to realize how much you value them.
Phone calls are a great way to stay in touch. Consider a 5-10 minute phone call instead of a lengthy email. Emails can be a great way to send your clients checklists and detailed information, but they shouldn’t be used to replace a conversation.
It will save you time in composing the email and allow you to be clear in your answers.
- Face to face vía the internet
- Instant messaging versus emails
- Phone call versus emails
- The personal touch
2. Involve Clients By Being a Thought Leader
In today’s information age clients can find an answer to everything online. The information may be wrong, especially for their situation, but it’s accessible.
Much of it may be from your competitors. Set yourself apart as a thought leader while involving clients at the same time.
There are several ways this can be done.
First, provide education to your clients vía your website.
Did you know that?
33% of adults search the internet for information instead of trying to remember something!
Here’s a question to ask yourself:
When your clients search for accounting answers, are they going to your website for answers? Do your clients check your website to learn about updates to new laws and regulations?
Educate your clients through informative blog articles. It will build you up as a leader and a trusted resource. If your clients visit your competitor’s website for information, how long do you think it will take for them to migrate their services away from you?
Another way to set yourself apart is by hosting seminars and lunch and learn events. These events can highlight a keynote speaker. They can cover an array of subjects.
Here’s a hint:
Many authors or legislative bodies will often talk for free as a means of promotion.
Here are a few ideas of topics you can cover:
- New regulations: How it works and what to be aware of
- Tax Changes: How to plan now in your business for the new year
- Payroll: Mistakes to be aware of, and the software that makes it easier
- Compliance: Don’t make these important employer mistakes
- Timekeeping: Vital to accounting
- Specialty topics on your niche services or industries
- Employee Benefits: Prioritize the most popular ones
Seminars should be education. They can directly correlate to services you already provide or may be broader. They set you aside as an accountant that understands the problems your clients face and is more than just an accountant. They set you apart as an advisor.
3. Specialize and Create a Niche
You’ve probably heard before how important it is to specialize. Specialization makes your more competitive and more attractive to clients.
There are many ways to do this.
Specializations may require training or certifications. Consider obtaining additional certifications.
Here are a few examples.
- Specialize in startups
- IT audits
- Business valuations
There are many other options.
Here’s an idea:
Take a look at patterns within your existing clients. Create a landing page or category on your blog around the niche you want to target. Write several blog posts around this niche.
Or, try this:
A niche doesn’t have to be solely around accounting skills. It can also include industry or geographic location. The accounting skills are universal, but focusing on industry creates awareness and experiences that are unique.
Your niche can include anything from restaurants to mechanics, technology to service-oriented businesses.
One of the benefits of learning an industry well is that it creates a referral base. Once customers realize that you understand their industry, they refer other associates and colleagues to you.
When you understand an industry, you can target trade groups and associations for the industry also.
The same is true for geographical location.
Accounting firms near a port may be more experienced in import/export issues.
Midwest and rural accounting firms may understand farming and the related challenges.
Southwestern firms may be more aware of cultural and immigration concerns. Firms along the border may be better suited to provide advice for international taxes.
4. Make Room for Growth
Which clients are slowing you down?
You can only work as fast as your clients will allow. Do your clients embrace new technology that allows you to work faster? Do you use processes that slow you down?
There is a difference between being busy and being billable. Take a look at your clients and activities.
Which clients take up a large chunk of your time, but don’t actually do much business with you? Which clients are old-school and resist technology? Do you have to print and mail tax returns or do your clients love electronic copies? There is a large difference in expense and time cost.
How much of your time, or your staff’s time, is spent on activities that aren’t billable? Consider the amount of time you spend on repetitive or paper-pushing activities. Look at the processes that slow you down.
Take a look at your client base. Make a list of your clients in order of how much they spend on your services. Start at the bottom of the list and work your way up. You’ll recognize which clients take up more of your time without paying for your services.
You will recognize which clients pay more, pay on time and require less of your time. Take a look, as well, at which clients refer others to you. Those clients are gold and are already advocates of your business.
You can either fire your worst clients or refer them to other accountants. This will free up your time so that you can focus on providing better services to your best clients. It will allow you to take on more quality clients.
- Clear away clutter clients
- Busy or billable?
5. Use Technology to Streamline
There are many ways that accountants can use technology to streamline practices. One of these ways is to use cloud technology to increase transparency.
Transparency increases communication! Clients can view invoices, view documents, and see their core ledgers. This eliminates the repetitive tasks such as clients who need copies of tax returns. It eliminates the continual reminders of unpaid invoices.
When data is a click away, it puts you, as an accountant, in a position to provide proactive advice moving forward. It also gives you a way to charge not just for software subscriptions, but also as an advisor.
Another way to grow your business is by streamlining client data transfer. Instead of pulling data from spreadsheets, connect your clients so their data populates from bank feeds.
Have clients’ financial data stream directly into the leger so it doesn’t have to be handled twice.
Eliminate manual processes. Use online tools that will allow you to simultaneously edit documents and databases from different locations.
Online tools will allow you to create and share reports in real time. Store your documents in cloud services that allow for instant retrieval. This eliminates the cost of physical paper, handling the paper, filing and storing paper.
Here’s another idea
Utilize the software that helps you in your specialties. If you are going to handle payroll, then set your clients up for automatic timekeeping. Employee time cards are sent automatically to your payroll system.
(Shameless plug) If you set your business clients up with SwipeClock, employee timekeeping will integrate seamlessly with your payroll software. In addition, you can offer your client other services that you may specialize in such as employee benefits or retirement planning.
- Democratize data across the practice
- Hook up with Client data
- Streamline client data to come
Invest the time and effort into turning your business into a truly unique business. At the end of the day, your drive for excellence will separate you from a point-service accountant to an advisory accountant.
Go beyond excellent customer service and identify and promote your specialize and niches. Be more strategic with your clients and in the software that you use.
Become a thought leader by educating your clients through presentations and seminars. Increase the quality of your communication by offering online meetings, instant messaging, and phone calls.
Written by Annemaria Duran. Last updated on May 22, 2018