As tax and accounting professionals, we all want our clients to be successful. Yet, while most small business CEOs are really knowledgeable about their particular product, service or business, I find that most lack skills around financial and business insight. How do they get insights to make decisions about their businesses? It’s time to “bring in the accountants.” In order for our clients to be successful, we need to get them to focus on the key performance indicators of the business.
The first step is educating them through a one-on-one meeting. As a CPA serving small businesses for more than 10 years, I am always astonished to hear how some clients interacted with their prior accountants – “my accountant just sent me the reports,” “we met once a year or “they just reconciled the books.” Huh? What? Clients need more guidance than reports and annual meetings; they need to know about the key areas of their businesses. What’s their largest cost drivers? What expenses are likely to pick up once sales increase?
To better educate our clients, I meet with them on a monthly basis using Fathom, a reporting app providing dashboards and reports. Fathom integrates with QuickBooks® Online Accountant, and you can use it as a stand-alone app with Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Online, Lacerte® or ProSeries®. We walk the client through all the financial areas of their business to properly frame how the business operates, a process that enables us to analyze their financials. This meeting gives them time to think about the financial aspects of their business as well as ask questions. I also tend to give some homework. For example, I want them think about the adjustments they can make to affect some key performance indicators. By challenging them with such a task, you force them to really dig in and understand their business in a different perspective. Providing these insights causes the client to be purposeful in their actions going forward.
Being purposeful in our business actions really sets the tone, so now it’s time to help them set their goals. First, we get them to buy into the fact that operational goals are necessary. We purposely ignore sales goals to make them focus on more in-depth goals, including gross profit margin, net profit margin and breakeven points. As a result, when they realize whether their goals were met gives them a newfound understanding about their business. They become better owners and you’re truly seen as their trusted advisor. We focus on these areas because clients tend to be so sales driven that they forget about the rest of the business. This typically leads to business owners quoting sales figures about their business, but leaving out the profitability in conversations.
Another great way to build client insight is to provide comparative information with benchmark data. Helping them understand how their business stacks up to similar businesses is a great insight because it tells them if they are leading or lagging. It also helps set the conversation for goal setting and year-end planning. If you’re a niche practitioner, you likely have some benchmark data in your own practice that can give them greater insight. If you don’t have a niche, you can look for benchmark data from AICPA’s Management of an Accounting Practice survey for accounting firms, Clio benchmark data if you serve law firms, ProfitCents by Sageworks and, depending on the business’s size, even Dun & Bradstreet. All of these are good places to get trusted industry data in order to help your clients measure their businesses against similar operations.
How do you give your clients insight into their businesses? Leave a comment below to share your ideas with others.