Won’t you be my client?
Accounting firms don’t necessarily need to take a Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood approach when asking Won’t you be my client? – but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
CPA’s are part of the business community, we don’t stand above them – we are among them.
Without this mentality and an active local role, accounting firms often find it difficult to attract small-business clients. Once they begin pounding the pavement and participating in community meetings and events, referrals become the magic word.
Bringing your clients together to do business with each other becomes instinctual when viewing small-business relationships as partnerships. With smaller clients, you need to be much more an advocate for them, a part of their business. The bottom line is that as long as we as accountants and the client view ourselves as an expense, instead of an investment, [the relationship] won’t be successful in long run. While the semantic distinction is small, the financial implications can be large at a time when small businesses are looking to trim costs and shop the competition.
The National Federation of Independent Business’s monthly small-business optimism index – based on the responses of 766 randomly sampled small businesses in the NFIB’s membership – showed a small drop for the fourth consecutive month in June to 90.8, with negative earning trends keeping the sector in solid recession territory. In that month, the second-year anniversary of the recovery, 69 percent of surveyed owners view the current period as a poor time to expand. Of those respondents, 75 percent blame the economy for their outlook and 10 percent point to political uncertainty.
“The biggest challenge with smaller clients is that, with what is going on in the economy, they are more price-conscious,” said Gustavo Viera, partner at a Miami CPA Firm. “Where they have been offered opportunities to go with less expensive services, the inclination is to go that route, even though it may in the long run show them not getting the service and advice they really should be getting.” In fact, lost clients that had no choice but to value lowered expense over investment. Many of these clients were in the mortgage industry, and when business declined by more than 50 percent, “It was all about the cost,” Viera said. “It didn’t matter what kind of service they were getting, they were inclined to make the change.”
Our CPA Firm has dealt with this by being “more flexible with billing, trying to let them do as much as they can at their level, if at all possible. We give discounts where we normally would not.”
We believe that businesses that have survived the “Darwinian” environment and adapted to their marketplace have done so by focusing on service and personal contact. “Sometimes people read newspapers too much and struggle with the financial news,” Viera added. “Large stores are trying to move volume, [small businesses and us], we’re trying to move service.” From the CPA Firm perspective, this service should be proactive and make small-business clients feel as important as their larger counterparts.
Where time constraints inhibit this, technology can be useful. Blogs and social media when face time isn’t possible. The firm also has a company Facebook , Twitter and YouTube page. Regardless of the method, communication is key. A CPA firm’s relationship with small-business clients becomes close in a quick period of time. There is a lot of contact during the year and unlike with larger clients, where it is hardest to only see them at the end of year when they’ve already made a lot of decisions that, if they had just talked to you beforehand, could have been better decisions.
Our approach. What we to do is stay in touch year round, whether we have filing deadlines for tax returns or financial statement delivery deadlines. We meet several times a year, stay in touch by e-mail and phone about what’s going on in business and life.
The work of maintaining this personal level of contact also pays off when management changes. The businesses, individuals, family members transitioning to the next generation are all a part of the big picture for us. Service, then, is “not limited to financial aspects of succession planning, but includes family personalities, as dynamics can be very different from family to family. Having long-term relationships and knowing the dynamics of businesses and individuals can really be helpful to clients. What makes sense to one plan you cannot apply to every situation.”