48% of the UK's small and medium-sized businesses say their accountant is their most trusted business adviser. As a professional services firm, we’re sure your accountancy practice takes pride in delivering the best possible service to every client.
But have you ever stopped to consider whether the businesses you work with are the most valuable clients for the long-term success and profitability of your firm?
It can actually be counter-productive to work with clients who aren’t a good fit. Demanding business owners can eat into your fee-earning time. Sometimes there’s more value in focusing on the right client type and pouring your energy into a more productive working relationship.
Working with the right clients
Every firm will have good and bad clients – what’s important is getting the balance right.
There will be clients who meet deadlines, complete their bookkeeping efficiently and listen to your advice. And there will also be clients who are late with their submissions, disorganised with their data and documents and who fail to act when you point out potential issues.
As a general rule, 80% of your positive results will come from the ‘good’ 20% of your client base.
If you have two clients on the same fixed-fee package (one good and one bad) it’s clear why spending hours sorting out the demanding client’s issues is a bad use of your time and resources in the long-term.
The key to success for your firm is to lose those bad clients – and to put some real focus into attracting the good clients and building productive working relationships with them.
Knowing what your ideal client looks like
But how do you know what a good client looks like? And how do you replace those bad clients with your ideal ones?
Locating a perfect client isn’t easy – clients change over time, after all. But one way is to crystallise a concept of what your ‘ideal client’ looks like – and use this benchmark model as a blueprint when taking on new business.
When talking to a prospect, ask yourself if they have the following attributes:
Familiar with new technology – with cloud accounting now the norm for many practices, it’s important that your clients are tech-savvy and comfortable with working with cloud apps and tools. You won’t feel the efficiencies if they’re luddites.
Organised and timely – when clients meet their submission dates and don’t need chasing, there’s more time to get on with the important value-adding work. Disorganised or lazy clients eat into your working week, distracting you from higher-level advisory work.
Pay you on time, every time – when clients fail to meet invoice terms, and need chasing for payment, that’s bad for productivity and cash flow. Clients that are comfortable with modern payment gateways will pay on time, keeping cash flowing in.
Open to new ideas – a business owner who listens to your ideas for new systems and processes will get far more value from your services. When clients are stuck in their ways, you’ll enter into in a battle of wills and won’t move forward.
Share your mindset – it may seem obvious, but you’ll work more productively with people you get along with and who share your mindset. Clients whose personalities clash with your own are unlikely to become valued long-term customers.
Value what you do for them – When a business owner truly values the service and advice you give, your working relationship will be more fruitful. If clients see you as a mere ‘beancounter’, it’s time to sack them and move on.
Retain your clients with valuable customer service
What business clients want from their accountant is value – and not just in the monetary sense. Business owners want to feel that you’re helping them move forward, that they’re getting real, personalised service and that there’s a productive and valued working relationship between you – and there are plenty of ways to add this perceived value.
When you deliver on these expectations, and give the right clients the best possible customer service, you’ll see the impact on your client retention stats.
Listen to their goals and business needs – one key way to help clients is to truly listen to them. Never assume: always take the time to understand their specific business goals and look for proactive ways to help them achieve them.
Be open to client feedback – Ask clients for frequent feedback, send out surveys after each project and have regular review sessions. The more honest and constructive feedback you gather, the better you can service your clients and tailor your advice to their needs. Using the net promoter score (NPS) approach – and asking clients how likely they’d be to recommend you and your services – is a great way to monitor scoring over time and to ensure quality, service and engagement are kept high.
Make it simple to work with you – cloud systems can help streamline much of the more time-consuming data-entry work. Onboarding clients to your processes helps both parties gain more from the potential efficiencies of working online. Hands-on training, practical guides and helpful educational materials get clients up to speed and helps them feel the benefits of your services.
Be flexible with your support – don’t forget to embrace the flexibility that tech offers. With instant cloud access to accounts and communication tools, such as Skype, you can offer support and advice through virtual meetings, or out-of-hours phone calls – adding to the client’s perceptions of value.
Add genuine value for their business – financial technology has allowed business owners to carry out much of the accounting basics themselves. What they want from you is the higher-value advice, data analysis and strategic thinking that will help them to make the right business decisions and secure their financial stability. For example, evaluation of a client’s historic numbers may shows a trend for significant dips in cash flow at the same point each year. Your role is to identify why – could it be seasonal drops in sales, overspending on raw materials, or increased payroll spend? – and to take action that boosts the cash pipeline, lowers costs and reduces any negative impact.
Make it easier to pay you – a fixed-fee package model means clients always know exactly what they’re paying each month, removing the worry of additional bills. Using an online Direct Debit solution, such as GoCardless, makes it even easier for clients to pay by automating your whole fee-collection process.
Attract the right clients to your services
To move your client base forwards, and bring the right business owners onboard, you’ll need a direct focus on attracting new clients and expanding the reach of your sales and marketing.
Improve and update your website – a great website is a vital asset for the firm. It’s a shop window that lays out the services you offer, the value you add and aims to position you as a highly trusted adviser in your chosen specialism or industry niche. It’s also the hub for your content marketing, so it’s vital that it’s mobile optimised, regularly updated and clearly explains why a business owner should choose your firm.
Ask for client testimonials – business owners place great value on testimonials. Case studies, quotes from client feedback and endorsements from satisfied clients all serve to underline the quality of your work and the value you could deliver to a new client.
Start a client referral programme – a referral is the best kind of new business to aim for, coming as it does from a satisfied advocate for your firm. Putting a referral programme in place, with rewards for referrers, adds a real incentive for clients and brings like-minded businesses to your door.
Make your pricing attractive – price isn’t the sole deciding factor for potential clients. But choosing a price point that’s appealing, offers the right value and creates the best margin for the firm is central to how attractive the firm looks in the marketplace.
The perfect client relationship for your firm
Being a trusted adviser for your business clients is the aim of any modern accountant. And that level of trust and perceived value will increase significantly when you take direct steps to work with your ideal clients – and improve your client service levels as a direct consequence.
Helping clients as they face the opportunities and pitfalls of the business journey is no short-term fix. What’s needed is a long-term focus on providing the very best service and adding the level of value that tech-savvy, cloud-advocate business owners now demand.
When you keep clients happy and fulfilled, that’s good news for your customer retention figures, your job satisfaction, your revenue pipeline and the ultimate profits of the firm as a whole.
In the second installment of this two-part series, we’ll take the concept of the ideal client further, showing you how to lose those bad clients, and vet your prospects to make sure they’re the perfect fit for the firm.
Find out more about how using Direct Debit via GoCardless speeds up the payment process.