Client experience is key to accounting firm growth

By Ellie Alexander, www.accountingweb.com Here are some resolutions you should make to prepare you for growth in 2016 and beyond

841
0

According to a recent Sleeter Group survey, the No. 1 reason why small businesses leave their accountant is they are not receiving proactive advice. Why? Because the tax industry is complex and changing rapidly. There are expiring tax laws, tax-refund identify theft, same-sex marriage complexities, retiring baby boomers, and client globalization, just to name a few. It takes time and effort to provide clear information on these complicated issues.

The good news: High-growth firms that get in front of these changes with their clients and prospects aren’t reinventing the wheel. They are simply managing their resources better to deliver targeted client experiences, more useful information, and ongoing client communications.

How? By utilizing their existing marketing and administrative resources to segment clients and develop turnkey communications geared toward what the client wants. You know that your clients want proactive, well-written and easily understood advice. But that’s not the same as actually investing in a marketing and communication program to deliver that advice to your clients all year long. Because writing is not the same as auditing, don’t get stuck under the “old thinking” that says you need to do everything in-house. If you do, chances are good that you are wasting billable hours, missing deadlines, and providing technical articles that aren’t going to be read.

Recognize that content management, social media, and client communication have all evolved – and your practice must, too.

The relationship between client and accountant is also shifting. The accountant is no longer merely “the bean counter.” Rather, the best client relationships are those where the firm is seen as the client’s business advisor. Relationships aren’t just about providing a service when appropriate. A business advisor is someone who both gives advice and is a specialist on a subject. You know your subject matter, so you can certainly be considered a specialist. But do you give advice and other information on an ongoing and regular schedule or only when you have some “free” time?

Consider setting up a turnkey communications program with your clients so they receive pertinent information from you on tax and financial issues throughout the year. Not only will you be seen as proactive and interested, but you will be much less likely to miss new opportunities if your client knows you can do that, too.

You have a specialty and truly know and appreciate the complexities of a specific client’s financial situation. Consider taking that knowledge to create a branded niche. In other words, as long as you have made a thoughtful decision to invest time and effort in understanding a specific financial situation and appropriate approaches and solutions, consider growing that portion of your practice. Go beyond the geographic model and create a forward-thinking approach to a specific portion of a growing industry.

Consider networking through global association memberships rather than just local groups, develop niche-specific communications, and embrace becoming the voice of your selected niche through public speaking and written publications. If you have staff, help them learn the industry, as new energy and ideas create enthusiasm, especially for younger staff. Firms that struggle with turnover can benefit from giving a focus and flame to new growth opportunities.

To tackle these changes, consider redefining administrative roles to help manage the marketing and communications function in this changing environment. Get comfortable building the reputations and profiles of your firm’s experts so you can quickly and frequently offer a unique value proposition. By investing in your staff, you are able to raise awareness and show your worth to existing clients while also increasing brand visibility for potential new clients.

While online distribution is essential these days, your marketing efforts should include physical delivery, as well. Print gives you the ability to be in your clients’ homes, and the information gleaned by an address update can allow you to find out more about their current circumstances before you may otherwise hear from them. Plus, there’s that sense of urgency – and authenticity – that a mailpiece, including a newsletter, brings to clients. It’s a lot more likely to be read and remembered than a monthly email “blast” that may be inexpensive to send out but rarely remembered. Remember the adage: You get what you pay for. Research shows that direct mail is making a comeback.

With the shifts in the industry and so many options, use strategies that continue to showcase your expertise and reinforce the reasons why your CPAs and firm are the most qualified to handle a client’s money.