That one word encapsulates many different relationships. For some accountants, it means late submissions, hand-holding, post-mortems and low hourly rates. For others, it entails effective communications, streamlined workflows, satisfied customers and profitable business. So why are some accountants blessed with “good” clients whilst others get lumbered with problems?
The truth is you don't find good clients. You make them. An increasing number of accountants are taking action to do this and supercharging their businesses as a result. Here’s how.
How can you hope to work with good clients if you have no idea what one looks like? At the very beginning of your sales process, create a profile that details what your perfect client looks like. Criteria might include number of employees, minimum turnover, market segment and budget. Once you’ve built your profile, target prospects accordingly to ensure you onboard the right clients.
Time-based billing has been around since the 1950s, but recent technological advances are altering perceptions about the value of time. With the help of accounting software, accountants can do much more in an hour than ever before. Is it time you considered moving towards a model where you charge clients for services you deliver, not time spent delivering them?
Fixed-fee accounting is big and getting bigger. 70% of accountants believe clients feel they’re getting better value with fixed-rate billing and 58% of practices say that fixed-fee pricing enhances their reputation. This approach makes selling services easier and it helps to ensure you get paid on time. By productizing your services, you make those services more accessible, transparent and scalable, enabling you to serve more clients and drive revenue. The end result? Happier clients who are easier to service, more likely to pay you on time and refer you to others.
Rather than putting together bespoke proposals, covering emails and letters of engagement, consider using GoProposal, a nifty platform that enables you to automate client pricing and proposals.
GoProposal was founded by James Ashford to help accountants maximise the lifetime value they provide to their clients. It can help you get a better understanding of initial pricing and how this should change as clients grow. By using this platform, you can streamline the onboarding process and increase your chances of signing up the right kind of clients at the right price.
Many accountants are encouraging their clients to adopt cloud accounting packages like Quickbooks and Xero. This software makes managing SME accounts straightforward and easy. And it’s incredibly affordable, with prices starting from less than £10 per month.
Once you’ve onboarded your clients to cloud accounting platforms, you shouldn’t stop there. It’s crucial to train them on how to use this software. So book some time for a training session over the phone. Skype and Google Hangouts offer screen sharing features that make training easy. As your clients grow more comfortable with issuing invoices, receiving payments and monitoring cash flows, you will have more time to advise them on strategic matters.
Be clear about how you like to communicate with clients. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, but be consistent. Many accountants prefer to use the phone as it’s quicker, easier and minimises paperwork. If email is your prefered method of communication, guide clients towards this. They key is to define your preferred method of communication on advance and stick to it.
Somewhat ironically, it can be hard for accountants to talk money with clients. Late payments are a problem and it’s inefficient to chase clients for payment. Luckily, this has an easy fix. Rather than manually invoicing on an annual basis, shift to monthly payments. This is becoming the norm amongst accountants that serve SMEs, so there should be little pushback. Increasing the payment frequency reduces the risk of non-payment and smoothes your income profile.
Moving to monthly payments has implications for how you invoice and receive payments for your services. Instead of manually invoicing clients, you should consider setting up a direct debit when you first onboard them. Alternatively, you can use a payments provider like Stripe to enter client's’ card information and manually bill them at the correct intervals.
As an accountant, your calendar is your closest ally and friend. Use it to schedule calls and of course, submissions to HMRC. Send calendar invites to clients to make them aware of time scales and set reminders so everyone is aware when a deliverable is due. Explain your approach to ensure your clients understand the benefits for them and their business.
Good clients are hard to find. But they are relatively easy to make with a bit of careful thought about the way you want to operate and charge for your services. Of course, some clients have unique needs, some might be resistant to your workflow and create problems that are harder to solve through automation, education and a progressive approach to billing for your services. In that case, it might be time to take the nuclear option and fire your most difficult clients. Stay tuned for more on this controversial topic.