Mar 10th 2010
By Edi Osborne
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Dear potential accountant,
I think it’s great that you ride a Harley, raise chickens, enjoy food and wine, skydive, or volunteer at a homeless shelter. All of those things make you a more human, well-rounded, and interesting person to spend time with. I get how hard it must be to break away from the old stereotype of green eyeshades and pocket protectors.
To that end, if your firm is one of those that has personal bios on your Web site that highlight the humanness of your partners and team members, good for you! Again, all this makes you and your firm more interesting and less one-dimensional. Plus, it gives me a chance to get to know others on your team and tells me your team is important to you – like mine is to me.
But what I really want to know is if you’re just as interested as you are interesting?
Are you interested enough in me and my business that you pay attention to everything going on, not just what shows up on our financial statements? Are you interested enough (maybe humble is a better word) to admit you don’t know everything about my business and ask questions until you do? Are you interested enough to invest the time it takes to learn about my industry and the challenges it is facing? Are you interested enough not to charge me for your learning curve as you deepen your understanding of my day-to-day operations?
If you said yes to all these questions, you are an accountant I want to spend time with. And if it turns out we have a lot of personal stuff in common, our time spent together will be even more fun. But, even if it turns out you are a vegetarian and I raise cattle for a living, I am still going to go with you if you are the accountant who is authentically interested in my business. I know it sounds selfish, but I’m not really interested in how interesting you are until you have demonstrated how authentically interested you are in me and my business. I’m sure you would feel the same way if you were writing checks to my business every month.
Now don’t be offended. I know you are one of the good ones who is really close to your clients and feels their pain and shares their excitement. But if you don’t spend at least half a day a year just shadowing me as I go about my business, then you need to. I want you to be interested, curious, and honest. Ask questions, even the ones that seem dumb or obvious, and the ones you think you already should be able to answer. Until you stop with the expert persona and see the business from my perspective, you are missing out on the most important aspect of our relationship – being authentically interested.
Equally important, as we walk around my business, I want you to point out issues that I might have overlooked. I want you to challenge the way I do things. I won’t be offended by your questions; I know it’s because you really want to understand my business better. Ask if you can sit in on management meetings and be part of any strategic discussions. You aren’t over-stepping; I want you involved. The better you understand my business, the more you can help me reach my goals. Assuming you are as interested in all your clients as you are in my business, you probably have learned some really cool stuff about what makes them successful. I want to hear your ideas; don’t hold back. I might even be able to teach you some things that can help you with your practice.
Here’s the really good news. The more you help me toward my goals, the more I want to help you succeed in your business, too. It’s called the law of reciprocity – we give when we get. You won’t have to ask me for referrals because I’ll already be a Raving Fan telling people about how great you are. You won’t have to stress over my billings because I will see and appreciate the value you bring to my business, which inspires me to pay your bill on time. You won’t have to charge me for every phone call because you know when I pick up the phone to discuss an issue, you will probably end up providing me with more services. Plus you don’t want me to hesitate to call you if I have a problem.
Speaking of problems, I can promise you that if something is wrong with the work product your firm delivers to me, I’ll let you know right away and give you the chance to make it right. I know mistakes happen. I run a business, too. If it happens repeatedly, that’s a different discussion. But we will cross that bridge if we come to it.
It makes sense doesn’t it, that the more interested you are in my success, the more invested I become in yours? So here’s my bottom line: If you only want to focus on delivering great tax returns or financial statements to me, we better have a lot in common (like the same parents) to overcome your lack of interest in my overall success. If you are willing to invest the time and effort to really understand all of my business issues and help me reach my goals, I’m prepared to leave the beef in the freezer and cook up a really mean vegetarian stew when you come to my house for dinner.
A great client to have
About the author:
Edi Osborne has been providing the profession with out-of-the-box insights for more than 20 years. She is the driving force behind The Passionate Accountant, and CEO of Carmel Valley, CA-based Mentor Plus. She welcomes your comments and queries at firstname.lastname@example.org.