How accounting firms can make 2011 better than 2010

By Marcelle Green

Your company can position itself for further growth and prosperity in 2011. Strong or weak economy, it doesn’t matter. But in a weak economy, the services of an accounting firm are needed more than ever.
 
The following tips will help you build your brand, differentiate your firm from your competitors, increase your average ROI per client, boost client loyalty, and protect your company.
 
Add value to your firm
 
Without added value, accounting services are just a commodity. You might as well be selling toothpaste. People will pay for value, and added value sets you apart from your competitors. Services are strong value-adds, such as forensic or governmental accounting, fraud detection and protection, virtual CFO services, or payroll processing.
 
New certifications and expertise, such as Medicare asset counseling, also take your firm out of the “me, too” category, as do strategic partnerships with professionals who provide complementary services.
 
Do what you say
 
So simple to say, yet so difficult to do: living up to your word. If you promise to call at 1, call at 1. Not 1:05. If you say you’ll have that information by Thursday, then have it, or call early on Thursday to explain why you don’t (and when you will).
 
People remember a timely phone call, a handwritten note, a commitment kept. Ever have a contractor promise a 1 p.m. arrival and actually show up at 1? Ever have one promise 1 p.m. and arrive at 2:30? Which did you use a second time?
 
Also, follow up when the accounting project is complete. Ask for feedback, recommendations, and suggestions for improvement. This will always end up benefiting you in the long run, whether the feedback is negative or positive.
 
Under promise, over deliver
 
A lot of client contact is managing expectations. Set yourself up to exceed theirs. Promising a report on Friday and delivering it Thursday scores points. Promising that report on Wednesday and delivering it on Thursday loses them. The report was delivered at the same time either way, but the client’s satisfaction level is very different.
 
And if you know on Wednesday you won’t have it on Thursday, call them on Wednesday, not Thursday morning. Tell them why, commit to a new delivery date, keep that commitment, and tell them what you’ll do to make up for the delay.
 
Fire your clients
 
The old 80-20 rule still holds: 20 percent of your clients produce 80 percent of your revenue. The clients who produce your lowest ROI (you do calculate your ROI for every client, right?) hurt you in two ways: you make very little money from them, and they take up valuable time that could better be used to find and service more profitable clients.
 
The easiest way to fire clients: increase their fees. The clients with money will stay, raising your ROI, while the ones who can’t afford your fees and are ultimately wasting your time will leave. Be professional: refer them to another firm rather than leaving them in a lurch.
 
Improve internally
 
You should be constantly upgrading your knowledge and your operations. Educate your employees, hire specialized staff, reorganize workflow, shift job responsibilities, attend training programs and workshops, add a layer of quality assurance – the list is endless. Minimum required CE credits are just that; go beyond the requirements.
 
Network with related professionals to learn about their industries so you can advise your clients. Just because you’re not an estate planning attorney doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to communicate How Trusts Work 101 to your clients. Clients remember when you know something they didn’t expect you to know, when a document is error-free, and when a task is done sooner than expected.
 
Internet security is client security
 
The responsibility and potential liability of handling your clients’ most sensitive data is huge. Knowing how to protect that data and your firm from viruses, worms, and spyware is critical.
 
Make sure you and your employees know about, and your company has written policies about, phishing, unfamiliar Web sites, and other online security risks. Create difficult passwords. Encrypt data on laptops. You won’t regret it.
 
Stay modern with new gadgets
 
When technology can help you do your job better, think seriously about it. Dual monitors, once the province of geeks, are becoming much more common in accounting firms: two screens, side by side, eliminate constant switching between documents, or switching between documents and manuals.
 
Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) is easier than Ethernet and more secure and reliable than a wireless network. Junk your fax machine and use an online faxing service. Faxes can be forwarded to e-mail and accessed from anywhere. Carve out some time each month to investigate technology that will improve your operations.
 
Control what you can control
 
The economy will do what it does. Other accounting firms will do what they do. Neither is a valid reason for how well your company performs in 2011. The only factor that controls your company’s revenue and profitability is you.
 
About the author:
Marcelle Green is the marketing and PR director for VBP OutSourcing, a Maryland-based professional accounting and marketing firm servicing the growing needs of DoD federal contractors. For more information, call (410) 590-5000 or visit http://www.vbpoutsourcing.com.
 

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