VP, Corporate Strategy and International Expansion, FreshBooks
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Business really starts with people and relationships. The products and services often come second. It would be nice if your work could speak for itself, but that’s not the norm. It takes a relationship, and the key to any great relationship is strong communication. The same is true for accountants’ relationships with their clients.
You want to build trust and longstanding relationships with your clients to keep them loyal and coming back. It’s a win-win: You’ll not only cement your reputation and gain referrals, but you will also help your self-employed clients better manage their business financials and succeed.
Here are five communication tips to build and maintain your self-employed client relationships:
1. Reach Out to Clients and Let Them Know You’re Available
With self-employed people crunched for time and wearing many hats, they need someone who is available to return their calls and emails. Make it easy for clients to get in contact with you, and reply promptly and politely to any questions or concerns.
Online communication is fast, convenient, and expected, but don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings, too. Forbes reported on a survey of 6,500 professionals from the US, UK, Germany and Switzerland that squarely put face-to-face, in-person meetings as the favored format to create a more robust, information-rich environment. You can see how your client is responding, even if they’re not speaking. It’s also easier to follow up on points and take a conversation where it needs to go.
Invite new and regular clients for an in-person meeting to establish and build rapport with them. Eye contact, body language and offering clients your full attention develops trust and engagement. They will appreciate your experience even more.
Most small business owners aren’t accounting and finance experts, and they don’t have the time or inclination to keep up with the latest accounting terms and tax strategies. They look to you to translate all of the technical speak into language they can understand. It’s important for you to take the time to explain things clearly without getting bogged down with jargon. (There are numerous blogs that explain accounting jargon, so you know it’s a common issue.)
Your clients don’t expect to have a conversation with you about working capital, cost of goods sold, GAAP, depreciation and the potential benefits of electing Subchapter S status – even though they should understand that it’s essential to get their financials in order and avoid the consequences of missing a filing deadline or neglecting to monitor cash flow.
3. Help Them Solve Their Unique Challenges
The daunting statistic for new entrepreneurs is about 50 percent of small businesses fail within the first five years and two-thirds go under within the first 10 years. There are a number of reasons why small businesses go under, but one thing is certain accounting is a crucial part of good business. If your clients are not staying on top of receivables, not keeping receipts for expenses, mixing business with personal credit banking or making a stab at DIY-ing their tax returns, that’s not good news.
For small business clients who struggle with keeping on top of these areas, there are tools that can help. As their trusted accountant, you can point them to easy ways of automating as much of these processes as possible.
You need to have frank conversations with your self-employed clients to get to the heart of these challenges and set them on a better path for book-keeping and operations. Providing your self-employed clients with direction and visibility into their business’ financials gives them a foundation to follow. With your input, they’ll quickly gain a basic understanding of their company’s income, expenses, and tax situation.
4. Be Honest and Be Yourself
All relationships work better when people are open and honest. Get to know your self-employed clients as people and friends. It’s far more rewarding to do business with people you know and like – and vice versa.
The fact is, great communication is more about listening than it is about speaking. Get to know your self-employed clients (and let them get to know you) by listening attentively and asking open-ended questions. This way you can identify your clients’ goals and expectations and how you can help.
Be open and honest with them about how to resolve their business challenges. This level of openness leads to easier exchanges and a much more pleasant experience for both of you.
5. Share Your Knowledge and Expertise
Your self-employed clients generally come to you for a specific service, but you clearly have a wealth of experience and skills in other matters of business management and financial strategies. As you build your client relationships, you can offer your expertise for a wider range of challenges than your clients expect.
This knowledge sharing positions you as much more than a service provider. You become a trusted mentor and advisor, really working to boost your clients’ full trust and confidence in you and their business.
While numbers are always important, it’s the details that come through in clear communication that make the difference between simply providing one-time services and having happy, loyal clients.