Your clients come to you for essential accounting and tax services, but they’re also seeking out experts who can offer advice around payroll, accounts payable and receivable, financial forecasting and overall HR.
In a perfect world, they would love to get it all from one trusted resource: their accountant. Not surprisingly, in a recent survey of more than 1,000 small business owners accountants were cited as their best professional resource.
In fact, 87 percent see accountants as a trusted advisor they can turn to and that they trust more than anyone else, even for a wide range of business advice beyond keeping the books. Their second most trusted advisors - friends and family - were selected a third less often than accountants. Lawyers finished a distant third with half as many votes.
Meeting Clients’ Expectations
The “most trusted” mantle does come with high expectations, though. Clients increasingly expect their key advisors to offer more than one suite of services. Whether it’s for financial reasons or simply because they don’t want to bring in other professionals, the majority of small business owners see accountants as a resource to show them how additional products and technologies can help their business.
However, only 61 percent in the recent survey said they are totally satisfied with the range of services their accountant offers and just 36 percent described their accountant as proactive.
With numbers like that, it's not surprising that 23 percent even said they are considering switching providers within the next year. This uneasiness is an opportunity to get out there to see what new things your small business clients are looking for from you.
Small Businesses and Human Resources
There are several ways you can play a more significant role in the operations of the small businesses you serve. We learned, for example, that about one in five small businesses looking to hire their first accountant expect them to be able to offer advice around HR-related topics.
We also discovered that HR is potentially a big pain point for your clients, perhaps because there are a number of fines and potential liabilities when a company fails to get it right. While 86 percent of small business owners feel confident that their HR practices are fully compliant with state and federal regulations, fewer than 50 percent are certain they’re doing a good job of categorizing employees vs. contractors, staying up to date on labor law changes, and keeping handbooks current. And this is after spending an average of 18 hours per month on HR tasks.
It is no wonder that these folks are thinking about getting some help and looking to their accountant. Working with a professional they already trust may be the perfect opportunity for small businesses to review (and improve) their HR practices.
How You Can Help With HR
If you've been thinking about how you can get ahead of the game on your clients’ needs, offering HR services could be a great way to exceed expectations and provide value. It can be another revenue stream for your practice, or give you the opportunity to update your pricing model if it’s been a while.
If, on the other hand, HR services don’t feel like a good fit for your firm, it’s still a good idea to take a little time to research available options in case you are asked for recommendations. There are several HR service providers out there (5 percent of small businesses outsource HR entirely and 27 percent use HR software), and many payroll providers offer suites of HR features in addition to their core product offering.
You may also be asked to advise your client when they consider bringing on an HR manager. Saving almost 20 hours per month is a pretty strong incentive to the small business owner to bring someone in to focus on HR tasks. By the time companies have 50 employees, around 50 percent of them will have at least one dedicated HR staffer, but it’s also important to ensure their budgets will cover the salary of a full-timer.
Your clients know HR is something they need to do well as part of running their business. Being an informed mentor and guide in this area can help you retain your “most trusted” status for years to come.
About Mark McKee
Mark McKee is the president and COO of OnPay, a payroll software company. His 15 years of experience in institutional investing, equity research, private equity and investment banking give him deep insights into what growing businesses and their accountants need to build easy, error-free financial practices.