Busy season is over and hopefully you took, or are on, a much-needed break. But once you’re back in the office, it’s important to reflect on what worked and what didn’t during the 2016 tax season in order to develop a roadmap to practice growth, efficiency, and success.
While each practice is different, I’ve identified three universal areas for improvement so that you can be more efficient and successful.
1. Build Long-term Client Relationships
Many accountants mistakenly treat Tax Day as the drop date for client communication. It’s not. Recent Xero survey data found that 65 percent of failed entrepreneurs blame financial mismanagement for their downfall.
Despite this, the majority of small business owners (40 percent) only communicate with their accountants once or twice per year, even though more than three-fourths of accountants recommend that small business owners should check in at least monthly. This gap represents an opportunity to leverage tax-time momentum and fresh client memory to engage clients on the benefits of a year-round relationship.
How? Start by doing your homework. In the same way you wouldn’t want a client to walk into a meeting with a shoebox full of receipts, take time to understand their industry. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to have a working knowledge of the specific hurdles your clients face on a day-to-day basis.
Second, leverage lessons learned to provide context for your clients’ business plans. Use this information to guide monthly client conversations about how they are tracking against goals, as well as where they are over- and underperforming. Providing this type of insight will go a long way in securing year-round relationships.
2. Find Your Purpose
In accounting, one size no longer fits all. Coupled with today’s desire for on-demand and personalized services, firms need to find their niche. This is not an easy transition, but is necessary to grow your business.
To help guide this process and narrow the field, here are five steps to get you started:
- Selection: Consider the type of clients you naturally attract and look at your existing client roster to see if any patterns emerge. You might have an existing specialty and not know it!
- Expertise: Define what success means to you and then look to see whether you will be starting from the ground up or if you can leverage existing industry capabilities and expertise.
- Market assessment: Balance reward with risk. Going too broad could mean becoming a small fish in a big pond. Too niche means you’ll be a big fish in a small pond. Whichever you choose, ensure there are enough potential clients to succeed.
- Technology fit: Different industries require different capabilities, especially when it comes to technology. Evaluate the software and technology you have (or need) that will help potential clients and you become more efficient.
- Alignment: Make sure the niche you choose aligns with your founding principles.
3. Evangelize the Cloud
With a year-round relationship and deep understanding of your clients’ industries, you become more than “the CPA who does my taxes” but “a trusted business partner who I can’t do without.”
But the path to advisory is not easy and technology plays a key role in making this transition. With technology, we have more access to client data than ever before. It has also simultaneously allowed us to speed up the calculation process, even in the face of more complicated and intricate tax and accounting requirements.
Less time spent on calculations means more time available to analyze the data and provide value to business owners. This is incredibly important as small business clients primarily care about what the numbers mean for their business, not how you got there. Having the ability to provide this insight makes you a business partner for life.
Obtaining “for life” status is predicated on taking the time to explain the benefits of the cloud to your customers. Without it, you won’t have the information you want and they won’t have the guidance they need. If necessary, try the ultimate selling point: having a trusted business partner who can access data from the cloud directly correlates with better financial health for customers.
Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Change can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once. You have the next 350-plus days to begin implementing changes before Tax Day 2017. The biggest mistake you could make is not taking your first step forward.
Amy Vetter is a CPA.CITP, CGMA and is an accomplished c-suite executive and board member with deep experience in cloud technology and transformation, creating go-to- market (GTM) strategies to scale businesses nationally and internationally. Amy has held multiple roles in Fortune 500, startup, small company rapid growth, and is a serial...