In a previous installment of this column, I talked about how to go beyond accounting services and serve as the trusted advisor for your clients. I’d now like to stress how offering guidance in our current times to your small business clients will ensure their continued success.
With the climate of political change in the United States and the United Kingdom today creating an air of economic uncertainty, it is interesting to learn that small business owners’ shared sense of optimism hasn’t been impacted. According to Xero’s recently released Make or Break report, which surveys the opinions and character traits of both small business owners and accountants, 79 percent of US small business owners feel more confident about 2017 than 2016.
A portion of entrepreneurs (34 percent) surveyed, however, cited the economy as their biggest concern entering 2017. And only half of the small business owners surveyed who had an accountant said they considered them a trusted advisor.
So, why not leverage the opportunity to guide your clients in uncertain times – and become their trusted advisor?
Entrepreneurs Think Their Success is in Their Own Hands
Taking financial risks is considerably common for small business owners – more than half of Make or Break respondents said they had done so and more than three-quarters said they had no regrets. Despite not always achieving their desired results, they see mistakes as a fundamental learning experience.
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While a lot of entrepreneurs don’t get into business to avoid taking risks, being the trusted advisor is about providing clients with strategic business advice that can help minimize them. Even if an expert is giving them advice, a lot of entrepreneurs think they know their business better and might go with their gut.
As an advisor, you might fear that your clients are taking risks that will impact the long-term health of their companies – 77 percent of accountants surveyed felt so – but it’s ultimately up to them to decide how much risk they’re going to take. Try to strike a balance between you, as the risk aware, and your client, as the risk taker.
Economic Uncertainty and Specific Advice
The sense of economic uncertainty among entrepreneurs that was gleaned from the Make or Break report means that, especially in the face of regulatory change, clients may have questions about what to expect. Talk about regulatory change can be spoken in generalities, so stick with the facts you know. Stay up-to-date with the news, and understand the realities of potential change and whether they will affect big or small business, to the best of your ability.
Even though business owners can choose to ignore your advice, be really specific about it. Utilizing forecasting and budgeting tools that integrate with your firm’s back-end cloud infrastructure will help with accurate calculation, especially when advising them on areas like lending. Document your advice to them based on the numbers and the facts.
If you recommended that they should buy more inventory in September to boost their holiday sales, make sure they know there are variables that may change the usefulness of this advice, like an unforeseen weather or world event. These types of occurrences are outside the realistic scope when determining an answer. Ensure they know you advised them in understanding.
Approaching the Advisory Conversation
With new and existing clients, it may take time to build this type of trusted advisor relationship. After all, their business is their livelihood and they’re not going to trust it to just anyone. A small business client will value the advice of someone with experience in their industry.
In order to build credibility, you need to focus on a specific vertical or verticals, rather than being a generalist. Providing industry-specific insights, rather than just straight advice from a financial statement, speaks volumes.
Part of being the trusted advisor is actually being available. Often, we give advice but then don’t have time for the follow-up.
Structure your business so you’re available to answer questions more frequently than just the quarterly check-in. Utilize instant messaging tools like Slack and Google Hangouts so clients can ping you when they have questions.
When you need insurance you can’t buy it, and it’s no different when it comes to paying for an expert. Clients may worry about the costs of getting strategic business advice from an accountant, but may not realize that investing now can save them thousands.
Using value pricing, create a pricing structure or packages for advisory services. This way, clients don’t have to worry about being charged hourly, which is often what holds them back from asking for help. Clear, set pricing where you explain what the client is getting from you is the way to go here.
Entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature. With the right blend of your cautionary guidance and their unbridled optimism, you can help them – and your business –thrive.
About Amy Vetter
Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is Global VP, Education & US Head of Accounting at Xero.