This month’s guest contributor, Christine Nicholson, award-winning Professional Business Mentor, author and speaker provides an in-depth look at the important questions all accountants should be asking.
10 Important Questions All Accountants Should Be Asking
One thing I consistently hear from accountants is “How can I help my clients more?” It’s often the polite question that otherwise translates into “How can I earn more fees?” I frequently see practices trying to get more customers. And working hard to get new business. That’s hard work. It’s also expensive – time, money, effort. What if you could get higher fees from your existing clients? In less time, almost no money and only a little effort? Sound good?
The challenge is being heard and, more importantly, understood. Most people do not have the level of knowledge that accountants do. And this is a real problem because it means you are not having meaningful conversations with your clients. They do not understand how you can help them, which means everyone is missing out.
My own clients often bemoan that their accountant doesn’t understand their business and they don’t understand what their accountant. No one is going to ask for help from someone who makes them feel stupid or confused. If you confuse the client, you lose (and they lose out too). Here’s a first step to winning and developing a better relationship with your existing clients.
For many of the 5.4m UK business owners who cannot get their heads around their company finance, the challenge is finding the time to learn. It is one of the most crucial elements of running a successful business, no matter what size or shape. Especially if they are involved in the day to day running of the organisation too. Every day there are the distractions, firefighting problems and keeping the operations going. It’s easier to stay in the comfort zone of what you know. I wrote my first book “5-Minute Finance – A Business Owners Guide to Understanding Your Numbers” for a single client to help him get to grips with his numbers AND have a better relationship with his accountant.
Key elements the book focuses on is being time–friendly and accessible to people who do not have the background in accountancy training or an MBA. It translates the language of finance and takes clients through some of the basic elements of business accounting, explaining what the words mean and how to use them – from profit margins to cash flow and how to understand financial reports. It gives my client more confidence with their understanding of their business numbers. And it works – my client tripled his turnover in 3 years, focused on margin rather than revenue and mastered cashflow management.
He also has a new accountant who he can have meaningful conversations with about all aspects of his business.
The main gain is he has a depth of understanding of his numbers and data, enabling him to make more effective and timely decisions.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
Many accountants, no matter what size their practice, miss out on the opportunity to engage with clients in value added services rather than just compliance requirements. The big barrier is usually something referred to as “the curse of knowledge”. As an expert in your field, you score 10/10 – your clients operate at 0/10 up to about 4 or 5/10. Bringing yourself to the appropriate level is hard – but the most successful accountants do this without appearing condescending or patronising.
The first step is finding out just where on the knowledge scale your client is. How do you know if you don’t ask them? And isn’t that a great conversation opener?
“How much to do you understand the numbers in your business?”
It doesn’t matter what the answer is, you can help them from wherever they are to get a better understanding. When I talk to my clients, I always ask about. their accountant using the following checklist. How well would your practice score on this?
9 More Questions Accountant Should be Asking Clients
- Are you paying too much tax? If yes, how much and why?
- Can you get a refund of any of the tax you’ve overpaid?
- Are you up to date with legal compliance? If not, how can I get up to date?
- How are your profit levels compared to other businesses your size?
- How’s your cashflow going? (How do you know?)
- Tell me about your business numbers – and what they mean?
- What is your business worth?
- How do you pay yourself?
- Are you on track to achieve your business and personal goals? (And what are these?)
As I always say to clients, if your accountant isn’t delivering, then YOUR big question is “What’s involved in changing accountants and getting the right support and answers?”
When you engage with your clients at this level, you’ll have a richer, deeper relationship. You’ll also be better placed to have the next level conversations with business owners about the future. That’s going to be more interesting for you, more value added for your clients and increased experience for your staff. It’s a win-win-win.
Christine Nicholson is an author of 4 business books, speaker, and multi-award-winning Professional Business Mentor (who happens to be a non-practicing accountant). She was a global Top 50 Women in Accounting for 2020 for my work with finance teams. She’s been on BBC talking about business. She’s been helping businesses for over 30 years – along the way she’s worked with every type of business from software companies to taking over the running of a zoo.