Five ways to stop your accountancy firm becoming an irrelevance

  • I picked up a post on the useful What do clients really want blog earlier in the week.  The post pointed me towards a LinkedIn discussion with Ron Baker.  The title of the discussion - Do Accountants matter anymore? 

    Ron BakerWhat a thoroughly excellent question.

    Ron Baker is widely regarded as one of the most influential people in the profession.  He is founder of the VeraSage Institute and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountant’s Group of One Hundred, a think tank of leaders to address the future of the profession.

    Here is an extract from the discussion.

    Question: What is the biggest risk to the accounting profession?

    Answer: "People are not going to like this, but I see the biggest risk to the accounting profession as irrelevancy. They’re high-priced bookkeepers and unless they move away from the idea that they’re historians with bad memories, who can only report on the past, who can only report on lagging indicators (they’re in trouble).

    . … You go into a lot of these firms and they’re doing very low-level work and then they sit around and complain and moan that it’s a commodity. Well, sure. It’s low-value stuff, and if that’s all your doing, then you’re going to be stuck".

    And so say all of us.  Business owners, including this one, are little interested in the historic accounts, which, when prepared, are out of date and serve only to calculate the tax bill.

    What really matters are the current numbers.  We want help with preparing the management accounts and then insight and advice on what they reveal.  Beyond that, we want guidance on how we should be preparing for the future, whether that be acquisition, exit strategy, staff incentives or any other of the numerous issues that we should be addressing, but have neither the skills or time to do so.

    None of this seeks to devalue the core skills and training of the profession.  What it does do, however, is implore accountants to re-evaluate their opinion of the role they should play.  To the small business owner, an accountant should be a coach, a mentor and a trusted source of advice - not just a number cruncher.

    While on a roll, for goodness sake, please do away with the notion of billable hours and start offering fixed pricing.  As a client, I don't care how long a job takes, what I do care about is the value it provides.  If you can't accurately estimate how long a job will take with all your year's of experience, that is your problem not mine.

    Here are this client's tips to stop your firm becoming an irrelevance and instead stand out from the crowd.

    1. Share your experience and become an adviser.  Form an alliance with a business consultant or coach if you don't have confidence in your own ability to offer business advice.

    2. Steer your clients towards cloud accounting packages that will allow you to monitor and comment on current performance and trends as they appear.  Xero is excellent.

    3. Structure your pricing so that it doesn't act as disincentive to talk to you.  A client that talks to you will ask for more services.

    4. Be proactive and get out to see your clients.  One meeting a year is nowhere near enough.

    5. Provide a regular flow of value adding information both directly and on your website.  Let clients know what they should be thinking about and make it easy for them to get the information they need - when they want it, which for many business owners is in the evenings and at the weekend.

    And who will pay for all this? Clients will.  Give the service that clients really want and they will be more than happy to pay for it.  The reverse is equally true - and that could ultimately be fatal.

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