Honest and Straightforward Communication
No matter the industry you serve, if you have been hired, it means your client doesn’t have the time or the understanding to take care of their books. This also means they don’t have time for anything other than honest and straightforward communication. Keep that in mind, while you are communicating with them, whether it is via email, text, or a face to face meeting.
Sometimes being a CPA requires difficult conversations, ones you don’t want to have, and ones your clients probably don’t want to hear. It may be you disagree with a financial decision, or you need to let them know the numbers are not in the right place. Maybe a reality check is desperately needed. Often a business owner struggles to be objective about a situation (and who could blame them!) No matter the why of the conversation, in the end, these conversations are what your client needs and wants. Your job is to present the facts, whether good or not so good. By being straightforward, without being degrading or arrogant, your client will come to trust your words and be grateful you provided them with the real truth.
Always remember, though, that you are the advisor, not the final decision-maker. Present your opinion, based on the numbers and your experience, and then allow them to decide for themselves.
A Relationship Built on Trust
The first goal of any CPA should be to have the trust of their clients. Without it, there is no reason to work together. This is not a stretch for clients to expect this from their CPA. Money and financial information are a highly guarded sensitive subject and for a good reason! Often the CPA is trusted with information most of the company isn’t privy too! It is vital to ensure your client that their data is safe with you, and you will work hard to protect not only the information but be honest in all your dealings.
When you establish a relationship of trust has between you and your client, those tough conversations mentioned above become more comfortable to have together. But how do you build it?
First, you need to be more than their tax accountant in January through April. You will never honestly know them or their business with only a few months of communication during your most busy months. Continual and honest communication will create the trust needed to build a relationship between CPA and client. Transform from being a tax accountant to a financial advisor.
Secondly, remember your client is not an accountant, that is why they hired you! Teach them how to understand the data you are providing them with. Lose the fancy accountant terminology and educate them on how to read a P&L and a Cash Flow Statement. Teaching them will endear them to you and strengthen the client/CPA relationship.
Access to Up to Date Information
If you are not already using cloud accounting software, it may be time to make that change. Ask any business owner, and they will tell you they work more than 9-5, Monday thru Friday, and checking their books is more of a late-night project. Telling people,” I will have to let you know when I am back in the office on Monday,” is no longer an option. Technology these days makes keeping your clients up-to-date simple! There are many options out there beyond QuickBooks and Xero with the ability to make financial reporting more straightforward and more accessible to your clients.
Access to information doesn’t mean constant access to you personally anytime they have an accounting question. It doesn’t mean you have to be at your client’s beck and call. Boundaries are a good thing. What it does mean is your clients should be able to access the financial reports, statements, and dashboards you have built for them. The right software partner makes providing real-time access to a breeze! Look for one with features that allow you to publish your reports and dashboards, so they are readily available to your clients when they are ready to take a look. The second feature to find and take advantage of is live text. This allows you to create a report once, save it as a template, and then each month, quarter, year, when the customer looks at it, it is up-to-date with no extra work from you. How cool is that??
They Expect Proactive Advice
CPAs who are not proactive with advice or insight is a common complaint in the accounting industry. Let’s be honest; we earned that reputation. When we do the bulk of our work during tax season, there is no time to look forward and be any but reactive. This takes us back to becoming more of a year-round financial advisor and not simply a tax preparer. When you can spend quality time with your clients, you can become more forward-focused by tracking and watching trends in their books and trends industry-wide.
As you learn and execute these four ideas, you will be better prepared to provide your clients with what they are looking for in a CPA. You want to be precisly what clients expect from a CPA, a trustworthy, honest financial advisor who they know has their best interests at heart.