If you’re keeping up with accounting industry news and message threads, you’ve heard a lot about how accounting advisory services can lead to huge growth for an accounting firm. But that blanket observation makes a lot of assumptions:
- Your firm has the capacity to shift focus toward advisory
- You know how to roll out CAS to your existing and new clients (hint: it takes planning and time)
- And your clients are ready for CAS
That last one is key; the timing of your advisory rollout will impact your short- and long-term success, especially if you have clients who have let their accounting slip behind. Your CAS strategy depends on getting those clients up to date and ready for advisory.
So how do you fix it?
Here, we’ll go over some strategies for getting those clients re-engaged and caught up—and how your advisory services can serve as their incentive to do so.
You might also want to grab a copy of this ebook: The Accountant's Guide to the Do's & Don'ts of Building a CAS Practice
Streamline Your Client Intake Process
Get out that feather duster because some of your prospects might be hiding cobwebbed books and receipts from you, and they desperately need your attention!
Accountants know firsthand that many small business owners don’t prioritize bookkeeping. In fact, 28% of small businesses cite closing the books each month as the top accounting challenge they face. When a client comes to you asking for help, there’s a good chance they have months to years of bookkeeping that need some love.
Prospective clients with a backlog of bookkeeping results in big bulks of work being dropped on your firm—and typically, with a sense of urgency. All of a sudden, you have hours of unexpected cleanup taking you away from other responsibilities.
Getting new clients started on the right foot is the first step in ensuring they don’t fall behind. A solid option for streamlining your client intake and cleanup is to outsource it—especially if capacity is a concern at your firm (and let’s be real...capacity is a problem at all firms!). Leveraging smart technology like accounting automation can prevent roadblocks from forming whenever you bring on new clients. Once they’re on board and up to date, then you can nurture them toward your advisory offering.
Start From the Ideal End Result and Work Backwards
Before starting the process of getting a client re-engaged, take a moment to think about what the ideal outcome looks like. At first, your goal might be as simple as creating or unearthing any missing reports. But an even larger goal is to have a client that cares about their finances in the first place. To accomplish that, they need to see the value of data in their financial reporting. But to accomplish that, their data needs to be complete.
With each client that’s fallen behind, asking yourself what you want to accomplish for them can help you revise your advisory strategy. The best, most realistic goal could be simply getting them caught up on their accounting tasks. Or, for certain clients, you might see an opportunity for CAS that’s within reach. Either way, prioritizing their needs within your goals will help them recognize you as an essential, trusted resource and a fixture of their business.
Don’t Let the Little Tasks Pile Up
When your time comes at a premium, it’s easy to let smaller tasks like email correspondence back up. It makes sense, too—you’re constantly focused on bigger items like strategy and client meetings, so the notifications just continue to pile up until you have time and energy to deal with them.
Similarly, we as humans have a tendency to avoid a problem the bigger it is. Cleaning up one dish is easy, but washing an entire sinkload might as well be removing the sword from the stone. It’s the same with accounting. If you’re missing months of information, it takes long back-and-forth phone calls and emails to get every bank statement, receipt, and invoice—just to get back on track.
Both tendencies to delay the necessary tasks can be bad news for achieving what you set out to do, which is to help your clients reach their goals.
We’re talking about balance, of course. If you’re finding your clients are starting to have stress-inducing backlogs, consider these approaches:
Set reminders for follow-ups. Treat this process similarly to how you would follow up on invoices. Oftentimes, requests for payment or information are forgotten for completely innocent reasons. A kind reminder after a couple of days might be all it takes to get what you need promptly.
Use automation technology that makes getting information easy. Work smarter, as they say, and streamline tasks like managing transactions, freeing up your time and energy for the things that actually matter.
Keep Communication Active
The best clients will reach out to you with concerns, updates on their business, and any information they think you need to effectively manage their accounting. But the rest of your clients? You may not hear from them until tax season when they show up with their shoebox of receipts.
It’s tough to make someone care about their bookkeeping and accounting on a regular basis. Business owners are more concerned with stressors like staying operational and having enough money to cover expenses. For some, just making it through the month is worth a sigh of relief.
Technology actually plays a huge role in your communication. The harder getting up to date is for a client, the less likely they are to do what you need them to. To make your communication effective, focus on a few things:
Make providing the information you need easy. Technology—specifically cloud accounting tech—gives firms an upper hand when it comes to collecting and working with client data. And more and more accountants are starting to realize this fact: 66% of accountants feel they need to adopt technology to stay competitive. The benefit is that accounting tech makes life easier for both you and your clients.
Provide an explicit timeline. Instead of saying you need something, lay out when exactly you need it. If there are consequences to missing this date, make it known. If a client thinks they have all the time in the world to upload what you need, they’ll take it.
Don’t be the lecturing parent. Telling the client to do something without a reason might make them rebel, except instead of growing their hair out and listening to loud music, it will be ignoring your reminders. Always reiterate the benefit when stressing the importance of a requirement.
Provide Incentives for Your Client’s Engagement
There’s a world of benefit for clients when they stay engaged. But if that engagement stops, they’re going to lose sight of what you can provide. In order to get these people back up to speed, you’ll have to be very clear with what you can provide to them.
How you can do this will vary by business or client. Here are some examples as a starting point.
Over 11 million PPP loans have been distributed. Because PPP loans have strict reporting requirements, they’ll continue to be audited if there’s valid reason. Having clean books and transaction history will protect your clients from harsh penalties.
Every small business needs access to capital. In 2020, 43% of small businesses applied for a loan. Obviously Covid played a large part here, but access to capital is an ongoing need for small businesses. Whether it’s looking for traditional funding or bringing on new investors, this process requires up-to-date financials. If a client keeps their accounting up to date, they’ll have no mad scrambles to try and get funding.
Business became a little more unpredictable in 2020. This unpredictability calls for quick decision making informed by their accounting and reporting. Regular meetings with your clients with the most recent cash flow data can help them adjust as needed so they don’t find themselves in a tough spot down the line.
Every business has different goals, but all goals require a bit of financial know how and accurate accounting.
Don’t Let Clients Fall Behind
An engaged client is the best candidate for advisory services. If someone has fallen behind or hasn’t been staying on top of communication, they might start to feel like a lost cause. But they can be brought back on track, and once they are, they have an amazing opportunity to take their business to the next level.
Likewise, your firm can get to the next level by prioritizing client success and leveraging appropriate resources—that is, automation—to increase capacity and strengthen your total offering.
Automation and bookkeeping go hand-in-hand, and both should be essential components of your CAS strategy. For more information on how automated bookkeeping fits into advisory, check out our blog post on that exact topic. Click below to begin reading!