Growth should be on every accounting business owner’s high-priority to-do list. Generally speaking, profitability is the yardstick by which successful businesses are measured. But how does one get there? While focusing on the numbers might be the obvious thing to do. Every single accounting firm’s success has one crucial element. It’s people.
Often overlooked but extremely important is how an accounting firm deals with people. This means the team and the clients. Think about it. Business is the exchange of goods and services using the most common medium of exchange which is currency. But for what purpose? It is to better the lives of people. People are the reason why businesses exist. Though this may sound like an overgeneralisation, it is a universally encompassing truth. Businesses rely on people to build them, run them and buy from them.
So if an accounting firm wants to achieve success, a greater focus must be placed on the people element of the business equation. All they need to do is learn how to get teams to do a better job so clients are satisfied. Incredibly simple when you first think of it, but surprisingly, many practices can’t seem to find the right formula on how to keep teams and clients happy. So it’s relatively more complicated than one might think…or is it? It all boils down to three key factors: (1) Communication, (2) Systems and Processes, and (3) Atmosphere and Environment.
The Team Aspect
Truly successful businesses are not built upon brick and mortar or websites and billboards. They are built upon the hard work and perseverance of people. When you have team of inspired and motivated team members, work gets done at a faster rate and with a higher level of quality. Do you agree?
To ensure that this is the case, an accounting firm must put emphasis on the three key factors that affects the well-being of each team member.
Top of the list is communication. But (and this is a crucial ‘but’) it must be ‘effective communication’. There’s a big difference between simply a means of relaying information to a receiver and a means of creating true understanding among all involved. The latter is what everyone should be after because a real focus on employee engagement is crucial in growing an accounting firm.
Effective communication means all parties are given the opportunity to give feedback on the topic being discussed and suggestions for what could be better courses of action. It is in this way that the entire team can not only be on the same page but also contribute in the progress and hopefully the eventual success of the accounting business.
Systems and Processes
This has become the stumbling block for a vast majority of accounting firms as most do not have documented systems and processes. When a team does not have a solid set of procedures, workflow becomes inefficient, work production is slowed down to a crawl, and deadlines are missed. Of course, this leads to a loss in revenue and potentially the loss of clients.
Taking a step back and looking closely at all the systems and processes is the essential first step in fixing this dilemma. Finding things that need improvement or even things to be rid of is absolutely crucial. This is a team effort though. Once the good and bad have been determined, everyone should be in on creating streamlined systems and processes, assigning the team leads for each, training the team members, and establishing goals/targets and key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure accountability. With the team having an effective set of guidelines coupled with measures to hold them accountable, workflow efficiency is increased and revenue flows continuously.
Atmosphere and Environment
Of the utmost importance is having a workplace that is conducive for productivity. Cultivating the right work environment can improve productivity. To bring out the best out of their teams, accounting firms must create an office atmosphere that is inspiring and exudes an air of positivity. Nothing brings down a team’s morale more than having a dark and dreary work environment. Add to it the stress brought about by high amount of workloads and this when accounting firms see team members pack up and leave.
A fresh coat of paint, rearranging workstations, regular team lunches, and the like can do wonders for a team’s motivation. It’s not as hard as one might think. Simply imagine the best place to work in and do what can be done to get as close to that ideal situation as possible. Make people look forward to coming into the office each day. Once the physical location is down pat, there’s also the matter of the emotional and mental well-being of teams. Establishing a reward system for key performance indicators reached or acknowledgement of a team member’s efforts or achievements are great ways to motivate people in the workplace.
The Client Aspect
Happy clients are highly profitable clients. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. When clients feel that they are provided the highest levels of service excellence, they pay on time, buy more services, and the most important thing is they refer more new clients. Referrals are the lifeblood of an accounting firm. But the only time existing clients will refer their friends or family is if they can see that they are well taken care of. Here’s how accounting firms can make sure they bring smiles to clients faces.
Again, when it comes to dealing with clients, effective communication is key. If an accountant can count with one hand how many times in a year he or she talks with a client, then that accountant should prepare for a loss. Why? Because that client will eventually leave sooner rather than later. The truth of the matter is accountants lose clients because of one word: Apathy. With the incredible amounts of work that accountants do, they sometimes forget to focus on taking care of clients.
Clients want attention. They need to hear straight from their ‘trusted advisor’ that all is well on the business front. They need to be given the time of day to sit down and discuss what’s going on in their business. This thought exchange can be beneficial for both the accountant and the client. Here’s where accountants can introduce value-added business advisory services which, of course, will only bode well for the client’s business. Clients can relay to the accountant what they want to do with their business and the accountant can match that with a specific set of services that fits their needs. It’s a veritable win-win situation.
Also, through effective communication, pricing can be arranged and settled from the get go which lessens billing issues further down the road. Continuous effective communication builds stronger relationships. When trust is built, accountants can introduce upfront pricing and value pricing arrangements. And, with this trust built, all future dealings with clients become smooth and hassle-free.
Systems and Processes
Clients appreciate well-organised and well-thought-out ways of how an accounting firm provides them with the services they need. From initial client meetings to project proposals to pricing and billing to work delivery and everything in between, accounting firms need to ensure that everything is clear, concise and to the letter or clients are out the door. Once a client sees that an accounting firm can cross all their t’s and dot all their i’s in all aspects of the accountant-client relationship, that’s when a client would be more than happy to provide more referrals.
Besides streamlining existing systems and processes, accountants can look to utilise accounting technologies to widen their market scope. Cloud accounting software, internet security software, and process automation are just some of a wide array of accounting technologies that progressive accounting firm can employ. Basically, when an accounting firm has all the systems and processes that dramatically improve service delivery, clients will come knocking at their doors.
Atmosphere and Environment
Service is an experience and it starts even before a client walks through the door. Confidence breeds confidence. A client’s confidence in an accounting firm’s abilities is bolstered when they see a high level of professionalism in how their carry themselves, how they talk, and even how a firm’s office looks.
Creating an atmosphere that says, “Yes, I know I can deliver the results you want and so much more,” builds on the trust aspect of the accountant-client relationship. And again, this gives existing clients the confidence to refer their friends and family to their accounting firm. Having the firm’s front desk call a clients businesses ahead of time to learn their favorite beverage and serve it when they come to the office is one great example. The accountant personally delivering important paperwork to a client’s place of business to meet face to face is a small gesture with highly positive implications. Coming up with innovative ways to deal with clients is surefire way to keep them coming back for more.
A true investment in the people aspect of an accounting business is something that accounting firms should put greater focus on. In order to build a truly progressive and successful accounting practice, it’s the little things that make a world of difference in the long run. At the end of the day, when we make people smile, success smiles back at us.
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