By OSCPA member Rick Kavenagh, CPA
Recently I read some alarming facts about how CPAs are viewed by their clients. A recent study of small business owners revealed that 40% of them think that their CPA provides little or no help in making their businesses successful. I also read that 68% of clients who leave their accounting firm do so because they believe their CPA doesn’t care about their business. These are scary statistics given that the most significant challenge facing CPA firms of all sizes is client retention, according to the AICPA’s 2009 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey.
Reports like these make me wonder if the CPA profession has become complacent in assuming that we will always be the clients’ trusted advisors. There’s a disconnect somewhere. If national surveys show year after year that clients look to us for the quality of our financial advice, why do so many business owners not view their CPAs as a strategic partner in their success?
It may boil down to a simple, but important factor in the relationship — communication.
As a CPA and business advisor, my number one duty is developing relationships with my clients that extend beyond the compliance work. This is especially important with small businesses, as they often rely on us as a total business solutions provider.
Small businesses are a driving force in our economy. They account for more than 50% of jobs in the private sector, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. What’s more, they are a significant client base for many CPA firms.
With the weight of the economy bearing down on them, CPAs have a responsibility not only to help keep them afloat, but also to help businesses prosper.
Today, people are looking for ways to stretch their dollars further, and that includes fees for professional service firms. Just doing the work isn’t good enough anymore. Being a proactive partner with your clients — knowing what their hardships are and delivering solutions — strengthens the relationship and opens doors for your firm to provide additional service in other areas.
How do you provide value added service that gets you recognized as a strategic partner?
- Start by listening. Visit your client and discuss how their business is faring. Find out their pain points. Identifying solutions for them before they approach you shows you care about their business.
- Connect them to the right people. If you have expertise in your firm that can help them address a challenge, great. If not, recommend an outside contact that is best suited for the task. Your clients will remember this and view you as a true advocate for their success.
- Offer solutions they didn’t know they need. Helping your clients with strategy each year makes good business sense. But as Harvard Business Review writer Jeff Stibel says, “Planning is important; plans aren’t.”In the current economy, businesses need to react faster because change has become the only predictable constant. Small businesses have a leg up in this area because they don’t suffer from as much bureaucratic lag as larger businesses do. They often are more flexible and adept at taking advantage of opportunities that you identify.
- Be their eyes and ears in the outside world. Monitor legislation that could benefit clients. Pick up the phone or send a quick e-mail to spark conversations even if you aren’t working on an assignment. The more value you add, the more likely you are to be called to the table for future projects. If you are not reaching out to your clients at least once a month with some communication, someone else will.
Unfortunately, some business owners don’t see the value a CPA brings to their overall business. This can lead to our services being viewed as a price-driven commodity.
It’s time to deactivate auto-pilot and move your client relationships to a higher level.
Show them you are an integral part of their team and you will remain the trusted business advisor they call for advice in good times and in bad.
Rick Kavenagh, CPA is Director, Business Services for Brockman, Coats Gedelian & Co., Akron.