One of the best ways to shift your clients’ view of you from number-cruncher to trusted business advisor is to get yourself involved when they make plans for their business’ future. It’s even better if you can be the one to suggest that they make plans in the first place.
We’ve talked before about how you’re going to be much more effective at expanding your firm if you set yourself concrete goals for the future. No vague notions allowed – you must set specific, achievable goals that can be written down for such-and-such a date.
The same goes for your clients. Concrete goals give them something definitive to work for. This is a much better approach than a vague, “I’d like to be making more money” or “I’d like to have more clients by the end of the year.”
In your next conversation with your clients, ask them if they have concrete goals set for 1 year from now, 5 years, and 10. Chances are that they won’t, beyond vague wishes of a brighter tomorrow. The best thing about this conversation is that not only is it going to do wonders for your client, but it’s also going to give clients a reason to recognise the value that you offer them. And the more those clients recognise your value, the more they’re willing to pay for your services, time, and expertise.
So you ask your client if they have goals and you find out that they don’t. Not really, anyway; nothing specific. It’s time to set up a planning session.
This is a huge opportunity for you. By getting in on the ground floor of your clients’ future you’re going to forever be intertwined in the clients’ minds with the start of the true growth of their company. You will be one of the major reasons why their business bloomed. When they hear that their friends are more or less pleased with their accountants because they do reasonable compliance work, your clients are going to able to brag about how you put them on the path to success.
During the actual planning session, where you work with your client on setting those goals, it’s imperative that you get some specific numbers. If they say, “I want to increase my yearly profits,” you get into their numbers with them until you can get them to change that statement to, “I want to increase my yearly profits to $150,000.”
“I want to boost our retention rates,” becomes, “Our retention rates are only at 60%. I want to get that up to at least 75%.”
“I think we’re undercharging, I’d like to be able to charge more,” becomes, “I want to increase prices by 5% without losing more than 5% of my ongoing customer base.”
These goals have two big benefits for your clients.
First, it gives them a real destination. Real destinations are measurable. You can see if the current course of actions is going to get your client to their desired destination by the set date, and if not, you’ll have an idea of where to make the proper fixes to the plan.
The second benefit is that it clearly illustrates to the client that their dreams for their business are firmly rooted in their numbers. That recognition means that they’re more than likely to want you, their numbers pro, involved as much as possible. That’s your cue to offer your special and exclusive business-boosting package of services designed specifically to help select clients with goals just like theirs.
Setting achievable numbers
Most of your work is going to come at these early stages, when your client is setting numbers. You want them to shoot big, but still have achievable goals. If you help them aim too high they’re going to resent you making them think they could do the impossible only to have them fail.
Tip – Let the client set the final numbers. You can certainly hint that the goals be bumped up or down. But let the client have the final say on the actual goals. That way they can’t blame you for setting the goals too high, which is a way for them to weasel out of truly committing to making those numbers – they have an escape route of blaming you. By setting the final numbers themselves they’re holding themselves accountable for their level of commitment.
How do you know what is achievable by a particular client’s business? By running the numbers ahead of time.
Before the planning session with your client make yourself a list of the most likely goals – yearly profits, retention, increased prices, efficiency savings, etc. – and figure out a reasonable low and high end. You’ll find that most clients shop from the same laundry list of desires, so once you have them down for the first client or two, you’ll be able to punch in the variables for future clients with a minimum or effort on your part.
Improved cash flow is one of the goals that is almost always going to come up, especially if the client’s business is still in its infancy. If you really want to get on your client’s good side, have cash flow numbers be part of your pre-meeting list. Almost all of your clients are going to enjoy the thought of having an increased cash flow, and for some, it may make the difference between life and death over the coming year or two.
An improved flow can often be brought about by a relatively minor tweak. “You’re letting people go too long on their dues. If you made sure accounts had to be settled by the end of the month you’d be looking at about $4000 more each month that you’d have to work with.” For small and medium-sized businesses, $4000 more a month can be a game-changer.
Working the plan
So you’ve helped the client set their goals. You then helped them break up those goals into monthly milestones. How can you keep contributing so that your client remembers who it was that got this whole big ball of profitability rolling in the first place?
Your main role during the working phase of the plan is to offer accountability. You want to be the one checking in with the client to make sure they implemented the discussed price changes, started collecting dues on the due date instead of letting them slide, or what have you.
To this end, make part of the planning stage include you setting up a monthly check-up meeting. You and your client have a face-to-face meeting that serves two purposes. First, it reminds them that you’re an integral part of their team, helping to build their future. Second, you can work together to make the necessary tweaks to the plan to make sure they meet those monthly milestones and yearly goals.
(If they ask how a small business like theirs’ is supposed to pay for these monthly meetings you tell them that it will be coming out of the increased profits. This ties your own financial success in with that of their business, adding weight to your investment in their future.)
If all goes well, all you’ll have to do to keep your client paying for your services is to show up with a fresh set of numbers each month. At worst, you’ll be checking out the numbers anyway so you’ll be able to recognise red flags when they pop up and alert your client to them in a timely fashion, in which case you’ve saved the day, which is another fine way to remind the client that you’re offering them great value for their money.