This is part three in our series, The Big Book of Accountants and Advisory: How Accountants Can Move from Compliance Services into Advisory.
“Trust”, said Stephen Covey, “is the glue of life”.
While expertise and skill may be what attracts customers to accountants for compliance services, advisory is a different beast entirely. Trust is how you gain advisory clients and how you keep them.
Marjorie Adams, Fourlane CEO and Forbes contributor, says that what you must avoid at all costs is insincerity.
“Organisations with great customer relationships are able to grow their businesses without gimmicks, fee cuts or special treatment,” she says.
“You have to be good at what you do, of course, but having a truly successful business is based on one simple concept: trust.”
The way you do that, she says, is through three key concepts: Service, consistency and transparency. Furthermore, don't let your rush to demonstrate proficiency get in the way of building trust. At the early stages it’s much more important to listen and learn exactly what your customer is looking for than to anticipate solutions before you fully understand their problems.
Repeat this mantra: It’s more important to be engaged than it is be right.
For another take on building trust, read this fascinating life-hack courtesy of the Harvard Business Revue, about emphasising similarly in business relationships.
More about the tech
Advisory companies should be tech-centric companies. From client reporting to streamlining your accounts receivable, cloud-tech is an affordable way to free up time and tighten up processes.
“Technology should play a huge role in advisory,” says Ogilvie.
Too often accountants’ advisory meetings lack the necessary structure to provide clear, concise, actionable advice for the client, and that can be provided with the software.
“Software can create the agenda,” he says. “Spotlight, Fathom and Crunchboards are the big three players, but it doesn't matter which one you use. The software pulls that data out of the cloud and instantaneously tells you what you have to talk about with the client.”
“There needs to be some rigour around advisory meetings,” he says. “Things that get covered every time and questions that get answered: ‘Did you meet your numbers?’ A good software system is going to flag the important issues: ‘You’re going to run out of money soon; Your clients aren't paying you; You need Debtor Daddy; You're paying your creditors too soon’. These are the things you need to be telling your clients.”
“The skill,” says Ogilvie, “is being eloquent enough to explain what the client needs to do. So some of it comes down to presentation skills and the ability to impart this in layman's terms. Accountants mustn’t talk jargon to clients, or talk in numerals which the client doesn't understand.”
“You need software that can can supply the data in either graphical or visual terms. Even a basic traffic light system - green is good, red is bad.”
Note: Debtor Daddy is currently building a free dashboard tool for accountants to provide cash flow and debtor analysis to their clients. Such tools take seconds to implement and provide real value for clients.
You’ll need to put aside time to think carefully about how you’re going to incorporate new services into your day-to-day offering and to put processes in place to streamline that workflow. Offering advisory is not about trading one yoke for another.
Simply put, if you’re overburdened by the demands you face with your compliance-based activities, you won’t be able to create value in an advisory capacity.
Identify and grade your clients
Software such as Debtor Daddy can help with the pre-reminders and post-due invoice emails. By linking in with your accounting software, you can set everything to automatically send out and
then you don’t have to worry about it. However, this can realistically only go so far - maybe a customer supplied you with an incorrect email address, or they receive 100 emails a day and never check them. So what steps should you take then?
A recent survey, Why we pay and why we don’t revealed two key reasons why customers don’t pay their invoices:
● just under a quarter of people say their invoice shows incorrect items or amounts
● a quarter of people don’t pay because the invoice was sent to the wrong email or person
So it’s important to reach out to debtors if you find your emails aren't having much effect.
Companies such as Invoice Hunter will give clients a chase up phone call - a good option to consider.
Your next step is debt collection. The general consensus is that debt collection agencies are serious, and they are - but when people don’t pay your bills this is serious in itself.
Debt collection agencies offer a range of services such as:
● debt resolution - reaching out to customers who are in arrears (including face to face);
● legal services - litigation on behalf of clients;
● field services - face-to-face meetings with defaulting clients;
● purchasing your debt - larger companies have the option to sell their debt to the agency to immediately recover a portion of the debt owed to them.
Using an agency is worth looking into for the big bills and as a third party, they are removed from the situation and can make objective decisions regarding the best approach to take when getting you paid.
So where does that leave us? Take these three key pieces of information on board and you’re halfway to providing best practice advisory services.
❏ Provide real, actionable data: Nebulous, vague advice is difficult to action and problematic to bill for. Provide real data points, such as the Debtor Dashboard too, for your client during every meeting. Keep it simple and only supply them with as much information as they need to make informed decisions.
❏ Be action oriented in your advice: Provide clients with a ‘to-do’ list that they should have completed by the next meeting.
❏ Recommend the tech that matters: Identify your client's pain points and recommend appropriate solutions. If their debtor days are too many or if they’re having cash flow issues, suggest a debtor management tool to automate the invoice chasing process. Similarly, if they’re failing to retain customers, point them in the direction of a suitable CRM system.
About Debtor Daddy Debtor Daddy, automates the debtor management processes for you and your clients. After connecting your clients’ accounting software with Debtor Daddy, our system will recognise when an invoice hasn’t been paid, and will send out reminders that have been chosen by the business to get the invoices paid. Debtor Daddy picks up where the invoice leaves off, taking the hassle off your clients, so they can focus on making money instead collecting on debts.
Article by Jonathan Cotton, content marketing manager at Debtor Daddy