Sabrina Parsons, CEO, Palo Alto Software
Most small businesses look to their accountants to provide not only bookkeeping and tax services, but also help and advice surrounding the financial health of their company. According to a 2014 Sleeter Group survey, business planning is the number one service small businesses desire from their current accountant, with 25 percent of small businesses wanting their accountant to provide this service. Yet, accountants are still primarily offering only audit and tax services to their small business clients.
The survey also found that small businesses often switch accounting firms because they are looking for more proactive financial advice. They want their accountants to guide them in the ways a CFO would guide them, with a look to budgeting, forecasting, and financial analysis that will help keep them cash healthy and fiscally sound. While meeting the needs of small businesses can be tricky, there are simple ways to deliver the value-added services your clients want and need from you. Giving small business owners greater access to their financial data by taking advantage of new technology will free up your time to offer more strategic advice and will help small businesses realize your value as a financial advisor all year long -- and hopefully for the life of their business.
Offer greater access
One way to add value is to offer small business owners greater access to their financial data. Small business owners might be afraid of their financials, but they still want to see numbers themselves. The best case scenario is when your client has continual access to their up-to-date financial information and can turn to you for advice. If you can help small business owners look at financial information in the right way, and help them see problems before they happen, they will see you as a valuable asset and will likely pay for additional financial analysis beyond the standard bookkeeping and tax services.
Invest in cloud services that give your client access to their financial information anytime they need it, but ensure that you’re still in charge of the data. There are cloud-based, online dashboards that automatically import accounting data, and will help maximize your workflow with your client. In fact, the survey found that over 20 percent of small business owners wish their current accountant would provide them access to some sort of online dashboard where they can view and track their financial KPIs. Using these online dashboards, your client can access their numbers in an easily digestible format from any device and at any time. As the accountant, you can still manage the data within your clients’ books and offer the bookkeeping, business planning, and financial management services they need, leading to a better long term relationship.
Give strategic advice
While entrepreneurs are always concerned about their company’s revenue, they’re not always financial experts. This is where accountants can play the role of broader financial advisors, basically stepping in as a CFO for hire.
Once you’ve given your small business clients access to their financial data, and they’ve had the ability to digest and understand where they are financially, they’re likely to turn to you for the advice they need to make their final decision. You are the expert who can help them determine the financial dials they can turn to keep their business growing, control expenses correctly, and make sure they never run out of cash. This is where you can add real value and remain relevant year-round.
Don’t forget to plan
Now that your small business clients see you as a financial advisor, don’t forget that in order for long term success, small business owners need to have a financial plan in place. This includes a budget and forecast that are constantly compared to actual financials. You want your client to understand that the financial plan is giving them a tool to set goals for their business, that they can then track and compare to how they are actually doing. Work with your client using user-friendly dashboards and other cloud-based tools to outline expenses and revenue to determine how much they can afford to spend and what they should expect for cash flow. Then make sure you track this every day. You can then help sound the alarm early, for instance, if your client’s growth is predicated on having more cash in the bank, and help them extend credit lines, or apply for loans when they are still financially healthy.
For accountants, it can be challenging to assert your relevance year-round, especially when needs can vary drastically from one client to the next. But if you follow these general guidelines, you’ll surely impress your clients and secure their business for the long haul. So, give your client anywhere, anytime access to the data they need while still acting as a financial advisor, but don’t forget to plan ahead.
Since 2007, Sabrina Parsons has served of CEO of Palo Alto Software, a company that creates business planning and tracking technology for small businesses. As CEO, Sabrina is a staunch supporter of entrepreneurs and often mentors her small business customers on effective financial planning techniques. Sabrina will be hosting a four hour workshop (CPE) at the 2014 Scaling New Heights Conference June 13-18. The workshop will show you how easy it is to add strategic advising services to your firm and help you add more relevance and revenue to your accounting or bookkeeping practice.