National Partner Director, Xero
The end of the financial year signals the start of the busiest period for most accountants and bookkeepers. But this is also the time of year when you can learn most about clients needs, and about opportunities to make your business better.
Build relationship capital
Joel Barolsky consults to professional firms on developing relationships with clients, focusing on building “relationship capital” with key clients. He has written on his blog the dangers of firms establishing key accounts and then placing them in “set and forget mode”. Instead, he says, firms need to continue reviewing and building their relationships with clients so as to continually understand more about – and respond to – their clients’ strategic and operational agendas.
CPA Australia research has suggested that accountants in particular should use the EOFY tax period to deepen relationships with clients, engaging with them face-to-face.
Come the onslaught of August, accountants and bookkeepers face a dilemma. It’s the time when clients want to see them face to face, but it’s also the period when accountants and bookkeepers know their time is at a premium. Accountant Jess Murray, who runs tax service RocketTax, warns that the end-of-financial-year time pressures make it tempting to ignore opportunities to discuss clients’ broader business needs. Even without time for an extended reflection on the business’s future, though, the end-of-year discussion can generate a list of potential challenges and opportunities to be addressed later.
Identify the new
Murray notes that there’s a particular reason to have conversations with clients about the new factors in their business; these new factors often bring new documentation and changes to the business’s accounts. Where appropriate, she also talks with clients about changing their business structures – say, by moving from sole trader to company.
Listen for clients’ challenges
Innovation researchers have found that listening to customers is a primary source of innovative insights for business – and possibly the largest single source of innovation. A large fraction of business innovation happens because users ask for it, and in many cases users have the first idea for an innovation that will help to meet a challenge. In a blog post last year, Joel Barolsky noted that many law firms that had won awards for innovation had done so by co-designing solutions along with their clients.
Von Hippel’s work stresses the importance of what he calls “lead users”. Lead users have needs most providers are not recognising, and who can work with their suppliers to come up with important solutions. These organisations will often tell suppliers what they need to do better. Smart suppliers will listen.
Save up ideas
The rush of end-of-financial-year activity gives you little time for changing your business’s internal workings – but it’s also when you’re likely to see ways to do things better. Some practice managers keep a list of ideas that they can implement in less frantic times.
Jess Murray’s list focuses on process improvements, from templates for client information to letters requesting referrals. She saves this work up for the quiet period after final tax returns are completed in mid-May.
Vet your clients
Sometimes you need to let a client find another solution. Clients may have long-unpaid bills, keep trying to talk down your price, treat your team badly, keep adding work without acknowledging the issues that it creates, ask you to act unethically, or – perhaps the most common problem – simply not producing the records you need. These problems usually come to a head during end-of-financial-year work.
“Clients sometimes arrive at the point where they need something more hands-on,” says Murray. “Sometimes you can put them in touch with a business coach, a set of skills which is complementary to our role.” But sometimes, she notes, her business has to say “we don’t have time to work with you on this” and point the client to another provider.