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Accountants: What a client wants, what a client needs

Remember when Mel Gibson had to fall into the bath and get electrocuted to finally figure out What Women Want in the 2000 movie of the same name?

Well lucky for all you accountants, you don’t have to go that far to find out what your small business clients need.

A few weeks ago, we were invited to guest lecture to a class of graduating accounting students at DCU. As we were advised that many of these would be entering practice or even starting out on their own, I thought it would be nice to leave them with some tips on dealing with clients.

Well, I decided to ask the experts.

I sent out an email to all our small business clients, asking them what advice they would give young graduating accountants, based on their individual experiences of dealing with the industry over the years.

Well, let me tell you, the response I received was overwhelming. People could not wait to put on paper what they thought of the accounting industry.

I realise some of you will stop reading at this point, sensing an accountant bashing session. Those of you read on may, like Mel Gibson, find themselves gaining valuable insights into what your target market really wants.

Communication, communication communication.

Please listen to me on this one. This could not have been louder or clearer. The phrase ‘more proactive communication’ popped in so many of the responses.

‘I only hear from them once a year’
‘They never told me when i filed zero prelim tax that next year I’d pay double’
‘Accountants should be pro-active, not re-active. There are always new “benefits” that should be passed on the clients, along with ever-changing Tax issues.’
‘even a call how are things for you at present – call in if we can discuss i am sure would have prevented a lot of the current hardship’
I have hundreds of these.

Be the Bearer of Bad News.

This is your forte, and yet you hesitate.

This is the advice if a client asked me to pass on from their own lesson learned:
“I would tell them keep in contact with their clients with 3 time a year reviews of there accounts and not to be afraid to tell them if their business was not going well. Try and pinpoint the problem and if there is no solution maybe advise them about closing down or of refinancing the business. I was in a similar position and refinanced the business through a personal loan. I now know that this was the wrong thing to do and maybe if I had got sounder advice I may not have dug the hole even deeper.”

Encourage you clients to educate themselves.

“Why didn’t my accountant tell me that?” This was a common cry. “I had to learn about the country enterprise boards from the radio.”
The more your client knows about basic accounting, the better for you. Be aware of what courses are on offer for your small business clients, and tell them! It’s been proven by an OECD study that business owners who undertake training in the areas of finance, sales and marketing, IT competency, HR and strategy planning are 50% less likely to fail or 50% more likely to be successful than those who don’t.
A successful client can only mean more business for you!
From one response: ‘most people hire an accountant because they feel they have to. They don’t really understand the benefits of what an accountant brings to their business.’ So why not tell them?

Educate yourself

From a bookkeeper: “Get a good basic knowledge of all accounting software on the market as you can make an informed judgment as to what suits a particular type of business.” Many complaints about lack of IT skills amongst accountants.

But what about compliance?

I have to tell you, if you want a pad on the back for filing vat and tax returns and companies office documents, forget it. This is what a client expects AT A MIMIMUM. This is a given. You need to have a total of (1) one conversation about this. Then you need to give them a calendar such as this one created by Nilsson Denver on the very informative Help for Bookkeepers website, so they know when you are working on their compliance. And that is all they care about on that front.

Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m only passing this on!
I’d like to hear from accountants and clients of accountants alike what you think about this.

Aileen is passionate about entrepreneurs getting their heads round financial control early on in their business. Like Oprah and Tommy Hilfiger, she believes it is the true key to success. As co-owner of Aisling Software Ltd, she provides SortMyBooks online accounts software and Financial Training for self-employed people. Her background is in programming and systems analysis, and having done the corporate thing in companies like Pepsi, Canada Dry and Coors Beer in New York, and the Department of Revenue and Tax on the island paradise of Guam, and GE Money in Dublin, when she started her own small business in Killarney, the traditional methods of bookkeeping and accounting and the traditionally low expectations for financial knowledge and control for self employed people frankly drove her mad. Together with her sister Anne, they found a better way and produced SortMyBooks Accounting software for small businesses, accompanied by the all-important Financial Control Training. The company headed into the Cloud Computing arena with the launch of SortMyBooks Online Accounting in 2010. This has brought even more flexibility to the busy entrepreneur who wants to watch their business grow from anywhere in the world. Just one year on, the software won the IIA Netvisionary award and was shortlisted for the Eircom Spiders. Aileen is happy to speak at any small business event where the focus is to simplify the concepts of accounting, tax, profit and financial control in general. Give her a call!

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  • Joseph, this is a timely reminder. I met up with Kevin O Leary from Qumas recently and he was truly inspiring.

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely Niall, getting the chance to meet some fellow industry professionals is the best thing to do, and I’m sure many would be only too willing to oblige.

  • Great set of tools Greg! Thanks for sharing man. I actually didn’t know about Tungle. It looks very similar to Google Calendar.
    Two other fantastic tools that we use almost everyday are: (email newsletter made easy), and (invoices made easy). I guess a third a very cost-effective tool we’ve used a lot throughout the year was You Tube 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Nearly everything I used this year was free. I went to two free conferenes and I made full use o free social networking outlets like Faebook, Twitter and of course, bloggertone.

  • Anonymous

    Great one Greg – thanks for sharing.

  • Love the video Greg, thanks for sharing the resources – I have utilised a lot of free stuff this year – even got a course for free 🙂
    Great ROI 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing your tips. Keep them coming. Fred, Freshbooks is a great invoicing tool alright.

  • Hi Greg, thanks for sharing! Great list.

  • Hi Greg,
    good idea.
    I use truecrypt (open-source disk encryption software) for securing the contents of my usb key.
    Wouldn’t want clients info to get into the wrong hands.

    I use for online task management. It’s was designed with GTD in mind and while I haven’t implemented full gtd I like being able to organise my todos by contexts.

    I have been looking for a free tool sending large files to friends/clients and just found

    I’m sure there are others but those are ones I have used in the past week.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing your tips Jim. I love the sound of I use (a great free tool) to send and share large files.

  • Great list~! Thanks.

    I’ve also used several of the Free tools from Hubspot. Awesome analytics. Add SocialOomph’s tricks and I’ve had great success trimming my work load.

  • Anonymous

    Janet Alexander, Thanks for the advice on Hubspot. Looks great. Someone today also mentioned as great tool.

  • Great idea Greg Have’nt got into the video thing yet but your list will get me started in 2010! This year commenced with a webbased project and it felt like I learned a new free application everyday for almost 3 months. on line graphics Photo-editing, logos, web templates, filters, color palettes, screen capture ++ & they have a good fiscal policy

    Presentations: <<very cool! great way to share information and can be linked to linkedin.

    I also started 2009 by thinking it was great how many free applications were available on the web… but now I wonder how sustainable is it? How do these companies generate money and if we grow to rely on them and they are unsustainable…

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing some super tools Roisin.I really like the look of You make a great point about over relying on products that may not be around tomorrow. Food for thought.

    Have a great Christmas and all the best for 2010.

  • Hi Greg. Thanks for the list. I’ve bookmarked this page to check out some of the tools when I get bored of turkey.

    A free tool that I use and find useful is – it works within MS Outlook and, among other features, checks e-mail addresses to see if that address is also registered with Facebook, LinkedIn and other networks. Great for seeing if your clients are using the same networks as you, so that you can connect with them.

    Cheers, Liam

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing looks like a great tool for Outlook users. Really like the social media features.
    Have a great Christmas and I hope you get some value from some of the tools listed above.

  • If you use Twitter, especially for search and monitor topics or conversations (both sides), and you like Outlook – TwInbox is great. Allows you to use Twitter within Outlook. I have two installations – one on home PC for a number of accounts and searches and one on my office laptop for focussed searches and alerts. Saves wasting too much time on Twitter. (

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Andrew. I use Tweetdeck and HooteSuite to manage my tweets. However both can be distracting unless one is ultra disciplined at work. So this looks like a super tool to avoid getting sucked into Twitter. Thanks for sharing your tip.

  • OOPS! there’s a typo here re the OECD study: “are 50% less likely to fail successful”
    should read “are 50% less likely to fail or 50% more likely to be successful”

  • Thanks for sharing Aileen! I couldn’t agree more about an accountant being proactive… I thought I was the only one complaining about that until I heard other people’s experiences.
    I have to say though that our accountant started 2010 with the right foot and we’re very happy about that. He’s even on Skype now so we can chat with him without having to pick up the phone any more!

  • Thanks for that Aileen – it actually makes me realise that our accountant is very good (which is nice!)

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful observations and nice and humourously put. Thank you. I can relate to most of the comments. I find that even thinking about finding an accountant is something I try to avoid, as I get the depressing feeling that most of them are not very imaginative, more concerned to please the government than they are to please me, and in this country my limited experience so far is that cost structures are vague – which is usually code for ever-expanding or expensive. In short, most accountants seem to be rubbish at making themselves even appear to be an attractive prospect – although you appear to be bucking that trend!

  • Hi Aileen, It’s great to see you on here again. Great post by the way 🙂 I love your point around communication, to be fair, accountants are only one of a great many professions that suffer in this regard. You would think that communication is now so much easier to get right with the many tools and channels that are available. However communication is so often paid lip service to by people and businesses, we may pretend to value it but do we really really?

  • @niall Here’s a particular problem with accountants communication with their clients. A quick survey revealed that MOST of them do not have their client’s email addresses, looking blank at the very suggestion.

    @barney I am glad you have a good one – hold on tight! i thnk there is anew breed out there, and even some of the older breed are asking how they can communicate better. Its a learning curve they are just embarking on. Step one guys – ask your clients for their email addresses!

  • Things are changing with and the workload will change soon. I’m really not complaining as I love my work and life and I do have time out of course. We will always keep our service personal though and not automate everything. I just wondered if people are making themselves available more in these times.

  • Great observations! I’m small too, and so I know that it’s quite difficult to get to where Chris Brogan and Jeremiah are. All small companies are hungry, but not everyone can be as hungry as Chris & Jeremiah. In fact, see: Why I Don’t Want To Be Chris Brogan –

    Good news is, the formula on how small companies can eat big companies lunch is pretty clear – hustle hustle hustle!

  • great post Greg ! thanks for sharing, will deffo be using some of the tools you recommend and the others below. Weebly is a free website builder that might be worth checking out also.

  • Anonymous


    Good blog. I agree with you. I have noticed two other important factors when working with my clients. (1) Smaller companies can react quicker, like turning a aircraft carrier or a speedboat, and (2) Scaleability, customer service is not scalable. When a company grows from $20MM to $50MM, adding head count and doing things the same way does not deliver the same level of service. Companies have to do things differently for the customer to perceive the same level of service. Most companies do not plan for this as they grow.

    Thanks for the blog.


  • Anonymous

    Bill, Finally read your article and really enjoyed it. I find that by conveying myself as that “Impact Player” to my clients that I can fend off the larger competitor.

    I loved how you described the big company – “You get the fresh faced college kid with Ivy league credentials. And if he screws up on your account you get an apology from the account executive (whom you’ve probably never met) and Johnny gets shuffled over to another account and you get another well-groomed MBA.” So true.

    The hunger factor is also massive for a small business. We lose a client and it can cause our business serious damage financially and also to our reputation. An account executive losing a client their commission cheque suffers in next month’s pay.

  • Great post Sian and totally agree – have to be available when the customer is..there is no such thing as a 9 to 5 when it is your own business…Even if your customers were only available from the hours of 9 to 5 because it is your business, your baby, your hopes and dreams, limiting yourself to just 8 hours is not a possibility..Also, because it is your own business it doesn’t really seem like work but something that you enjoy as you’re doing it for you..Working 9 to 5 (and all the rest) what a (great) way to make a living..

  • As a reformed accountant and now someone who is a partner in a Marketing & PR firm I can relate to much of the feedback.

    We have a client, a large firm of Accountants and the main objective is to communicate that they are more than the basic “tick the box” accountants.

    Today (and always to be honest) you need to be an advisor, a partner, someone who looks for business opportunities, a minder – clients want real value for their fee note. Make a Difference!

    On another topic about Accountants and Marketeers working together:

    Greg Canty – Fuzion, Marketing & PR

  • You have a lot of luck there when you have a lot of responses. YOu should thank them in return.The list you’ve given are quite right and searc through the net also for some pointers and tips regarding to that issue. 🙂

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