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.