Here’s the good news…mostly: The demand for accounting services is growing much faster than the number of accountants available to meet it. That means your firm shouldn’t have trouble finding clients anytime soon. But you don’t need just any client. You need the ideal client—a whole list of them.
Supply and demand tilting in your direction isn’t purely good news. Your firm might have a bigger problem now trying to serve clients than trying to find them. If anything, you probably face a bigger challenge finding and keeping employees than you do drumming up new business.
What all this means is that capacity is a more pressing issue than demand. The challenge your firm is most likely to face going forward is not finding clients but deciding who to keep and who to jettison. It’s not always a comfortable process, but it could be critical for the efficient operation of your firm.
You can use elements of Smart Client Management, along with some general best practices, to hone your list to your best clients.
Follow the money to the ideal client
There are some practical considerations for narrowing down a list of clients. One of them is money. Simply put, clients who are slow to pay should be at the top of the list of potential castoffs. Your employees don’t need to chase delinquent clients down for payments when others are waiting with cash in hand.
Of course, that’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule. You might find that some clients are slow to pay because of unusual business cycles or other factors they can’t control. And if you know a good client will get you the money eventually, they’re probably a client worth keeping.
So, who is the ideal client—other than one that pays on time? In general, it’s a client who shares your firm’s values and respects your employees. The services the client demands should match those you offer or plan to offer. You should be comfortable with the client’s communication style and willingness to adapt to your workflows.
What’s more, the client should treat your employees humanely. Of course, conflicts will arise from time to time. However, a client who mistreats your employees will drive them away, and your firm really can’t afford to have that happen. You’re better off interviewing and evaluating clients than you are doing the same for prospective employees. Clients are easier to find.
The ideal client wants year-round services
One of the principles of Smart Client Management is that you shouldn’t overload your firm’s revenue or workload during tax season. Moving from a one-quarter business model to a year-round business model is critical for not burning out employees and diversifying your revenue so that you have stable income 12 months a year.
As such, your firm needs to expand into Client Advisory and Accounting Services (CAAS) if it hasn’t already. Even if tax work remains at the core of your operation, you need to look into developing other offerings. You could explore financial consulting, retirement planning or, for businesses, succession planning. There are a lot of categories you can branch into, but you need clients who will go with you.
That’s why selecting the ideal client that isn’t strictly using your firm for tax work is so important. Of course, you’ll still do tax preparation, and the first few months of the year will always be busy. But the more work and money your firm can spread over the course of the year, the better off your firm will be. Clients who need a broad range of services are the kind who can move you toward CAAS quickly.
Of course, you’ll have to sell some current and prospective clients on your new services. The better you can get to know your clients, the more likely you’ll be to move them into your CAAS practice. Prioritize clients who are open and communicative over those who show less interest in developing a deep relationship with your firm.
Be professional when breaking up with clients
Breaking up is hard to do, and breaking up with clients is no exception. Some might find themselves blindsided. You don’t want to leave them out in the cold in case one of them decides to come back—or someone who works for them does. Besides, you want to keep your firm’s professional reputation intact.
If the breakup is over money, that’s a fairly simple conversation to have. If it’s for some other reason, the talk will be a bit more complex. Be honest without being judgmental if you can. If your client mistreats employees, perhaps explain that you’re sensing a clash in communication styles between your firm and the client.
If you’re breaking up because your client wants to be tax-only and they don’t provide significant enough revenue to keep them on your client list, you should obviously try selling different services before cutting the client. If that doesn’t work, keep the door open. You never know when a minor tax client might decide to become a major CAAS client.
In any case, give clients a lifeline before cutting them off. Agree on a reasonable timeline for cessation of services. And provide a referral to another firm if possible—maybe one that only does tax work or is willing to take on more tax work. Above all, stay friendly but professional. Don’t get emotional. Hopefully the client won’t, either.
Finding the ideal client is good for your firm
Once the ideal client list is in place, your firm will be able to run more efficiently. The fact is that clients need you more than you need them right now, so you can afford to be choosy. And with the shortage of accountants and the surge in demand for their services, those clients you do let go will probably be able to find a different firm to serve their needs.
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