Transforming from bookkeeper to trusted advisor in four easy steps
Posted by Sjoerd-Jaap Westra
Earning the designation of certified public accountant (CPA) is a commitment that takes years of study and professional experience. The chances are you boast a broad base of tax knowledge and treasury services skills, including some pretty handy financial planning strategies. However, these skills will be under-utilized if the services you are providing to your clients are limited to audit, tax preparation and bookkeeping.
Many accountants have found that they can quickly move beyond data entry and become a value-added contributor to their client's overall success. Here are the four steps you need to make the transition from "mere" bookkeeper to trusted adviser and boost your own practice growth.
1. Identify customers' needs
The services that clients require fall into three categories:
- Transaction processing such as billing, consolidating the books and statutory reporting. Transaction processing typically comprises a high volume of routine transactions. In this category, efficient service delivery is a must.
- Specialty services such as complex regulatory compliance, tax planning and technical accounting services. Specialty services add value to the client through bespoke and tailored advice.
- Decision support such as long-range financial analysis, budgeting and cash flow management. Decision support is a high-level advisory service that will help keep the client competitive and fiscally sound.
Small businesses often switch CPAs because they are looking for more proactive decision support. If you're not offering advisory services, it is because you've undersold your capability. The key is to figure out which clients will be most receptive to advisory services, and to focus your efforts on those clients.
2. Test the waters
For the clients that need transitioning to specialty and decision support services, you can test the waters by providing valuable feedback that will help business owners run their businesses more effectively. If you do that, you will set your firm apart from other firms that would rather compete on price than offer sound financial perspectives and decision support.
One easy way to provide useful feedback is to analyze the financial performance of your clients and provide a customized narrative (charts, graphs) so your clients can see how their performance compares to that of their competitors. You can offer this report for free - this is usually sufficient to generate interest from clients whose business would benefit from advisory services.
3. Build the right service delivery infrastructure
After customer interest is established, you must then select the systems that will enable optimum service delivery. Ideally, the technology solution should encompass the following features:
- Workflow standardization and simplification
- A single work platform that allows you and your clients to log in to see the same set of data
- Imports from Excel or other general ledger software
- Bank feeds and automatic bank reconciliation
- Ability to establish reporting lines and work groups
- Tools for collaboration, coaching, training and development
- Clear definition of roles and responsibilities
- View and share interactive reports and budgets in real-time.
These features will help accountants, controllers, internal auditors and finance teams collaborate and control their projects and processes.
4. Keep them happy
By this point, you are already transitioning to the role of trusted adviser. The final stage is to cement your advantage. Conduct regular assessment meetings with your client to solicit their feedback on your service delivery processes and results. At this point, you can identify additional opportunities where you can assist the client and continue through to the decision support process. Once you have earned the client's trust, you will be in a better position to win repeat business and to do more lucrative work for the client.
For accountants, these tips can help you assert your value and secure your client's business for the long haul.
Customer expectations are rising
As an accountant you are facing an increased demand for your services and increased expectations from all of your customers.
If you are interested in learning how to handle these expectations read: Living up to the rising customer expectations
- Journal of Accountancy: Gaining (from) your client's trust
- Price Waterhouse Coopers: How to design finance as a strategic service-delivery organization