In a small firm, the three most important words are relationships, relationships, relationships. While our clients appreciate our technical expertise, they are most likely to stick with us through thick and thin because they believe we have a unique understanding of them and their businesses, of their challenges and opportunities.
That’s good news, because the marketplace—and our clients—are undergoing rapid changes. After several years of strong demand for our services, the 2008 financial meltdown stopped many of our clients in their tracks. Clients still needed and wanted our financial expertise to feel more comfortable as they weathered the economic storm. The economy now seems to have stabilized, but the 2012 PCPS/TSCPA National MAP survey found that even though practitioner earnings were up from 2010, they remain at 2008 levels. Many practitioners report that they are working harder to stay even. In the meantime, emerging technologies continue to alter the way we work and live and changing demographics are bringing a new generation to the helm at client businesses. While it’s difficult to keep up with continuous changes in regulations and standards and still remain profitable, we cannot lose sight of our client base. As they too recoup after several years of economic uncertainty, there are several steps CPAs can take to ensure that our relationships with them remain strong.
Work smarter. Many firms are reinventing their service delivery methodology by improving workflow tools and methods, stepping up to the cloud and enhancing the digital exchange of documents and data with their clients. These efficiencies make it easier to compete with more aggressive pricing from competitors and to spend more time deepening client relationships. Consider reviewing the Quantum of Paperless publication, available to PCPS members, which identifies today’s digital best practices and explains how to implement them to maximize your clients’ experience.
Clear out the dead wood. Are some of your clients more trouble than they’re worth? Or do they simply not really fit with your firm? Use the PCPS Client Evaluation Tool to assess your client lists and determine which may be best transitioned to another firm. Use the PCPS sample Client Disengagement Letter to properly end client relationships.
Stay in touch. Get serious about maintaining contacts with existing clients if you want them to stick around. While larger firms may turn to CRM software and similar contact systems, smaller firms simply list their top ten clients and prospect opportunities in an Excel spreadsheet. That puts your priorities in black and white and makes it easier to follow up. Be sure to maintain contact all year round, not just when the due-date list requires interaction. Turn to the PCPS Practice Growth & Client Service Center for information and resources that can help reinforce client relationships.
Be front and center. Small firms provide a personalized approach through customized strategic and proactive advice due to in-depth knowledge of each client’s financial concerns. Clients who partner with you can expect one-on-one attention and follow-up from people they know and trust. Remind existing clients of these benefits and use the PCPS Small Firm Client Brochure to help make your case.
Be a high-value provider. Reinforce your value and don’t let your clients forget it. Remind them of your value on a regular basis by alerting them to news or developments that may affect them. In addition, meet with them in their offices or over lunch a few times a year just to check in, listen to their concerns and demonstrate your interest and how you can help. When dealing with prospective clients, be prepared to articulate the value of what you can do for them and how your services will translate into real benefits for them. The PCPS You Are the Value Workshop offers practical strategies to get your message across.
Surprise them. Are your clients aware of the many services you offer beyond, say, tax or compilation and review? Do they know that you can provide them with strategic information to help them cut costs, evaluate planned expansions, assess merger or acquisition opportunities, facilitate succession plans or address any number of other business challenges? Spell out all you can do for them and reinforce your critical role as your clients’ trusted business advisor.
James C. Metzler, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is AICPA vice president, small firm interests