Learning how to build good relationships with clients in your accounting firm is key for business growth and sustainability. Learn the tricks here!
10 mi read
Building strong client relationships in your accounting firm is one of the most important things you can do to have a successful business. Happy clients who keep coming back for your services are what keeps your firm profitable. There are a lot of other demands on your time—getting work done, managing your team, developing business strategy, and more, but it’s important to fit developing client relationships into the rest of your workload.
In this post we cover four ways you can start building stronger client relationships in your accounting firm including:
There’s nothing quite like that feeling of landing a new client. Not only is it great to watch your accounting firm grow, but there’s something about the chance to get a fresh start, even on such a small scale.
Obviously you want to put your best foot forward and develop good relationships with clients right from the start, which will set the foundation for the relationship to grow later. With that in mind, here are two things you should be doing with every new client.
There is a temptation, especially when a deadline is looming, to simply accept a new client sight unseen. Someone calls your office and says, “Hey, I need someone to help me with my taxes.” You say, “I can do that. Bring all the necessary documents in anytime this week and we’ll get started on your return.” You hang up the phone and get right back to what you were doing. You’re busy, right? You don’t have the time for a proper intake interview.
Of course, the problem is that without an intake interview, there’s no way to know if this new client is a good match for you and your firm. Instead, take the time—even if it’s just 15 or 20 minutes—to have a conversation with a potential client.
At a minimum, you should get a feel for their financial situation and what they expect from you. In addition, you should give them an idea of what you expect from them—how you want documents and information delivered, the kind of response time you expect, and anything else you need to help your firm run like you want it to.
Don’t be afraid of losing potential clients at this stage. Though you may be tempted to take any business that comes your way, it’s actually good for your business to weed out a few people during the intake interview. Besides, you’ll find that most people are happy to help make your job a little easier if you just take the time to give them a few instructions.
You should really be using engagement letters with all your clients, but it’s especially important with new clients. With existing clients you usually develop familiarity and a good working relationship over time. That familiarity can sometimes let you get away with not formalizing an engagement with an engagement letter. With new clients, you have none of that.
Some accountants worry that using an engagement letter for every engagement is cumbersome or too formal (or both). However, if you have a good engagement letter boilerplate and a fast way to get the letter sent and signed, it doesn’t have to be a long, painful process. And, by “keeping it informal,” you’re really just keeping both you and your client guessing.
Get expectations aligned from the outset, and you’ll enjoy smoother working relationships going forward.
Over the past few years, more businesses than ever are making great efforts to be more transparent in their day-to-day practice. From food companies that document their production process to accurately reporting a corporation's financial position, businesses across industries are learning that transparency is the key for developing relationships with clients and customers and retaining their trust.
Transparency is especially important in an accounting firm because accountants deal with personal financial information—something that most people feel extremely protective of. The more open and honest you are with a client, the more they will trust you with their information.
So what does it mean for an accounting practice to be transparent? In this era of uncertainty, some of the attributes that lead to transparency include:
Essentially, corporate transparency is being open and honest with a client and keeping them in the loop. Every strong relationship is based on trust—accountant-client relationships included. Not only is transparency a key factor in building client relationships, it’s a key factor in maintaining a trusting relationship.
It's easy to decide you need to have better communication with your clients, but executing the change needed to improve the quality and method of communication is more complicated. It comes at several different points of contact when working with a client. While open communication should be emphasized on both sides, you can be the proactive one about communicating.
First, you should always be upfront about your pricing and fees. Clients will not be happy if the cost of your services comes as a surprise to them partway through the process. Discussing pricing prior to any services being performed puts you and your client on the same page from the beginning.
Another important point for maintaining transparency when working on your client's case is to notify them of any changes happening. For example, let's say after you look into your client's tax situation, you discover they don't actually qualify for the deductions they hoped. Let them know right away. Honesty is always appreciated in dealing with unexpected outcomes, even if the news is sometimes unpleasant. It's also a good idea to update clients of any IRS policy change that directly affects them.
Additionally, at any point before, during, or after working on a client's case, be considerate of responding to questions, calls, or emails. Respond as promptly as possible. Clients want to feel like a priority. They won't feel prioritized if it's hard for them to get in touch with you. In the current digital age, most customers expect a fairly quick response to their questions. As important as it is to respond to your clients promptly, it can also be daunting to manage back-and-forth emails and phone calls. Using an accounting practice management software can help streamline the process.
Tools such as Canopy's client portal function especially well for this kind of client management. You decide which sections your client can and cannot see in their portal, allowing you to be in control of transparency. You and your client can also upload and exchange documents. Your client can check on the status of their case, making it so they're more aware of what tasks you are completing. This will help them to see what services they're paying for. Additionally, clients can pay invoices and fill out surveys. Utilizing the many capabilities of client portals will make it so you no longer have to be stressed out by constant phone and email communication, and your clients will feel more in the know.
Beyond being proactive about initiating communication with a client, maintaining transparency on online platforms is an important way for building client relationships, as well. Check out what clients are saying about your business on social media and in reviews and address concerns or comments accordingly. If you know what clients are saying about your business, you can add to the conversation. You may even be able to improve the way you handle client transparency if you know what feedback is being given.
Online responses also give you another venue through which to answer questions and become more transparent. Online reviews, personal recommendations, rating websites, and apps often carry a lot of weight with consumers and help them shape their perceptions about a company. Good communication on public forums helps create client transparency, and more transparency leads to a client having more trust in you.
Learn more about how you can harness the power of online reviews to grow your business.
While maintaining transparency is an important step to building strong client relationships, there are other things you can do to make clients happy. Happy clients are clients who keep coming back to work with you and pay you for your services.
Consider this: customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers.
Here are four ways to delight and develop strong relationships with your clients:
One of the most effective and simple things you can do to make your clients happy is listen to them. Clients want to know their input matters. Take the time to ask clients for feedback and then apply that feedback to the way you do business.
Finish work before a deadline whenever possible. A client will not feel prioritized if you leave their case until the last minute. Plus, waiting on results is likely to cause your client stress.
Deliver on the promises you make to a client. Don’t promise the things you can’t deliver. Of course, if you do promise a client something that you find yourself unable to complete, be upfront about it and let your client know as soon as possible.
Set yourself apart as an accountant who truly cares about your clients by adding a personal touch to your business. The more genuine you are about interacting with and helping clients, the happier they will be. For example, you could send clients a handwritten thank you card after you finish doing work for them. Whatever you choose to do should feel authentic to your business.
When it comes to making clients happier, it’s the small actions that will set you apart from other accounting firms.
The last piece to developing relationships with clients that will last is following up effectively. There are different kinds of client follow-up for the different stages your clients are at. When conducting any follow-up, your focus should be on helping a client. It’s important for your client to feel like you are serving their needs rather than just pushing your own. Not every follow-up should be focused on your services or business. However, every follow-up should be valuable for your client.
Here are three keys to employing smarter client follow-up at all stages.
Make follow-up part of your routine rather than something you only do when trying to close a client.
Send a thank you email the same day you meet with a potential client. Determine other times at which you will send a follow-up. For example, maybe you'll always contact a potential client one week after meeting with them. This can be automated using a client relationship management (CRM) software like Canopy. For prospective clients who seem more interested in your services, you could contact them more frequently than you contact someone who is less interested.
Additionally, branch out and employ different methods of follow-up. Phone calls, direct mail, emails, social media posts, clients will respond differently to each approach. Assuming one method is best for catching all potential clients could leave a lot of business on the table.
At your initial meeting with a client, be sure to ask what mode of communication works best for them and the best time to contact them. Your client will appreciate it if you show concern for their time and will be less likely to ignore you or feel inconvenienced.
However, even after determining best contact time for a client, following up to get documents and information for their case can be difficult. Some clients need several reminders to send the requested information. Placing a focus on how the follow-up will help move their case along should help client response time. For clients who still need extra reminders, you'll need to establish a schedule of how many times you contact them per week asking for information so that you can stay on schedule and complete cases efficiently.
You can follow up this way manually and work it into your daily routine, or to save time and maximize efficiency, you can use software that automates client requests. Canopy has a feature that allows you to place a request for a client's documents or information, of which they'll be notified through their client portal. You can also set the request notifications to automatically remind your client at whatever frequency you choose until the request is fulfilled. For example, if you normally have to remind your client about sending documents every other day, you could set the request to send at that frequency and Canopy would automate the reminder for you!
Don't forget that follow-up is also important after you've completed services for a client. Contacting a client only while you're trying to get their business may make them feel like you cared more about closing the sale than helping them. Conducting a brief, personal follow-up after finishing services on a case is a way to nurture and develop a lasting relationship with clients.
Whether you're contacting a potential, current, or former client, include information that would be useful to them. You could include a helpful article or blog post in an email. You could suggest relevant resources. Be personal. Show clients that you really care about helping them and their unique situation.
Remember that each time you conduct follow-up, no matter what mode of communication is used, is an opportunity to show off your unique brand and set yourself apart from other accounting firms. It's in your best interest to make each point of contact as positive and personal as possible.
From handling important financial statements and ensuring that the necessary administrative obligations are taken care of, to learning how to build good relationships with clients, there are a lot of moving parts to running an accounting firm. It can be difficult keeping track of everything that needs to be done but having a quality accounting practice management software can help make it easier.
Interested in seeing how Canopy can help take your client management to the next level? Sign up for a personalized demo.
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