Which one are you?
So, you have reviewed the way that you service your clients, and you may well continue with the tried and tested method of charging by the hour, or you may have changed your model to a more value or fixed price arrangement. Either way, you will adopt the model that best suits you and your clients’ needs. The one thing that will remain constant though is the relationships that you build and nurture with your clients as a trusted advisor.
The Human Element
Many successful bookkeepers are more than just good with numbers or technology. Whilst these are valuable skills to have when working in the industry, there is a third element that is as important; the human element. How you relate and converse with your client is sometimes the critical component that can keep a client for life or see them moving on to somebody else down the road.
Being open, transparent, but most of all engaging, are attributes that will endear clients to you. Much like any close personal relationships you may have, these are all built upon the same foundations. There are certain friends and family that we always turn to in times of need because, for the most part, they may have these traits. It is really no different in a business relationship. We have to remember that most bookkeepers have an intimate knowledge of their client’s business and sometimes personal financial situations. It can be common for the bookkeeper to know more about the client’s financial position, than maybe even the client’s spouse. So with this in mind, we need to be respectful of the amount of trust that the client has put in us.
Advising Without Actually Advising
Sometimes these business relationships can turn into bona-fide friendships. This has some good points but also some bad points. Sometimes the relationship can become blurred; making separation between business and personal difficult. With this in mind, we always need to know where the line is between the two, and try not to mix them. When performing work for the client, wear your business hat. If the client invites you to a BBQ on the weekend, wear your personal hat, and try and keep the business talk to a minimum.
As their bookkeeper, there will be certain duties that you would be expected to perform, such as data entry, reconciliations and possibly BAS preparation (if registered as a BAS or Tax agent). But it is quite common for the client to ask questions that go beyond the scope of a traditional bookkeeper, such as business structures, tax minimisation strategies, software recommendations and implementations, to name just a few. Sometimes clients think that you have all of the answers, especially when you have established that trusted relationship. In these situations It is important to be able to say to the client that what they are asking is outside the scope of the areas you can advise them on. Being able to then refer them on to an associate that has the necessary skill-set is all part of providing a great service to your client.
Depending on your level of qualifications and experience, you may or may not be able to ‘advise’ the client in certain areas. There are many ways of being able to be the ‘trusted advisor’ without having formal qualifications in the relevant disciplines. Simply explaining what the numbers on an end-of-month report mean can be a good start. Using different ways of presenting financials can also aid in getting the message across. Why not prepare some simple charts that show the trends, rather than a page full of numbers? Maybe give clients more than just a Profit & Loss report. A month-by-month Expense Breakdown Chart, a Break-even Analysis Chart or a Where Did Our Money Go? Chart are just a few examples that may help the client understand what has been happening in their business.
Simply preparing information in a different way to help increase the client’s understanding of their current situation is the professional’s way of adding value. If after viewing the charts, the client then asks you how they can change the situation, then this would be the point at which you need to determine if you are adequately qualified to answer the question/s, or you simply refer them on to an associate (perhaps their accountant) with your charts in hand.
The Welfare of Your Client
At the end of the day, we all want a good result for the client. Even though we are engaging with clients at a business level, the welfare of the client is paramount to any professional bookkeeper. This may include lending an ear when they are having an issue with their spouse, or grieving with them when someone close has passed away, or celebrating with them when their child has been accepted into their first preference at university. Whatever the situation, being empathetic is a great trait to have when you are a professional counsellor. It is an even better trait to have as an accounting professional.
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This article was published in the ABN Bookies Bulletin in February 2016.