Help them know you
Why do people go into business? Some open bakeries because they love to bake, or become contractors because they like to build, or set up factories because they imagine a product no one else was making, or sell cars or real estate or stocks because they enjoy the validation of convincing the customer that they need the product or service that’s for sale. Many more simply want to make money, and take up whatever business seems to offer the quickest or greatest reward.
Apart from accountants, though, no one goes into business so they can handle accounting.
This is good news for accountants, obviously, since it means all those other businesses are looking to offload a lot of accounting work (along with the other compliance tasks, like taxes and payroll, that they didn’t go into business to do), and will generally be very grateful to whoever does it for them.
It comes with a risk, though, and that is that all those other businesses will think that that is all you do. Oh, sure, they’ll value your advice, but they’ll see that as incidental to the compliance work — an extra. This is more of a risk now than it ever has been, because much of the traditional compliance work is being automated, and quickly. If clients aren’t educated to see that other work — the advisory work — as central to what accountants do, when the time comes that a bot can do their accounting and a computer at the IRS does their taxes, they may decide that they don’t need the services of an accountant any more.
I bring this up now because it leaps out from the results of our inaugural “Small Business Accounting Insights Survey,” which we just conducted in October (and which you can read more about on page 11). Two-fifths of the small businesses surveyed don’t use an accountant at all; of those that do, the vast majority use them primarily for traditional compliance services like bookkeeping, tax and audit, and they don’t generally see themselves buying the types of “value-added” services (from IT and cybersecurity services to fraud and forensic accounting, business planning and strategic advice, and so on) that are what they really need to grow their businesses, and what accountants need to sell in order to avoid commoditization.
There’s a perception problem at work, in that many of these small-business owners simply can’t imagine their accountant doing anything other than tax and accounting. That needs to change, and the burden is going to fall on you to educate them, to flip their understanding of you from someone who does their taxes and closes their books while occasionally giving valuable advice, to someone who primarily helps them grow their business (oh, and who makes all that tax and accounting work go away).
Think of it this way: They didn’t go into business to do accounting, so they can’t imagine why you did. You need to help them see you as intentionally, proactively and primarily working to help them grow, rather than as someone who does work they’re happy to get rid of.