Help them know you

Accounting Today - - Editor’sdesk -

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.

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