To some people, accountants are to be used purely to deal with the financial records businesses are required by law to produce. However, a good accountant, and one which flourishes in their sector are trusted advisers, valuable sources of information and can be providers of many services on top of just running the numbers.
So how can accountants add value to their clients (and increase their top line)?
Accountants, at a rudimentary level, are here to make sure their clients comply with the law in terms of financial management and meeting HMRC requirements and deadlines.
Essentially the main job of an accountant is to align numbers in rows and columns. But a skilled accountant also makes these numbers talk and produces a reading of the strengths and weaknesses of the company from these numbers. A diagnosis isn’t enough if you don’t also propose a solution to the problem.
Business isn’t just about numbers, as we all know. It is about strategic planning, making calls based on sometimes incomplete information and building and strengthening markets. An accountant that understands the numbers that underlie all of these activities can be beneficial to the client.
If you can use this financial insight to advise in areas such as optimising operational efficiency, creating a new line of products, making the organisation chart leaner and advising when to spend more budget on marketing, then you become even more valuable to them.
Becoming an advisory-led firm is undoubtedly the way the sector is going. Technology advances are making compliance work commoditised, which means clients value and will pay more for information and advice that helps them with matters that will help them run a successful business.
Having up to date and forward-looking services mean you can really help them shape their future and not just look at the past. There is so much to be gained by an accountant becoming an extension of a client’s business to provide support through start-up, growth and all the ups and downs that come in between.
Some examples of more advisory-led services you can offer including budgeting and forecasts, periodic managements accounts, income tax and remuneration planning, as well as capital gains tax and inheritance tax planning.
Everyone knows that a successful business must plan ahead. Still, all too often, the pressures of keeping the business going on a daily basis mean that strategic planning is not given the attention it needs.
The result is often rushed judgments, being over- or under-capacity or missed opportunities. Every business owner needs a planning adviser who has the time and space to take the long view and advise on appropriate courses of action before it is too late.
For all businesses, strategic planning should be conducted every three to five years, and the plan should always be reviewed annually. An accountant can play a vital role in this by challenging the plans objectives and the goals.
Questions that might come out of this are key to the organisation, such as: Is it time to branch out to another product line? Does the business have enough production capacity? When is the right time to recruit? Are clients being supported in the way they need to be?
You want to get to a point where you have at least quarterly meetings to review financials, discuss ideas and give them sound advice to help them make these decisions for the future. Ultimately, you want to get to the points where your client speaks to you before any major decisions are made – this is when you know your insights are proving vital for the success of their organisation.
Kevin Winterburn – Partner at Sheards Accountants