Clients are arguably one of the most vital aspects of starting a practice and sustaining it in the long term. Without clients, particularly ones that return to hire you over and again, your firm will be practically non-existent. When you’re faced with unreasonable requests or looming deadlines, it’s easy to wish for a much simpler job without such demands.
Having clients to answer to, can be challenging in any business. As an accountant or bookkeeper, there will be many occasions during which you feel there could be easier ways of making a living. But the fact of the matter is that understanding and anticipating your client’s needs means you can have the best of both worlds.
You get paid to do something you love while working with people that look forward to hearing from you, and that’s a win-win! From the moment your clients commit to working with you, you have a tiny window of opportunity in which to set the relationship up for success by making an unforgettable first impression. From that point on, the efforts you make to nurture the relationship will decide whether it will be sustainable or not.
How to Build Better Client Relationships
It is 15 times more expensive to forge a long-term relationship with a new client than maintain an existing one. This makes it crucial for you to have an effective client onboarding and management process in place to get it right the first time around.
You might wonder which secret formula some firms use to maintain impressive retention rates, while others can’t seem to nail down clients long enough to make the onboarding effort worthwhile. Trust and loyalty are the cornerstones of a stable working relationship, and they don't come automatically; you have to go the extra mile to earn them. Here are some effective ways to build sustainable relationships with your clients:
Be Honest While Onboarding Clients
Client retention is all about honesty. Granted, you need to focus on client relations and the front-end and back-end onboarding processes, but the thread that needles all these aspects together is honesty on both sides, from the get-go.
Clients have now become accustomed to expecting their accountants and bookkeepers to deliver a certain amount of immediate value in the early stages of their relationship with the firm. This becomes the justification they need to believe they made a smart decision hiring them. The simplest way to achieve this is to provide practical solutions to your clients' most significant problems. Show them that you are willing to pop the hood of their business' workings and are not afraid of getting your hands dirty.
Chances are that what you find when you delve deeper into your client’s books won't be out of the ordinary, but it’s likely going to be news to their ears. At that stage, many firms tiptoe around the problem to not offend their new client in any way. But if you are not brutally honest with them at this point, you would be doing a disservice to your client, as well as your firm.
You will not be able to prove yourself by providing upfront value, achieving the best possible results, and gaining your client's trust moving forward. From the client’s perspective, they can’t fix things they don’t know are broken. The key lies in delivering some immediate value to create the most significant impact. In other words, you need to have a couple of golden nuggets as a standard that you can fall back on to assert your position as an excellent accountant or bookkeeper.
When you demonstrate your honest approach to your client, they’ll realize you're offering something different, making the solution more valuable to them. This approach also buys you some time to show them what your firm is really made of and how you are different from the ones they might have worked with previously.
Anticipate Client Needs
Developing solid business relationships with your clients from the outset is a brilliant move from a marketing perspective. It also helps you anticipate client needs and make ongoing adjustments to improve your business in the long term.
When you dedicate enough time to understand your clients' requirements, you will be in a much better position to ensure they are satisfied with your services. You can position yourself for new opportunities, and it may even increase the chances of word-of-mouth marketing and referrals from your new client.
Take the Time to Understand Your Clients
Even if you believe you have a clear understanding of where your client is coming from and the services they need from you, there are many ways to get to know them better. Consider adding a personal touch to your conversations without being intrusive. Sharing non-work information occasionally, such as details about your family, things you do during off-hours, etc., helps strengthen client relationships.
Prioritize Your Client’s Challenges
Start expanding business relationships with your clients by stepping outside a "commoditized" role, involving them in the process, and making their business your priority. Instead of just appearing when tax time comes around, take them to lunch or set up meetings to discuss everything from their accounting needs to their pain points and growth plans. Some common problems that small businesses face include:
- Need for fresh capital
- Low profitability
- Cash flow problems
- Loss of major clients
- Excessive debt
Both profitability and cash flow represent a major opportunity for you to act as a trusted advisor to your client. You can also add more value by identifying gaps in your client’s knowledge and offering discounted or free training sessions to help bring them up to speed.
Almost 50% of all small businesses turn to a professional firm for help with their taxes and bookkeeping. Their weakness in this area can be a great starting point for you. These sessions will be helpful to your client, and the more face time you get with them, the better your chances of driving home all that additional value.
Keep the Communication Lines Open
Effective and regular communication is vital in every relationship, particularly with your clients. Keep the communication lines open by being responsive to their calls, messages, and emails. Schedule regular zoom meetings with your clients, share company news, and, if appropriate, interact with them through social media. Maintaining regular contact with your clients and keeping them in the loop is a great way to improve relationships with them.
Ask Your Clients for Feedback
It's crucial to ask your client's for feedback when reaching milestones in projects or completing them. You can ask them for their inputs during an informal conversation or adopt a formal approach by requesting them to fill out a client satisfaction survey.
The most crucial step in getting your client’s feedback, however, is to have a plan for addressing any criticisms or concerns and being committed to altering and improving your general business processes.
Consider each client relationship as a valuable, ongoing connection, and it will ultimately help you build a mutually beneficial partnership. A focused approach and consistency in providing the best service is an effective way to forge better relationships with your clients and take your accounting or bookkeeping firm to new levels.