A paramount element in the accounting profession is clear communication and an understanding between the practitioner and the client.
From the very start of the relationship the accountant must inform the client of the purpose and scope of the proposed engagement. Traditionally this has been done through an engagement letter. However, there are other valid methods, such as through emails or a brochure. By doing this, the practitioner is protecting herself or himself by managing the customer's expectations, as well as limiting the likelihood of client disputes in the future.
It also needs to be clear from the commencement of the relationship that despite the accountant's desire to improve the financial position of their client, there are ethical rules that demand transparency and objectivity when reporting the financial state of affairs.
Accountants can deliver on service by clearly explaining these legal obligations, ethical practices, and client responsibilities in plain English. Compliance will be greater amongst those who understand the clear message being communicated. Regular, professional and respectful communication will aid in client retention.
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As accountants know more than anyone the financial position of their clients, it places them in a unique position to not only advise clients in terms of specific jobs (such as preparing a tax return or the annual accounts), but also to provide input into the overall business operation of clients. The accountant is the person with a clear ability to understand their client's business and to stand in his/her client's shoes. In short, an accountant can assist a client in all areas of the business, as long as he or she possesses the necessary business acumen. This could be advantageous for professionals in possession of other strong background skills like economics, financial planning, wealth and asset management, or any other business/finance related background.
The best way to generate new business is still through networking and word-of-mouth (the latter is arguably the best marketing campaign). Finding your own niche can be achieved by exploiting your own background, previous experience and roots.
For instance, a person who grew up on a farm may have contacts in that area as well as a deep understanding of agricultural business and its requirements (farmers have a number of tax concessions they can access, as well as a variety of income or loss reporting options, spread over a number of years).
A person born or who grew up overseas may know others from that same background who could become clients. Having a close relationship with specific communities can help establish a huge source of potential clients for a number of reasons:
It is also possible to increase online presence within these niche markets. Prior to doing so it is important to understand that an old population may not respond actively to online promotion, but when the target market is a younger population in need of accounting services (business start-ups, young entrepreneurs, first time investors, people requiring taxation services), a greater response will be obtained via online portals.
Investing in a social media strategy and increasing online presence can be done via apps which allow the same posts to be automatically updated on a variety of social media accounts (that is, Hootsuite, ITTT, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc), or by increasing websites by improving SEO, driving traffic from social media account, key word search, hashtagging, blog posts etc.
Adapting to the changing technological environment has become vital for success. Just think of how efficient an accounting business would be if it implements a cloud-based software system and goes paperless. Cloud computing enables an effective and flexible management of the financial records, as the access to the data and software happens anywhere and anytime through any computing device and without being dependent on a hard drive, network or at the risk of moving the data with a USB drive! Along with the cloud system, the accountant should consider putting in place a security system to combat any cyber attack. Why not even check the possibility of taking out cyber insurance?
Obviously it is not only cloud computing, an accountant can leverage its practice by offering other digital and mobile technology services to avoid the possible time cost to both the accountant and client of meeting in person. Examples are apps that allow digital signing of contracts, online client portals to tele-submit compliance documents or the like, live data streaming and access to records.
You can read earlier ClearLaw articles on a range of professional adviser topics.
Source: This article was originally published on Institute of Public Accountants' digital hub at http://www.pubacct.org.au/blog/4-ways-become-innovative-accountant
Geoff Musgrove is a partner in the Maddocks Commercial team.
Geoff's principal areas of practice are:
Geoff acts for a wide range of commercial, government, accounting, manufacturing, professional and rural industry clients.
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