It can be frustrating when you give clients advice which they then either ignore or misunderstand.  You want to get them to trust your advice and you want to be able to influence them to follow your advice.

Here are ten ways to increase the likelihood that clients will listen to you:

  1. Ask more and better questions before you give your advice. If you don’t do this your advice will seem generic and not worth following. When I was young I had a tendency to recognise a pattern of facts and to leap to premature conclusions. It didn’t engender confidence if I shared my conclusions too soon, Practice asking good open questions and, where appropriate, good closed questions too. This way, you can ensure that your advice, when you give it, takes account of all key information.
  2. Evidence your experience by supporting your advice with reference to similar previous situations, relevant case law, legislation or rules.
  3. Ensure the way you phrase your advice is focused on your client. It should never be about you showing off how much you know.
  4. The more your client feels that you have been listening to them the more inclined they will be to follow your advice. Nodding your head as you listen is one way to do this. Making notes of (at least) key words they use is another.
  5. Hear your client out and get all of the facts on the table before you draw conclusions and give your advice – based on your past experience.
  6. Try to paraphrase and reflect back to your client the information they have provided to you and on which you are basing your advice. You can do this face to face or in writing.
  7. Ensure you come across as confident in your advice. Avoid going too far and appearing to be arrogant though. It’s not an attractive quality in an accountant. If you have insufficient experience to advise in a specific situation, have the confidence to admit this to the client. Recommend that you or they take a second opinion from someone with more specialist experience. Your client will respect you for this and will have more confidence in your advice when you do give it. They will get to know that you don’t attempt to fake it. That, in itself, instills confidence.
  8. Be aware of first impressions.  If you have previously tried to persuade your client to do something but were ignored or if it became obvious you were making it up, then it will take time for your client to see you differently. You may have sowed the seed for them to routinely question or challenge your advice.
  9. Give your client space and time to think through your advice. If your advice is unwelcome then allow your client time to think it over. Do not attempt to pressure them into agreeing with you immediately.
  10. Remember clients generally want advice, not just answers. Accountants are renowned for being indecisive. There is even a joke about the client who went in search of a one-armed accountant. He wanted someone who wouldn’t start their advice with: “On the one hand…”I remember being trained years ago what to do if I felt compelled to tell clients that there were two or more options for them to consider. We need to remember that clients prefer paying to get advice, than for simply getting a list of options. We have to be prepared to reach a conclusion and offer our advice, for example with a phrase such as, “If it was me…”

A longer version of this blog post originally appeared in my weekly column on AccountingWeb.co.uk