You’re not alone if you’re fed up of hearing commentators, software vendors and app developers tell you what your clients are thinking. Not that they know of course. They are speculating and many are simply repeating what they have heard others say; and then mistakenly think these messages resonate with you.
I’m not in practice any more and I’m certainly fed up of hearing this nonsense – as what they are saying makes no sense when they talk about your current clients. But it may be worth considering if you anticipate seeking out and wining new clients into the future.
The loyalty of current clients
Here’s the truth (for most clients of most accountants): Whatever new developments, new opportunities, new tech, new laws or other changes come about in the next few years, very few of your current clients are going to leave you for another accountant.
Clients who have been with you for some time and who trust you don’t care how you do what you do for them. They don’t care whether you use the latest cloud software, a desktop package, AI or even quill and ink. Although I agree that is pretty outdated now ;-)
When people talk about how you must embrace the future or you’re practice will collapse, they are simply trying to scare you and to get you to buy their products or consultancy.
The good news is that few of your current clients will even notice the adverts from suppliers of bookkeeping software and financial apps etc. Your clients are more likely to be focused on their businesses. This means they trust you to do whatever it is you do that gets their accounts and tax returns produced and filed. We don’t generally pay attention to adverts and sales messages that don’t resonate with us.
This is why I have long maintained (and been proven right so far) that you don’t have to rush to migrate your clients to new software and systems. And it’s why I believe that your current clients are the least of your problems when you look into the future.
They are not all suddenly going to insist that you reduce your fees by reference to the reduced time it will take to do their bookkeeping, prepare their accounts and tax returns.
Those who suggest otherwise really don’t understand how clients think or how much clients typically trust their accountants.
Many clients don’t even care how long it takes you to do what you do for them as long as you avoid leaving their work to the last minute. Most of your current clients don’t even care if you are still sending bills that reference your time.
What most clients care about will vary but typically it will include peace of mind, confidence and convenience.
Future clients on the other hand…
What is changing though is what your future clients will be looking for from their accountant. And this change is set to accelerate over the next few years.
Historically most of your clients came to you because they wanted someone to help them comply with their legal obligations to prepare and file accounts and tax returns. Maybe they wanted tax advice too. And, if you were lucky they have also been paying you for business advice as part of your compliance service offering.
Perhaps they switched to you after a bad experience elsewhere and you have since lived up to the positive reputation that resulted in the referral or recommendation.
Things are set to change over the next few years.
It is inevitable that more and more start ups will want an accountant who can help them control their bookkeeping and finances – in ways that were simply not possible just a few years ago. It won’t be long before filings will be easier than ever and (new) clients will not be willing to pay the sort of fees you have historically charged for doing this work for similar such clients.
The challenge will be winning more clients as you only be able to do this if you accept that the average fees you will be able to secure for doing the sort of work you’ve always done will start to fall. This means you will have to become much more efficient at onboarding and providing such services AND that you will need to be managing more client relationships than ever before.
The other option is to provide more high value advisory work (whether alone or to complement the compliance services) which may enable you to keep the number of clients to a more manageable number but they will take more of your time than at present.
Will you be ready to make the switch?
How easy will this be? It depends on whether you and your staff/teams already have or can develop sufficient key business skills to promote, price and provide such services in the future.
Your current clients may well stay with you and be happy, but you’re going to find it increasingly challenging to win new clients to grow the firm or even to replace the fees as clients die, retire, sell up or move off for whatever other reason.
Current vs future clients
When I speak at accountancy firm’s away days and conferences, I find that I get more buy-in when I explain this distinction between current and future clients.
This is partly because I am validating the views of those cynics who know their existing clients aren’t suddenly going to up and leave the firm. But they also then accept the need for changes to ensure the firm still has a viable message to prospective clients; and, as a result, that staff, managers and partners need to be better placed to win and service such new client work.
There will be much competition for such work – from better trained and more forward thinking accountants but also from consultants, coaches and trainers who can offer many similar services at lower fees.
They will have access to the same technology, apps and services as accountants. They might not have your financial training but they may well have all of the other skills that enable them to win and perform work that you would otherwise want to have done.
Distinguishing yourselves and the benefits to new clients of choosing you and your firm will be key skills you need to survive and thrive into the future.
To do this, you will, almost certainly, need to be up to speed with new developments, new technology and new opportunities. You will also need to become better at competing and winning work on your merits rather than simply because people need someone to help them satisfy recurring legal filing obligations.
As I explain in my talks, you need to think about what you’re going to have to do differently to win your future clients. How will you get them? Where will you find them? And why should they come to you and pay you good fees? And remember that some of your competitors may already have adopted some of the newest facilities. And there will be more such competition over the next few years.
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