Your current clients are the least of your problems when you look into the future

Oct 15, 2019 | Accountants, Key Business skills

You’re not alone if you’re fed up of hearing commentators, software vendors and app developers tell you about your existing clients.  I’m not in practice any more and I’m certainly fed up of it – as what they are saying makes no sense.

Whatever new developments, new opportunities and 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 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 Although I agree that is pretty outdated now 😉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.

Few of your current clients will ever notice the adverts from suppliers of bookkeeping software and financial apps etc. Your clients are focused on their businesses and 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.   Clients don’t care how long it takes you to do what you do for them. Even 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.

What is changing though is what NEW clients look for from their accountant. And this change is set to accelerate over the next few years.

Historically most of your clients came to your firm 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 such clients.

The challenge will be winning more clients – either with lower average fees than at present or where the work you do is more valuable than at present.

How easy will this be? It depends on whether you have or you 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, sell up or move off for whatever other reason.

When I speak at 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 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 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. Distinguishing yourselves and the benefits to new clients of choosing you and your firm will be a key skill 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.

So, as I said in the title of this blog post, your current clients are the least of your problems when you look into the future!

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