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How Accountants Can Become Trusted Advisers to Clients

Small business owners are starting to look to accountants more as trusted advisers. What are the services accountants should bring to the table? We break it down.

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Aug 07, 20206 minutes

As their businesses grow, many entrepreneurs come to understand the value of outsourcing certain specialized work to third-party professionals. And it’s for this reason that a huge — and growing — number of small business owners today are choosing to work with professional accountants.

Accountants have always been there for individuals and businesses who are looking to get the most out of their annual tax returns. What is new is the evolving and expanding role of accountants in the modern business landscape.

Building an accountable business expense plan should be at the top of your to-do list.

Accountants as Trusted Advisers

With each passing year, small business owners are starting to perceive accountants less as mere tax professionals and more as trusted advisers. As technology like Quickbooks Online, Xero, and other cloud accounting solutions continue to gain traction, accountants who work with these solutions now spend less time doing manual checks and can spend more time analyzing the business' needs and path to greater growth and profitability. In other words, accountants are beginning to play a much more central role in the world of small businesses. This is a shift that presents major opportunities to accountants and small business owners alike.

But in order to take full advantage of these new opportunities, it’s important for accountants to clearly understand the services that they’re now expected to bring to the table. The goal of this article, therefore, will be to outline the “big three” qualities that small business owners are now looking for in an accountant.

Those are:

  • An ability to offer a wide variety of services.

  • A thorough grasp of relevant technological trends.

  • Strong communication and business plan development skills.

Let’s get started!

Offer a Variety of Services

As we’ve just described, the role of the modern accountant is changing by the day. Today, business owners expect their accounting partners to assist them not only during tax season but also with a wide range of day-to-day operational and HR-related tasks. Unfortunately, many small business owners don’t feel that their accountant is providing them with an ideal variety of services. The 2019 Small Business Finance and HR Report from OnPay found that “only 61% of business owners are completely satisfied with the breadth of services their accountant offers, and they usually don’t consider their accountant to be proactive.”

So what services, exactly, are modern small business owners looking for in an accountant? According to the business owners surveyed in the OnPay report, they include (in order of importance):

  • Tax support, including filing and planning, reducing tax liabilities, and understanding changes to tax laws

  • Balancing the books

  • Payroll

  • Accounts payable, accounts receivable, and/or collections

The list goes on. The bottom line is that small business owners are now expecting a wider variety of services from their accountants than they have in the past. Thankfully, there are an equally wide variety of innovative technologies that can be leveraged by accountants in their efforts to fulfill their new, multifaceted role.

Stay Up-to-Date with Relevant Tech Trends

As professional norms, best practices, and relationships evolve, so too does technology. When it comes to modern accountants stepping into the role of trusted adviser, there are several new technological tools that are important to understand.

More specifically, there are now a large number of cloud-based integrations that can be adopted by small business owners, and that can lead to lots of time and money saved. Small business owners, however, are usually far too busy to be able to keep track of all of these new technological developments.

This is where accountants can step in as trusted small business advisers: Through an understanding of the various cloud-based integrations that are available to small business owners, accountants can ensure that their clients are optimally prepared to make the most of these tools.

Here is a brief list of some of the technological tools that can be integrated with your clients’ financial management operations:

  • Benefits administration software

  • Business intelligence software

  • Customer relationship management (CRM)

  • Data warehouses

  • Expense tracking software

  • HR management software

  • Inventory management software

  • Invoicing apps

  • Quoting software

  • Time tracking software

By working with these tech solutions, and even becoming a third-party administrator for your clients, accountants are able to spend less time on the bookkeeping and balancing tasks. This frees up more of your time for analyzing a client's business and providing additional value — especially in the case of SaaS businesses.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Small business owners, perhaps most importantly of all, are in need of accountants who are able to communicate openly and offer transparent advice. This quality — the ability to communicate confidently, directly, and regularly — has been proven to be a fundamentally crucial building block in the construction of a healthy and enduring accountant/client relationship.

For example, the 2019 OnPay report (cited above) found that roughly half of small business owners “that describe their accountant as a trusted adviser said they have contact with them once a month or more.”

Of course, in order for that to be the case, it’s important for your regular client check-ins to be executed as strategically as possible. It probably won’t benefit your clients, for example, for you to call them out of the blue and chat about the weather. Instead, the aim of your regular client check-ins should be to (a) address any financial or payroll-related roadblocks that their business may have recently encountered, and (b) to offer practical and actionable solutions. With that in mind, any accountant who’s aspiring to level-up to trusted adviser status should be sure to ask themselves the following questions before checking-in with a client:

  • Is this a good time to reach out to my client? Ideally, your conversations should be scheduled well ahead of time, not spontaneously.

  • What specific pain points (related to small business financial management) are they likely to be experiencing? You might draw this information from your previous check-in, or you can make it a point to find out by asking them directly this time around.

  • Do I have a firm grasp on the technological tools that might be employed to make their life easier? Before you recommend any new software to a client (see “Technological Trends” section above), it will be important to make sure that you first understand the ins and outs of that technology yourself.

  • Is my client one hundred percent tax compliant? Small business owners, as we’ve already mentioned, are very busy people. As such, they commonly struggle to keep up with all applicable federal, state and local tax laws. Failure to adhere to these laws could result in fines and penalties for their business. That’s why it’s important for their accountant to have an in-depth understanding of the relevant tax laws that they will have to comply with.

HR Software to Help You Become a Trusted Small Business Adviser

At Justworks, we understand that a small business owners’ responsibilities and priorities are always shifting. That’s why we’ve developed our all-in-one platform for payroll, benefits, HR, and compliance support. To learn more about how our platform can be leveraged by accountants and how we can provide valuable assistance to your SMB clients, please check out our partner program today!

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.