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By Gene Marks, CPA on April 28, 2022 minute read

How to foster long-lasting client relationships [5 steps]

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How small-business owners can benefit from strong client relationships with accountants

One of the biggest complaints small-business owners have about their accounting firms is that accountants don’t develop client relationships as well as they should. Simply put, small-business owners don’t hear from their accountants as often as they would like and don’t work with them as closely as they think they should.

For an accountant like me, small business owners’ desire for closer client relationships provides an opportunity to present myself as a trusted accounting partner.

Unfortunately, however, many of my colleagues don’t have the same vision.

Small-business owners, though, can get closer to accountants by taking a few simple steps. And by doing so, they can improve their businesses by taking advantage of a wide variety of time- and money-saving services accounting firms can provide.

How small-business owners can cultivate strong client relationships with accounting firms

How can your business get closer to your accounting partner and unlock the benefits of a tighter client relationship with a firm?

Try these five steps aimed at turning your accounting firm from a mere service provider to a trusted accounting partner.

1. Small-business owners need to give accountants all their data

You can’t fully expect your accountant to be a true partner unless you’re willing to share your company’s data. I mean all of it: compensation, margins, vendors, customers, etc.

The best approach is to use an accounting system on a cloud-based platform that you and your accountant can both easily access securely and at the same time. That way, your accountant can quickly get to the necessary information not only to monitor how your business is doing but also to prepare for any scheduled meetings.

2. Businesses and firms can enhance the client relationship by meeting at least quarterly

Speaking of meetings, my advice is to, well, meet—frequently, or at least quarterly. You can always do this by phone or virtually, although as with any professional relationship, face-to-face is better if everybody is comfortable meeting in person.

When you meet, have an agenda. Make sure you’re going over your most recent quarterly and year-to-date financial statements (they don’t have to be formal). Make a cash-flow forecast together.

  • Ask your accountant for insights.
  • Ask to compare what you’re doing with what other clients are doing.
  • Ask if your numbers, ratios and metrics are consistent with similar companies in your industry.
  • Ask what tax and financial moves you should be making now, rather than waiting for the last minute.

Small-business owners and managers who put off meeting with their accounting partners until tax season are missing out on a whole lot of great advice and ways to improve their businesses throughout the year.

3. Small-business owners need to take advice from their accounting partners

A complaint I hear from my accounting colleagues is that their clients don’t always listen to their advice. When your accountant tells you to make an estimated tax payment, do it—and also do it for the right amount. When your accountant requests information from you, provide it as quickly as possible. When your accountant wants to speak, then speak. If your accountant recommends a new way of doing things, then do that, too. You usually receive that advice because your accountant has seen the process work well somewhere else.

Don’t fight—your accountant is your partner, the one who’s coming into your business with a different perspective and a new set of eyes. That perspective can be of great value if you listen. Small-business owners can benefit greatly from long-term client relationships with their accounting partners.

4. Clients need to understand accountants’ limitations

There is no such thing as the CPA who can do it all, just like there’s no such thing as a doctor or lawyer who can do it all. The world is full of specialists, and the accounting profession is no different. Hopefully, your CPA is being honest with you regarding limitations and expertise.

If your accountant is not great with audits, personal financial planning, or calculating the Research and Development Tax Credit (and no accountant is likely to be great at all of these things), be upfront and work to find someone who is truly an expert at these things.

Employ your accounting firm to do what it does best and then work to find other experts to do the other things. If your accountant is confident and truly interested in your well-being, none of this should be a problem. This is what partners do for each other.

5. Small-business owners should properly compensate accounting partners

Do you know what I’ve learned after being in business for more than twenty years? People—particularly people providing services—enjoy working with clients that pay them well. It’s human nature, and accountants are no different.

  • When your accountant quotes a fee for services, don’t try to knock off a few dollars.
  • When your accountant sends you an invoice, don’t wait two months to pay.
  • If you’re asking your accountant for help that’s clearly outside of your current arrangement, don’t assume that the firm will happily do it for free.

Compensate your accountant like a true partner. Make your accounting partner happy that you’re a client. Your accountant will be that much more motivated to work with you—and if you take advantage of that, you’ll make more money for yourself over the course of a long-term client relationship.

Small-business owners can benefit from client relationships with accountants

The bottom line: If you’re the owner of a small business, please don’t get frustrated with your accountant. Instead, take action to make the firm your trusted accounting partner. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the response—and the results.

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