The Reason Why Your Accountant Sucks
(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
This year’s tax season brings with it the same, recurring questions. Why are my taxes so high? Where is all this money going? How in the world am I going to pay for this? And, of course the most popular question of all: why does my accountant suck?
Actually, your accountant doesn’t suck and you know that. Like the great majority of CPAs and tax preparers he (or she) is competent, knowledgeable and professional. But you’ve still got complaints about him. He’s not proactive. He doesn’t seem like he’s always on your side. You don’t really see him very much until tax time rolls around. His fees to prepare an annual return seem a little high. He doesn’t respond very quickly. And when he does respond it always seems like you owe some receipt or document that’s holding up the whole process. If you’re experiencing this, you’re not alone. And if you’re a CPA like me, you better watch out: no matter how competent you are your clients are expecting more. Being a tax expert or having a good financial mind isn’t enough in 2015. The accounting firms that will succeed in the next few years will be the ones who combine their expertise with good (gasp!) sales and marketing technology. Technology that is readily and inexpensively available today.
For example, you need a customer relationship management (CRM) system. This is not to be confused with a practice management system where you’re logging in hours spent for billing. This is a database of everyone who comes in contact with your practice – clients, prospects, partners, community members and vendors. Your partners, both young and old, have to commit to this system and adopt it as a firm culture – no excuses. Appointments, tasks, notes, emails and other activities need to be logged into the system after each contact. This is not rocket science – most systems integrate with email and calendar apps already and are easily accessible from any mobile device. This way nothing falls through the cracks. And no one looks like a dope when a client or prospect calls. This is the core database everyone in your firm will use to make sure that you are “touching” everyone in your community: clients are being followed up, suggested services and advice is being offered, prospective clients are always in contact and a history of conversations, issues, problems and needs are being maintained and pursued. This is how you make sure you’re reaching out to your community throughout the year, and not just at tax time. This is how new services are identified, and your relationships will be strengthened because you’re being proactive, not reactive. My company sells CRM systems and this is what I see successful managers do. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening very often with CPA firms.
You will also need a consistent communications system. The beauty of being a CPA is that you have a wide umbrella of personal and corporate knowledge you can share from taxes to personal financial planning to financial statement analysis to retirement advice. So share it! Use one of the many inexpensive email services like Constant Contact, JangoMail or MailChimp in combination with print services like VistaPrint orPrintPlace to send out monthly or quarterly communications to clients, prospects and others in your community. Give advice. Help them make more money. Improve the quality of their lives. Drive these emails to segments in your CRM database like married clients, clients in certain industries, clients over 65, even clients who like to travel so you can focus the right information to the right people. Make these communications must reading for both clients and non-clients alike. Wow – an accounting firm that’s frequently and consistently giving me information that helps me live a better life. Fantastic!
You have to embrace social media. Some companies struggle to find an audience on social media. But think about it. Name one person using Facebook that wouldn’t like to save on their taxes. Name one person on LinkedIn who isn’t looking for someone better to work for them or a better place to work. Name one person on Twitter who isn’t interested in an article about cutting their insurance bill or finding the best travel deal. This all has to do with money and because you’re a CPA it’s in your wheelhouse. No matter their age, social media services have become a daily and important resource of information to your clients. You should be connecting and providing information that helps them. You should be doing monthly videos on Google Hangouts on Air on financial topics. You should be posting 3-4 financial tips a week on Facebook. You should be an active connector on LinkedIn. You should be tweeting out anything you read on Twitter so that your followers are smarter just because they’re following you.
Finally, you need better reports. Sure, you create financial statements for your clients. And you may be getting chargeability reports internally. But do you know your pipeline of prospective clients and projects? Do you get a daily report of open issues that are upsetting clients? Or calls that came in that week and how quickly it took to resolve them? Do you know where your partners and managers are this week or how they spent their time last week? Are you aware of the clients you lost last quarter and why? These are the typical reports that senior managers get at successful companies all around the country. But for some reason, most accountants I know don’t use them. But isn’t an accounting firm as much of a business as a company that distributes pipes or cleans pools? Aren’t there important non-financial metrics that every smart business executive uses to keep a pulse on where their organization is going? You know the answer.
None of this is easy, especially for accountants. I’m a CPA so I know this. We are introverted, detail-oriented, unimaginative bean counters. We are old school and set in our ways. We are busy dealing with “important financial things” and just “do not have the time” to enter a simple phone call into our CRM system or send a monthly email. We are not sales oriented. We are not service minded. We are not technologically-inclined. We are not making our clients happy.
Besides Forbes, Gene Marks CPA writes daily for The Washington Post.