Accountants interpret financials to advise clients, sometimes through ‘quarterly (or monthly) review’ meetings. How do we get clients excited and willing to invest in these meetings? They need to see the value and believe in the approach. Then they’ll enter productive, long-term advisory relationships. For ideas on making your financial review (advisory) services more attractive, read on.
One way to add value to a client’s business (and get paid for it) is to review their financial statements, perhaps once-a-year, quarterly or monthly. Valuable, forward-thinking advice is offered while accountants play to their strengths in analysis and interpretation of numbers.
However, getting clients to see the value can be a challenge. Let’s look at ways to improve the impact of these review meetings so we can deliver (and sell) productive, long-term, advisory assignments.
Restate the Manager’s / Owner’s Goals
To properly advise ANY client, we need to be clear on what they are trying to accomplish in terms of revenue, profit, efficiency, succession and lifestyle. This provides context for any discussion and we should refer back to these goals as we get detailed in other areas.
Note, it’s possible the client’s goals have changed since your last review… especially in light of changing market and economic conditions. Also, consider the blend of business and personal goals since they can be interwoven. Asset accumulation, estate planning, investments, retirement, asset protection and wealth creation are important personal goals which influence the behavior of business leaders.
Many business owners will be serious about growth, but is expansion feasible given the current state of the business? What will drive this growth? More customers? Higher prices? Entering new markets? Launching new products? How achievable are these plans? What investment is required and what returns can be expected?
Some businesses will need to downsize… and these plans need close scrutiny too.
Organic versus Inorganic Growth
Some clients will plan the future of their businesses based on the current (organic) operations. But what opportunities exist by acquiring or merging with other businesses (inorganic)?
Financial Statements depict a point in time but are more powerful when longer term trends can be identified and analyzed. Software packages can help with this… but cannot completely automate the analysis. (If they could, we wouldn’t need advisors!!) What should clients do based on these trends?
How do the actual numbers vary from your client’s projections? What has changed? What assumptions were incorrect and how do we rectify this for future forecasting?
Critical to any business are the customers… so pay special attention here. How many are there and what are they spending? How often are they buying? What customer segments exist? And how are these numbers changing over time?
How will the business utilize cash going forward? Some clients will need to conserve cash for future activities. Others may choose to invest cash. How will future tax obligations affect cash reserves? What sources of cash (internal and external) are available to the business?
Bank loans may carry certain covenants which your client shouldn’t violate. Perhaps there are opportunities to seek better arrangements, a change in the compensating balance requirement or an increase in credit lines?
Again, each business is different… but some will benefit from closer analysis of the rate of collections (accounts receivable), break-even points, benchmarking on expenses / revenue / margins, ROI on marketing spend, reviewing insurance costs and analyzing payables days.
A fresh look at the Organizational Chart is useful because it highlights employee turnover, especially among management, as well as recruitment plans. Disputes and/or litigation can prove costly and be a drain on the business in other ways.
Review compensation policies. Simply put, are people delivering value to the business to justify their compensation? This is easy to determine where the success metrics are clear, e.g. in sales.
Knowing the value of the business provides an important benchmark. Hopefully it is increasing… but this discussion will show if there is any difference between your client’s view of the valuation and that of the market or the financial statements.
Frequency of Reviews
A business ‘at risk’ will need more frequent oversight. An owner who puts in the time to plan and understand challenges and opportunities will warrant more frequent reviews. A review which doesn’t trigger actions is pointless… so set this expectation and ensure there is proper (and timely) follow up.
Note, reviews don’t have to be long. It is possible to complete them in as little as 15 minutes and clients will appreciate the efficiency. Sharing a detailed agenda in advance helps. The simplest agenda is to look at trends in the last twelve months across the P&L and B/S and ask for explanations.
How excited is your client about the business? This can be very telling and you should monitor changes in this area. Getting the client to acknowledge how they feel about the business is important and sets the tone for what to do next.
Be sensitive to current business conditions. An accountant will appear ‘out of touch’ if they rely on the financial statements without regard to the prevailing market and economic situation.
Prepare for review meetings in a SYSTEMATIC way. For example, you could:
- Review the client’s Profit and Loss Account, Balance Sheet and Budget
- Summarize your views on the above-mentioned topics (and others relevant to the client)
- Develop questions to strengthen your understanding. (Your probing questions are where the value lies, more than having all the answers).
- Consider recommendations for the client. If you’re not confident, characterize them as ‘discussion points’
- Ideally, have a senior and junior team member collaborate on this (and attend the meeting) so you are educating the junior on how to prepare for and conduct these meetings. This may reduce profitability in the short-term but builds value for the firm.
There is so much value accountants can add… and the financial statements get you in the door. After that, challenging clients on the above topics is likely to forge strong, productive, long-term business relationships. Systematizing the approach will also give you the confidence to sell.