It’s been our experience at Fishbowl that most people who refer clients to us are CPAs. Why is this? I think the reason is that for a CPA to do the best job for a client, they need to know the most intimate details of a company. Is the client profitable? If so, how profitable? Where are they having problems? What are the client’s prospects for the coming year? What are their costs? Will they be expanding into new markets? How much will that cost? What problems do they anticipate? The answers to all of these questions could have a profound impact on how much a company pays in taxes and how they should handle their finances in the coming year, so the business owner tends to open up about everything in the business when the CPA comes by.
And it’s not just the need to manage their finances properly that motivates business owners to share everything. I think it’s also partially due to the fact that small to mid-sized businesses simply don’t have the time or money to pay for a specialist consultant to come in and help them with their problems, so they look to their CPA as a trusted, intelligent, and already paid for professional that they can open up to and get some good advice.
On a smaller scale, with our personal finances, my wife and I do exactly the same thing when we go to our CPA each year. Like many people in our situation, we have a variety of income sources and lots of different expenses with complex tax implications for each, but we just haven’t been willing (so far) to pay for an outside financial consultant who we don’t know yet to help point us in the right direction. I think this may change in 2012 but, for now, our CPA is who we go to for all our financial and business advice.
What surprises me is how often our CPA COULD help us, (and we’d be happy to pay him for it because we trust him), or at least point us in the right direction, but he just doesn’t take the initiative. Maybe he’s not comfortable giving us advice. Maybe legally he can’t, or just doesn’t want to. Maybe he’s not confident in his abilities. He’s a very competent and nice guy. He knows his taxes inside and out, but at the end of the day, all I see (from my salesperson background) is a lost sales opportunity for him. If he asked the right questions and showed a little more interest in our financial future, he could conceivably have us come in multiple times during the year for advice, or refer us to reliable consultants in other fields who then might be referring their clients with accounting needs back to him. All that’s needed on his end is a little foresight and a willingness to ask a few pertinent questions.
What does any of this have to do with those who refer Fishbowl? Well, if you are a CPA, and it appears that most who refer Fishbowl are, chances are that you are already into the thick of tax season and you’ll be communicating with every one of your clients, in detail, about their business, which makes this a golden opportunity to look for new ways to help their business (and your business) grow. This is the time when your clients come to YOU and want to give YOU information! How cool is that? This being the case, why not take the time to ask a few more questions? (Most of the following questions are courtesy of an article I found in CPA Trendlines)
- How can we help build your business?
- How do our firm’s solutions help your efficiency and your service to your own customers or clients?
- How can we serve you more effectively?
- What’s changed in your business over the last 12 months? (You should know most of these answers already if you’ve done your homework.)
- What do you anticipate will be your biggest challenges for the coming year?
All of these questions are designed to help your client open up and give you more insight into what’s going on in their business. In every response you should be looking for opportunities where you can help, either by offering your own services or by pointing them towards someone who can help. For each answer you should have a set of followup questions designed to get to the core of your client’s issues.
And once you’ve determined the issue, you should have a list of potential solutions available to suggest. Fishbowl is just one potential solution of many you should have at your fingertips for the right opportunity. Your clients are waiting for answers that only you can offer them. Don’t be shy. Carpe diem!