What's stopping your accounting firm connecting with the right clients?

Research report.

In association with ACCA.

To meet the changing needs of SMEs, authenticity is key


Small and medium-sized businesses are facing new challenges. To deal with them, they need new kinds of services from their accountants.

In an increasingly digital and automated business landscape, accountants must ensure their own working practices are up to date, and offer value beyond technical compliance alone.

But as accountants make that change, what’s important to their clients is that they maintain strong, genuine relationships – and that the way they present themselves online is true to the way their firm works in reality.

We’ve put together this research, to help you understand what SMEs want from their accountant in the future, what their biggest challenges are, and what practical steps you can take to connect with them.

This report looks at the following main themes:

  • Businesses’ biggest challenges are online
  • Accountants moving to advisory
  • Clients expecting more digital adoption
  • Warmth and customer service being essential.
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About this report

This report was created by Melissa Tredinnick at PracticeWeb.

In association with ACCA.

Melissa Tredinnick


To communicate your accounting firm’s value to your ideal clients, you need to understand them first.

It’s not always easy, though, to know what SMEs expect from an accountant and adviser, and to align your firm with those requirements.

One of the positive themes that came out of this piece of research was the mutual respect and appreciation between accountants and their clients, especially after jointly enduring the trials presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Respondents talked about how much their accountant had done to support their business and apply for government schemes. Many rated their accountant highly on factors like professionalism, reliability and friendliness.

But in many ways the data shows accountants and SMEs aren’t quite connecting.

There are some instances where accountants are marketing themselves as modern and easy to work with, but more ‘traditional’ attitudes persist. Other times, the personal relationships that are needed to establish trust end up neglected due to a firm expanding or prioritising bigger clients.

And while we at PracticeWeb know from experience that many firms are worried about sacrificing their professional image by appearing too casual or informal, it turns out that customer service is the most important factor to people looking for a new accountant. It’s even more important than factors like qualifications or experience, in fact.

What business owners really want in an accountant is someone who knows what they’re doing but can explain things in a language they understand – someone who takes a genuine interest in their business and makes things easier for them.

We’ve put together this research, through a combination of polling and individual interviews, to help you understand what SMEs want from their accountant in the future, what their biggest challenges are, and what practical steps you can take to connect with them.

Melissa Tredinnick
Managing Editor, PracticeWeb

About the research


This research has been conducted through a combination of quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews with SME owners in the UK.

Between 28 June and 2 July 2021, we surveyed 400 people who described themselves as both self-employed and the ‘owner or partner’ of a business.

The results were then weighted against census data to reflect the general business population.

This was followed by a series of one-on-one research interviews, which have been quoted throughout the report.

How your firm can use this research

This report has been designed to offer as much practical advice as possible based on the results of the research – so if you’re looking for your next step, the top tip sections throughout are a good place to start.

But to really connect with the right clients, it’s important to start from within your firm. This means looking at how your internal values align with what prospects are looking for, building those out into a brand that’s true to the way you work, and making sure that brand is visible both online and offline.

At PracticeWeb, we work with accountants at all stages of this process, from brand and marketing strategy, through to websites, content, SEO and social media.

Get in touch with us for advice, or visit the Knowledge section on our website for blog posts, guides, webinars and more.

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