As SMEs continue to face new and varying pressures in 2021, the services they need are inevitably also changing.
In the aftermath of Brexit and the pandemic, business owners will be looking to recover and plan for the future, all while saving money.
With the demand for technical advice being overtaken by the need for general business expertise, SMEs could start to overlook their accountants.
Yet many accountants do offer these services, only struggle to market them effectively. Our newest report highlights a gap in understanding between accountants and their clients.
This points to a huge opportunity for accountants to learn what advice SMEs are looking for and demonstrate that they offer the right solutions.
What do SMEs expect from an advice service?
The biggest misunderstanding seems to stem from the type of advice SMEs think their accountant can give them.
Our new research report found that some of the biggest problems faced by SMEs at the end of 2020 involved cash flow, late payments and crisis recovery. Yet business owners aren’t going to accountants for advice on these issues.
It seems that SMEs are either unsure that their accountants will have enough understanding of how their business works, or simply unaware that they offer these services at all, as feedback from our report shows.
“The sort of advice I’m looking for is how do you find clients… How do you sell and market yourself? I guess I’m not really big enough to worry about the sort of business advice an accountant is interested in, which is structuring and tax and the things you’ve got to think about when the numbers get bigger.”
Your clients may be under the impression that your expertise is focused solely on numbers, and that you would be unable or unwilling to offer more general strategic business advice. It is in your power to show them otherwise.
Making it Worth Their While
This kind of misunderstanding can lead to further problems. When clients don’t believe you offer the kind of services they need, they will be unwilling to pay more for advice.
Two key statistics in our report show the lack of value SMEs place on this kind of knowledge. 43% said they wouldn’t pay more than £1,000 a year for business advice, while 50% said that cost would prevent them going to an accountant for advice.
Business owners may see consultation of this kind as a way to throw away money for very little result. Yet quality business advice can be worth the investment, especially in the current climate.
As an accountant for SMEs, you need to demonstrate to your clients that your expertise is worth paying for, and will make a marked difference to their business prospects.
Speaking Your Client’s Language
Looking at some specific feedback from our report, a common theme is that business owners really want an accountant who they feel will get to know them and their company’s needs.
“A lot of these accountants sell services. And it’s almost like they’re waiting for me to have a need and ring them up and say ‘I need something’ whereas actually… What you need is for your accountant to say, ‘Look, I’m going to take a step back from the stuff we sell. I’m going to sit on the buyer side of the table, and I’m going to understand your business, and think about what you’re doing and what you’re trying to achieve.”
Clients will appreciate it if you are willing to put in the work and find out which of your services best fit them and their situation.
They are also more likely to pay for a service if they feel they are getting a personalised experience. There is value in having one person who knows the ins and outs of your business, rather than getting differing advice from all over the place.
When SMEs are looking for more general business advice, what they also want is a strong working relationship, and an adviser who works to tailor their expertise to suit the client.
Guiding Your Prospects Through
A key part of optimising your business advice offer is knowing how to promote it to current and potential clients.
Think about the services you currently offer and your shared expertise as a firm. Are there any areas of untapped potential that you could be placing more emphasis on with your marketing?
A mistake accountants can often make is assuming that their clients already have a clear understanding of technical jargon. Even some less technical terminology that may be second nature to you can be alienating to new business owners.
Clear branding and a website that guides new prospects through your services, especially the ones that they might not think to look for, will make a massive difference to your firm’s accessibility.
If you can put yourself in your clients’ shoes and think about what they are looking for specifically, this will give you a much clearer focus for what you need to offer and how you should market it.
Being aware of your target market and their requirements is crucial. Our report shows that SMEs often feel that accountants don’t understand their needs well enough to meet them.
If you can prove to your clients that you have done your research and adapted your services accordingly, this shows that you are the kind of accountant and business adviser they need.
This goes a lot further than a website that simply states ‘we do things differently’ or ‘not like other accountancy firms’. Putting in the groundwork gives your firm credibility and will set you up for the long term.
In our rapidly changing world, the more diverse services you can offer the better. SMEs will be impressed by and grateful for an accountancy firm that doesn’t just stop at the technical advice, but gives them an all-round advice package that will move their business forward.
For more insights and tips, read the full research report