PracticeWeb recently asked 100 SME owners: ‘What do SMEs want from accountants?’. The survey found that by far the most important quality, selected by 52% of respondents, was professionalism.

Download the full research report.

Honesty, reliability, respectability and competency are all traits we expect in someone who calls themselves a professional, but how do you get these values across in your day-to-day business? What things could you be doing to show potential clients that you don’t just talk the talk, but you also walk the walk?

Offer consistently good service

If you run a business, it’s important to look after your clients once you get them through your door. Indeed, our survey found that 61% of SME owners would consider changing accountants if the quality of service was poor.

Giving a professional service means not just making sure your clients’ accounts are in order each year but going the extra mile. Be proactive and highlight to clients any additional tax efficiencies they could be making. Also, ask questions and keep in regular contact.

Our survey found that 77% of SME owners find it ‘important’ or ‘very important’ that their accountant is responsive to them when they get in touch. So, return those emails and pick-up those voicemails as it’s essential to show your clients that you care about them and their business affairs.

Be ethical and transparent

When we asked members of the UK Business Forums what ‘professionalism’ meant to them, one respondent said: “A professional should be knowledgeable, know their limitations and act with honesty and integrity.”

When you become a chartered accountant, you are committing yourself to working within a regulatory framework and adhering to high professional standards. You are pledging a commitment to your clients that you’ll act with integrity, honesty and openness.

These values should be apparent in every piece of work you do and in how you conduct your business.

This means being upfront and honest with clients about the services you offer and what you can provide – not overpromising or mis-selling products or services just to make more money.

It also means looking after staff by creating a positive working culture where individuals are respected and empowered to do their jobs and hard work is recognised and rewarded.

If you have accreditation from a professional body or institute, either as an accountant or as an employer, display your credentials with pride on your website and in your email signature.

Our recent article on institute membership, discusses the benefits of having this, with this being an important factor to 78% of the SME owners we spoke to in our recent research.

Present yourself as a professional

You may be the best and most proficient accountant in the world, but if this isn’t reflected in your branding and how you market your business you will likely find it difficult to attract new clients.

Yes, word of mouth does still count for a lot in business, but in our increasingly digital world, more and more people are shopping around online for the services they need.

This means you need to have, at the very least, a website for your business, which clearly and concisely shows the services you offer, and how people can get in touch to find out more.

Your website also needs to reflect your brand values. Just as you choose what you wear to work each day to make yourself look smart and presentable, you need to reflect this level of professionalism in your online presence, too.

Badly-written content, confusing site navigation and poorly designed websites will be red flags to consumers who have come to expect visually appealing websites populated with quality content.

If you’re not confident in web design or marketing content, hire an agency which specialises in it. Yes, it will mean spending a bit of money but it will be worth the investment once you see the leads that a well-designed website and well-written content can generate.

Clarify your tone of voice

When we go to see a doctor or a solicitor, we have preconceived ideas about how the interaction will go. We don’t go into their consulting room or office expecting jokes or banter – we expect formality because we view them as professionals.

Likewise, while there’s nothing wrong with being friendly and personable, most clients won’t expect their accountant to be flippant or chatty. That professional character needs to be reflected in all of your website content, from copy to blog posts.

If your business is on social media, think carefully before you like or share content.

Ask yourself, does it reflect my brand or is it just my personal opinion? If it’s the latter, then is this the right channel to be sharing your thoughts on?

Add additional value

When we asked members of the UK Business Forum what ‘professionalism’ meant to them in the context of choosing an accountant, for many, it was about understanding their business and providing a value-added service.

For example, one respondent said: “Our accountants are ‘professional’ in that they do a good job and cover all bases.

“They have several experts in various specialised fields, including international issues. That means that if we have a problem with who-pays-what-and-to-whom, I can order up a study paper on that subject as it relates to our problem, and do so for a very modest fee.

“They issue quarterly briefing papers on subjects of current interest and papers that outline the important issues concerning current events and changes in tax laws.

“They also hold information days and seminars that deal with subjects like Brexit, start-ups, pension planning, and even online presence and planning.”

Of course, if you’re a small accountancy firm it may be untenable to offer such a wide variety of services, but it is worth thinking about the things you can offer over and above straightforward accountancy services.

In summary

Being a professional is much more than just having a letters after your name and professional certification – it’s about how you conduct yourself and run your practice.

As our research shows, it’s something customers value highly in an accountant, so think about how you can demonstrate professionalism in your day-to-day work and behaviour. After all, it could make all the difference when it comes to attracting and retaining clients.

Get in touch to find out about how we can help you create professional content for your accountancy firm.

Gain further insight on what your market is saying about what they want from their accountant, by reading the full research report.

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