Your clients are highly skilled in their business, but they don’t necessarily understand their finances. Nine times out of ten, your clients would rather be growing their business instead of pouring over their books. That is great for you because that is why you are in business.
Though your client is doing what they love, and you are doing what you love, it is not always a match made in heaven. Sometimes it seems like a match made in the depths of hell.
The challenge and opportunity for your firm are to learn how to bring your client’s numbers to life for the owners and their management team that might not have a love for numbers like you do. If you can bridge this chasm, you will be a hero to all your clients.
Why is it hard to get your clients to understand?
Here are three things to consider.
1. Believe it or not, people are intimidated by financial data.
Some of your clients have chrometophobia combined with arithmophobia. These phobias likely stemmed from 4-grade math classes where most non-accountants were found in the corner curled up rocking back and forth.
Most non-accountants are amazing at pretending that we, I mean they, understand what you are talking about, but they don’t. They are good at nodding their head, going hmmm, and looking thoughtful when talking with them. All the while, they are screaming in their heads, “mommy, make them go away.”
Recognizing the problem is the first step to rehabilitation. Know your landscape. Stop assuming you are talking to people who appreciate numbers, datasheets and structuring a chart of accounts like you do. Your not!
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2. Most companies do not promote financial knowledge.
Most managers don’t want to get close to financials. It is like getting close to a skunk. The stink stays with you, and everyone will blame you for the smell in the office, and no one wants to be that person.
Most Executive Directors (ED) overlook the lack of company-wide financial responsibility. Not because they don’t care; it’s more because they don’t know how to tell their financial story in a way that engages their manages. Therefore they usually keep their managers in the dark and place unreasonable demands without context on their employees, and the frustration trickles down from there. Most managers don’t understand their direct relation to the bottom line; therefore, they continue doing whatever they do.
Once again, if you can help your clients and their EDs understand and appreciate their financials, they can engagingly share with their company, you will appear more than human.
3. Some clients don’t understand financials, and that is ok.
Not all companies have a high percentage of financially literate people, and that’s ok. They need a robust group of people with different skills sets to make their business succeed. They are very knowledgeable in their field of expertise. It is your task to help them see so they can make decisions to support the growth of their business.
How do I help my clients understand their finances?
1. Understand your clients and what motivates them.
Why is your financial wizardry essential to them, Harry? What is it in your reports that they want to see? What is it that they need to know? You have got to take the time to understand your client’s business. What numbers will help them and their EDs make better choices?
For most of your clients, looking at statements is like forcing them to sit through Broadway’s botched production of Austria’s witty play “Dance of the Vampires.” It would be best if you captured their attention with something more than a balance sheet or a profit and loss statement. But I digress.
It would help if you took the time to understand how your client measures the success of each of their departments. What is it that they are trying to achieve? What they are looking for might change from quarter to quarter, so make sure you have an open dialog with your clients.
In time you will notice similarities between multiple clients’ goals. Here is where utopia is. With this insight, you begin to differentiate your firm from the rest. You create reports that lead your clients to better opportunities to connect the dots they did not see before.
Once you have come to this understanding, your reports work for 90% of your clients. Yes, that is a percentage that I grabbed out of the air. But it feels right. With that said, I have seen accountants create powerful reports because they listened to their clients and, in time, merged several reports into something that a majority of their clients love!
Discover the numbers that your clients get excited about tracking and understandably display them. Once they begin to see, they will appreciate what you are doing for them and their business.
2. Build your reports from-both sides
It is essential to help your clients understand their numbers and how you do finances. Take time at the beginning of your relationship to talk to your clients about their business. Then help them know how your firm does business and what to expect in your reports.
To communicate effectively, you both need to have the same vision. Help your clients understand the statements and reports you will provide and remind them of the numbers they should be tracking.
It is like the arch-style of bridge-building used in the aqueducts of Rome. Its natural strength is well known, and its original design is still commonly relied on for construction. The trick to its strength is that it is built simultaneously from both sides. Being constructed this way will allow it to bear tremendous weight across any chasm, but only when both sides align. What a beautiful union when they do.
Well enough about civil engineering. Let’s move along.
3. Make sure every communication is a KISS
For effective communication, Keep It Simple Straightforward. We all have the desire to be understood. Somehow we feel the longer we talk, the more the other person will understand us (or in an accountants case the more data you present. Instead of communication bliss, you client feels confused, annoyed, and wondering what the hell just happened.
Financial communication is a make it or break it opportunity. It is the key that will unlock the door that opportunity is knocking. The most effective accountants Keep It Simple Straightforward, which completely goes against their nature. I understand it is not easy to simplify your hard work. There is so much to see in the rows and columns of financial tables. However, if you can’t simplify your findings into something that the average person can understand, all your hard work is for naught.
Your explanation of your client’s statements should be simple, exciting, and reliable, with all the expanded data at their fingertips if they want to go deeper.
Here are a few ways to KISS your client and build trust.
Disclaimer: Please do not kiss your client as this will not build trust.
Be Direct: Say it. Don’t drone on about things. Your clients are busy, and you have a life. Right? Please don’t make them hunt through your statements. For the most part, they don’t know what they are looking for, so shine a light on it.
Ask Questions: Always ask questions. I know this is scary because you might get a question you are not prepared to answer. The upside is you will get to know your clients and your craft better. Another advantage is they will feel that you care and that you are listening. Your word of mouth advertising will increase because you have turned your client into an advocate of your firm.
Turn it into a story: Help your clients see their financials by turning their data into a visual story they can quickly understand at a glance. Several apps can take data from tables and turn them into visual metrics to help data be more consumable to the eye. Select a customizable solution to help you build the reports that differentiate your firm and provide your clients with the information they need.
Use images instead of numbers where possible, then provide a short written commentary.
Do not oversimplify: Be careful not to oversimplify. Your clients will know if you are talking down to them. Please do not make that mistake. Keep in mind that there is too much of a good thing and too little of a good thing. You have got to find the sweet spot. Too much information or too little information will create confusion and distrust.
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4. Get people invested. Get people engaged.
If you want your client and their EDs invested, you have to get them engaged. Accountants usually crunch numbers in a silo and then present their findings in a spreadsheet to an unengaged group that has not been invested in the process and is now disinterested in the data.
Suppose you don’t engage your client and their EDs upfront in your financial analysis. How do you expect them to invest their valuable time following your reports and utilizing them in critical decision-making?
Once you get your client engaged, they will more likely utilize your monthly or quarterly activity statements that help them get the overall picture of the organization as a whole.
These suggestions help demystify the accounting process, build trust, further engage your client, and possibly create new revenue streams for your firm.
Getting your clients to look up from their daily grind to utilize and appreciate the valuable information that you provide is challenging. It is always hard to get people to listen. But if you are not showing them the value of their data, if you are not giving them a reason to listen, they won’t.
There is so much value for accountants to keep preaching the need for their clients to understand their financial data. With all that is going on in the world, clients who don’t understand their data will go out of business. If your clients go out of business, it won’t be long till you go out with them.
It is your task to help your client improve their financial awareness if you want to thrive.