Your task is to help your clients see the financial winds so they can trim their sails no matter which way the wind blows.
In your craft (Craft just sounds funner there. Yes, funner is a word? I will let Merriam-Webster answer that.)
You have probably realized that a one-size sail (report) doesn’t fit all.
Statements might change from client to client, but your primary purpose remains the same across all clients, to provide actionable insight that your clients can use to take advantage of the wind, whether fair or foul.
As your client’s business grows and they seem to cut the water faster, your financial information must be timely and accurate to be helpful. Your information should be seen not as an anchor that keeps clients safe in the harbor but instead as a gauge that helps them determine their course on the open sea.
“The boat is safer anchored at the port, but that is not the aim of boats.”
― Paulo Coelho.
Your clients are looking for relevant, timely information, not just data. They expect insights that help them navigate their business and predict rough waters that might be ahead.
Business owners must have a functional compass and the confidence to make sound decisions on their journey.
To reference a quote from the TV series The Alienist “The water was innocent, Caroline. It wasn’t rough seas so much as an unsteady sailor.”
What do accounting clients want?
You know what your clients need. They need financial data that provides information regarding the financial results and health of their business.
Now, I know you are thinking, “I already provide financial statements to my clients.” I am not talking about GAAP-approved statements. I am talking about reports (stories) that bring those statements to life and turn them into valuable, consumable information.
For a long time, we all mistook statements for reports. They are different things with different purposes.
As you know, three standard sections make up Financial Statement:
Cash Flow Statement: An organization of cash receipts and cash disbursement by a variety of categories.
Balance Sheet: Displays data regarding liquidity, funding, and debt position.
Income Statement: Displays data regarding revenue and various types of expenses for a business.
Well, four if you count,
Statement of Owner’s Equity: Displays data regarding changes in owner’s or partner’s equity.
Statements are provided to adhere to GAAP but are a little confusing for most of your clients using them. Heck, for that matter, they’re a little confusing for me. Though statements appease the GAAP and make sense to accountants, that dog won’t hunt for top managers who need to make solid business decisions.
For this reason, you must provide your clients with an additional report to help them understand their financial statements and become savvier sailors. A wise sailor sees the weather ahead and prepares the ship to take advantage of the resources around it.
“Quit trying to alter the winds; harness them.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich.
Sections of this report might be:
- Accounts Payable
- Account Receivable
- Inventory Reports
- Cash Forecasting
- Gross Profit Margin
- Net Profit Margin
- Current Ratio
When it comes down to it, there are an endless array of sections/metrics you can add to this report to provide your clients the assurance they need to make confident decisions.
Let me know when more articles are posted.
The opportunity lies ahead.
Accountants need to realize, like Harvey Keitel in the 2000 film U-571, that their clients are…
“the skipper now. And the skipper always knows what to do whether he does or not.”
The opportunity to differentiate your firm lies in effectively helping your skippers (clients, just in case you are not following my metaphor) understand their financials, so they know what to do in the open sea.
Clients want to understand their financials.
Your clients don’t think they’re rich if you give them two nickels for a dime. They might not understand accounting, but they know what they want.
Your clients want to understand their financial statement but are too intimidated to say, “I don’t understand. Can you explain?”
Without communicating these few words, your clients continue to navigate their ship without looking at the compass, which is disastrous for their business, clients, and shipmates (Employees. Again, if I’ve lost you).
Your firm is in a precarious place if your clients aren’t using the statements you provide. If they don’t utilize your statements, they don’t value your service. If they don’t value your service, then you become expendable.
You and I both know how much time you put into your client’s financials. It is not an easy task.
It’s frustrating when the statements you provide don’t get used. Your clients don’t understand how vital your statements are in helping them navigate calm or treacherous waters.
But like the compass, if not understood, what use is it other than taking up space.
When you provide a map (a visual report), you will enhance your client’s effective use of their compass (statements) as visual financial reports uncover insightful information buried in the rows and columns of financial statements.
“Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate!”
― Jack Sparrow
Your clients need you.
Your clients need the correct understandable information to assess performance and make strategic plans, and that begins with you. You help provide financial leadership.
Your clients are looking for financial advisors who will be key strategic partners, not just accountants, to keep them from swimming with Davy Jones. Whether you work directly with the CEO or their CFO, they need assurance that you are vital to their business strategy.
You are what your clients need, what they want. You are the one that can help them see a higher-level perspective and envision the horizon through their financial data. No matter how small, all organizations need financial direction, and you are the one that can provide it.
Best practices for financial reports.
An excellent financial reporting plan is vital for the survival and prosperity of your clients. Your clients are looking for consistent, accurate reporting of their financial data to monitor the overall health of their company, run their business, and make plans for the future.
Five best practices to create better financial reports.
Accuracy: Audit your clients’ financials regularly to ensure that you provide reports that use accurate data. It would be a shame to create fantastic reports that your clients use only to find that data is wrong and trust destroyed.
Timely Consistent Reports: Make sure you provide reports that are up-to-date and consistent for your clients. Inconsistency diminishes the value of your reports to your clients as well as your services. Consistency helps your clients look forward to your reports and rely on them more.
Project Management: Providing a report is a huge undertaking. That is why it is essential to know when you need to close the books and how long it will take you to provide the statements and reports required to ensure your deliverables are accurate, timely, and consistent.
Take advantage of technology to shorten the time you spend on building reports. Be careful, as all report-building tools are not the same. Make sure you find a solution that can be automated, customized, and can build and share templates across your firm. This solution will save you time, improve your reporting capability and increase the report’s value.
Improve Insight: Statements don’t have the appeal needed to keep your client’s valuable attention. So it’s up to you, Mister Smee, to uncover the treasures buried in their statements.
The easiest way to do this is with data visualization. It is costly to build visual metrics in excel or other accounting programs. However, there are tools out there that quickly pull data from your accounting software and automate beautiful, engaging reports that capture the attention of your clients and help them successfully share insight with their management team.
Communication: As you communicate with your client, you discover other reports your client needs for their management team so they can respond to the ever-changing sea. Building and providing these reports is a revenue opportunity for your firm.
Giving clients what they need.
Your clients are probably not experts in the accounting field. They shouldn’t be. That is why they need a financial navigator. They know where they want to go, but you must provide them with the information they need to decide how to get there.
Your clients need the following in their reports:
Historical Data: You should be providing your clients a snapshot of what has happened over time. It is essential to see past data to help navigate future possibilities. That report could be a monthly, quarterly or annual report. As suggested above, provide reports as consistently as possible to help boost their value to your client.
Identify Progress or Problems: Clients want to see their growth or decline. Using visual metrics enhances the comparison comprehension between time frames and helps your clients quickly see their successes or lack thereof. With that information, they can make the needed corrections to keep them on course.
Access: Your clients want to access and interact with their data where ever they are. Make sure you provide them with a cloud-based reporting solution. A cloud-based solution allows them to see their data in different lights to assist in strategic decisions. Cloud-based reports also make your deliverables vital as they can collaborate with others no matter where they are.
Transparency: For most CEOs, they want to provide financial transparency to their management teams. When you provide your clients with an electronic pdf or dashboard, they can improve the culture of transparency by quickly sharing needed information throughout the organization.
See How Reach Works.
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Accurate, complete, timely, and understandable data is all your clients want to help them not walk the plank. I know it will take additional effort to gather data and build timely, consistent reports in addition to the statements you already provide.
Breathe in. Breathe out. You can give your clients what they want and save resources at the same time.
Technology is one of the best ways to provide powerful reports. Yes, there are solutions out there that reduce this seemingly time-consuming task to just minutes. These robust solutions can turn your initial reports into templates that can automate a visual report for any client you connect. Best of all, they automate all of your statements as well.
The time savings you will experience will allow you to relocate your time to another client, develop other powerful reports to differentiate your firm’s or give you time to catch up on all your seafaring movies. Whatever you do with your extra time, your clients will be grateful for the timely, accurate, consumable data you now provide.
Good luck in helping your clients utilize their financial data to navigate the open sea.