Conduct Your Clients' Business Health Assessment

It’s that time of year again! Time to focus on health and fitness. But, I’m not talking treadmills and cleanses – I’m talking good, clean data and financial goal setting with your business clients.

It’s January and personal trainers are crazy busy helping millions of adults achieve healthier selves. What a great time it is for accountants and bookkeepers to set health targets with our clients!

Start by determining the targets and keeping it real:

  • Financial terminology can be off-putting. Start by taking the time to listen to clients discuss their businesses. Ask questions such as “What do you want to achieve this year?,” “Why is that important to you?” and “How will you know you have achieved your goal?” Listen to the language your client uses and frame goals using the words you hear. If you hear “I’m always running out of money,” consider setting a “money in/money out” goal instead of a “cash flow management” strategy. You can show your clients that you are listening and make the goals feel more familiar and achievable.
  • Complement their goals with ones they have missed. Clients may only focus on part of the picture. If they are excited about sales growth, consider encouraging them to add gross margin or net margin to the list of goals. Alex Wunderlich at Fathom (a financial performance reporting app I will mention again later) considers margin calculations (net and gross) as two of the most important metrics to measure. If your client didn’t mention these, be sure to.

Good workflow avoids GIGO (garbage in/garbage out)

Garbage in/garbage out is a killer when it comes to financial tracking. As the accountant, part of our job is to ensure the data is solid and timely. Key components of a workflow that supports strong reporting are:

  • Client/Accountant Document Sharing with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) – Apps such as Receipt Bank and Hubdoc allow for the quick conversion of paper items, such as vendor bills and receipts, into classified electronic transactions that can be used in accounting software.
  • Online Accounts Payable – Eliminate wondering why your client wrote a check to Amy’s Bird Sanctuary by using an A/P app such as Bill.com. The payment and the associated bill are classified in the software system. This app offers better visibility of the client’s entire accounts payable aging picture and better control over the timing of payments.
  • Accounts Receivable Management – The other half of the cash management strategy is enabling clients to convert invoices into cash at a reasonable rate. Apps such as InvoiceSherpa offer automated client reminders to improve conversion rates.
  • Inventory Management – Getting a good cost of goods sold number can feel like seeking the grail. Often, clients prefer to book purchased inventory as cost of goods sold, instead of using a true inventory software program. Apps such as SOS Inventory are worth the work it takes to ensure your client’s company has a health gross margin.

The Icing on Top – Financial Reporting is the Best Part

After you set the target and gather the data in a deliberate, accurate and consistent way, it is time to check if the company is on track. QuickBooks® Online offers a great selection of reports from a basic profit and loss to more detailed item-based reports. Accountants can take this reporting a step further by using a financial reporting application, such as Fathom, FUTRLI or Startegy. These applications allow users to select KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and track them using data pulled in from QuickBooks Online. They offer bookkeepers the ability to pull the goals established by the client (recall step one of our process) and track a company’s progress towards them over time.

Don’t forget, the client still needs YOU to truly connect with the numbers. Justin Hatch from Startegy explains, “There can be a huge disconnect between what a financial report is saying and what the business owner is understanding. Be sure to select a financial reporting application that enhances the conversation between the bookkeeper and client. Establish a common language.”

Being a bookkeeper is a funny thing. Folks hire us to enter transactions, reconcile accounts and hand off the file for tax prep. But, as bookkeepers and accountants, our true value comes from the understanding we create between owners and their businesses. We are bridge builders and translators. We can map out and guide our clients towards the achievement of their aspirations.