We are accountants, so let’s be honest. Most of us love systems and efficiencies, neat and tidy, to-the-point and straightforward. We want to get the numbers and the details as quickly and easily as possible so we can produce clean financials as efficiently as possible.
But, accounting is a relationship between the business owner and you. This relationship isn’t cut and dried, either. With business owners, there will be multiple spinning plates, passions, exhaustions, frustrations, families and travel … and the list goes on. These all play a role in an owner’s relationship with the company’s financials and, as a result, the relationship with you! So, try as we might, we cannot boil our job down to producing a clean chart of accounts, an accurate P&L, and a helpful set of projections and KPIs. We are in the relationship business.
As long as we are being honest, let’s talk about how bookkeeping has changed. It has gone from sitting in an on-location office interacting face to face with the business owner to being a remote and specialized company offering efficient cloud-based or tech-driven services. It is zippier, cleaner, faster and shinier! All of this is great, but the fact remains that it takes a relationship where trust is built and relational capital is developed.
How do we do that? How do we overcome the massive loss of effectual face time while still considering our time and systems, in order to keep ourselves most efficient and therefore most valuable to our practice? With most practices having clients on a national level, it isn’t as easy to grab a quick cup of coffee or squeeze in nine holes on a Friday afternoon. We may have to do a little bit of readjusting of our concept of connecting with the distance in mind, but by using some of the suggestions below, creating a personal connection that can replace the more traditional role of face to face interaction is not only possible, but doesn’t have to be cumbersome and time consuming!
Step out of your inbox
We can get stuck here, can’t we? Keeping your communication strictly to email puts you in the box with all the other nagging requests and needs your business owner faces daily. Finding ways to step out of the inbox will set you apart and start building a relational context. Make a rule to pick up the phone every three or four emails. Use one of the numerous tools out there for video conferencing to review quarterly financials. Use a collaborative-style checklist to work through a project so clients can be more aware that you are on the same “team” and working toward a common goal. Get creative! As tech only ever gets better, there are so many tools at your hands to engage your clients. Don’t overwhelm them, but choose a couple and work them into your routine.
Check in often
Instead of waiting for a crisis, take the time to engage with your clients on a monthly or bi-monthly basis outside of tasks, problems or special needs. Set it on your calendar. Stagger your clients throughout the month so you don’t get overwhelmed and push it off. Send a card to say hello or pick up the phone and ask them how they are. Are there changes or circumstances in their life (personal or business) that by taking five minutes to listen to, you can now better serve them in the upcoming months? If it is all good and not much is said, great! Much has been accomplished. You created a real connection; maybe next time they will call you before they make a major operational change instead of informing you in the wake of the chaos on the backend. Be consistent here and give it time.
When a question arises, think of engaging and creative ways to respond. Instead of sending them a lengthy and info-overloaded email, maybe step in front of a white board and shoot a quick video with your phone or computer. It doesn’t have to be the next Stephen Spielberg-esque film, just something that shows you are engaging with them on an individual level. Maybe send them screen shots providing step-by-step instructions if they are having trouble navigating some tech. Offer a few links to some articles or resources you know to be particularly helpful on the subject. If they often have questions around a similar topic, would they benefit from a little video conference training?
Many of these suggestions may seem disruptive to our world where our heads are often “stuck in the cloud,” but implementing a few of these items into your routine can go a long way in building relational capital that has been lost with the reduction of formal business meetings and hand shaking. While tech is a tool, we also need to invest the time into distinguishing the line between the tool and the person on the other side of the tool. Set yourself apart from the pack, don’t just be another email in the inbox.
Even if we are relying on tech, use it to engage dynamically. Mix it up. Opening your phone’s webcam and shooting a quick video might take just as long as it would to write an email, but it will often accomplish so much more. Your clients will feel individual and personalized care. They will see you as a person, not just a service. They will feel more confident trusting you with their financial matters and will be far more likely to participate in a timely and helpful way going forward. Your job gets easier, your firm builds a reputation for quality service and you didn’t have to fly 3000 miles just to do it!