Hitting the reset button: Moving back to business as usual

June 23rd, 2020 by Carl Reader 4 minutes read

In normal times, I’d be stressing the importance of valuing your own services and managing scope creep.

In fact, it’s not just me. Mark Wickersham wrote a wonderful article not long ago about the fear that accountants have around charging.

Recently however, the rules have changed. Practices have had to do what they can to keep their clients’ lights on. Some firms have discounted, some have deferred payments, and some have provided free of charge advice and assistance to help their clients through the worst economic crisis in our lifetime.

Now that we are coming to the recovery stage, we have the ideal opportunity to hit the ‘reset button’ and look at how we present our services going forward. I won’t repeat what Mark has written - instead, here are my tips about how to manage the transition from crisis to continuity.

Make sure that you have gone over and above

Most accountants that I’ve spoken to have done some amazing things for their clients, and what might seem like ‘free work’ has actually resulted in exceptional client loyalty. If you have any doubts about this, it’s worth checking in with your clients before embarking on any change management process. Pick up the phone to them, check that they are OK, and see if there is anything that you can help them with. If they are unhappy with your response over the last few months, this is a perfect opportunity for them to raise any concerns.

Be clear on what you are offering your clients

After the unsettling impact of the last few months, the one thing that everyone is craving is certainty. Make sure that you set out clearly what is and isn’t covered by your fees, with each and every client. You may not be able to have one to one meetings to do this, but you can run through this process with clear proposals and service terms. If your pricing is based on volume of transactions, or turnover levels, now is the ideal time to reinforce the pricing structure.

Highlight the work that you have previously done for free

We’ve all done it. A bit of extra work tidying up the bookkeeping here, a mortgage reference there. And, the training on their online system, the advice around their funding needs, and the assistance in preparing a Finance Controller job description were the icing on the cake! Now is the time to present your new pricing structure, and to be clear about what is and isn’t covered - before the event, not when the client asks.

This can easily be presented as part of the clarity around services that you are trying to achieve - and it will also mean that both you and your client will know exactly is paid for in any fixed fee agreement, and what is charged additionally. Removing the fear of the ‘ticking clock’ and replacing it with a clear structure can only benefit everyone.

You can also use this opportunity to highlight the value of any free work that you have performed over the last few months. Remember that cashflow forecast that you did to help them get through the last few months? You can demonstrate the importance - they’re still trading - and the cost of your services to help them continue trading with cash in the bank for years to come. The longer these conversations take to happen, the less value will be remembered.

Review your payment terms

If you have clients paying annually on completion, you are running with some risks. The role of an accountant has moved to an ‘always on’ advisor, and you pay yourself and your team monthly. You pay software subscriptions monthly, and your overheads similarly. Plus, you don’t actually know whether they will be in a position to be the great payers that they were previously!

We spoke before about the need for clarity, and monthly payments are just part of this. By transitioning to a monthly payment structure for each of your clients, you can ensure that you can pay your bills as well. It reinforces to both sides the ongoing nature of your relationship, and let’s be honest - it’s easier to find a monthly payment than the full amount at the end of the year! Plus, if you use monthly direct debits, you can automatically apply inflationary increases and tweak payments based on your agreement with your clients. It’s truly a no brainer.

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