Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I Want to Hold Your Hand

No, I'm not going to post a video of me singing this Beatles classic. It wouldn't be pretty....and I wouldn't want to shatter your monitor's screen. I'll leave the singing to the pros.

Accountants are typically thought of as "numbers people". In fact, I first got into accounting because I am good at math. We are trained to crunch numbers for our customers - whether it be preparing tax returns or financial statements, or any other project we work on.

Recently though, I've had an epiphany. Numbers are what get a CPA in the door, but building a relationship is really what this business is all about. I only wish I had figured this out a few years ago.

Now I'm normally a pretty introverted guy and don't like to toot my own horn, so to speak. But sitting down with a customer and helping them solve a business problem gets me way more excited than preparing a tax return ever will. Don't get me wrong, I like preparing tax returns, but let's face it - dealing with the voluminous tax code is pretty hard to get fired up about.

Why then, do most CPA firms discourage client "hand-holding"? For you non-CPAs, the term hand-holding refers to spending extra time with a customer - perhaps training them to use their accounting software or maybe guiding a customer through proper internal control procedure. This seems completely backwards to me. After all, if our business is all about relationships, shouldn't a CPA WANT to spend time with their customers, solving their problems?

I believe the answer to this question is the dreaded "billable hour". Because most CPA firms bill by the hour and strive for efficiency, they see the time spent sitting and chatting with a customer as "non-productive". That's time that could be spent preparing a tax return!, they'll say.

But what if 15 minutes spent having coffee with a customer led to a discussion about a problem the customer was having? Say their cash flow is not what they would like. And what if the CPA had the know-how to assist his customer solve that problem? Suddenly, this supposed non-productive use of time has become very valuable to both business owner and CPA.

For this reason (and others which I will rant about in the future) I do not bill my customers by the hour. I price my services for value created and I demand my customers keep me accountable for delivering that value. They spend their hard earned money on my services, and deserve my attention and creativity. I don't care so much about efficiency that it negates being an effective adviser to my customers.

Speaking of being creative, I think I'll go listen some good music...anybody know any good tunes?

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