Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Why Accounting Alone Isn't Enough

How to seize bigger opportunities by understanding and addressing a client's real business issues and life goals.

November 8, 2010
by Rick Telberg

In a market filled with accountants competing for clients and for work, how can you stand out?

Technical expertise will only take you so far. And sometimes it can even steer you wrong. At least that's the contention of Leslie Shiner of Mill Valley, Calif-based The Shiner Group, a leading small business accounting software consultancy.

With technical expertise, she warns, "If the only thing you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail."

True, you can troubleshoot a glitch in the system. And you can make the system operate smoother and more efficiently. But you may have missed an opportunity to engage the client in a conversation about underlying problems in the work processes themselves and the client's own personal goals for their business, department or career. When was the last time you asked a small-business client: "Is the business giving you the life you want? Or is it an albatross? And what can we do about that?"

You can win 100 percent of the market for plain-vanilla accounting services and still fail, because the real opportunities are in understanding and addressing a client's larger business issues and life goals. "Change is inevitable," she warns professionals. "The last buggy whip manufacturer had 100 percent market share."

"Accounting hasn't changed much over the years," she says. "What's changed? Data entry, user interfaces and business needs. What are you doing to differentiate your business today?"

Ultimately, she asks accountants, "How can you take consulting further?" Further into overall business strategy. Into benchmarking and dashboards. Into management consulting.

"Typically, we limit ourselves," she says. "We spend too much time forcing the software to do what we want it to do." But, "Is creating workarounds a viable business strategy?"

To help small-business-oriented accounting firms break out of the software break-fix cycle, Shiner offers up a couple of simple but potentially profound exercises. She starts with a self-assessment worksheet that helps accounting firms inventory their hidden potential. Take small-business accounting for example, like QuickBooks or Peachtree, then rate yourself on your level of expertise against the revenue potential of the related services. And then try it by industry niche — retail, manufacturing, construction and so on. And then run through your basic tax and accounting services, bookkeeping and payroll.

Once you've gone that far, start thinking about a higher order of business services: financial coaching, strategic planning, process mapping, exit-strategy planning, personal wealth planning and maybe grant writing or even paperwork management.

"Look at the lines with high-revenue potential," she advises. "What would it take to increase your knowledge? Where are the business opportunities?"

By the time you're done, you may have discovered a new way of looking at your own business and maybe even your own future.

WHO KNOWS? Is Leslie Shiner on the right track? How do you make sure you're giving your clients what they really want, not just what you happen to have? E-mail Rick Telberg here.

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Rick Telberg is president and chief executive of Bay Street Group LLC, advisors in marketing, management and strategy.

Copyright © 2010 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.