Earlier this year, a BILL survey of 1,100+ accounting firm professionals found that a majority have their minds on expanding their practices. Whether it is by offering new services or working with existing ones, accounting firms want to create stronger ties with their small and midsize (SMB) clients and prospects.
While firms are focused on growth, what do SMBs think? What do they value from their accounting firms?
That’s just what the Accounting Firm Hireability Index set out to discover. The survey is a follow up to a 2019 version, which asked SMBs what they want from their accounting firms.
For this version, BILL surveyed 1,377 SMBs, asking them to rate their accountants and share what scenarios will make them consider leaving or stop referring their firms. Four accounting firm leaders also offered their advice on how these findings might be applied to grow firms.
How to meet the needs of SMBs as an accountant
The following four results can serve as a useful touchpoint for accountants looking to meet SMB needs and grow their firms.
1. Nurture your referral pipeline by building on a great client experience
According to the Hireability survey results, SMBs show a high level of trust in their accountants. In fact, 89% consider their accountants trusted advisors, and the NPS score for firms has almost doubled since 2019.
Why do SMBs have such a high regard for their accounting firms? Here are the reasons they shared in the survey:
- “They are very innovative and easy to work with.”
- “We have had the same accountant for years and she has always gone above and beyond for my company.”
- “I never have to worry about there being a problem.”
- “They excel in accuracy of financial reports.”
- “They save us a lot of money every year.”
Advice from the experts
Focusing on the client experience can grow your business. After all, happy clients contribute to a robust referral pipeline.
As Amy Marshall, director of growth for Breakwater Accounting + Advisory Corp, observed, “We have to listen to clients, and know and understand what their goals are for the business. That's how we can better keep the longevity of a client and further trust.”
2. SMBs want more services. Can you meet the demand?
Another way to build on a strong foundation: Add new services.
While taxes were the most-coveted accounting firm service in 2019, SMBs have signaled that they want greater variety when it comes to services.
Over half of the survey participants (58%) said they're interested in more services from their accounting firms. Some of the leading contenders SMBs selected included spend and expense management (79%), financial planning, or modeling (78%), and digital payments for AP and AR (76%).
These services all serve as gateways to client advisory services. In fact, 66% of SMBs said they would leave or stop referring a firm if it didn't offer CAS, compared to 48% in 2019.
CAS also opens the door to new services, according to the results. For SMBs outsourcing accounting, 67% said they’re interested in more services–an increase of 58% for all participants.)
As one participant commented: “Our current accounting firm serves us nicely. However, we would switch to a new accounting firm that offered more services at a lower cost.”
Advice from the experts
Does your firm have a services roadmap? If you already offer CAS, do you have plans on how to expand it to keep your offerings competitive and meet SMBs’ needs?
“We’ve found at Bookkeeper360, when you provide proactive advice and services, it creates the stickiest relationships and is where you can add the most value,” commented Nick Pasquarosa, CEO of Bookkeeper360.
3. Hone technology skills
Accounting technology is a necessity for both firms and SMBs. And in a world teeming with solutions, SMBs are looking for technology guidance from their accounting firms.
83% said they'd fire or stop referring their firm if it has trouble answering tech questions, and 79% said the same if a firm doesn’t stay updated on the latest technologies. To further underscore the importance of technology, 76% of SMBs said that a lack of automation was grounds to reevaluate an engagement with a firm.
Advice from the experts
Does this mean accountants have to become in-depth technical experts?
Not necessarily. Here’s how the experts weigh in on the topic:
As Caleb L. Jenkins, EA, CQP, Business & Accounting Leader, RLJ Financial Services, explained, “Have a technology champion in your firm who stays up to date and democratizes that information to everyone. They’re following the news, engaging in update webinars, and more. They’re the ones typically looking for other technology that can be useful to adopt and implement within their firm. (Caleb L. Jenkins)
Jing Cheng, Managing Director, Technology, Accounting Advisory & Outsourcing, BDO, noted that a communal response might best help. “To stay abreast of rapidly advancing technology, it is important for the firm to motivate team members to allocate dedicated time for professional development and continuously update their technical knowledge,” she mentioned.
Perhaps the most important way to reinforce expertise is to standardize a firm’s tech stack and tailor it to your clients.
“What is important is that firms do a good job in picking a tech stack and living with it,” advised Marshall. “When you have too many choices, you can't stay up to date on it.”
Pasquarosa agreed. “It is critical that a firm vets third-party technology providers and creates a tech-stack that is industry specific,” he said.
4. Go above and beyond
One way to impress clients: Find that intangible “sweet spot” of going above and beyond. SMBs noted how important this concept is, with 83% saying they'd leave or stop referring a firm if it didn't demonstrate this trait.
What constitutes going above and beyond? For most firms, this is all in a day’s work. Here are real-life examples survey participants shared.
- "Our GL had been out for about a year. Many people attempted to locate the error. Within a week, our accounting firm found the error and fixed it."
- "Our firm looked at the new lease accounting requirements in our lease situation and figured out a way to handle it that wasn’t obvious to anyone else."
- "They helped us rebuild our financial model, making sure we stayed up-to-speed on compliance standards."
- “We had some sales tax issues in a very large state where we do a lot of business. Our accounting firm went out of their way to resolve the issues with the state and then helped change our invoicing system to ensure the correct sales tax was collected.”
- “I forgot to turn in payroll numbers and they reminded me and worked late to finish checks for the employees.”
- “They spent an entire weekend helping us get our books straight when we had an employee embezzling from us.”
Get even more expert insights about accounting trends to help you grow your firm
Download the Accounting Firm Hireability Index Report to dive deeper into trends and advice from experts on how to maximize these opportunities.