How to Become a Strategic Partner with Your Small Business Clients

“Becoming a strategic partner” is a standard line in every professional’s vocabulary. Everyone wants to be one, and yet few accountants are truly integrated into their clients’ businesses. Would you like to be included in key business decisions and to deepen your relationships with small business clients? Here is a road map.

  1. Invest time and energy in deeply understanding their business.

Become an expert in their industry, follow the trends, alert them to new legislature, and learn the inside of the business. Expertise of this level is not acquired overnight, so you may find yourself focusing on just a few of your top clients or perhaps an industry niche.

  1. Don’t let your accounting role limit your thinking.

Advice that limits itself to any one functional area is bound to be primarily tactical. In order to become a strategic advisor, you must let go of your role definition as an accountant. The ability to offer insight into trends, risks, and opportunities comes from seeing the big picture of the business.

  1. Listen.

You are an expert in your own technical field, but for the purposes of deepening the relationship with your small business clients, you must learn to listen from a place of curiosity. Ask questions, connect the dots, and summarize to make sure you heard everything correctly.

  1. Be generous with ideas and help.

Many professionals are reluctant to share their best advice, fearing that clients will implement it without their help. However, your big opportunity in forging a strategic alliance is by adding value and helping your clients in a variety of ways. You don’t have to work for free, but approaching conversations in a spirit of generosity and a sincere desire to help will set you apart and get you invited in.

  1. Leverage your network

Your professional network can be a tremendous value to your small business clients. Do you know a great attorney or perhaps a business succession planning specialist? How about an investment advisor, doctor, or car mechanic? Making your professional Rolodex available to your business clients can go a long way towards creating trust and loyalty.

Lastly, be patient. Some clients have to overwrite a lifetime image of a traditional CPA. If you are consistent in presenting yourself as a professional who understands their business, thinks strategically, and offers his best ideas, you will find they begin to involve you in key decisions and rely on you in ways that do beyond traditional accounting.