TFYW#051: 3 Step Process To Solve Any Firm Issue

Sep 1, 2023

This week, I am getting into how to stop bothering your clients so much while delivering what they need.


Solving Problems

A newsletter subscriber, we’ll call Joe, asked me about service delivery without demanding clients’ time.

The balance between needing the client’s time and delivering good work is a genuine concern.

Joe’s primary concern is about the time he’s requesting/demanding of the client for his team to gather documents.

With this and each problem in our firms, there are always three solution levels we need to assess.

  • Tactical
  • Systematic
  • Strategic

Each solution level has its place as well as tradeoffs.

Let’s dive deeper into the Joe’s issue.

Tactical

Tactical solutions are usually minor workflow or technological improvements.

They’re off-the-shelf solutions, generally quick to implement with immediate impact.

Tactical Solutions for Joe

Joe’s firm has tried a few solutions.

 Uncut is a great tool to query the client about uncategorized transactions. It is automatic but can lead to additional unbatched emails that can take up a client’s time.

Other tactical solutions, like Ramp and Brex in the US and Float in Canada, help track credit card spending and collect receipts from spenders via push notifications.

Another tactical AI option is to use Numerous.ai to search bank transaction descriptions in a spreadsheet (either gsheets or excel) and display what the transaction is for.

These great tools make it easier to ask the client about needed support. They can save your team and client hours.

However, like most tactical solutions, they need to be a part of a broader approach.

Systematic

Systematic solutions are workflows and policies. Firms craft these to address unique demands or nuanced.

They’re the glue that the tactical solutions fit in.

Systematic Solutions for Joe

The firm has SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) that inform new clients about service expectations. This is a good approach.

SOPs, proposals and engagement terms should outline work scope AND expectations around communication, response times and meetings.

Given the heavy time requirement upfront and the ongoing time requirement of a cloud bookkeeping engagement, it’s valuable to build a timeline including onboarding and month-to-month time requirements.

Then, show the time investment and return. When needed, do a before and after calculation of their time involved for the admin and bookkeeping.

Part of the timeline should include a five-day window for the client to respond to ONE set of inquiries.

This does remove the time required by the client to fulfil the requests, but it condenses and schedules it for them. Ask them if you can drop a recurring invite in their calendar on the 5th and 10th of the month.

Unscheduled items/tasks for busy people are deal breakers. 

Establish the schedule and stick to it.

In a follow up email, Joe mentioned he regularly holds client meetings.

I would recommend that in those regular meetings with the clients, I would recap or reference the items that for which additional support was requested.

In bookkeeping, we usually need additional support for unusual transactions. By referencing those unusual items (i.e. equipment purchases or bills from new vendors) we offer value by questioning:

  1. What caused the change?
  2. What will the impact be on the short and long plans?
  3. What other items should the owner consider?

At times, it is hard to add value to a bookkeeping engagement. Supporting biz owners during operational changes is an opportunity to add value and demonstrate why asking for support is good for them.

Strategic

Strategic solutions are independent of tech and process. They’re directional decisions that impact the trajectory of your firm.

They address firm culture, market positions and offer propositions.

Strategic Solutions for Joe

In Joe’s email, the idea of saving the client time was referenced five times. I assume the primary benefit in Joe’s marketing value proposition is getting the client’s time back.

I see many firms do this. I did it myself.

My value prop was, “Let us do the bookkeeping and accounting so you can get back to running your business”.

I positioned bookkeeping as a pain and something that the biz owner should remove from their time and minds.

Now, I know speed, accuracy, and efficiency are great tenants of bookkeeping. I also know that part of any service provider’s job should include minimizing the effort and time of the client.

The thing I challenge in the saving the client time value proposition is tying your work to finite results.

Once you have removed any client time involvement, you’ve reached the maximum value you can offer.

If your value proposition is increasing profitability, reducing time for the client is part of the delivery, but you tie your value proposition to the potential for profitability, which is infinite.

A strategic adjustment to saving the client time value prop could include tiered pricing.

Many firms offer tiers, but use volume as the difference between them. The issue with volume-driven tiers is that it doesn’t offer the client an option.

Your clients will only have a certain amount of transactions, sales tax filing requirements, etc., so there is only one tier to choose from. The other tiers are fillers.

The secret of tiered pricing is the optionality of ‘good’, ‘better’, and ‘best’. You position the ‘good’ against the other options and many will opt for the ‘better’ or ‘best’ because they don’t want to miss out on the additional value.

With a value prop of saving the client time, your tiers could offer various integration levels into your client’s business.

Tier One: Simple Integration,

  • Full cycle bookkeeping + Sales Tax
  • Connection with bank feeds etc.
  • Email support
  • Heavy time required for bookkeeping admint

Tier Two: Hybrid Integration

  • Full cycle bookkeeping + Sales Tax
  • Connection with bank feeds etc.
  • Email support + SMS support
  • Moderate time required for bookkeeping admin
  • Quarterly Management reports + meeting

Tier Three: Partner Integration,

  • Full cycle bookkeeping + Sales Tax
  • Full connection with bank feeds
  • Supporting of operational apps and systems
  • Dedicated Slack channel
  • Bank account access – view only permission
  • Minimal time required for bookkeeping admin
  • Monthly Management reports + meeting

The value driver for the relationship is how involved you are with their business.

If they want to get out from under the admin work entirely, it will cost them more.

If they want timely insight into their business, that will again cost them more.

My Unsolicited Opinion

Ultimately, if clients expect to be hands-off with their finances, they will treat your relationship as a zero-sum game: your services will be a necessary evil.

They will never see the value of your services.

 

If you don’t remember anything else from this week’s newsletter, remember this:

 

The sustainability of your firm depends on working with your clients and not for your clients.

 

 

Bonus Example

Firm Problem: Team members that are ‘not progressing fast enough.’

Tactical solution: Loom videos + internally prepared checklists.

Creating more how-to support.

Systematic solution:  Create time every month for the team to sharpen their saw through formal training and mentorship.

Strategic solution: Increase the required skill level for new hires and pay more for roles.

Ultimately, the underpining issue is that client acquisition is outpacing talent acquisition and development.

Build The Firm You Want.

Mark

P.S. Email Mark@FirmNexus.com with something that you want me to talk about. I’ll add it to the list. 

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