What Is the Most Important Thing You Know About Your Clients?

When business income and personal wealth work together, your clients have a better chance of reaching all their goals.

working with client
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Most accountants review their clients' financials and make decisions based on what's on the page or in the numbers. There's nothing wrong with that; that's what accountants are taught to do, and accounting services help millions of people. But that's not the whole story.

To be the most effective and most helpful accountant I can be, whether for an individual or a business, I need to learn my client's goals. It's not enough to simply save my clients money by preparing taxes or implementing accounting practices. When I learn their goals, I learn what they're trying to do and where they're striving to go. Goals are personal, different for everyone, and may include:

• Financial goals for retirement and leaving a legacy.

• Lifestyle goals for the present and the future.

• Company growth goals, including a rough timeline.

• Company succession planning.

Why You Should Use Goals in Your Accounting Practice

The better you know your clients, the more targeted and more effective your services can be. By knowing your clients' goals, your involvement becomes a long-term partnership, rather than a one-off tax preparer. When the goal is to provide a lifestyle, for example, wealth is just a means to an end.

Most accountants look at the numbers on the page — income and expenses — and determine a tax strategy based on that. I try to include the whole entity, for businesses and individuals, and gear recommendations toward reaching the stated goals. For example:

• Saving is one thing; saving to buy a second home is a goal.

• Protecting a client's wealth is one thing; building wealth to create a legacy is a goal.

• Planning for retirement is one thing; planning for a retirement lifestyle that involves travel is a goal.

Why You Should Insist on a Discovery Phase

You probably know you're a talented accountant who understands current tax laws, the best accounting practices and the ways to grow a company. You have the ability to help most people and most companies with their basic needs, from finding the best deductions on tax returns to ensuring lawful compliance for business owners. But if you want to provide an enduring service, you have to go a step further.

A discovery meeting with prospective clients, during which you get to know one another, helps determine the best approach for each individual client. This simple step at the beginning of the partnership has become one of my best tools. During the discovery meeting, some of the areas you should discuss with your client include:

• Personal goals.

• Professional goals.

• Income goals.

• Family goals.

• Present challenges and future potential.

How Personal and Business Accounting Goals Relate

Another reason the discovery process works is that it gets to the heart of a client's wishes. There's only so much you can learn from the numbers. My questions may include:

• What makes your business special?

• What kind of growth are you looking for?

• Is your income supporting your lifestyle?

• What's your risk tolerance?

• When do you plan to retire?

Most accountants work on either business or personal accounting objectives. Sometimes, successful businesspeople have separate financial professionals for the different facets of their lives. But when business income and personal wealth work together, your clients have a better chance of reaching all their goals. By offering services that marry the two facets of a client's financial picture, you can understand every aspect of a client's finances and provide the best possible service.

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