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Why accountants should focus on accountability

27th Sep 2022

As an accountant, you're used to delivering products, like finished tax returns or financial plans for small businesses. But consulting -- and advisory practices -- will be a lot more about the discussions you have with clients. Accountability is an important and often overlooked element of being successful in this arena.

As you shift your firm from compliance focused services to more client advisory services (CAS), your focus will switch from providing clients with “deliverables” to “intangibles”. And something interesting will happen:

You’ll start to wonder if you’re doing enough.

You’ll wonder why a client would pay you more than they ever have before “just to talk”.

And because of all this wondering, you’ll start to create new deliverables which will not only take time and energy to maintain, but which your client won’t look at. Or worse, they’ll look at them, get overwhelmed, and then do nothing.

Before you know it, you’re right back to doing too much work for not enough money. And to add insult to injury, your clients either aren’t listening to you or they’re giving credit for their improvements to someone or something other than you.

And this is all because you have undervalued the power of accountability.

The power of accountability
Accountants and bookkeepers have long tied our value to the things (deliverables) we provide to clients (financial statements, tax returns, etc) We’ve spent time, money, and energy beautifying these things, first in the form of branded binders, then in the form of beautiful digital dashboards. Recently, we’ve started to place value on how quickly we provide the things (same-day bank feed reconciliation! Financial statements by the 5th of the month!)

And, really, it’s not your fault that you don’t understand the power and value of accountability. Your clients question what they are paying for the things they can literally put their hands on…why would they pay for or value something as obscure as accountability?

After all, what is accountability? You can’t touch it. You can’t put it in a pretty binder. You can create a digital tracker for it, but will a client really pay you to show them that they’ve done what you told them to do?

Yes. They will. Because accountability delivers results.

Accountability delivers results
Think for a minute about your last gym membership.

Did you cancel it because you never went to the gym?

Do you still have it because you have a “workout date” with a friend?

Or… do you not only still have that gym membership, but now you pay even more than you did when you first signed up because you’ve started working with a trainer AND you’re getting results.

Very few people can be accountable to themselves for long, especially when they are doing something they don’t enjoy and that doesn’t come to them naturally. Who loves those first grueling workout sessions on machines they don’t understand? Who continues to love their workouts when they’ve been doing them for several months with only marginal results?

More people can stay accountable to a friend…as long as that friend stays on course. The minute your friend says, “Hey, let’s go grab pizza instead,” BAM! You’re out the gym door and in a booth with a supreme pizza and a pitcher of beer on the table.

But those who invest in a trainer? Those are the people who get results. And they get those results because:

  1. They are accountable to someone, who
  2. They paid good money.
  3. Accountability delivers results. People pay for results.

How to “Do accountability right”
Here’s where CAS goes off the rails for a lot of accountants and bookkeepers: We are focused so much on “done for you” services that we undervalue – and therefore undermine – “done with you” services, like accountability.

True accountability is coaching. And coaching is different from teaching. Teaching is done from an established curriculum, and the teacher is responsible for making sure their students learn the material in that curriculum. Coaching, on the other hand, meets each individual student – or client – where they are and then guides them to the results they are seeking. The client does the work; the coach is there to provide insight and accountability.

Let’s think about our fitness trainer again. Yes, the trainer will teach you how to use the equipment, but that’s pretty much where the teaching ends. You are the one doing the work in the gym, not the trainer. You can decide whether to follow your meal plan or eat pizza twice a week – but if you choose pizza, you’re going to have to fess up to your trainer during your next session. Could you fib? Sure, but you’re only hurting yourself if you do. And because they’re an expert at what they do, your trainer is going to know you’re fibbing, anyway.

When you first meet with your fitness trainer, they are going to ask you a series of questions. These questions do two things:

  1. They help the trainer get a baseline so they can make sure you don’t hurt yourself, and
  2. They help the trainer help you set goals.
  3. This is how you do accountability right:

Meet with your client and ask the right questions to get a baseline for where they stand in their business. Our Value Starts With Hello e-book has a series of questions we recommend asking during your initial call with a prospect, but you can also use these same questions when you start working with a client engaging you for CAS.Help the client identify the goals they want to reach.

This is important: You don’t set the goals for them. You can challenge the goals if they are not aggressive enough or if they are too ambitious for the client’s baseline, but it’s up to the client to state their goals.

Set up a system to document the goals and measure results. This doesn’t have to be fancy: A spreadsheet or a shared document will work.

Review progress each time you meet with your client. Adjust the plan if necessary. Remember, this isn’t a curriculum – you’re allowed to accommodate for the unexpected.

Will clients pay for accountability?
Why do you pay the trainer? Because they get you the results you are seeking. They help you reach your goals.

Will clients pay you for accountability? Absolutely…because you’re going to help them reach their goals by doing accountability the right way

[Accounting Web]

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