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How to build healthy client relationships in the US.

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The accounting services industry in the US is a $119.5 billion market with the "Big Four" collectively constituting 57% ($66.55 billion) of it.

In such a competitive market, smaller firms need to be hyper-vigilant of client expectations and business needs in order to boost profitability. As such, every professional service provider — accountants, bookkeepers, and consultants — must prioritize their customer relationships in order to be successful.

Smaller firms need to be deeply perceptive of their clients' business needs — they should go above and beyond in their business relationships to build a strong base of loyal advocates. This increases the chances of getting repeat business and referrals over time.

However, building positive client relationships isn't always easy. It requires time, effort, and a customer-focused mindset. To help you get started, we've put together some useful tips that you can leverage to build long-term relationships with clients.

How to build strong client relationships

Professional services are quite unlike other types of business like retail, banking, or insurance. In order to be truly successful, you need to look beyond transactions and focus on becoming a trusted advisor to your clients. Here are six effective strategies that can help you do so.

1. Get to know your clients

Before you kick off your first meeting with a potential client, make sure to gather some preliminary information about their business. Take a look at their website to learn about their products and/or services, mission, vision, and core values.

Going in prepared is likely to create a great first impression — it will make the client feel more comfortable about trusting you with sensitive data and information about their business.

Use this opportunity to get to know them even better. What motivated them to come to you? What systems/processes have they been using? What's working for them, what's not, and what exactly do they want to achieve?

Once you have understood their needs, talk about how you can help them solve their problems. Almost 24% of small business owners complain that their accountants don't take the trouble to educate them properly.

So, make sure to explain how your services and expertise can help them achieve their goals and grow their business. The foundation of good client relationships lies in establishing a perfect fit between your offerings and their needs.

2. Create the perfect proposal

Once you have gathered all the key information, use internal templates to document them. This will ensure that your team members can refer to it whenever they need to, making it easier for them to internalize.

Use it to create a proposal that reinforces how well you understand your client's unique needs. Your proposal needs to be in line with the client’s goals. Outline your process, solutions, and make sure to address the pain points that you have uncovered in your previous interaction(s) with them.

Essentially, your proposal must answer three main questions: What will you do for them? Why is it important? What problems will you solve?

87% of accountants strongly or somewhat agree that clients today expect greater flexibility and better service levels for the same fee. So, make sure to set realistic expectations and be very specific in terms of your deliverables, metrics, and timelines.

3. Treat your clients as your partners

Your clients need your professional services and expertise to avoid any legal or financial hassles and/or to ensure regulatory compliance. In return, they provide you with a steady source of revenue that keeps your business afloat.

In order for this mutually beneficial partnership to work, it's important to build trust. To do this, consider giving your clients access to some of your internal data and dashboards (whenever possible), or other useful non-confidential information that third parties wouldn't know.

At the same time, you would be privy to a good amount of sensitive data and information about your clients’ businesses. Remember to treat such data with the utmost confidentiality as any breaches, even if unintended, can effectively ruin your working relationship.

4. Establish an open channel of communication

Good client relationships are all about open and honest communication. However, it's important to lay down some ground rules about how and when you'll be communicating with your clients.

Never over promise or agree to work beyond your abilities. Giving an ambiguous view of your abilities could lead to unrealistic expectations, confusion, and failure in meeting goals. Needless to say, this could deeply impact the trust factor.

For example, it's not a good idea to communicate via social media/instant messaging platforms unless the matter is extremely urgent. You don't want to give your clients the impression that you're always available (because it's neither healthy nor practical).

Instead, establish a meeting cadence — weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly — to catch up and discuss progress. Research shows that 47% of small businesses that consider their accountants to be trusted advisors, connect with them at least once a month.

Further, keep as much of your work-related information as possible in writing. Use emails to share meeting agendas, minutes, and other important information/documents as this will be useful for future reference.

5. Use tools to deliver high-quality services

Using cutting-edge tools and software enhances your process efficiency. It also gives your deliverables a professional look and feel. For example, you could use tools to create aesthetically appealing invoices, proposals, engagement letters, and so on.

Ignition’s client engagement and commerce platform enables you to create smart proposals that your clients can read, sign, and pay — all in one place. It minimizes errors and eliminates the need for back and forth emails to chase down your clients to sign your proposal or make a payment.

Make sure to pay attention to the smallest of details — your clients have been in the business long enough to pick up on the slightest hint of unprofessional behavior. If you try to cut corners, they will most certainly gauge it. Professional tools can help you boost transparency and collaboration by sharing your progress with your clients.

6. Solicit feedback

Establishing a feedback loop is an essential aspect of client relationship management. The best client managers are those who proactively ask for feedback that helps them improve their understanding of the client's needs and expectations.

One of the top complaints about accountants, reported by 44% of small business owners, is that they are more reactive than proactive. As such, professional service providers should seek client feedback proactively in order to build personal connections and lasting relationships with them.

So, request and encourage feedback from your clients upfront, and make sure to implement those changes in your future interactions. This will not just enhance the quality of work you provide but also help to set quality benchmarks for the future.

For example, once you complete onboarding new clients, make sure to follow up with a phone call to see how satisfied they are with the process. Each individual client may have unique business needs and/or problems. Regular check-ins and status updates will help you identify any potential bottlenecks and keep things running smoothly.

Ignition is here to help

The most successful client relationships are built on trust, open communication, and realistic expectation-setting. Understanding your client's needs, pain points, and objectives is key to determining the solution you can offer.

Further, keeping the feedback loop open indicates your commitment to improve and grow with them. Clients appreciate an openness to feedback and a willingness to learn and improve. Follow the steps mentioned above to build lasting relationships with your clients and to keep your professional services business thriving.

To that end, Ignition helps you create exceptional client experiences and foster win-win relationships. With features that facilitate proposals, billing, and client management, Ignition’s client engagement and commerce platform makes doing business a breeze. Start a free trial today.

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Angela Gosnell
Angela Gosnell

Global Content Marketing Lead 

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Published 11 Jan 2022 Last updated 19 Mar 2024