By Robert Craven, Managing Director of The Directors Centre

Accountants, bank managers and other professionals have still got to learn that the customer is king. Here I present the needs of the typical growing business. All the professionals have to do is implement a strategy to satisfy them. Let’s focus on my accountant, but this could apply to any professional service firm.

I run a fast-growing company employing seven people. My accountant is very important to me.

So, what is it that I want my accountant to be able to do?

First, and foremost, I want my accountant to understand me.

From where I stand, I am totally unique. When I am going to talk about money and my business I want the other person to have a real interest in me.

My business is my baby. So, how can an accountant (or the stereotype we so often meet at networking events) understand me? I could never imagine wanting the type of environment that the accountant works in — all numbers and ratios and making things balance. That’s why they are accountants and we are ‘business people’. Their concerns are about targets, paperwork, process and balancing the books; my concerns are about where the next piece of work is going to come from, will the last client pay, cash-flow and how to continually motivate my staff.

Second, I want my accountant to understand business.

Business is not simply about money — accountants often seem to think that it is! Business is about people; employing and motivating people, getting people to buy from you and getting people to buy from. Business is about sales and marketing and about delivering your service or product.

And business is about passion and dreams and thrills and disappointments — it is a way of life, you don’t work to live — you live to work. Playing the devil’s advocate, a ‘passionate accountant’ is an oxymoron… like fighting for peace or fun run!

Third, I want my accountant to understand my business.

I have specific problems — problems that are specific to my industry, to my market and to the way that I run my business. The accountant should know this and be able to assist with specific industry-related support! But really I want them to add value — tell me what the accounts mean and tell me what options I have — I want a partner in my business!

Fourth, I want swift action.

I will accept most of the output from my accountant. The systems and procedures in most accountants appear to be relatively similar so I will accept whatever calculations are made.

What I want, I believe, is relatively simple. I want the service to live up to the promise. How about guaranteed Service Level Agreements e.g. to turn around all work within 14 days or your money back! — My last accountant took 14 months to deliver year-end accounts even though they were given all the information within three weeks of the year-end. What was going on there!

Fifth, I want to know what I am paying for and I want to know how much I am going to pay.

If an accountant charges by the hour then surely they are incentivised to work slowly. Other professional service firms (architects, dentists, doctors) work to a price, so why can’t accountants? Surely fixed price agreements would incentivise them to work more efficiently!

All I want is an accountant that understands me, understands business, understands my business, gives me information when promised and explains how they charge.

And what is more I am willing to pay for the service if I have to — if mobile phones can charge a series of tariffs for different service/product mixes then why can’t accountants do the same!

I think that my requirements are relatively straightforward and I would welcome the opportunity to work with any accountant who can satisfy my simple requirements.

PS A Happy Ending — at last I have found my Prince Charming, my Knight in Shining Armour… certainly no stereotype… and they all lived happily ever after.