Small business accounting - where the biggies fear to tread?


A small business is rife with concerns on a daily basis — I know since I run one myself. I would be kidding if I said I wasn’t inclined to write this post after I saw this news piece about KPMG closing its’ small business accounting service in the UK.

I’ve seen in the past 3 or 4 days many “other” small businesses commenting about this on social media and how this does not come as a surprise. I am fairly surprised with it myself and can only attribute it to being a sensible commercial decision from the behemoth firm.

Having worked for a big firm at the start of my career and then having interactions with them in later stages of work, I have a lot of respect for their work processes. As a 23 year old freshly qualified Accountant, this often felt cumbersome and somewhat stifling. But as a 34 year old business owner, I have a lot of appreciation for what a well laid out work-flow can achieve.

So what really makes small business accounting so different? Here’s my humble take on it,

Reducing stress on the person

Small businesses are so much about the people that run it. When thinking about a quintessential small business, one gets visions of founder led entities that has a fairly simple business model. This maybe true — but today’s small businesses can also very well be subsidiaries of overseas parent companies that would initially be set up and run by a local Director in the place of incorporation. Usually they have a “set-up” mandate that can range from achieving a certain amount of sales to hiring the first team members.

They are not bothered about how a number should be represented on a financial statement. So my job as their book-keeper/ accountant / financial advisor person is to reduce their stress. That would be not asking questions that are obvious, automating as much of the work-flow as possible and giving them the gift of time and space. If the person who deals with you doesn’t like you, that relationship is not going to last — irrespective of your size and offering.

Being the facilitator

When I first started my business, I rather naively thought clients would get disappointed if I didn’t know every answer to every technical question there is. A vast majority of growing businesses, popularly referred to as “scale-ups” are looking for facilitators. People and entities that can hear them out and find them answers. I realised this when one of my clients had a tax issue I didn’t have an answer to. But I found someone who did — be solution oriented, it’s not rocket science. But many of us simply turn away good business as we don’t have the energy or time to go out and look for the right fit. I admit I have done this in other scenarios, and regretted it later.

Napolean Hill in his book for the centuries “Think and Grow Rich”, narrates the story of how Henry Ford silenced a lawyer who questioned his “education”. Ford knew the answers he needed was on his finger-tips — through other people who were experts in those fields. Be a facilitator, everyone loves someone who can find the right answers — fast!

Cash flow endorsements

Most of the small businesses I have worked with have cash flow issues. The main reason why they have me on board is to help them improve it . If you can — you don’t need another recommendation. A few pounds you save a client would make a world of difference than 10 recommendations on Linkedin. Not that this would hurt, but the other is practical and hands-on and they will understand you mean business.

Real life example — a contact had to file annual returns and used a subscription service to do it. I hadn’t handled this for them — when they told me about it I offered to put their filing through my corporate membership. Long story short, they saved £110. It’s not a lot of money — but for a small business that would be 3 months of Hubspot or 2 client dinners, tickets to networking events or similar. You get the drift…

They referred me to another company who did become a client. Win-win!

I agree it’s not always easy when you have companies that turn up with a lot of debt on their books. In such scenarios, one would have to get really imaginative.

They matter…

This is something that comes naturally to big businesses — something I have seen many big firms do really well. Letting clients know they matter. It’s not always about the swag, it’s about a deeper connection.

When you want to let a client / well-wisher know they are valued, you should take an effort to understand what would make them feel that way. One of my long-term contacts loves a good roast dinner. And I have taken her for many… mainly because I appreciate her support. She has referred me more clients that any single contact. When she calls me up for a quick question, I do it willingly — long term relationships matter in personal businesses.

Another client of mine prefers a discount if I want to give them a “gift”. They work and live many miles away from me, so something other than flowers and wine add more value.

Adding Value

Continuing from my earlier point, I would add this to the mix. You really need to add value to the people behind the business. A lot of times this can be very tricky. Look out for tax breaks and have a “saving” mentality at all times. If you find having a flexi-work arrangement would be better in terms of costs for a client, voice that opinion. Don’t feel too bad if they don’t act on it, people can have very different motivations. If you hear about grants, tell them about it and see if you can help them put an application together to get that in place. I think it’s possible to be innovative around how small business pay for services. I have tried service swaps before and it has worked fairly decently for some of my time and expertise.

To conclude, I believe having a people first mentality would go a long way in servicing a small business. For big companies, you might be interacting with a person in a position — that can change if people change jobs. I realise a lot of this is equally applicable for bigger entities, would welcome thoughts from people who do have experience similar to mine.

Note -

1. The article was first posted on Medium.com

2. The images used in the post are from pexels.com and those allowed by Wix for free use. They are allowed for commercial use, to the best of our knowledge and ability.

#article #Startups #SingaporeCFO #SMECFO #outsourcedCFO #XeroCFO

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