Clients Don’t Have a Fee Problem, They Have a Value Problem

Clients don’t pay you to fill in forms, they pay you to help them make better financial decisions.

By Kyle Walters

Key Takeaways

• Clients are buying expert advice and recommendations from you. They’re not buying the tools you use to do your job.

• Unfortunately, that makes many CPAs nervous because advice doesn’t balance. Advice can’t be guaranteed.

• Your output as a CPA firm is to help clients make better financial decisions. Everything you do needs to be centered around client success – not around manufacturing tax returns.

As a CPA, it’s easy to think your job is simply to provide tax and auditing services – i.e. to give clients a historical analysis of their financial statements. Your input is data; your output is more data in the form of a completed tax return. Chances are, you became a CPA because you’ve always liked numbers and structure. Like many of your peers, you have always enjoyed balancing debits and credits because that way, you can prove without question that the output is right.

Your output should be based on producing better financial decisions for your client

Clients want your expert opinion. They want to work with a trusted professional whom they can rely on when faced with a complicated financial issue. They want to work with someone who understands their goals and who can help them achieve those goals.

Balancing credits and debits is a method to deliver advice. But, it’s not the output that matters to your clients. Your firm’s structure and processes are methods, but that’s not your output either. Your output – what clients are paying for – is to help them make better financial decisions to reach their goals.

This means having the courage to say to your clients: “In light of everything I know about you, your family, your goals and your resources, I’m going to tell you what will give you the highest likelihood of success.”

When people go to Home Depot to buy a drill, they aren’t buying the drill, they are buying the result they need – a clean, accurate hole in the wall. A drill doesn’t do anything by itself. It’s just the method. The goal is having a hole in the wall.

By helping clients understand what it takes to accomplish their goals, you provide a method that will get them there. Just remember, clients are buying the goal, not the method that got them to their goal. They don’t know the method; it’s your job to give that to them.

The problem with advice is that it doesn’t balance; there is no way to guarantee that you are right. By definition, you are offering an opinion, which means you could be wrong – and that makes a lot of CPAs uncomfortable.

However, if you do a great job understanding your clients’ goals and objectives, then you can become the expert in the client. You will learn enough about each client’s financial situation to tell them better than anyone else what’s going in their financial life – what it means, and what they should do next. You don’t always have to give clients the right answer; you just have to give them the highest likelihood of success. As the “expert” in your client, there’s no one better positioned to let them know what’s going on in their financial life and what they should do next.

Real-World Example

Think about people who go to a doctor when they have a medical issue or when they sense something isn’t quite right. For instance, suppose they have a detached retina and a cataract in their left eye. If the doctor recommends surgery, the patient is not buying surgery (or even the knife) – he or she is paying for VISION. What’s more, the doctor is NOT guaranteeing that the patient will have perfect vision after the surgery and the patient doesn’t expect that kind of guarantee from the doctor either. Doctors don’t make money-back guarantees. The doctor is simply telling the patient that surgery gives them the highest likelihood of seeing better and, if it’s a serious issue, the highest likelihood of NOT DYING.

Doctors’ advice is based on everything that they know about a patient, including the patient’s medical history and test results. The doctor’s advice is based on helping the patient achieve their ultimate goal of recovering from their current medical issue and continuing to enjoy life. It’s up to the patient to take the advice or leave it. As a CPA, your clients are not buying a tax return; they’re paying you for better financial decisions.

Manufacturing Better Advice

In order to help your clients make better financial decisions, everything you do (whether externally when you meet your client or internally when you train your staff) needs to be centered on creating client success – not manufacturing tax returns.

So, how do you build better systems and a process around creating great decisions for your clients? A computer is just one of your tools. Don’t try to compete with a computer by getting really good at inputting data and spitting out data. That’s no longer enough. What will keep you relevant is the ability to offer a true professional opinion in the role of the client’s most trusted advisor and to give clients advice that provides them the best chance of succeeding.

It is essential to understand that your true value to your clients is based on helping them achieve their goals. It’s all about helping them define their goals, developing the best method to get them there, letting them know when they start to go off track and helping them get back on track. Give your clients what they really want from you – the guidance they need to get where they want to go by helping them make better financial decisions.