Use Your Accountant as a Strategic Advisor
“I can’t figure out why I keep running into cash crunches,” Rick said as we chatted over lunch. “This is wrecking my business. Can you please take a look at my books?” he asked. He’s a good friend, so I agreed to review his financial statements to see what I could uncover.
Rick is an excellent website designer and marketer, but he’s awful with numbers. A quick review of his financial statements showed, among other things, that his pricing had little relationship to his costs, he wasn’t collecting money owed to him in a timely manner, and he was also tying up too much cash in a new product line he was selling.
After reviewing his financials, my very first question to Rick was, “Who is your accountant, and what exactly is this person doing for you?”
For too many small businesses, an accountant is someone who simply maintains their accounting software and does their taxes. Business owners often don’t know that the relationship can and absolutely should be more than that. Your accountant should be a strategic business partner. If they aren’t, you need to find a new one.
A good accountant is proactive and provides you with insights about your business that they glean through your financials. They have the ability to clearly see things that can help you build a healthier, more profitable business—if they are looking. They can spot signs of problems and alert you to potential issues with your strategy just by looking at your numbers.
There are many ways in which your accountant can provide strategic business advice. Here are three examples:
- Financial Analysis – Your accountant should provide an analysis of your company’s financial performance, helping you to understand trends, forecast future performance, and giving you the information you need to make the best decisions about things like products or services to offer or drop, changes to your pricing strategies, and expansion or contraction plans.
- Cash Flow Planning – You need to have a clear picture of how cash is expected to flow into and out of your business over the course of the year. I don’t know how any business owner operates without this information. Based on what I expect to happen in my business in 2023, I know how much cash I should have in December. I know in which months my cash will be lowest and when it will be at its highest levels this year. You should know this too–like you know your own name. This is how you avoid or prepare for cash crunches. This is how you know what you can invest in and when. Your accountant can help you prepare a cash flow forecast and update it every month so that any changes to actual versus expected performance are reflected as the year progresses.
- Capital Planning – You need capital to grow, but can your business afford to take on and repay that capital? How much can your business afford to take on safely? Can the project you have in mind generate enough of a return to make it worth pursuing outside capital to invest in it? These are questions that your accountant can help you answer. Before undertaking new projects or business strategies, you should work with your accountant to determine the expected return on investment, among other things.
You should plan to meet with your accountant every quarter to discuss the financial performance of your business. During these meetings, your accountant should include information such as how your business is performing, positive and negative drivers, how performance is changing/has changed over time, and how your company compares to benchmarks for the industry in which you operate. Additionally, make sure that they understand your goals for your business, both short and long-term, as this is essential context for any advice they offer.
Taking your business to the next level requires that you level up your accountant as well. Talk to your current accountant and set new expectations for the kind of information and insight you’ll expect from them going forward. Most accountants will happily step up their game. If they don’t, do yourself a favor and find a new one.