Tax & Accounting Blog

Speaking the Language of Small Business

Accounting Firms, Business Strategy & Development, Marketing December 18, 2013

You know there’s a difference between huge corporations and mom-and-pop shops. That includes the way they think about their business – and even the way they talk about it.

You need to tailor your communication to suit your small-business clients’ needs and priorities.

It’s Point of View

“First, you have to remove your practitioner hat and think of yourself as a small-business owner,” says Paul Miller, president/founder of Business By Design, Inc., in Edina, Minnesota.

Miller founded Business By Design when he struck out on his own as an entrepreneur, and quickly discovered that he needed someone to help him develop an effective tax plan. He didn’t simply want tax and accounting services, though. He wanted a trusted advisor. That’s exactly the service he provides now.

Being a Partner

“I think all entrepreneurs want someone who’s going to help them run their business – not just do the compliance work,” Miller says. “They want to be led by someone who has been there and understands what they need to make their business successful.”

Big Ideas

Here are five great tips for talking to small businesses.

  1. Don’t think like a practitioner. Think like a small business. (Which you may actually be.)
  2. Explain why your firm understands the needs of small businesses. What makes you well-suited to serving their needs?
  3. Base your business on relationships, not tax returns. Build relationships and business opportunities will follow.
  4. Talk about tangible systems and processes for improvement instead of cerebral concepts.
  5. Listen to what your clients have to say. Then advise and guide them on the business solutions they need.

That’s why he suggests not bringing up tax and accounting services right away. First, find out what the client wants. Really listen. Then translate what you’ve heard into a practical solution.

For example, Miller says, if you find out your client isn’t maximizing his or her tax deductions, use an analogy anyone can relate to.

“They might have a $100 monthly medical expense, but the average taxpayer has to earn $170 in profit to pay that, because about $70 of what they earned went to the IRS,” he explains. “You can use an analogy like that to demonstrate the impact of tax deductions and other business strategies on their bottom line.”

Clear and Simple

In a similar vein: Stay away from abstract concepts. Stick to concrete, tangible steps a small business can take to improve its productivity and profitability. Small businesses are more likely than big ones to be focused on what’s right in front of them. Show them how to improve on those things.

Visuals can be helpful, too, which is why Miller includes some videos on his website to get people started ( Printed graphics can also be effective.

“Most people are very visual, so I think it helps to draw things out for them,” Miller says. “It lets people see what your strategies are and helps them connect the dots.”

The Voice of Experience

If your practice is small, so much the better. You can tell your client you know from experience whether certain strategies will work. You’re in an especially strong position to talk with small businesses on their terms.

Be sure to focus on the value you can deliver beyond tax and accounting services (see “Practice Makes Perfect“). Find out how their past experiences have been and demonstrate how you can serve as a business advisor, not just an accountant.

“When I do this, my clients look at me like, ‘Yes! That’s what I’ve been looking for someone to do for me: to explain how to run my business more efficiently for a better end result,'” says Miller.

Ultimately, you want to describe your services in business terms. After all, what could resonate with business owners more than the language of business?

Most important of all, focus on your firm’s relationship with the client. Business opportunities will grow from there.