As professionals we are renowned for the things we know. In fact, that’s what we sell – our expertise and experience. Professionals get smarter over time, and they eventually get to claim expertise status! And the clients are better off for it too. They get the wealth of information from our brains, can ask us anything, and we’ll help them. We as professional entrepreneurs truly can help our clients.
However, that is only half of the picture. As professionals, there is another part to our success – the client. There is no professional unless they have a client to serve. It’s both sides. It’s a beautiful collaborative mixture of everyone staying in their lanes. To the client we can say: “We’ll get really good at growth advisory, and you go grow your dental practice.” As growth and accounting advisory professionals, we can get really good at growth, and the dentist can get really good at growing a dental practice. The dentist does not have to go learn Quickbooks, or how to read financials; and we do not have to know the complexity of putting dental implants or crowns in a patient’s mouth. Everyone can stay in their lanes, and we all can grow and need each other through the process. It’s beautiful!
As a professional running a professional firm, you must realize that your client base, and how they collaborate in your service to them, is key to your own firm’s success and scaling. By that I mean that the very people you serve (the client) can be the very ones to make your firm’s growth impossible. You are in partnership with your clients, and they have a job to do in the relationship, just like the professional does. Many clients wrongly view their accounting and advisory firm as theirs to direct. Worse, many accounting firm owners willingly collude with their clients in letting the client own their firm. This practice is hurtful all around. The client must view your firm as a partner in their own success. And the firm must view the client in the same way. So as you output value and knowledge from your firm, you get to expect that your client will consume the value you are outputting on a regular basis. That is their job as a client.
This may be an odd phrase, but it’s one we realized some time ago when we were selling advisory packages to some clients that didn’t actually use or ‘consume’ the value of what we were creating. In a sense, our clients are required to ‘ingest’ our value. I’m using these words for the impact. Picture a client sitting down to a meal of your service, and you as the firm leader cook it, put flowers on the table, pour a nice glass of wine (preferably a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand), and then you sit with your client as they cut up the service, chew it, and swallow it. They exclaim “Delightful!” When they are done, they are full and satisfied, and you get up to get them a second glass of wine.
This is the picture of Value Consumption. But there’s more to the story. As the “chef”, the firm owner can expect the client to take time to sit down to the meal. You get to ask them to eat. And as you serve them, you must expect that they will finish their meal and enjoy it. But how awful when our clients never show up to the meals we cook for them! This cannot be. When we are in partnership with our clients, we can expect them to fulfill their part of the contract – which is to show up timely, consume the meals we serve, enjoy them, and then get the full benefit from them to go change their own companies. Hear me: it is a sign of the professional’s lack of leadership when we sell an accounting/advisory package that we allow our clients to skip out on. Professionals don’t let this happen. Instead, they contract the meal, the tasting, the visit to eat, and the finishing of the meal in the contract so that the client knows their role as the client – to consume the value that we as a professional firm are outputting.
We are to hold our clients accountable to take in the contracts we collaboratively created with them. Practically, if you set meetings that are part of your service, then the client does not have the right to skip them if they entered into the agreement with you. Further, you get to hold them accountable to show up. You must! The value of what you are creating is at stake!
Julie and I were at a retreat with a partner group and their leadership team before beginning our consulting with them. As we always do, we told them what a consulting relationship will look like over the next 1.5 years we intended to spend with them. And we told them in that meeting, “You have no right to dismantle or get in the way of the services or value that we intend to deliver to you.” Gulp. They swallowed hard, but it made a point that we are not playing around. The planning we did for them meant something, and it was valuable. And we know that our clients have no right to undo what we have sold them.
So as you serve your clients, institute a kick-off meeting before you begin your work – and teach the client how to be a client in your firm. And how you will be able to transform them if they’ll step up to the challenge to show up for the work you have planned to change them. Clients don’t know how to be clients. It’s kind to teach them how to consume the value that your firm outputs. Specifically, you have to teach them how to be clients in your firm (which is probably different from the last firm they just fired). When the partnership between the professional and the client is clear, then transformation can happen.
Jason is the Founder of Thriveal and the Chief Innovative Officer of his CPA firm, Blumer & Associates. He is the co-host of the Thrivecast and The Businessology Show and speaks and writes frequently for CPAs and creatives, his firm’s chosen niche. Jason loves to watch documentaries on just about anything. He lives in Greenville, SC with his wife and their three children.