“So your Capex spend has increased this month but your EBITDA has gone down, but to be honest this is just a ballpark figure off the back of a fag packet and there’s probably a few timing issues here as well.”
As accountants, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of speaking accounting jargon to your clients or potential clients. Accountants generally work with other accountants and we form an echo chamber where we speak our own secret language that no one else understands. When communicating among your colleagues and fellow accountants this is fine, but there needs to be an off switch when you’re speaking to clients.
So my client won’t even know what a general ledger is?
Not necessarily, but even if they don’t that’s fine and you shouldn’t look down on them for it. Your client may know accounting terms and may even have some accounting knowledge from running their business, but they aren’t accountants and they have limited knowledge in something that you specialise in – this is the reason they’re coming to you for your services!
However, despite what knowledge your client may have, it is better to speak to them in plain English and tell them how things work in a non-condescending way. People who need accounting services are often intimidated by finance & accounting and they don’t want to feel stupid and shouldn’t be put off from all the ways accountants can help their business thrive.
How should I speak to my client?
Most of all, with patience.It’s not their job to be an accountant – that’s why they hired you! But it is their job to understand their business and use their financial information to make management decisions. This is why the communication between accountants and management is so crucial and it should be done in plain English as much as possible. Just because they aren’t all that sharp on accounting knowledge doesn’t mean they are stupid and they should never be treated as such.
Most clients you have aren’t numbers people and that should be remembered no matter how long you work with them. From personal experience, clients react better to stories than numbers – create a story around the numbers and it becomes much easier for you to explain and for your client to understand.
Simply stating what the client’s numbers are isn’t enough; explaining what the numbers mean for the client’s business, telling a story behind the numbers as well as any trends you’ve spotted is where clients get real value from your accounting skills. If you can give your client that information in plain English then your client will be extremely satisfied with your service and will undoubtedly use you again and recommend you to others.
This does take practice and it can be difficult to speak to a colleague in accounting terminology one minute and then have to explain the exact same issue in a client-friendly way the next minute.
It takes time to develop the skill and the best way to mitigate any mistakes is to be honest with your client. Tell them that accountants are guilty of throwing jargon terms around subconsciously, and they should feel free to ask any questions if any jargons slip out. Clients will appreciate this and will be more likely to ask questions when needed as you haven’t assumed that they should know all those wonderful accounting terms. This will lead to your clients having a better understanding of their business, leading to better results for their business and a job well done for all parties involved!
Eventually your client will start to gain knowledge of accounting from your conversations with them which will be a satisfying feeling and the sign of a job well done. At this point you may be able to use some accounting terms more often, but don’t go overboard!
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