I was recently talking with a friend who is an extremely savvy business owner. She set up an LLC a number of years ago and, now that she’s expanding that business in a new direction with a partner, she consulted with an accountant to determine what sort of entity, if any, she and her new partner should establish. The accountant made the almost offhand comment that she always recommends that a business with $X in net profit should be an S-corporation to take advantage of certain tax savings. My friend was horrified that her previous accountant had clearly dropped the ball because her business had exceeded the $X net profit for many years now.
Look beyond the specifics and even the realities here: my friend had confidence in her first accountant until the new accountant offered a different approach that was purported to be much more favorable. Though she’s business-savvy, she doesn’t know which accountant is correct. Both positions seem plausible… How should she judge?
How often are your clients put into a similar position, in which they’re unable to evaluate your advice with independent knowledge and understanding?
Some clients are legally savvy in your area of practice, which has its own pluses and minuses, but here’s the real question for today: how can you avoid losing your client’s confidence if she can’t make her own judgment about your advice?
- Explain your advice, and make sure that at a minimum your client understands the basis for your advice. If additional information comes from another source, your client will have something to hold onto with the explanation you provided rather than being left to question your advice simply by virtue of shiny, new advice.
- Where appropriate, follow up with your clients and offer an updated review of their situation. Depending on your area of practice, you might even have a simple self-test to help your clients determine whether changed circumstances might require a fresh legal look. Note that changes might be based on changes to a client’s circumstances (as in my friend’s example) or they might be based on changes in the law that may affect a larger number of clients. Should you charge for the review? It depends on the amount of time your review will require and the volume of clients, among other issues.
- Consider whether you might send periodic mailings with some guidelines to scan for legally relevant change, such as, “If your net profit grows to more than $X, we should re-evaluate whether a different structure might be appropriate.” This is the least effective of these three approaches since it leaves the ball entirely in your client’s court, so consider a scheduled personal outreach to check the guidelines you provided.
Each of these approaches may garner more business for you as your clients’ circumstances change, and that’s valuable for you. More importantly, however, they offer protection for your clients going forward and decrease the chance that a change will unintentionally trigger your clients’ distrust. Once a seed of doubt is planted, you’ll find it difficult to recapture your clients’ confidence even if your advice is still applicable and on the mark.
Although these three tactics may be helpful to put into place, there’s one habit that will take the cake, regardless of which tactics you do or don’t use: connecting with your clients on a regular basis. Early in the pandemic, I advised my clients to touch base with their clients, just to see how they’re doing. To care about their clients.
Obviously, the ability to do that depends significantly on the volume of your practice. If you have a high-volume practice (patent prosecution for small companies, perhaps), you may find It impossible to check it with all of your clients. However, no matter the size, volume, or complexity of your practice, you can certainly identify key clients or key referral sources and check in with them. When you connect with your clients, they’re less likely to be distracted or poached by fresh advice—at least, without talking with you first.
Oh, and those tactics… You do realize they too are all about connection, right?
What do you need to put into place to protect your clients and yourself?