21 Questions To Ask Prospective Accounting Clients
When it comes time to interview a potential client, a big part of an accountant’s job is demonstrating the value in choosing their firm.
But many think making the firm shine involves a lot of talking and not too much listening.
That’s a mistake.
In reality, asking some key accounting client questions and letting the potential client do the talking is a better option, because it:
- Helps you learn more about their business and financial situation.
- Helps you identify unique ways you can help their business.
- Helps you demonstrate your knowledge to them without saying much at all.
Most people enjoy talking about themselves. And asking open-ended questions can get potential clients thinking about challenges and opportunities that might not have occurred to them before.
Here are 21 key questions you can use to engage prospective accounting clients, learn more about their needs, and demonstrate your firm's value at the same time.
Cover The Basic Accounting Client Questions
Of course, every accountant should demonstrate that they know what they’re doing by covering the basic questions. These will affect what kind of relationship the potential client needs with you.
1. What can you tell us about your business?
Before discussing anything else, you need to have a clear idea of what kind of business your prospective client has.
Give them the opportunity to offer as much information as possible, and then move on to other fundamental questions that help you understand essential elements of their business structure.
2. What is your business entity?
If they’re a Sole Proprietor, an LLC, an S-Corp, or a C-Corp, it’s important to know off the bat. Their answer can create other questions that might come up in your conversation.
3. Do you have payroll?
It’s important for both the potential client and you if you have a discussion about their payroll situation.
As their future accountant, you’ll have to work with their accounting software, payroll schedule, and filing system. If they hired a third party service, you’ll need to work with their system.
Use this conversation to show your ability to adapt to the potential client’s unique needs and demonstrate your experience with different accounting systems.
4. Do you have inventory?
If they have inventory, it’s important to know the details about it:
- How much do you have?
- Is it listed on your balance sheet?
- Do you consider your inventory expenses or assets?
Many businesses that increase the volume of goods they purchase and sell don’t realize they need to define it as inventory and accurately record it.
Asking about it now can remind you to speak to them about their inventory management needs again down the road.
5. How many accounts do you have?
This CPA client question will help you understand what kind of workload you might undertake as their accountant. It also demonstrates to your potential client that you’re thorough and professional when assessing your prospects.
They’ll probably tell you about their business’ checking and savings accounts, and maybe a few credit cards, but keep prompting them. More likely than not, they also have a PayPal account, bank loans, equipment leases, and other accounts that will need to be reconciled.
6. Are your tax returns current?
You should probably ask for a sizeable retainer before taking on a client who is years behind on their taxes. But still, knowing the answer to this accounting prospect question can help you offer value -- as an accountant, you know the steps to determine exactly what they owe and how to mitigate a similar problem in the future.
7. Do you report sales tax?
Sales tax reporting is another major undertaking that an accountant can help with. Dig into the question to learn more about how you can meet their needs:
- Do they file monthly, quarterly, or annually?
- Are their filings up-to-date?
- Have they ever had a sales tax audit?
In addition to their financial statements, you can help them keep track of their capital asset activity, vehicle log, and other important documents for reporting sales tax. Make them aware of certain deductions they might qualify for as well, such as mortgage-interest and home-office expenses.
8. Do you have any plans to expand or scale back operations?
Few realize the valuable role an accountant can play as a business-planning advisor.
When it comes to financial services, ‘financial advisor’ receives a whopping 1 million annual searches:
So it’s great news if your potential client realizes your value as both an accountant and financial advisor.
If your potential client has plans to expand or scale back operations, you can put yourself in a position to help by:
- Providing key financial reports for decision-making.
- Performing gain and loss forecasts for future projects.
- Offering suggestions based on your experience working with similar businesses.
Use their answer to determine unique ways you can help their business grow.
Dig Into Their Challenges
Once the basic business accounting client questions are out of the way, let things become more personal to engage them even further.
Digging into their business challenges -- the problems that keep them up at night -- will help you build rapport and find more ways to offer value to them.
9. How do you define success?
This question can be a great ice-breaker that leads into a more informal discussion of their goals, ideals, and challenges.
It also shows your potential client that you care about more about their business than just numbers on paper.
Asking about how they define success will help you build a personal connection and make you more memorable than other accountants who just stick to the basics.
Asking about how they define success will help you build a personal connection and make you more memorable
10. What’s one thing about your business you’re most proud of?
An accounting prospect question like this can launch your potential client into a story that they think fondly of, which helps build rapport as well.
At the same time, the answer can lead to more constructive questions about their workforce, operations, or legacy planning. Focus on their strengths and how you can help their business make the most of them.
11. If you could solve one challenge, what would it be?
According to Robert Half’s Finance & Accounting survey, there’s nothing accountants love more about their jobs than solving problems.
If that’s the case for you, this question will demonstrate it to your potential client.
Also, learning what challenge troubles them the most can help you start brainstorming actionable ways to work towards a solution through your role as an accountant.
Your prospective client might be surprised by what resources you have to help them with a wide variety of business issues.
12. How is your workforce performing?
Maybe your potential client’s business is suffering from some wage or benefits issues. Or maybe the prospect of a minimum wage increase is causing some waves with their workforce.
This accounting client question is important to build an understanding of their business landscape. And it could give you an opportunity to offer suggestions (e.g. workforce development programs, low-cost training) for particular challenges they are facing with their workforce.
13. Are you having any regulatory challenges?
It’s more than likely your potential client faces some regulatory challenges at the city, county or state level. Your firm could have resources or contacts that can aid in solving these issues.
14. How is your debt-to-equity situation?
Few people realize that a good accountant can help them manage debt as well. If your potential client has debt, let them know you can help them negotiate with creditors and develop a plan to reduce it.
You can help them:
- Find more attractive bank terms.
- Identify excess business cash to pay down debt.
- Identify changes the company can make to qualify for tax benefits.
15. How have your investment and retirement portfolios performed relative to the market?
Use this CPA client question to demonstrate the role you can play in improving their investment portfolios as well.
Based on their answer, explain how you can:
- Monitor investment performance against relevant benchmarks.
- Make suggestions for investment in qualified and non-qualified plans.
- Help them understand the impact of taxation on portfolio value.
Set Yourself Apart
These last few accounting client questions are an opportunity to set yourself apart from any other accounting firms they may be considering, as well as differentiate yourself from their former firm.
16. Are you up-to-date on changes in local tax laws?
Tax laws change frequently, and few business owners have the ability to keep up on it all.
If you know of any recent changes in tax legislation that could affect your potential client, ask them about it. Pointing out their lack of knowledge can ultimately serve to make your firm seem all the more valuable.
17. How do you think we can add value to your company?
According to an Accountemps survey, two of the most common misconceptions about accountants is that they only do taxes, and only focus on crunching numbers.
Asking your potential client how they think you can add value to their company will help you understand which misconceptions they might believe about your role.
If their response is related to crunching numbers and doing taxes, then you have more work to do explaining the pivotal role you can play in their business’ growth and success.
18. Are you interested in cross-referral opportunities?
Ask this CPA client question to point out the value an accountant can bring regarding networking.
You may have contacts that can help them grow their business, and help them network for selling, buying, potential business partnerships, and more.
19. Why are you changing firms?
Knowing your potential client’s motivating factors behind changing accountants could be the most important information you need to ensure your firm meets their expectations.
Maybe the incumbent firm had limitations in their services (e.g. handling international locations), or maybe it was a service-level issue (e.g. they were unresponsive).
Get to the bottom of the problem to know how your firm can help. This will also show that you care about not disappointing them in the same way.
20. Can you name a few strengths your previous firm has?
Dig deeper into your potential client’s relationship with their previous firm. Demonstrate your determination to deliver the best service possible by learning what the client liked about their old accountant.
Maybe they always created helpful visual data visualizations to help them understand their portfolio value or financial reports. You can pick up on these strengths in your work as well.
21. How could your former firm have improved their service?
For many, finances are the driving force behind seeking a new accountant. If that’s the case here, you can get more information about how to be a better option by digging into the nuances of the client’s relationship with their former accountant.
If this accounting client question doesn’t draw a strong criticism out of your potential client, then follow it up with this one: Was there anything your previous firm did that really bothered you?
If you want to show your value to a prospective client, most of your efforts should involve breaking down preconceived notions about an accountant’s role, and demonstrating all the different ways you can help them and their business.
Instead of lecturing your prospects about the breadth of your job description, it’s better to engage them with key questions that lead to a productive conversation about how you can best help them.
Use these 21 questions as a template to start productive conversations and get more clients.
Know of any other accounting client questions that can help firms show their value to prospective clients? Comment below.