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How Accountants Can Help You Grow Your Small Business in 2021 and Beyond

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We asked 3,000 small businesses what they need from their accountants

We asked thousands of small and medium businesses around the world about how their relationships with their accountants are evolving. Here’s what we learned about your challenges, and how accountants can help you grow.

What do SMBs need to grow? 

The global pandemic has changed how people are spending, resulting in a cash crunch that has gripped many SMBs. In some countries, state intervention has supported businesses in keeping employees on payroll and delaying rent and tax, but cash is a priority. 

We asked SMB owners which factors were the most important for growing their business over the next year and over the next three years between:

  • Healthier cash flow 
  • Better understanding of my business tax burden
  • Better access to available tax reliefs
  • Software that supports my business supply chain
  • Understanding risk exposure
  • More real time understanding of costs
  • Reducing fraud in my finances
  • Financial Planning for my business
  • Better understanding of regulation
  • Assistance applying for financing/ investment

SMB owners worldwide said healthier cashflow was the most important factor for future growth, except in France – where better access to tax relief was the most popular.

Our research also shows that while 85% of SMB owners want to grow their business in the future, less than half are looking to grow within the next 12 months. Entrepreneurs under 34 years old are four times more likely to have struggled with their finances over the last 12 months, but they still want to grow.

How do SMBs see the role of accountants?

Accountants are seen as valuable for a range of services, but the data suggest that the majority still see them primarily as a source of value in traditional compliance areas, particularly tax. Given that cashflow is a major concern, it’s understandable that most businesses would be wary of taking on additional costs:

  • The services they deem most valuable are also those for which they are most willing to pay.
  • Tax services are the most popular choice, with paying the right amount of tax being considered valuable enough to win majority SMB approval. 
  • Willingness to pay corresponds closely with non-optional compliance services, with the exception of finding business savings and fraud management.
  • This suggests a focus on covering essential compliance costs, with wariness of risking capital on growth-driving services.
53%  Of SMBs communicate with their accountant at least once a week.49% Of SMBs see their accountant as a business partner

Most businesses communicate with their advisors often, which is reflected in the way nearly half of SMB owners see their accountant as a partner in their business. However, the relationship seems to be changing:

  • Younger SMB owners (18-34) are generally in much more frequent contact, being 2 times more likely to be in touch with their accountant at least once a week than those over 45.
  • SMB owners between 18-34 were twice as likely to see their accountant as a business partner than those over 55.

This shows a clear desire among younger SMB owners for a closer relationship with their accountant, especially among the youngest entrepreneurs who were 5X more likely to be in daily contact with their accountant than those aged 55+. This doesn’t only apply to accounting – they also show more interest in digital technology, financial support and regulatory education. 

Maximising your potential for growth

We asked SMBs who they would consult for support on the following services between:

  • Accountant
  • Financial planner
  • Bookkeeper
  • Management consultant
  • Family/ friend
  • Business troubleshooter

Accountants were nearly always the largest individual selection. Financial planners were slightly more popular, by a margin of 1% – but a significant number of respondents were not sure who to approach for advice.

Particularly notable were:

  • Software that supports my business supply chain (26%)
  • Understanding the risk exposure of my business (19%)
  • Reducing fraud in my finances (19%)

A lack of clarity over where to turn for these services was concentrated mainly among SMB owners 45 and over. This suggests that SMBs aren’t maximising their relationships with their accountants, whose firms may be able to provide these services.

Finding a Next Generation Accountant

As the world returns to some version of normal, SMBs will be the driving force behind the economic growth that will be required, but you’ll need great financial advice – and it’s most likely going to come from a great accountant.

To ensure you make the most of the challenges and opportunities of the current commercial environment, you’ll need an accountant who can prioritize digital transformation and service delivery. There are two key reasons for this:

  1. Digital will be the new normal: Even before 2020 made in-person business more difficult, consumers and companies going digital. You’ll need to meet entrepreneurs on their level and adapt to the way they want to work.
     
  2. In-depth services require increased efficiency: As SMBs ask for more than compliance and traditional planning, you’ll need to refocus time and resources away from manual data collection, management and analysis. By automating these processes, you can prioritise value-adding services based on insights and customer interaction.