As an accountant, your job is easier when your clients keep meticulous records and properly track their expenses. Of course, as any accountant knows, most clients are far from perfect on this front. And sometimes, newer or especially challenging clients might not realize how negatively their errors and disorganization affect your work.
However, with a little bit of coaching, your clients can easily change their ways and streamline their processes so that you can better serve them. Start with these 11 tips, and then, as clients heed your advice, consider giving them more guidance specific to their finances, industry or company structure.
1. Don't mix personal and business expenses
A fundamental tenet of business accounting is to separate business expenses from personal ones; however, your clients may not be aware of this precept.
For example, a new business owner might not realize that storing receipts for business purchases made using one's personal credit card in company files is problematic. Stress to your clients that they should maintain business bank accounts and credit cards separately from their personal accounts and cards. Advise your clients to link their business accounts – not their personal accounts – to their expense tracking software.
2. Go automated, but always double-check
Some business owners prefer to track their spending and income manually. You should discourage this habit and point your clients toward accounting software.
Explain to your clients that, by linking their program to their business bank accounts and cards, the software automatically logs all transactions, eliminating the need for (and time involved with) maintaining spreadsheets manually.
3. Choose software platforms that integrate with one another
Inform your clients about the importance of integrating their accounting software with their payroll solution. Payroll is a major expense for businesses – your clients' accounting software should be linked with the payroll platform they use, and vice versa.
An accounting platform that doesn't track payroll is an incomplete tool, as is a payroll program that doesn't transmit information to the accounting software program. Many payroll programs offer ample integrations – and plenty more.
4. Don't overlook benefits
If your clients offer benefits to their employees, you should stress to your clients that tracking their company's spending on premiums and other benefit expenses is crucial to accounting.
Government regulations regarding benefits and payroll abound, and you and your clients should be sure all their benefit practices are compliant. You can suggest buying software that handles payroll, benefits and tax compliance in one fell swoop. Speaking of compliance …
5. Keep up with tax deadlines
Some of your small business owner clients might not realize they might need to pay quarterly taxes. Explain these taxes to your clients, and stress their deadlines, paperwork requirements, and the criteria companies must meet to be exempt from quarterly payments (although, as you know, few small businesses are exempt).
You should also discuss a plan for your clients to set aside enough money to cover these taxes. When payment dates arrive, work with your clients to ensure payment and proper form completion. Make sure your clients record their payment amounts, as they're important for the next tip.
6. Don't skimp on profit and loss statements
A great tip, one that makes your job easier, is to teach your clients how to create a profit and loss (P&L) statement and then to update those P&L statements quarterly. You'll want to explain to your clients that P&L statements indicate how close their company is to meeting its financial goals. Encourage your clients to compare their P&L statement for one quarter to the statement from the previous quarter to identify changes in revenue and expenses.
7. Stay on top of client payments
Advise your clients to stay on top of their clients. Experts recommend that, at most, 15% of a company's invoices at any one time go unpaid, and you should make sure your client knows this. Educate them on best practices for pursuing unpaid invoices, including the option of adding late payment fees. Then, turn your client's attention to their own payment practices.
8. Stay current on vendor payments
Your clients likely hire third-party vendors for key services, and that means paying them. Advise your clients to set firm vendor payment terms such as net 15, net 30, net 60 and net 90 to keep their finances in check. Then, teach your clients how to implement these payment terms. Explain that, with these terms in place, your clients will know exactly when to expect funds to leave their accounts, making expense tracking – and your job – much easier.
9. Receipts matter
Your clients pay their vendors after receiving invoices, but invoices themselves are not payment. That's why you should advise your clients to count not invoices as documents of payment, but receipts.
If your clients send vendors money via ACH payments, the receipt can be the bank statement that reflects the transaction. When your clients invoice their clients, the receipt can be the bank statement that documents the payment.
10. Look inside the company
Paying employees, of course, is a crucial part of any business, but employee wages are a fraction of a company's labor costs. Your clients must also cover payroll taxes and benefit premiums. These costs add up quickly, and it's extremely bad practice for clients to cut back on employee compensation after realizing they've overspent.
The only feasible path for avoiding these extra costs involves clients looking inward. For example, are there some roles that are better filled by independent contractors than employees? Tell your clients that, if the role involves work that can be done at any time and with business decisions independent from the company, they can likely classify these employees as independent contractors. That means no benefit offerings or tax payments.
11. Choose the right business structure
Often, your clients have chosen their business structure before seeking your services. What your clients might not know, though, is that they can change their structure if another option is more advantageous for them.
For example, if your client finds that the pass-through taxation of their partnership makes it difficult to separate their business expenses from their personal ones, you can suggest to your client that they switch to become a C corporation.
No matter your client's needs, be prepared to explain the ins and outs of all business taxation structures – and stress how software programs can make navigating these rules significantly easier.
How to help your clients – and yourself – follow these tips
If there's one big takeaway from all these tips for accountants to give their clients, it's that accounting and payroll software makes following these suggestions significantly easier. These software solutions neatly and accessibly compile the financial information needed for P&L statements, streamline payroll and benefits administration, ensure tax compliance, and distinguish business expenses from personal ones. Some programs even streamline client-accountant teamwork.
Gusto is a great example. It offers your clients user-friendly payroll and benefits administration designed for small businesses, Plus, clients' employees enjoy unique Gusto benefits, such as Gusto Cashout and the Gusto Wallet app. It integrates with small business accounting, time-tracking, point-of-sale, and expense-management tools to give your clients more peace of mind around payroll, benefits, and tax compliance. And as an accountant, your firm gets access to Gusto payroll for free ‒ just onboard one new client per year.
Alongside its payroll and benefits suite for businesses, Gusto offers accountants its Gusto Pro program. Using Gusto Pro, you can quickly view all of your clients and their payroll information. Your workflow will be streamlined, giving you extra time to consult your clients on all the tips on this list. And if you want to expand your skill set while earning CPE credits, Gusto offers a People Advisor certification program.
Refer your clients to Gusto's payroll and benefits systems; they get a one-month free trial, followed by exclusive discounted monthly fees after the trial ends. With such fair prices and extensive features, Gusto is a great solution for both you and your clients.
Become a Gusto partner today to streamline not just your clients' accounting, but your own workflow.