The accounting profession prides itself on having all the answers. Do you want to know the depreciable life of a dairy cow? We have the answer. Need to know how to calculate LIFO inventory? We can help. Want to project cash flow for the next 5 years? Give us a call. We have answers.

But sometimes instead of answers, our clients just need someone to ask different questions.

Think about it.  How can we possibly know the intricacies of each one of our clients’ businesses?  They live and breathe receipts and disbursements, make daily financial and managerial decisions, and hire and fire people. They order products, evaluate services, and sweat the details.  They know their business better than we ever will.  But they might not be asking the right questions.

That’s where we can help.  We work with clients of all types. We are trained investigators. We know how to read the story of a financial statement.  We are curious by nature.  We can ask questions.

Here are some sample questions you might ask your clients:

  1. Who is your best customer? How often do you evaluate your customer list?
  2. Which product is your most profitable?
  3. What is unique about your business?
  4. Why are your accounts receivable growing faster than sales?
  5. Is your software providing you with business insights? Does it support your future growth?
  6. Are you getting the reports you need to manage your business? If not, what tools are you using?
  7. Does everyone on your team know how they contribute to your bottom line? If not, what are your plans to change that?
  8. Which customers have bought more this year than last year? Which ones have bought less? What is the percentage of increase or decrease?
  9. How do your customers find you?
  10. How do you evaluate employee performance? Are incentives tied to individual or team performance?

By asking good questions, we empower our clients to find their own answers.  We can inspire and lead them to achieve the results they crave. And we can hold them accountable. But it takes courage to put ourselves in a position where we don’t know everything.  We have to be willing to walk down unpaved paths with our clients while remaining open to whatever discoveries appear along the way.  When we hit a dead end or don’t have the answers, we have to be willing to say “I don’t know” and then look for outside help.

When we ask instead of telling, we position our clients as the experts. And isn’t that the ultimate goal?

About the Author

GW headshot outsideGeni Whitehouse, CPA.CITP is an author, speaker, and instructor who works with CPAs and their clients to make boring subjects interesting. She is the founder of www.evenanerd.com  and spends part of her time working with Brotemarkle, Davis & Co. as a consultant to wineries in the Napa Valley. She has lots of questions about the wine industry including, “How do you pronounce ‘Gewurztraminer’?”

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