The Hard Part About Being Proactive — Most Clients Just Want the Work to Get Done

I like to use my blog as a place to occasionally push back against so-called “experts” who say accountants are doing our clients wrong by not being “proactive.”

As I’ve written before, it’s not nearly as simple as “experts” make it sound in their books and speeches.

The typical small business client doesn’t have time to engage in meetings with an accountant to do “proactive planning.” Would I love it if I could spend all of my time just doing proactive planning with my business clients? Heck yes! I’d love it. But that’s not the reality.

Here’s the reality: most clients, small business or otherwise, just want the work do get done.

If there’s a tax return to prepare, they want it prepared and prepared accurately.

If there’s bookkeeping that needs done, they want it done and done accurately.

If payroll needs processed, they want it processed and they want it done accurately.

What Does “Proactive” Mean?

The other thing that bothers me about the whole “proactive” discussion is: what does “proactive” mean?

The “experts” imply that we’re supposed to be these all-knowing savants, pointing out things the client could be doing better with managing finances and running their business. Like we’re supposed to be saviors to our business clients.

I don’t think most businesses are looking for a savior, nor do I think an accountant can do much to “save” a struggling business. There are so many things out of our control. We can point out cash flow issues and perhaps help the client manage finances better, and we can help strategize on how to manage or reduce the business’s tax liability … but typically if a business needs “saved,” there are major systemic problems that no accountant can control and only the client can fix. But that’s another post for another day.

If, by proactive, we mean that we try to be on top of situations that might arise, and that we try to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises at tax time for our clients, and that we pick up the phone and call our clients rather than waiting for the client to call us, I agree completely.

But expecting accountants to be some sort of savior or miracle worker or savant is ridiculously naive as to what most of us deal with day to day working with clients in the real world. Most clients just want the work to get done. Period.