Geni Whitehouse, founder of The Impactful Advisor, has helped accountants reach their business goals for well over a decade. Having experienced the emotional drain of working in tax and compliance herself, Geni decided to shake-up the industry by advocating what she calls a client-centric approach. This means letting go of the notion that you’re the expert in the room, and instead listening to what your clients really need.
“It’s so much more fun to say, ‘you have a cash flow problem, here’s what you can do about it,’ rather than, ‘here’s your $50k tax bill, I know you don’t have the cash to pay it, good luck’.” she says.
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The Power of Listening
Geni understands the anxiety accountants can feel when they’re not as knowledgeable as they think they should be. But walking into a room knowing you’re not the expert is an advantage, she says, not a liability. The aim of the game is to help clients improve across the board—and sometimes the best way to discover issues is to simply ask questions.
“We don’t have to know all the answers, we just have to listen and be able to say ‘ok, it sounds like these are your biggest problems’,” says Geni.
This is a process she herself is well-versed in. In 2007, Geni joined a Napa Valley firm specialising in the wine industry. Knowing nothing about wine herself meant that Geni had to ask her clients a lot of “dumb questions” to get herself up to speed—and the answers often unearthed a lot of potential for growth.
“One of the services I do is just process mapping,” she says. “I just go onsite and say, ‘ok, how does the sales process work?’. We then take sticky notes and each person who has a role puts it on a wall and we can see how ridiculous the process is. I’ll give them recommendations subsequent to that, but that’s a huge value-add, just to walk through and listen from an outside perspective to what they’re actually doing.”
Using Technology to Streamline and Scale
When asked on the best way to scale services while still maintaining that client-centric focus, Geni sums up her approach in three words: You use tools!
“Now we have tools that allow us to pull data out and put it in a way that’s understandable quickly, without pivot tabling and pasting stuff into a spreadsheet so the formats come out the same,” she says. “Excel can take weeks sometimes!”
But accounting software doesn’t just make processes faster and more accurate—it also supports communication between clients and accountants, who sometimes don’t speak the same (financial) language.
“Tools like Spotlight Reporting are important,” says Geni. “It allows us to make the translation between the way we see things and the way our client needs to see data presented. For me, spreadsheets are the most insightful thing imaginable, but to my clients it means nothing. So the fact you can bridge my communication style with my clients’ is a huge boon for me, and it helps raise my value when I can speak their language instead of mine.”