The conversation looks like this:
Advise: So how’s your cash flow?
Customer: (The face is glazed – most accountants are familiar with this look) Yes it’s good.
Advise: My advice is to use a cash flow projection app so you know better how much money you have.
Customer: Was good. I have it in my head, and I know the bank balance, so…
When I first thought of cash flow advice, I couldn’t believe small businesses wouldn’t take the leap when their accountant offered to help chart the ebb and flow. After all, cash flow is the key to the success or failure of any business. (Think Toys “R” Us is filing for bankruptcy. You can’t tell me there’s no demand for toys.)
Then I started considering offering cash advice as a service with my business coach. He asked a simple question: what is cash flow? That wasn’t the question that surprised me; I thought he was asking me to put my offer of service into words.
It was evident from the expression on his face. I see my friends getting the same glazed look when I talk about being an accountant and what I do for my clients. I started to understand that my coach and my friends felt something. I looked for other experiences when I saw a veiled reaction in my life, but I didn’t know how to put the reaction into words. Then Brené Brown, who writes books about vulnerability in both business and personal life, did it for me. She introduced me to the concept of FFTs (f—— first times).
What is an FFT? It is better to define an FFT without using words. Just watch the “Fold in the Cheese” music video from the sitcom “Schitt’s Creek.” Formerly wealthy, the mother and son embark on the making of an old family recipe. But neither of them can cook.
Moira: The next step is to incorporate the cheese.
David: What does that mean? What does “incorporating the cheese” mean?
Moira: You bend it.
David: I understand that, but how? How to fold it? Do you fold it in half, like a piece of paper, and drop it in the jar, or what do you do?
Moira: David, I can’t show you everything.
David: OK, well, can you show me something?
Moira: You just… here’s what you do. You just fold it.
David: OK, I don’t know how to fold broken cheese like that!
Moira: So I don’t know how to be clearer! You take this thing that’s in your hand.
David: Uh huh?
Moira: And you-
David: If you say “bend” one more time—
Moira: He says “bend it!”
Yes, it’s an FFT from Brené Brown: “When we have no relevant experience or expertise, the vulnerability, uncertainty and fear of the former can be overwhelming.”
So how can I help my clients try for the first time to understand cash flows, distributions and balance sheets? I don’t like to reinvent the wheel, so I looked for a process framework, and wouldn’t you know Brown got it. Normalize the experience, put it into perspective, and reality check expectations.
Normalize the experience
Brown describes this as no one knowing how to handle all situations. This anxiety and uncertainty and fear arises, and it is normal to feel all of these things.
Then recognize the glaze. Let the customer know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Most people feel the same way when they first hear the terms cash flow, balance sheet, distributions, retained earnings, etc.
Don’t let your client feel alone. They will be less stressed if they know you understand and the appearance they have will soon be replaced with excitement about the deeper understanding they can have of money, cash flow, balance sheet, distributions, retained earnings, etc.
Put it in perspective
Acknowledge the complexity. Brown defines perspective as a function of experience – less experience, less perspective. As accountants and bookkeepers, we talk about these things every day. We already understand these concepts. We make concepts easier to understand, giving clients understanding and perspective.
There’s nothing wrong with customers not knowing what cash flow is. They probably didn’t take accounting courses in college. If they did, they probably hated it! No wonder they don’t understand our jargon; it’s not their jam.
Expectations versus reality
Brown says to reality check the expectations and recognize the process. She reminds us that the first time you do something isn’t going to be perfect, and you don’t want to compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.
I don’t expect clients to understand what accounting terms mean on the first try. I expect to explain these concepts as my clients encounter changes in their business. I expect to rephrase, reiterate and repeat myself. I expect to answer the same questions several times. And that’s fine with me.
Learning accounting concepts for the first time is difficult and overwhelming, but it won’t be a first time forever. Don’t let your customers fight because they don’t understand. They adapt to a new perspective of their business. As accountants, if you’ve read this far, embrace the process, and your clients will too. Believe me, you will be their hero!
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Marthe Yasso uses over 20 years of financial experience to provide peace of mind to small business owners in the professional and commercial sectors. She is a QuickBooks Certified Advanced Business Advisor who helps her clients implement bookkeeping and cash management strategies.
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