If you are currently running an Accounting Practice but are trying to move to an Advisory Service, you need to remap your workflow. Consider how your current services need to incorporate any new advisory services you’re offering.
What do you need to do to go beyond clerical support? Taxes and compliance are baseline work; consider how you can amplify your services for your clients.
The advisory services that will be offered by your company will go far beyond traditional accounting and bookkeeping tasks. Some of your clients may already be receiving advisory service from you without even knowing it!
You can perform many types of advisory services as an addition to your existing work and add to your toolbox. The ability to explain and market these services to your clients enables you to build trust and customer loyalty, so they will trust your ability to successfully influence their business decisions. Adding these services to your practice enables you to go beyond the usual accounting responsibilities, giving you the opportunity to grow your business as well as help your clients' businesses become more focused and efficient.
Consider how your firm defines “Advisory Services.”
As accounting firms transition to advisory services, it's important to understand what that means precisely. For example, anything outside of core compliance services like preparation of tax returns, audits, and reviews; would be considered advisory. Think about what this means for your firm.
When choosing what types of advisory services to plan and offer, it can help to start with a focus on things like wealth management, planning finances, cash flow management, tax or accounts payable strategy, snapshot or “at a glance” valuations of your client’s business, or specific expertise. Don’t jump right into things like cybersecurity, IT management, or other types of data analysis/risk management, because these are more challenging areas of advisory that require some specific expertise that comes outside of software capabilities.
After you define your advisory services and offerings and find how they fit into your current list of services, you should review all your client accounts to determine whether you’re already providing any type of advisory service inadvertently. You then need to plan how to explain these changes in your services and billing to your team that will be handling the advisory part of the business. You can then establish a strategy for growth like offering services to existing clients first and listing some goals/KPIs to monitor as your firm continues to grow.
Anticipate a shift in culture.
To successfully deliver advisory services in the accounting profession, a few “old school” beliefs need to be challenged.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions:
- Selling additional services to your clients is “pushy”
- CPAs cannot transition to advisory because they are trained to look for mistakes, not recognize opportunities
- Accounting firms are only focused on compliance work (working backwards) and not considering their clients’ futures
A new mentality is needed for a transition to advisory work. Clients want accounting firms to provide more than compliance services, as they want to improve business management. In other words, offering expanded advisory services is not pushy, rather simply meeting the expectations of your existing customer needs.
If your clients already trust you with their business numbers, there’s a good chance they would trust you as an advisor, if you can explain the key terms and concepts competently.
By reducing the firm's reliance on tax-reporting and other core compliance services, you will reduce some seasonality challenges that come with tax season in accounting. In addition to producing well-rounded team members, offering advisory services also trains employees to think critically about clients’ business operations while providing a wider range of services. This will increase loyalty to the company through greater job satisfaction and will decrease costly turnover.
Prepare for more engagement.
An accounting firm should establish and maintain a continuing relationship of "professional intimacy" with its clients after it has identified those clients it wishes to provide advisory support to.
The following should be included in this strategy:
- Team - senior leadership should manage each of these accounts and determine who else will support them
- Study - learn the client’s business plan, marketing and sales, industry landscape, and short and long-term goals
- Meetings - offer these services to clients in face-to-face meetings to show your dedication to their business, while explaining how your advisory services will impact everything you’ve studied above. Ask important questions about their business to find out what they are worried about and find ways through advisory to calm these thoughts.
- Engage - continue to engage with these clients by providing regular updates and reports through your collaboration software. You can also include non-work-related engagements with these high-touch clients by providing industry updates, sharing relevant articles, or sending thank-you notes or notes for special business milestones to show your dedication.
These steps towards greater engagement will also prepare your firm for a “thought leadership” position within your industry, while establishing a precedent for excellent customer service.
It may require reducing some of your team members’ workload in other compliance areas like taxes or audits, but it’ll be worth it to set your firm up for success in advisory, because that’s where the industry is moving. Shifting resources is always a risk when changing your business offerings and you should never just expect your current staff to adapt seamlessly right away. It will take time to find a balance that works.
With these changes, your firm can move from compliance to advisory services. Client engagement will also deepen, cross-selling will increase, revenue seasonality and fee sensitivity will be reduced, and team members will learn how to think more like partners.