How to deliver business advisory services By Mark Holton from Smithink on Mar 3, 2016
Follow these steps and you can be one of the 20 per cent of accounting firms that successfully implement business advisory services in a reasonable time frame.
Many accounting firms would like to offer business advisory services, and some make a tentative start in the right direction but in my experience only around 20 per cent make a success of it within a reasonable timeframe.
Becoming an advisory-based practice really does have the potential to revolutionise your income, your lifestyle and your client relationships. Having the tenacity to push through the obstacles is what it takes to reap the rewards.
Over the past few years, I have personally observed SME clients becoming better educated about financial matters, and more aggressive in choosing their accountant. Coinciding with the advent of easy-to-use cloud accounting software and low cost outsourcing options, this has led to compliance work becoming increasingly price-sensitive and commoditised.
Starting a business advisory service is not a decision to make lightly. The financial gains you stand to make are significant, but you’ll need to make some sacrifices in order to achieve them.
You’ll probably need to invest time and money in software and the up-skilling of your team and you’ll need to be prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone – and to bring your colleagues along for the ride. It can be confronting to push through the discomfort of initiating more intimate relationships with your clients and giving them advice without initially knowing what the consequences will be. In other words you’ll need to go out on a limb, both personally and professionally.
If you’ve decided you’re up for the challenge of business advisory work, the single most important piece of advice I can give you is this: you’re not going to succeed if you don’t have a solid, proven implementation plan and the resourcing and capacity to systematically roll it out.
Let’s look at the seven key steps to business advisory success.
1. Preparing your firm for success
The first critical step is to nominate someone to be the firm champion. Ideally, your champion should be someone who is strong and determined. With that in mind, some of the other issues I would recommend you give consideration to at the outset include:
– review your capacity
– ensure you have the necessary resources
– set solid targets
– make sure you can measure success
– put the right systems in place.
2. Unlock your client’s needs
You cannot service your clients effectively unless you know what they need and want. Business advisory is definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition! But for many accountants entrenched in compliance work, the process of finding out what a client’s needs are can be intimidating – especially when conducting your first few needs analysis meetings.
One technique to use with clients is to conduct a needs review. This discovery session, often run informally over a cup of coffee, is designed to find out what keeps the client awake at night. Key steps here are to find out from the client what their “gaps” are in relation to business strengths, weaknesses, risks, funding issues and succession plans. From there the identification of these gaps should lead to the creation of a customised proposal that addresses these issues in an easy to understand benefit-driven manner.
3. Create a disturbance in your client’s mind
Being able to quickly demonstrate the value and validity of your advisory services to your clients is critical to success. So how will you do that?
Many SME owners want to know how much their businesses are worth, and often those business value assessments turn out to be beneath their expectations. The distance between expectation and reality creates an incentive for them to implement the changes. Alternatively, conducting a lending pre-assessment can help them understand whether they’re likely to be able to access funding from lenders.
4. Analyse your client’s financial performance
Step three was a historical review, looking at what’s happened in the business so far. Next you need to add value to your client by looking into the future for them.
Effective utilisation of financial measurement and diagnostic software really can establish you as a true expert in your client’s eyes. Just showing clients the effects that small changes such as “the power of one” can make to their profitability and cash flow can quickly have them viewing you as a genius!
5. Ensure your client implements action
Like it or not, you’re competing for business advisory work with coaches and other advisers who often have less financial expertise than you and are often not as qualified to successfully influence your client’s financial future.
It’s up to you to be a business coach and diarise regular email reminders and phone calls to see how your clients are progressing – or to get your client service or practice manager to call and ask them. Regular enthusiastic contact helps your client keep moving. This is often the hardest part of making changes for them, so help them be accountable!
6. Service additional client’s needs
Budgets and cash-flow targets should evolve as month-by-month action plans as a result of the financial analysis you performed for your client in step four of the ‘enabler’ process – and in many cases these disciplines alone will revolutionise the profitability of small businesses.
To maximise the potential of these engagement opportunities for your firm, you’ll also need to have planned for these scenarios in advance. and have taken the time to develop either in-house expertise or a strong referral network.
7. Generate new business opportunities
As an accountant, sales and marketing is probably not your first love. But if you want your advisory practice to flourish, you’ll need to develop a mindset in which you constantly look for opportunities, market them effectively and proactively sell them to your clients. Some suggested activities include:
– use social media, your website and email newsletters to continually position yourself as a trusted specialist adviser
– get actively involved in the industry and community that generates most of your work, and foster relationships with those in your centres of influence.
Once a firm is ready to start offering advisory services, it’s a matter of deciding which clients are most suitable for advisory engagements, identifying their needs, working with them to get things happening, and then expanding the offer to them in your regular six or 12-month board of advice review meetings.
Business advisory services offer a unique opportunity to develop and enhance an accounting firm’s income, profitability and client service. Providing services really wanted by clients creates a platform for future financial success for clients and the practice. Systems and processes are the critical element to establish and follow to deliver quality service.
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