Planning for positive change and why people do what they do (or don’t) is fundamental to advisory services. Your clients have both personal and business goals. Over time you should assist the client in achieving both business and personal goals. Of course, success is personal and unique for each client. So, while you will use a similar approach in working with each client, the outcomes will be different. And that leads to additional billable time depending on the wants and needs of each client. Your job is to position yourself as helping the client focus on their personal and business wants and needs.
Advisory services need to be client centric. Your firm cannot simply be technical consulting and problem solving. Let’s be clear. Clever technical consulting is a huge asset for CPA firms. In fact, consulting fees represent a significant part of the financial benefits derived by firms who develop client facing and structured advisory services. It’s just that problem solving is not ALL that it’s about, even though this flies in the face of the profession’s conventional wisdom on advisory services.
The key is to focus on a relationship-based approach, rather than just a transactionally driven relationship. Clients know what they want (and need). Your advisory practice should focus on the three most important things that clients say they want from CPAs.
- To understand them:
- their goals, aims and business drivers, in other words to truly get under their skins.
- To be proactive:
- not simply reactive to problems identified … they hate reactivity!
- To be in for the long haul:
- not to simply jump in when problems arise and prove how clever we are!
Most traditional services are what could be called ‘Compulsory Purchases.’ The background rationale for purchasing the service, is driven by external factors such as governmental or regulatory bodies. Auditing is a compulsory purchase for many clients. But now, because of worldwide regulatory changes, the number of organizations requiring audits is shrinking. Tax compliance (not tax consulting or advisory) was, and still is, a compulsory purchase, but big changes are afoot around the world. Online self-assessment appears the way that all governments and tax authorities want to go and is a natural progression on the back of technological capabilities. It’s all changing very fast. A strategic shift to providing advisory services is important for firms to thrive and survive in the future.
It’s important to decide upon and understand your firm’s ADVISORY STACK of services to win new high value clients and grow fees with current clients in the future. You need to split advisory services into three groups:
- PRIMARY ADVISORY SERVICES – those services that create, update and review clients’ plans. These are VISTECH services. These PRIMARY SERVICES require structure and process to ensure quality control, consistency and enable leverage and scaling.
- SECONDARY ADVISORY SERVICES – once you fully understand client plans, you can decide which additional services you wish to provide to help implement these plans. These secondary services include tax planning, management reporting and FINTECH services, budgeting, forecasting and potentially many more.
- TERTIARY ADVISORY SERVICES – represent all the services that clients may need, but that you decide not to provide and that you can help outsource. These could include financial services and wealth management, legal, marketing, HR services and a variety of others.
I know a retired managing partner from a very successful firm (you would know the firm). He started with the firm when it was small, and the firm has enjoyed phenomenal growth over many years. During a conversation that we had some years ago, I asked what the key to success for the firm was and the answer was simple. We never told a client that we couldn’t do something. We always found a way to meet the client need.
In today’s highly competitive environment, as advisors, it’s not enough anymore to just deliver value, we must be indispensable. That may seem to be a tall order. But, if you ask a client, “What are the most important things to you about being in business?” their answer will typically be one or two short sentences: simple, individual, and highly emotive. Simply asking and getting a client to articulate their most important things, is a powerful exercise and strongly demonstrates your understanding of them and what drives them. This positions your firm as the most trusted advisor and for success in advisory services