What Your Accounting Clients Want from Business Advisory Services
Advisory services are the future of accounting. From the increasing number of services becoming automated every day, to the adoption of machine learning and artificial intelligence that will continue to automate repetitive tasks in the future, you and your partners have to find a way to continue adding value to your clients to keep your business thriving.
As long as people are selling to people, accountants will have an advantage to machines in providing advisory services.
The challenge to building your advisory service portfolio is that there isn’t always a burning problem/solution set from your client. From the outset, most of your clients aren’t going to ask you if they can pay you to consult and grow their business so it’s up to you to understand where you can add value and present this value at the best possible time.
Like anything in sales, you must identify what your client needs and how you’re uniquely positioned to fulfill those needs.
What are their business goals? What do they require to reach those goals? Why is your team the one to enable them to accomplish these goals?
After answering these questions, lean on the following attributes you have at your firm to land new business.
Is there a particular industry you feel you understand better than most of your peers? Do your partners have specific expertise in their own niche industries? Your clients know this and can see it, no matter the reason they engage. Don’t try and be something you’re not, steer into your field of expertise and gobble up that vertical.
In almost every fast-growing accounting and consulting firm we speak to, their client base is made up of a handful of niche industries. The more narrow you can focus particular services, the better.
Think about it from the client’s perspective: if I’m choosing between two different firms with seemingly similar services, am I going to go with the one who has 20 years experience in working and advising my exact type of business? Or the one who’s just offering a better price?
You don’t want to compete on price, you want to compete on fit. Leveraging deep expertise in a given field will enable you to win business based on fit, time and again.
“We feel that real world and relevant business experience is desired and needed by most small and medium size companies that are driven internally to succeed. Having this type of experience in our firm definitely has contributed to not only obtaining new clients [in those industries], but also maintaining strong long-term relationships.”
More Advice Than What Comes From A P&L
“It is imperative that key management metrics, not included in a normal P&L, be analyzed by any business” says Bynum.
You can’t grow a business from just a profit and loss statement or balance sheet, yet many accountants try and sell just P&L ratios as advisory services.
While there is much to monitor on the P&L at a high level, it’s important to understand what factors drive those financial outcomes. What can a client improve on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to improve those ratios?
“Some particularly important metrics are for cash flow, sales mix, turnover on sales and inventory, and return on invested assets,” says Bynum.
Being the most deeply ingrained third-party involved with your client’s business uniquely positions you to offer helpful advice in growing their business. Not to mention, if you’re building your client base in a niche, you’ve seen tens, hundreds, or thousands of businesses just like your client’s go through similar issues and implement specific solutions to solve them.
Help Developing Their Business
By the nature of your job as an accountant or advisor, how many other businesses and people do you think you interface with on a daily basis? Probably more than the average service provider.
Use this to your advantage. If your client is running a real business solving a real need, chances are they can help someone in your network do something better. Make the introduction, it goes so much further than you’d think. (Side Note: For the love of all things good and holy, use the double opt-in when making introductions)
You’d be surprised how many firms stop at their particular service offering. If given the choice between a firm who sends a helpful introduction to new leads every now and then and one I interface with only for business reasons, I’ll go with the one who helps my business grow 10/10 times (even if it’s marginal).
A Way to Monitor Progress
If you’re going to help your clients develop a plan to grow and manage their business, you need to be able to demonstrate a deep understanding of what they have going on now.
That means reports, analytics, dashboards, anything you can provide that distill all the figures swirling around their business and their head into a handful of hyper-important, hyper-specific things to focus on.
“We customize performance reports for clients depending on their industry, their particular needs, and most importantly, ones they can understand and manage from” adds Bynum.
Speaking of performance reports, how are you actually presenting this information? What is the focal point of discussion and the data that the client can reference after your advisory conversations? Anything you can provide that clients can monitor outside of your weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings will make your advisory services that much more valuable.
A subsequent result of providing a tool for monitoring business performance and progress is your client’s ability to monitor their return on investing in your advisory services. They should be able to specifically point to a growth in their business based on the relationship you have formed.
Ultimately, this is how you build a high-margin advisory business for yourself and reach your own personal goals.
Accountability + Transparency = Revenue
I was on a call the other day with a representative from Google Adwords. Obviously they’re trying to sell me, a small business owner, on buying advertising on their platform. He ran a few quick numbers from their database and told me that people who own our particular niche of search traffic are paying, on average, $5,000/mo.
How many businesses can garner numbers like that in the SMB market? How many businesses can convince SMB clients to shell out $60,000 per year of their limited funds and put it toward one product or service?
Ones who clearly demonstrate return on each dollar spent.
Business owners spend $$ on Adwords only because Google can clearly demonstrate the $$$$ in revenue generated from those advertisements.
If you can accomplish the same for your advisory services, the sky’s the limit. Remember, you don’t want to compete on price. Your clients will never worry about your prices vs a competing firm’s if you give them the ability to clearly demonstrate ROI on your service.
It’s All About the Data
So we’ve hit the basics: start providing advisory services in specific niche industries, go deeper than what can be found on an income statement, help your clients grow their business, and give them a way to measure progress toward their goals and demonstrate your ROI.
But how do you optimize your time spent on these advisory services? There are costs involved in generating custom performance reports like Lanny Bynum mentioned.
Cut these costs by automating repeatable tasks like data entry. Our mission at Malartu is to virtually eliminate the time it takes to go from accounting data to strategic, meaningful discussions about strengthening a business.
Dashboards are just dashboards. They bring the metrics behind your business to the forefront, but they’re not actionable. Your advisory services are the actionable piece, let us take care of the report generation and help you get back to advising.