So, you’ve thought about where the profession is going, and your place in it. Like the most progressive and successful accountancy firms, you’ve decided to enhance your future by giving clients more value and becoming an advisory led firm (i.e. one that obtains a significant portion of its turnover from advisory work, rather than fees for annual compliance tasks). (see 5 reasons why the shift to becoming an advisory-led firm has accelerated) Taking the time to stop and to define advisory services and what it means for your practice will mean a better implementation of your new services. This article considers how to find out what you mean by advisory services.
Defining advisory services
It’s easy to say we already do x and y, then try to sell these to other clients. Your existing offer may even be a good starting point (get the low hanging fruit before climbing the tree). But do most of your clients need them, and will they pay for them? If they would, why haven't you been selling them so far? You many also like to read Becoming an advisory led firm: what does this actually mean)
Transforming your firm’s fee basis needs a more fundamental approach.
Some early steps to take
- Current situation. What advisory services do you offer any clients at the moment, that they are willing to pay for?
- Segmentation: How would you segment your clients to think about the segment(s) that would pay for advisory work? You may have more than one, as it will help you group together their needs and how to market to them.
- What’s their pain? For each of these segments, what are their problems which you might be able to solve? These might include the obvious balance sheet related issues such as cash flow management, cash projections, balance sheet management, preparation for funding application and ongoing shareholder reports, stock turn reporting. But going on, what are their issues in achieving their company goals (keeping track, focus, strategic decision making, needing somebody to provide challenge and insights through data).
- Insights, not information: What reporting tools and frameworks could you enhance by a regular “board meeting”, or by running a select mastermind group? The value here is in the insight, not the information. That’s why we teach our academy delegates how to use a range of strategic frameworks such as the "STAGe model", as it helps clients create insight.
- Research: Taking time to ask clients about issues, either as separate informational interviews, or during your existing client meetings, will help you collate the needs. Active listening, and probing questions, will be needed to unearth what they need.
- Consider you and your team. What are the strengths that you as a firm possess? These are the best place to start building what your clients will need, and to understand the opportunities in your client sector. A 'SWOT analysis', is a good place to start here.
Enhancing your firm’s skills
It is likely that to deliver these additional services you’ll need to enhance your skills, and those of your team. Defining advisory services for your firm will allow you to focus on what you need your team to deliver. Programmes like The Accountants' Growth Club will help you, and maybe key team members. If you truly want to reform your fee base, then development of some sort is likely to be required.
It may be that you can ‘buy in’ some of the services; some firms have strategic alliances with coaches. However, if you are looking to become advisory led, advisory services are likely to become your core capabilities. Outsourcing your core capabilities is rarely a good long-term idea.
Defining advisory services – a final thought.
Defining advisory services is a key part to being able to market them successfully. Advisory services will mean different things to different firms. You have different capabilities to your competitors, and different client needs. In all cases, the real client benefit is likely to come from insights (from you, from them, from their peers) that derive from information, not just more reports. That’s why coaching and facilitation skills will help you give more value to your clients, and allow you to charge higher fees. Learning coaching skills, facilitation skills, active listening and managing meetings is something The Accountants' Growth Club delivers.