Most accountants talk about providing Business Advisory as a service; they state this loudly and proudly on their websites, but how many are actually doing it?
Everyone is talking up Advisory services as the ‘Holy Grail’ that will save accountants from extinction. But how many firms are truly walking the talk?
When we ask firms about the Advisory services they’re currently delivering to their clients, we typically get one of three responses:
Until accountants recognise the fact that they have a duty of care to teach their clients to run a better business, we’re not going to see any massive change. We’ll be talking about Advisory for another 20 years.
OARBED is one of the most powerful behavioural models around. It isn’t just a model for business behaviour, you can use it extensively in your personal life.
We all think below the line from time to time. It’s a human tendency to blame other people or circumstances when things don’t go according to plan. It’s easy to make excuses for not giving clients the support they deserve. We can always blame difficult clients who drain our time and energy. We can all find excuses for not doing what’s important. For example, we could use the excuse of having to implement that new practice management system. We can even deny that clients need more than compliance service, after all, they aren’t asking for more.
Yes, we all think below the line from time to time, however, if you want to deliver tangible Business Advisory services and get the financial return you deserve from your efforts, then we need to act above the line. We can do that by taking ownership and letting go of our most difficult clients, for example. Or instead of denying that clients need these services, we could take accountability, hold some complimentary client meetings, and get closer to their problems and challenges so that we can offer solutions in the form of new services. We also need to take responsibility for the things we can change. We could delegate the implementation of that new practice management system.
When we think about implementing Business Advisory services, we tend to start with have – when I have more time, I’ll deliver Business Advisory services to my clients and be more supportive.
The Be Do Have Principle turns that on its head. I need to be the accountant that provides more support to my clients now, so I must get rid of that client who is robbing me of my time and energy and then I’ll have the business that I deserve to have.
Start with who you want to be.
We don’t know what we don’t know. For example, you may ‘know’ that a particular client is very self-sufficient and will never buy Advisory services from you. You know this because when you ask them “How are things going?” or “Is there anything further we can help you with?”, you get a clear “We’re good, thanks”.
What you might not know is that the client doesn’t really understand their numbers, is working 70 hours a week, and the stress from running the business is keeping him up at night. To find out how things really are, we need to ask much better questions; open ended ones, not the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ kind.
To be successful business advisors, accountants simply must speak wider than the numbers.
Let’s explore that further. We believe that the seven most important traits of today’s accountant are:
Our industry has always focused on the first three in the list, but not so much on the last four. These are the four neglected skills in our industry, so we must be prepared to invest some time to upskill.
For us, there are two types of Business Advisory services:
We often refer to the three essential tools in business as ‘The Business Development Trifecta’. We’re Kiwis after all.
The Business Development Trifecta includes:
It sounds simple, yet there are so many businesses who don’t do these three things. They carry their plans around in their heads and expect their team and their bankers to know what their vision and goals are. Even worse, many accounting firms promote services such as Business Planning on their websites when they don’t have a Business Plan themselves. That’s not authentic!
Here are seven simple rules on Business Planning:
Most of your clients aren’t self-starters. Most will benefit from someone independent who sees their business from a different perspective, facilitating the planning session and holding them to account regularly. That’s you! When clients work with you to create and update their Business Plan, you’re combining their expertise (operational) with yours (experiential, financial, strategic). 1 +1 = 5.
In most accounting firms, the majority of Forecasts get prepared because clients ask for the service, usually driven by a bank request.
Our basic proposition to the accounting industry is that every real business deserves to understand how their cash flows (or doesn’t!) and that forecasting and cashflow coaching should not be a marginal, on demand service.
It’s our job as accountants to take a stand for business success and therefore teach clients best practice. Best practice is to understand your business’s cashflow cycle and therefore improve your cashflow.
Having a robust forecast, and the opportunity for cashflow improvement coaching, means clients can achieve the three freedoms in their business:
Time freedom - less time juggling bills, overdrafts, and bank managers!
Mind freedom - less stress and worry, better relationships with suppliers and bankers, and better sleep.
Financial freedom - more cash as a result of understanding cash drains and the cash gains achieved by changing business processes.
Forecasting is the first step in better cashflow management and therefore better decision making. Let’s teach our clients that.
Having an annual Business Plan and an annual Forecast is pointless if clients can’t see how they’re tracking to their plan. It’s an obvious statement that they need reliable reports in real time to do that.
But it can be hard to sell reporting as a service. Where is the value for clients? How many actually read, let alone understand, those reports?
For our clients to value their management reports, we need to bring those reports to life. The easiest and most supportive way to do that is to wrap an accountability service around the numbers. We call that coaching, but if you don’t like the word coaching, accountability as a service name is just fine.
Coaching must be structured or it will evaporate like candyfloss. The structure of coaching includes:
These three services should be delivered on an ongoing basis, creating recurring and sustainable revenue for accounting firms.
Better still, build the Trifecta into your monthly service plans, creating sticky relationships and putting compliance in its place - at the bottom of the value ladder.
Give our Business Development Trifecta Calculator a spin and see the potential for growth in your own business just by focusing on these three services.
There are many value-add Advisory services you can provide to clients beyond the Trifecta. The following diagram, our World of Business Development Services, places the Trifecta at the very core of your service offering.
As you make annual planning, annual forecasting, and reporting with accountability part of your usual Business Advisory offering to clients, you’ll be spending more time with them and get closer to the other challenges and opportunities in their business. As they gain confidence in working ‘on’ rather then ‘in’ the business, you’ll be well positioned to offer more services such as an Organisational Review or Governance Coaching.
Delivering a Business Planning session is no different to delivering a compliance job. You need to have a system. That system should cover three essential components:
Have an Outline and Benefits document for each Advisory service covering what’s involved in the service and clear points of value for your clients.
All of your Business Advisory services should be easily accessed on your website and each service should have concise text that speaks to the value in the service, not just focused on how you do it! Your process is a black box that your clients don’t understand. All they’re interested in is what they will get (speak to the three freedoms) as a result of investing in your service.
For example, your web text for Business Planning might read like this:
‘A great Business Planning process gets to the heart and soul of your business. Upon completion of pre-work we’ll have a greater understanding of your vision in order to facilitate a four hour planning session to help you create a clear one page Business Plan.
The outcome of this service is to identify and prioritise goals, both short term and long term, create strategies to achieve your goals, enable you to review actual performance against targets and establish a 90 Day Action Plan to address immediate and critical issues.’
For the complete low down on marketing Business Advisory services, read our ‘Marketing Made Easy for Accountants’ resource.
You simply must have a sales process. This includes:
We have a wealth of sales content and processes to help accountants during that most troublesome of journeys - selling! Be sure to read our ‘Selling for accountants’ resource.
Just as you have a defined process for completing a set of financials, you need a clear and consistent process to deliver any Business Advisory service. Without a delivery system, you won’t be able to grow at scale and you won’t be able to teach your young guns how to deliver these services. Even worse, delivery and client experience across your team will be horribly inconsistent.
So, let’s get to it!
The test for whether you have a clear process for delivering your Business Advisory services is a three-part one:
If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then you don’t have a delivery system.
Start with a process summary, or flowchart. Who does what and when? Check out this Business Planning Process example.
OK, let’s get into the delivery phase. For any Business Advisory service, let’s use Business Planning as our example, your delivery process must cover the following components:
Pre-work means you don’t end up in a ‘meeting of discovery’. It simply means that their understanding (and yours) of the challenges and opportunities is that much greater before you meet. Client pre-work simply consists of a few questions to set the scene, identify problems, and find out more about your client’s goals.
Delivery notes are critical for teaching others to deliver these services. They’ll also ensure a consistently great client experience, every time. Here’s a snip from our Business Planning Delivery Notes. You can see that we split the four-hour Business Planning session into natural segments, with clear guidelines as to what needs to be covered in each segment, along with suggested timings.
Delivery notes are for internal use only. They are your delivery safety blanket. No chance of getting lost or forgetting any critical elements of the process.
Well-constructed delivery notes will double as an agenda.
You’ll use the same templated process, every time. As you’d expect, every plan, across each client, will be unique. The Business Plan will be emailed to your client as soon as the session ends.
You’ll have your standard Business Planning Minutes template open during the session and you’ll populate that with actions that don’t sit within the Business Plan. You’ll also document any follow up work (along with your fee) that needs to be done after the session.
You’ll also capture the points of value, as described by your client, from your time together. This reinforces their learnings and is a confidence booster for you.
Lastly, you’ll document your next meeting date and time. We call that BAMFAM. Book A Meeting From A Meeting. A simple but effective way to add to your Business Advisory ROI, while at the same time, keeping your client on track.
If you’re keen to deliver Business Advisory services, you need a plan. Download our sample Business Development Activity Plan here.
Written by: Viv Brownrigg, FCA | Co-founder and Director of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships