Struggling to get your advisory services off the ground?

Shane Lukas from AVN explains the four key elements that really matter

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How many articles have you read on advisory for accountants? How many webinars have you watched? How many speakers have you listened to, talking about their recipe for success?

There’s no end of advice on how to win at advisory. If you Google ‘how to deliver advisory services’ you’re spoilt for choice.

It’s all good advice (well, most of it). And I admit I’ve contributed a lot of it myself! But I know that, despite all the information available, many accountants still struggle to get these services off the ground.

So I thought I’d try and simplify it in a way that makes it easier to get going.

It really comes down to four key elements:

  • identifying the right clients
  • positioning yourself in the right way
  • using the right tools to deliver on your promise
  • developing the right mindset.

So that…

  • you change your clients’ perception of you from number cruncher to expert adviser
  • your clients grasp the value you can bring to their business (and pay you for it)
  • you know which tools and methodologies will help you to deliver that value
  • you build the right mindset and the confidence to make this a core part of your practice.

Let’s look at those in a little more detail.

How to identify the right clients

Talk to your clients. It’s as simple as that. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. What do they want – more money, more time, more growth, less stress? What are their pain points? What keeps them awake at night? Make this an agenda point for client meetings so you don’t back out. Yes, it might feel uncomfortable if you’ve only ever talked about their accounts before, but take a deep breath and just do it.

If you don’t feel confident, try a test run with a client you know well (or even a friend or relative). Offer them a reduced rate for your advisory services so you can practise and fine tune your approach before you launch more widely.

While I would always recommend you don’t prejudge which clients will take up these services, you do need to be realistic about who has the cash to pay you the fees you want. If you know their turnover is tiny, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to afford to pay you for an all-singing, all-dancing package.

How to position yourself in the right way

When we talk about advisory services it’s often unclear what we actually mean. And it’s likely that no two accountancy firms will have exactly the same advisory offering. Think of it as providing the analysis, recommendations and strategies that will help your clients reach their goals.

And of course, you don’t have to do everything. So keep it simple and focus on where you can make the most impact for your clients. Bear in mind that most business owners don’t really understand the numbers in their business (which is why they need an accountant). So educating them on, for example, cost control or cashflow can be a real eye opener for them even if it seems obvious to you.

It’s also important that the advisory services you decide to offer fit with what you actually enjoy doing. There’s no point promising your clients a high value service that you dread having to carry out.

And it’s even more important that your offer matches your client’s pain points. If they’re looking for advice on investing and wealth management but you don’t have any experience in this area, you won’t solve their problem (ideally, you’d find someone you can refer them to, so you are still helping them). It makes it easier to deliver successfully if you can systemise what you do. So if the client wants to increase profits, for example, you know exactly which tools, reports and analysis to use.

Using the right tools and technology

There are many, many tools to help you deliver advisory services. They can carry out in seconds, tasks that would take you hours to complete manually so they can be a huge asset. And AI is continually improving what it can do. Even though it’s designed mainly for generative language, many accountants are already using ChatGPT to add value to their services. You can input a set of accounts and ask it to provide you with analysis and strategic recommendations to then share with your client. Or give it tax related scenarios and it will help with tax planning (use plugins so it can grab the latest legislative data).

So, use technology wisely but don’t expect it to do all the work for you. The human element – those dig-deep conversations you have with your clients – is the foundation of your advisory services.

Developing the right mindset

This can be the hardest of all to get right. After all, we can’t turn confidence on like a tap whenever we want – though wouldn’t it be amazing if we could!

Starting small, with a trusted client or friend as I suggested above, will help to build your confidence. But I also recommend you get some external input from a business coach.

A coach will help you identify what you want to achieve and the actions that will help you get there. Importantly, they will also hold you accountable for taking those actions. We are often our own worst enemy when it comes to doing something new, finding endless excuses to avoid doing it because it makes us uncomfortable or scared. Knowing that your coach will be asking you what actions you’ve taken is a strong incentive to get going!

Of course, AVN provides coaching and training for accountants in this exact situation so you may well be thinking, ‘he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ But I can’t tell you the difference it’s made to the accountants we work with. Nine times out of ten they know what they need to do, but they just don’t have the self-belief to do it. With coaching, they start to make small changes that gradually (or often rapidly) make a difference to their firm. We have countless case studies showing the impact that this has had, not just on their business, but on the rest of their life, too.

So, those are my thoughts on how to make advisory work for you. I hope that this has at least started you thinking about what you can do to get going.

But of course, everyone has their own specific obstacles and challenges and it’s not possible to cover everything in one article. If you’d like me or one of the AVN coaches to take a look at your individual situation and identify some first steps to get you started, we’ll be happy to have a call with you.

Just book the time that suits you best now.