As an accountant, we struggle with implementing advisory in our accounting, bookkeeping, and tax firms. I know I did. I had so many reasons that I struggled with before really embracing it. The fact was that I was more comfortable with being behind the computer.
But then it hit me! I realized the 3 main things holding me back from advisory services.
It was FEAR of not knowing the answer.
We genuinely want to help our clients and advise them, but we allow fear to tell us we don’t have the skills to do so. Why is this fear so powerful? Because, as accountants, we think we need to have the answer to every question that our client asks. The truth is that the clients really have the answers, so you just need to have a questioning mind which most of us have.
You analyze financial statements, tax returns, and transactions and, in most cases, know and understand more about your client’s business than they do. You have all this valuable information literally at your fingertips. Then you struggle with how to put it all together in a nice package where it is useful information for the client. At least I know I did. We are all looking for the perfect system to deliver advisory services because we think it must be in a deliverable of some sort. The truth is they just need someone to talk to and brainstorm with. You are a business owner, too, so use your own experience to help them. We hold out for the perfect system that we feel will give us all the answers. I still have not found it, but I embraced that clients desperately need our advice and questioning minds, not more reports to look at and try to analyze.
This was true during COVID, and it is still true today. If you are struggling to move to advisory, most likely, you are already doing it. You just may not be getting paid for it, or maybe you are. One way I started doing advisory was just by asking questions. We all know the “what if” questions.
We all hear that you should charge a large amount for advisory, but the fact of the matter is that most of our clients are small businesses. We feel like we can’t charge what we are being told to charge for advisory services because the client will not be able to afford it. I challenge you to think about what it would mean for your client to have someone to brainstorm this stuff with them. Many are business owners who started out doing something that they love to do, which is the purpose, right? The problem is that they don’t focus on the things that can make or break them most of the time; that is where you come in. They don’t have the time to analyze the financial statements, much less the know-how; that is what you do. They don’t see what you do. One example, they don’t always see what price increases in the market are doing to their gross profit on services.
What if you increased their bookkeeping engagement to include a monthly meeting to go over the financials with them? What is it that they need to be looking at? I have personally increased all my bookkeeping engagements to include this level of service, so I don’t have to worry about giving it away. These were all existing clients. I didn’t overanalyze it, but I got the price to where we are both comfortable. Now that it is included in their bookkeeping engagement, I get paid for what I was giving away for free.
When I increased my bookkeeping rates, I did get pushback. I explained by telling them that I include phone calls and monthly meetings in all my engagements. I look at their finances to see what they are telling me so I can relate it to them. Anytime they have a question, they can call me, and we can talk through it. This stopped scope creep and made happy clients. I also look at it from a tax perspective to see what it does to their taxable income.
Let me warn you! You must have the right clients to do this with. I have done this with clients who value this type of service. If they are just compliance clients, they will not usually value this type of service. I have found my ideal clients do value this type of service and want it. You just have to have confidence in yourself. Many accountants that I talk to think they need more training to do this, but the fact of the matter is most already do.
Implementing an advisory service is not that hard! You just must have the capacity to be able to do it. Raising your fees to include it also makes it so that you don’t have to have so many clients. I got stuck in the fact that I had to do all this stuff before implementing it in my firm. That is simply not true. You must be strategic and know you can only do so many meetings in a day. You must make sure that you are doing it with clients that value it, but you know who they are. If you don’t have clients that value it, then you may have the wrong client base.
I used to get frustrated with my clients that would not listen to me, but I learned they were just like me. They were doing what they felt was right for their business. Many of your ideal clients will listen to you and make their own decisions. That is back to you not having to know all the answers. You just have to ask the questions just like the questions I gave you. The business owner has the answer; they just need to find it.
What would it look like in your practice?
Everyone is different but if you truly want to do advisory services, then just start asking questions. I started by asking my clients what they needed from their accountant. Many said just keeping my books up to date where I can see where I am at. Others said I need more involvement from you. I need you to explain things to me where I understand. Those are the ideal ones for advisory. Then it is a value thing. What price point is this valuable to them? That is where you must have the confidence to raise your rates. I look at it this way: what does my solving this for them worth to them? Sometimes I even ask them that question.
Do you know your clients, and which ones do you think would be a good fit? Ask them questions about what else they need help with, and just decide if this is an offering you want to offer. Remember, as Joe Woodard says, “Opportunity does not equal obligation.” I have had to turn down business because it was not the right fit for my firm and me. Not every industry was right for me, either. I felt I needed to understand their industry to know which questions to ask. I challenge you just to try it and see how it goes. Get past your fear!