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offering advisory services

Creating a Foundation for Enduring Success in 2021


As 2020 draws to a close, the topic of advisory services remains relevant to the accounting profession. At the recent Accounting & Finance Show USA, Intuit's Jasen Stine explained how offering these services will make both you and your clients more successful in the face of the changes that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oct 22nd 2020
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Over the last year, one major focus in the accounting profession has been making the switch from compliance services to advisory ones. Indeed, it remained a part of the conversation at 2020's Accounting & Finance Show USA, and AccountingWEB has produced useful resources on the subject recently (check out our guide here). It might seem like overkill to some, but actually, there are fantastic reasons for the continued emphasis, especially in the face of the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simply put, offering services will make both you, the accounting professional, and your clients more successful. This will be particularly true in the next 12 months, which will be a crucial time for all your small business clients.

That's why Jasen Stine, a Tax and Accounting Profession Educational Leader at Intuit, dedicated his focus group session at the Accounting & Finance Show USA to not only this topic, but also best practices you and your firm should adopt. While you might feel like clients, particularly transactional ones, won't be interested in a more enduring relationship, he gives the following example to illustrate people's purchasing habits.

Everyone has been into a Costco (or Sam's Club, whatever is near you) at least once. Perhaps you originally went in for paper towels, but once you enter the warehouse, you notice reasonably priced televisions and other items and start to consider other needs you have.

There's a good possibility you'll leave with more than you came in for at the end of your trip. The point: People are open to other services all the time, especially if you can demonstrate how they will be beneficial.

Another reason for the continued emphasis brought up by Stine? While 76 percent of firms would like 30 percent or more of their revenue to come from advisory services, only 19 percent have achieved this goal. 

Better still, now might be the perfect time to bring this up to your business-owning clients. Thanks to coronavirus, you likely have an influx of them coming through your door, asking for guidance on replaying PPP loans, dealing with stimulus checks, and generally navigating the economic impacts of the new COVID-19-stricken world. Additionally, "crisis breeds innovation," Stine reminded listeners.

A recent survey conducted by Intuit revealed, surprisingly, that the fastest-growing industries over the next 12 months will be accommodation and food services, arts and entertainment and retail. These are the industries currently struggling the most, and yet, they top the list.

So, how can you fill the advisor role for your clients and ensure their success over the next 12 months, as well as your own? Stine had a few suggestions.

1. Have Reasonable Expectations of the Cloud

You're likely already aware you should be using the cloud, even if you've yet to adopt it. (And, if you've been putting off getting on board, Stine points out an excellent reason to: Firms that use the cloud and offered advisory services weathered the storm of the pandemic more successfully and transitioned to the new business landscape better as well.) However, Stine offers a word of warning when it comes to cloud adoption: Don't try to use it to fit into legacy workflows, because it's not intended for this and you'll only wind up frustrated. Clouds streamline a series of tasks by thinking more efficiently and effectively about getting the work done. Don’t underestimate the learning curve, and take advantage of training if you’re offered any. "It’s not going to do the things you’re traditionally used to doing," warns Stine. 

2. Start Hiring and Managing Differently

When you hire employees or even consultants, don't just look at their list of skills. Instead, Stine recommends vetting potential candidates for their fit with the culture of your firm. There's a pervasive issue within the accounting profession when it comes to hiring, he continued. Too often, new employees aren't really trusted to complete important tasks well, and, as a result, managers spend entirely too much time double checking cumbersome, low-level tasks like data entry. What should they be doing instead? It's simple, Stine says: Firm leaders should be teaching new employees how to run a business well and how to help others do the same so the advisory service offerings can be expanded. 

3. Remember: It's About the Relationship You Have with Your Client

Advisory services are client centered. Even before you can begin expanding your offerings, you need to identify your ideal clients and your ideal relationship with them. While some firms cut transactional clients completely after doing this, Stine doesn't recommend this route unless you've been providing advisory services for a while. Whether you're explaining to current clients why they should take advantage of your new offerings or speaking with someone you've never worked with before, make your personal investment in their success clear, and find ways to show your value. 

Once you get started with a client, create a workable plans based on historical data and planned actions to hit the goals you both agreed one. Set up achievable targets on a monthly or quarterly basis. Meet with clients monthly at minimum and have a checklist for the conversation each time to make sure you are reaching goals. Be sure to take advantage of technology to enhance your relationships with your clients.

Thanks to video conferencing technology like Zoom, which quickly became wildly popular during the pandemic, there's no excuse to not chat with clients on a regular basis. And make sure you have an online portal where you can interact with them. Many accounting professionals worry they'll become mere tech support if they do this, but Stine says to remember there is a learning curve and suggests considering the time spent teaching clients how to use the portal as an investment. You can always set up a document or video with some commonly asked questions about the technology you use that can be utilized as a learning resource.

While business needs are acceleraing, Jasen would argue they're not actually different: Small businesses have always required advisory services. And even though 2020 has been a tough year (to say the least) after a decade of growth, many are adapting to the new landscape and even thriving. By transitioning to advisory services, you'll ensure your firm is poised and ready to help your clients make the next 12 months successful ones.