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What Skills Do You Need to Transition to Advisory?

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Taking your accounting firm beyond tax planning and offering advisory services will increase your profits and value to your clients. However, you need to ensure your team is ready to provide these services. Sandra Wiley explains what skills they'll need (hint: It's easier than you think).

Jul 9th 2021
President Boomer Consulting
Columnist
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Most firms understand the need to offer advisory services but struggle with getting their staff to believe they have the skills to be confident advisors. Often, partners are the only ones providing advisory services to clients because they honed their problem-solving skills over decades. This is a good start, but firms need people at all levels to take on more advisory roles in order to grow. Fortunately, most accounting professionals can learn the skills of an advisor. Consider the following skills to identify existing knowledge and skills gaps in your team.

Communication

Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most crucial skills of an advisor. Advisors need to do a good job of communicating with the client on the front end of an engagement, communicate valuable client knowledge internally to team members before they begin work, and once the engagement is in process, good communication helps avoid problems.

Having deep-dive conversations with clients, asking the right questions, and listening to what they have to say is incredibly important. A good advisor isn't the one doing all of the talking – they're doing a lot of listening and asking questions to ensure they really understand what the client is saying.

Business Acumen

Many people in our profession have a deep understanding of accounting and tax but don't really understand how to use those numbers to improve business results. This is where business acumen comes in handy.

Business acumen includes knowledge of business issues and the skills to apply that knowledge. It involves getting the "big picture" view of a situation, weighing the facts and circumstances, and making logical decisions based on that information.

With advisory, you can't necessarily go to a book to find solutions to your client's problems. Business acumen helps you figure out the puzzle without many resources. Advisors who can connect the dots between the numbers and what they mean to the company will earn their clients' trust and provide exceptional value.

Collaboration

Advisory is a team sport. It's not efficient (or even possible) to know everything there is to know about your client's business, wealth management, HR, marketing, technology and more. That's why advisory is a team sport. You need to work closely with people in different departments – perhaps in different organizations – to help your clients.

Being a good collaborator requires getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. You won't always have the answers, and it's perfectly fine to say, "I don't have the answer to that question, but I know just who to ask."

A side benefit of collaboration is that people can grow faster in their careers because they don't have to know everything – they just have to know other people who do.

Project Management

For the most part, compliance services follow a set workflow: the client provides information, the firm completes the necessary work and issues a deliverable. However, in advisory work, the process isn't always so predictable. That's why advisors need good project management skills.

Good project managers are proactive, enthusiastic, motivated, have a positive attitude and know how to manage stress and multiple deadlines. If advisors aren’t good at managing projects (or finding the right person to manage them), they’ll soon be dealing with missed deadlines, blown budgets, and breakdowns in communication.

Delegation

Delegation is a skill that allows people to free up time, focus on what they do best, and add the most value for their clients and the firm. But, unfortunately, it's one that many accountants struggle with. They may believe that they're the only ones who can accomplish a given task or think they would spend more time giving directions than it would take to handle it on their own.

If people can't or won’t delegate work, they waste time completing tasks that don't fit their skill set. Advisors need to learn how to delegate in order to start working in their unique ability areas.

Trust

At heart, advisory is just a strong relationship where the professional helps clients run their business better. However, that relationship requires trust, and the deeper that trust goes, the easier it is to provide advice and get clients to listen.

Of course, trust doesn't just happen by accident. It takes intentional effort. To build trust with clients, your team members need to:

  • Be willing to tell clients the truth – not just what will make them feel good
  • Be accountable. Set and achieve goals, and do what they say they’ll do
  • Extend trust to others. Trusting clients sends a powerful signal and creates a safe environment for them to reciprocate.

Niche Expertise

The goal of an advisor isn't to solve any random problem for any client who walks through the door but to solve a specific type of problem for a particular group of clients. This allows advisory professional to earn significantly more than they would as a generalist.

Advisors who have a deep understanding of a particular service or industry can really speak their clients' language and know what's keeping them up at night. That's the kind of in-depth knowledge that positions your firm as the "go-to" for clients in that sector.

The good news is, you don't have to wait five to 10 years for your team to develop that expertise. People who work hard at learning their niche can gain in-depth expertise much sooner.

Conduct a skills gap analysis to identify missing skill sets in your advisory services team. This can be used to develop a training curriculum and personal training plan for each individual. You can also find many resources for helping your team members develop advisory skills, including the Boomer Certified Consultant Training and the AICPA's Client Accounting Advisory Services Certificate. Start developing these skills in your team, and they can become confident advisors, no matter their age or experience level.

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