Seven questions firms need to ask to grow their advisory services

Picture a person too busily picking $10 bills up off the floor to notice a stack of $100 bills on the table blowing away. I think we can all agree that chasing the small bills while the big money disappears wouldn’t make much sense, yet that’s precisely the approach many firms take when trying to grow their advisory services.

Although they understand the need to transform, firm leaders struggle with the mindset, skillset and toolset necessary to do so. With that in mind, let’s look at the seven questions firms need to ask to grow their advisory services.

1. What’s your story? What services will you offer?

Mindset is probably the biggest obstacle firms face. It’s not enough to sit back and watch early adopters make the shift, planning to follow in their footsteps later on. Advisory services require a mindset that goes beyond conventional success. It’s about always working to create a bigger future for yourself and others. The game changer is driven to improve and grow. They are willing to change rapidly and have the ability to learn faster than the competition.

So the first step in shifting to an advisory services business model is learning how to clarify and define your game. Who are your target clients and what services will you offer? As author and speaker Dan Burrus says, “Clients today don’t know what they want, because the things they most want are things they don’t yet know are possible. Give your clients the ability to do what they can’t currently do, but would want to if they only knew it was possible.”

You provide this with a menu of services and defined service levels. Clients that only utilize one service, such as personal tax, are not the clients that will bring your firm into exponential growth. They force workload compression and stressed out staff. Package and price to improve client satisfaction and cash flow.

2. What value do you provide?

Your firm’s business model must change as you transform your firm into higher level services. For too long, the profession has lived by the billable hour. In advisory services, value is determined by the client and the market, not the amount of effort involved.

Disruptive technologies are changing the playing field. As a trusted business advisor, you are able to provide clients with performance- and strategic-based services packaged with compliance services faster, better, cheaper and easier.

Make a real push to develop pricing strategies that will enable you to scale your practices with the right services and clients.

3. Where are your gaps? Where do you find the resources?

The skills required to build a consulting practice are different than those needed in a traditional compliance practice. Technical skills won’t matter as much as leadership, collaboration and team building.

Value should be added by your entire team, not just accountants. The largest firms are now employing many non-accountants for advisory services in areas like IT, finance, marketing and human resources. Diversity makes a firm more valuable and innovative. People who are able to focus on their unique abilities have less burnout and are more engaged in their work.

But where will you find those skills? Your talent model will have to expand to take advantage of non-traditional resources like remote workers, outsourcing and the gig economy.

4. Do you have effective business processes? Can you manage projects and engagements effectively?

One of the first reactions that people experience when faced with a massive change in mindset, skillset and toolset is feeling overwhelmed. They communicate that feeling in the form of resistance and ask questions like, “Where will I find the time to learn and implement an advisory role and function?”

Without efficient processes, firms crumble in chaos and conflict. Technology now allows us to automate more processes and integrate applications. Inexpensive mobile applications provide capabilities to manage workflow, resources, projects, performance and expenses.

A firm grasp of the basics of good project and engagement management skills is also crucial. Using Lean Six Sigma to define, analyze, measure, improve and control your processes and identify the resources available to help you accomplish your goals will provide a significant return on your investment.

5. How will you sell your new services?

The greatest service offerings in the world won’t be of any value to your clients unless they are aware of them. If your firm is changing but your messaging isn’t, potential clients won’t realize the value you can bring to their business.

Work on messaging and communicating your new services through strategic sales and marketing initiatives. This includes your website content and messaging, email nurturing, sales letter and conversations, generating leads and gathering the best customer testimonials.

6. What technology will help you get there?

In the past, too many accountants focused on the spreadsheet as the primary tool of choice. But a spreadsheet isn’t efficient or scalable. To grow your advisory services practice, you’ll need modern accounting software and a suite of related add-ons. These will help you automate processes, scale your services, and enjoy efficient workflow, reporting and innovation. It’s time to build or update your technology roadmap with a focus on cloud-based applications that integrate.

7. How will you be held accountable?

A plan isn’t worth much without accountability to follow it. Once you create a plan to focus your goals, priority initiatives, resources and due dates, accountability will help you get results.

Communication is critical, as is prioritizing your best opportunities. Work on developing a roadmap that provides direction, establishes priorities and assigns initiatives along with due dates to responsible parties. Firms that have a plan and are in motion do much better than those who are paralyzed through procrastination. Execution comes from increased accountability.

As you can see from the questions above, firms need to make significant changes to take advantage of advisory service opportunities. It may seem overwhelming, but remember, this journey is about progress and not perfection. With a plan of action and accountability, your firm can ride the big waves of change rather than get crushed by them.