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Getting started with client advisory services

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Every day, more accounting firms are recognizing opportunities to deliver greater value to clients by expanding their scope of services. Supplementing transactional and compliance services with higher-value consulting and advisory services is helping firms tap into the potential for more profit in their firms and higher satisfaction from clients.

Yet when we speak to accounting firm leaders from across the country, we hear a common question:

“Where do we start?”

Naturally, if you pose that question to four different people in your firm, you’ll get four different answers. Your talent and human resources leaders say it all begins with talent. Your process improvement gurus believe firm processes are the foundation of expanding your service offerings. Your IT people will argue that without the right technology in place, your advisory practice will never get off the ground. Your business development team is convinced you first need the right clients to buy new services. So which is correct?

They’re all right. Over the past several years, we’ve worked with hundreds of progressive firms to begin offering client advisory services. While no path to CAS is without its challenges, we’ve identified six key ingredients for success.

Clients

Think about who you want as future clients. To succeed in CAS, you need clients who look to you for multiple services and advice, are receptive and coachable and willing to pay for quality services.

In all likelihood, you will have to give up something from the past to take advantage of future opportunities. This means developing client acceptance criteria and applying it to your current client base. Don’t simply transfer the clients that don’t fit the criteria to lower-level staff. This may alleviate problems for the partner, but it does not solve the problem.

With CAS,  your existing clients are your marketing channel. You have already developed relationships and have the opportunity to sell additional services to them and ask for referrals. Successful clients tend to have successful friends and business acquaintances.

Plan

Does your firm have the business model to support advisory and consulting services? You need to decide right now if your firm will be comprised of a collection of rugged individualists or members of a unique ability team.

Transactional and compliance services are being disrupted and commoditized by technology. To sustain profits and remain future-ready, you need to play at a higher level with a collaborative team. Make sure your strategic plan reflects this business model and has a means for holding your team accountable.

Pricing

Firms that are finding success in client advisory services recognize that the would of CAS is a results-based economy, and the effort-based economy (hours x dollars) has passed.

It’s imperative to implement subscription pricing as you package and price multiple services to your existing and new clients. This requires up-front conversations with clients regarding scope, pricing and change orders. It takes confidence and courage to price for value. Consistently look for ways to add value and improve the client experience.

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People

Does your team have the skills to market and sell advisory services? Technical skills are important, but they’re no longer sufficient to meet evolving client wants and needs.

Advisory services require a collaborative team with unique abilities to meet the wants and needs of the clients and the market. Identify the unique skills you already possess and those that you need to develop or hire. Most firms have technical teams with accounting expertise. Where they lack are in other skill areas: project management, data analytics, marketing, sales, communications and process engineering.

Process

Leading firms leverage Lean Six Sigma to streamline their workflows for compliance and advisory services as well. This is about making the accountant’s job easier but also about making it easy for clients to do business with you.

When investing in new technologies, ensure you’re not so excited to run with the latest solution that you skip the critical step of reviewing and updating old processes. Even the best innovations will fail to live up to expectations if technology and process are misaligned.

Platform

Technology is both a disruptor and a resource that can be leveraged. Most firms will continue providing traditional services while leveraging an integrated platform to automate and deliver timely and accurate information for performance, strategic and consulting services. From a client’s perspective, the key is experience and having real-time decision-making data.

So where should you start? Pick one and start building your confidence. Looking at CAS as a whole can be intimidating to a firm just getting started, but it doesn’t have to be complex. Select a focus and start allocating resources. Eventually, you will get these six areas in sync and discover the formula for success.