As featured in Indiana CPA Society member case study.
Businesses are experiencing a landscape of constant change and increasingly recognizing that what happened last year may not have as much relevance to decisions they’re making now.
Client advisory services offer both a solution and future-proof profession opportunity that will continue to strengthen our market position as CPAs. Clients want and need forward-thinking advisory services, which enhance your firm offerings while also adding additional revenue lines at higher fees.
About Me & My Company
With over 30 years of diverse professional experience in public accounting, client systems, technology and CFO roles, I was able to use my background to see and seize this opportunity.
I launched Strategic Executive Advisory to help leaders with their business performance and strategy. We are 100% dedicated to providing client advisory services with a holistic, balanced approach to planning. We also partner with CPA firms ready to expand into client advisory services. This includes firm strategic planning, advising firms on client advisory adoption, and firms wanting to provide client advisory services without in-house expertise or capacity.
What Are Client Advisory Services?
Client advisory services go beyond historical financial reporting and compliance—they are an opportunity to collaborate with your clients on forward-looking initiatives to meet their unique blend of wants and needs.
The approach is more client-centric and value-add, as it is CORE to the business owner’s future success. It really is a differentiator for clients, especially when choosing their firm or business advisor.
You are working with your client to look at where they are now and advising them on how they can be more successful. It starts with high-level, strategic discussions as you engage with them on their business goals.
A key in all of this is to be in the room when strategic decisions are made. The facilitative approach involves you as advisor meeting with owners and key leadership rather than merely handing them a report. You are instrumental in advising them.
An important distinction and point of clarification about client advisory versus client accounting services: Client advisory is strategic, stemming from the C-suite (i.e., CEO, COO, CFO). Client accounting is focused on financial reporting, including controller services.
Two key notes to keep in mind about client advisory services:
#1. The purpose of business advisory is not to eradicate everything you are currently offering clients. You have a successful business model, and compliance is very much needed in our profession. The emphasis is to highlight new revenue streams you can offer current or prospective clients.
#2. It’s important to take into consideration independence with your current assurance client base.
What Does Business/Client Advisory Look Like?
Business advisory provides a holistic approach. Unlike consulting, which is more short-term expertise on solving a specific issue, advisory is recurring and long-term. Advisors meet with clients on a regular basis. Typically, an annual planning session with monthly or quarterly meetings to help clients stay on track. The focus is on your clients’ future success.
Strategy is likened to a budget—a living and breathing process, not to be done once and put on a shelf. From discovery to strategic planning to execution, the emphasis is helping clients focus and prioritize. From the strategy sessions stem opportunities to provide additional services from compliance to consulting.
There are ample opportunities to work with businesses on forward-looking initiatives. I mentioned earlier the importance of having key team players in the room during the facilitative process. Each bring their respective expertise and perspectives to the table. The sessions provide opportunities for leadership teams to identify and discuss priorities, collaborate, rank priorities and set next action steps.
As most trusted business advisors, CPAs can advise on: innovation, operations, brand and culture, business and financial performance, products and services, sales and marketing, management, people performance and development, teams, and top-line growth.
To be successful with any new initiative, it’s important to consider a shift in mindset as well as any perceived challenges.
Firms share they already face pipeline challenges and are at or above full capacity—they’re struggling with finding professionals to fill their current business model, let alone add client advisory services. However, if your firm does not offer them, competitors will. Businesses are asking for them.
The perception might be client advisory services will eradicate your entire business model. Business advisory can be an additional revenue stream to enhance, not replace, your successful and existing business model. In fact, you might already provide advisory services (whether billed or unbilled) without realizing it. Most firms are designed with charge-hour goals. It takes a mind shift to move from hourly billing to value-add. This is an opportunity for your firm to capitalize on and provide rewarding, value-added services.
Becoming a Firm of the Future
Adding client advisory services positions your firm as your clients’ most trusted business advisor and future proofs your business model. To continue thriving in the decades ahead, our profession needs to embrace and implement new client services.
Checklist: Getting Started
- Start now—success does not happen overnight.
- Progress at a pace with which your firm is comfortable.
- Set an initial target as a percent of firm revenue (i.e., 10% of client revenues).
- Start with your current client base as you already know them and have access to their financials.
- Business advisory enhances your firm by complementing your existing compliance model.
- Leverage a repeatable yet tailored process that provides transparency and prioritized, actionable steps.
- Identify and support champion(s) within your firm. Buy-in and support from leadership is critical.
- Consider a business advisory coach to help you implement successfully. If you outsource or seek an advisory coach, align with someone who has both business and financial acumen.
- Reprioritize your focus through a growth mindset and change process.
- Be clear and upfront to both prospects and current clients on the distinction between traditional compliance and business advisory.
- Ask for referrals and be sure to follow up on any leads.