Business owners need an accountant to bring knowledge and expertise relevant for improving their tax position and ensuring financial reporting meets compliance obligations. 

But is this enough for business owners today? 

Interest in accounting advisory services to improve business outcomes is increasing but are you and your firm ready to meet the demand?

Results from the NAB Professional Services Key Insights into the Australian Accounting Industry indicate a definite trend towards increasing demand for accounting services that focus on business improvement.

According to the survey, “1 in 5 SME’s would like advice on financial future and growth opportunities on top of the services they already receive, and that a similar proportion would like to receive help with their business strategy. At least one in ten, meanwhile, would appreciate assistance with business planning (12 per cent), business analytics (17 per cent) or budgeting/forecasting (10 per cent).” 

In this article, we share 5 indicators you are ready to leverage the increasing client interest for business improvement advisory services. 

1. Experience in a client facing role

Accountants are known for being introverts. This means you’re a good listener, reserved, thoughtful and precise with your answers.  You like to gather plenty of information before you deliver what you expertly conclude to be the right answer.

A critical success factor in engaging clients for business improvement advisory services is – effective communication.  Unlike technically-based compliance processes which are managed and completed in the ‘back office’ away from clients, accounting advisory services are delivered through direct and active communication with clients.  

If you have experience working with clients in a face-to-face capacity you understand the value of developing client relationships. You’re aware of the importance of building trust with your clients so they share their challenges and concerns with you.  Experience with face-to-face client discussions is ideal as it means you have developed more of the soft skill capability that is required for effective advisory work.

if you want to transition into regular advisory work because it requires more frequent contact and communication with clients.

Building trusted client relationships opens the door for you to have meaningful discussions with your clients and effective communication skills are vital.  It doesn’t mean you’re always talking.

In fact, your role is to ask relevant questions and listen to your client’s answers without jumping to conclusions or answers immediately.

You’re required to let go of your ‘expert’ approach to have the ‘right’ answer, which is necessary with compliance work. Instead, with advisory work you need to adopt a flexible, inquisitive mindset when you talk to clients about their business.  An inquisitive mindset gives you the space to explore and understand the challenges and concerns your client faces right now in the much greater context of their day to day reality.

2. Ad-Hoc Advisory Management

If you’ve worked with clients for a few years, you’ve likely provided advisory services such as tax planning, cashflow management, forecasting and budgets along the way.  

Generally, this type of ad-hoc advisory is available by request and usually for the purpose of informing a third party like a bank.  Most accountants offer ad-hoc advisory services.  

If you’ve had experience with ad-hoc advisory services you can take it one step further with personalisation.  Rather than treat these services as ad-hoc and wait for clients to request them, it’s very easy to package them as an ongoing advisory solution that focuses on giving the client advice and timely support for business improvement. 

This isn’t difficult to do.  If you consider the needs of your existing clients you can develop a base package of services then tailor additional services depending on specific client needs.

Clients appreciate personalised advice to gain a deeper understanding about the financial health of their business. Accounting advisory services to improve business outcomes and address their specific needs add so much value to exisiting compliance services.

If you want to help your clients improve their business outcomes, the good news is you already have the services but you need to avoid overcomplicating how you deliver them.  You don’t need to offer everything from business planning to mergers and acquisitions. 

Start with a simple advisory package that meets your client’s needs right now for ongoing advice, then tailor solutions as you progress with clients.

3. You have an advisory process and team support

Building ongoing advisory into your business is not a solo effort.  Effective advisory work depends on a repeatable process and delegation of tasks within a team.  

Starting with the partner, senior accountants, the accountant team and administration, cross-functional support for the processes and deliverables of effective advisory services, from planning to execution and follow up, ensures a highly valued experience for the client which is a rewarding outcome.

When considering team support, you will need to determine who is the best fit to be client facing, who should fulfil the analytical role, and who will provide the administration support.  This 360 degree approach ensures the client experience is perceived as high touch, efficient and personalised for the client.

Clients don’t know what to expect which is why it’s important for both accountant and client to follow a framework of advisory processes.  Advisory work is often thought to be undefined and it’s because very few accounting firms have a framework of repeatable advisory processes.  A lack of consistency causes confusion for both parties and often falls short of achieving tangible outcomes.

A repeatable process to communicate and deliver advisory work makes it possible to set clear expectations and accountability with clients, which ultimately increases the value of accounting advisory services to the firm and clients.

4. You understand your value

After you spend 3-5+ years in accounting it’s very easy to overlook the value of your knowledge and skills.  You’ve worked over hundreds of businesses, completed as many lodgements and gained valuable knowledge through your qualification and hands-on experience.

You’re able to interpret complex financial data, tax legislation and analyse scenarios so when you understand a client’s business well, all your experience and knowledge makes you an extremely valuable asset.

While you may think of your work as being ‘just what you do,’ it is so much more.  

When you see the impact your knowledge and experience has on a business owner’s livelihood and quality of life, what you do for them is elevated with purpose.

5. You’re willing to take a new approach

The accounting industry exists because taxes have to be paid.  The last 10 years has seen a rapid increase in technological systems that automate record keeping and instant transfer of information.

While advancement in technology makes information more accessible and managing financial data readily available to business owners, they lack the knowledge and expertise to make informed financial decisions in complex scenarios.

Business owners don’t go into business to fail.

Many want to work with accountants who will take the time to understand their business and give guidance on their financials so they can make informed decisions.

It’s time for accountants to step out from behind the compliance desk and leverage the real value of advisory services to provide knowledgeable and timely insights focused on improving business outcomes.

In this article, we’ve outlined some practical and tangible areas to help you identify whether you and your firm are ready to transition into ongoing advisory services.  

However, there is one thing behind each of these steps that is the key to gaining momentum and success…

It’s you.

You have to know you want to make a difference. Ultimately, you already know you have clients who want your help to make informed financial decisions at the right time in their business. 

Imagine what it would do for our economy and communities if more than 40% of new businesses survive past the first 3 years?

Your motivation and desire to go beyond compliance work, reinvent your role and fully utilise your knowledge and expertise directly with clients as a trusted advisor is the single most important factor in your success.

In summary, making the transition into regular advisory work from a compliance role is likely to be successful if you, your team and your firm recognise it is necessary for the accountant’s role to evolve. By going beyond technical compliance knowledge and being more accessible and client-facing, it’s possible to build considerable value in a firm through accounting solutions that improve business outcomes.

At The Small Business Project, the foundational Business Metamorphosis® Advisor Program equips accountants in public practice with the framework and repeatable advisory processes to build long term advisory relationships with clients. Going beyond ad-hoc advisory, the Business Metamorphosis® Advisor Method focuses on delivering tangible outcomes and leveraging your knowledge to improve business outcomes with your accounting advisory services.

Discover the Business Metamorphosis® Advisor Method, watch the free Advisor Masterclass for accountants in practice (1hr CPD)