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Strategic Advising Services: A Step-by-Step Method for Growth

The accounting industry is changing rapidly, and your clients are turning to you for advice on their business growth challenges and opportunities. Your firm needs to be able to meet this need. That’s why the LivePlan team has created special training for accountants and bookkeepers, so you can offer Strategic Advising services confidently and profitably.

The problem isn’t that you don’t want to offer advisory services to your small business clients. Your problem is that you’re not entirely sure how best to do it. You need the work to be scalable. You need it to be profitable. You need it to be manageable.

While a cloud-based software solution like LivePlan can help your firm deliver advisory services, it’s important to start by first implementing a business process. The process guides the day-to-day work of advising clients.  It’s important to understand why a process like this matters, and how you might go about building one yourself.

The LivePlan Method for advisory services: A step-by-step process

The process we teach in our training course follows the steps below. You can download our framework document, The LivePlan Method, as an example. It’s a comprehensive step-by-step guide for advisory. The following is a brief description of the purpose and work of each phase. You’ll find more detailed information in the LivePlan Method download.

1. Kick off

In this step, you’ll frame your advisory relationship, learn your client’s broad business goal, and get them excited about advisory. This is the time you set aside to connect with your client and model for them what an advisory relationship with you will look and feel like. In order for them to effectively engage with you, they have to know what to expect.

2. Plan

Perform Lean Planning with your client: what do they sell, who do they sell to, how do they sell, and who and what do they rely on to get that done? Here, you’re gathering the essential elements of their business model, in order to build a financial roadmap.

3. Model

Perform historical analysis of profit and loss to establish a basis for forecast metrics. You cannot build a smart financial roadmap unless you do a bit of forensics. What has the business done in the recent past? Do they have a basis for the growth they wish to achieve?

4. Build

Build a full financial forecast: profit and loss, cash flow, and balance sheet. This will be used to manage the day-to-day operations of the business. Use the goals established in Lean Planning, and the historical analysis to build a smart roadmap.

5. Advise

This step is your advisory monthly meeting, where you will review actual results against forecast and address the business goals and related forecast.

Once your tasks are established, you should assign them to roles within your firm: data entry clerk, analyst, staff accountant, CPA, and so on. The process of assigning the work to roles within your firm will help you understand your resource need and eventually to compare your value-based price to your internal cost: your margin. As you scale the work over time, you will hopefully fine-tune it to add margin. As you grow your margin, your profit will increase.

Don’t confine your advisory services to one specific industry

A well-designed business process can be industry agnostic, meaning that you can apply it across all types of small business clients, no matter their industry. There’s a lot of messaging in public accounting now to “go niche,” meaning you should specialize in one, usually narrow, industry.  Niche accounting can be a successful way to go if you get it right.  But a firm can also have great success with varied industries so long as they standardize their service offerings and manage scope. Remain flexible with your clientele, but rigid in scope.

Keep it profitable and scalable by sticking to the scope

Recognize that you can only do so much in a month with each client, and that the work you do must be profitable and therefore scalable. In order to be scalable, your business process should contain work tasks that deliver a reasonable amount of small business guidance each month—not everything that’s possible, just enough. Extra services, or deliverables, can be added at additional rates. Creating a menu of additional services is ideal.

Prepare your team to sell seamlessly: Get the dialogue right

An effective advisory process should include sales and engagement steps built in, as tasks. With these tasks in place, everyone in your firm can successfully engage with and sell advisory to clients in a comfortable way. The advisory service should be as natural to your firm asany other offering.

Growing and scaling

Based on your own unique staff and yourparticular client base, you will find versions of the workflow that are the most profitable and best suited to your firm. It maybe more transactional and reporting focused. Or it may involve more planning and forecasting. They key, though, is to stay strict to your scope and charge extra for anything that falls outside of scope.

You should also think about a framework for delivery that helps scale the work from setup at the outset of the relationship, which will take more time, to more of a maintenance type of work, which should take less time each month. 

Developing your own best workflow for client advisory will happen over time, and that’s to be expected. You won’t get it perfect right out of the gate, but over the course of six to 12 months you should expect to see a refinement of your process. If you’ve taken the time to implement a true task-based system, your business will benefit.

If you have questions about any of the subject matter contained in this article, please reach out to accountants@liveplan.com. We are always happy to help accountants grow their advisory practice.

Kathy Gregory has 20 years of experience in business development, including: financial forecasting, strategic planning, process development, project management, and mergers and acquisitions. She has worked in public and private, small to mid-size organizations doing business development, and strategic planning and implementation, working with executives, boards and their investors. At LivePlan Kathy runs the specialized program for Strategic Advisors. She is a graduate of the University of Oregon.

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