How I became an adviser.
At one point earlier in my life I was stuck professionally. It was time to head in a totally new direction. I’d had some successful education in the basics of accounting so when I got a recommendation to a financial planning firm, I gathered my courage and jumped!
What a shock! This wasn’t advising! I was expected to go door-to-door to the small businesses around the office — and SELL!
Well, that really wasn’t easy for an ex-schoolteacher! But I persevered – learned some valuable sales lessons and developed a whole new level of self-confidence!
Meanwhile, I also fell back on habit and started getting more formal education to go with what I was learning on the ground. Soon enough I became a Certified Financial Planner. Those skills and credentials helped me develop a profitable 16-hour executive planning class and even write a book (my first) for people facing unplanned early retirement.
Yes, my product sales continued. But now they came after some real analysis and were accompanied by in-depth consultation. Clients were friendlier and less suspicious. Ultimately I was able to start charging for purely advisory services.
Above all, I was getting a lot more satisfaction out of the work I was doing!
Today, many professional firms face the same sales challenges.
“Product” sales are pretty straight-forward. The professional can master the details of the product/software/process relatively quickly. The client can understand and usually even see exactly what he or she is getting.
This simple sell-buy relationship would be fine except — it’s turning out to be a race to the bottom.
What’s keeping many accounting firms from growing?
Advances in technology are sucking out profits.
According to one AccountingToday article, as much as 75% of today’s accountant’s work can be performed by software automation tools! These tools get the job done faster and more reliably – and are getting cheaper all the time.
Savvy clients understand. They shop for ever lower prices – and many start learning the software themselves so they can take over doing some of these basic accounting jobs.
(I’m thinking QuickBooks here. It claims to enjoy 80% market share of U.S. small businesses. Yes, accountants use it to generate the traditional products: tax returns, payroll, etc. but the relationship with the client runs the risk of becoming commoditized.)
Without a new level of respect and guidance through a consulting relationship, client accounts are at risk.
Clients don’t know what other services you (can) provide!
It seems pretty obvious that professional firms need to focus more on developing new advisory skills and services – that is, beefing up that 25% of what only they can offer.
What stands in the way? First, and most fascinating, clients say they want their accountants to give them “advice” – but they really don’t know what kind of advice to expect or even ask for!
(This problem isn’t peculiar to accountants. We’ve written about it before for consulting and professional firms! See Referral Regrets )
This suggests that professional firms either don’t do a good job of marketing – even to existing clients – or they themselves don’t know what sorts of advisory services they could offer! (If you think you do have advisory credentials, but aren’t confident that they are getting the appropriate exposure, take a look at the questions in this article on being recognized as an authority.)
What sorts of advisory services could you consider for your practice?
Here’s a quick list of some professional and non-traditional advisory services being offered successfully by accounting firms. Note that most of these services look forward rather than relying on hindsight.
- Specific industry trends and expertise
- Marketing and pricing
- Security (data and premises)
- Fraud consulting
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Personal financial planning for business owners and families
- IT consulting
- Business continuity planning
How to decide about adding a new advisory service?
First, you’ll probably feel that there’s no use offering something clients don’t want. But don’t ask your clients, because clients don’t KNOW what they want because they don’t know what’s really available! Your own research can identify some services that your clients might benefit by – you can start with the list above. When you’ve decided, then make sure clients learn that yes, this service IS available through your firm.
Second, you’ll want to provide services that you think are valuable – and services you can really get excited about. That enthusiasm will be necessary to carry you through whatever ramp-up is necessary – building a business plan for the new service (including pricing), getting the training necessary to provide it, and developing the marketing plan for getting the word out to the right prospects (probably starting with current clients). This will take some time.
Third, you’ll want to be sure your new advisory services are positioned to take advantage of new technologies such as cloud-based data storage, applications and communications. New is new – sticking with old-fashioned, in-house tools will limit you in the future.
The “Business Survival Project” may be an opening for you to add a new advisory service.
The Marketing Machine® has developed a pilot program that may allow you to put your foot into the water of adding a new advisory service.
We’ve based the program on a couple of things: first, our own enthusiasm for helping small businesses STAY in business after a disaster, second, our experience in the field of emergency preparedness, and third, our years of success with carefully directed lead generation programs.
Business continuity planning is a special service – but one where an accountant or CPA has a strong head start. We have created a step-by-step program to engage your clients (and ultimately new prospects) in a discussion of their vulnerability to threats from natural, business or individual actions. That discussion will lead to them taking steps to prepare for disaster and to be able to recover more quickly when something happens.
We believe the key words here are “WHEN something happens” because chances are greater every day that something WILL happen.
To learn more about the advisory service potential represented by the Business Survival Project, read the full description at our companion site.