Believe it or not, there’s a lot accountants can learn from professional sports. Take the Olympic steeplechase event in track and field — at the beginning, it looks like any ordinary distance race. Then come the hurdles...then comes the hurdle-water pit. It takes a lot of endurance, planning, and strength to master the race, and almost no one comes out of it completely dry!
FALLING TO A CHALLENGE ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD — JUST GET BACK UP AND KEEP TRYING!
The point is that to get good at it, you have to be willing and able to overcome those pitfalls (pun intended).
And when it comes to developing accounting advisory services, the same is true. Hurdles and pitfalls happen; they’re natural. But your ability to navigate them is what makes you a good advisor.
And just like the steeplechase, understanding what’s ahead will lead to success.
Don’t worry — this article isn’t just about running. In fact, we’ve pulled together four of the most common pitfalls that firms experience when introducing and offering advisory services to their existing and new clients. So without further ado, let’s dive in — er, let’s jump in!
Pitfall One: Scope creep
Any business that offers guidance to its target audience experiences scope creep — it’s not unique to accounting advisory services. But it’s a huge problem for accounting professionals and firms, as scope creep makes you waste time, lose money, and it makes your job much more difficult.
Scope creep happens when a client requests additional services (or adjusts/goes beyond already agreed upon ones). These often require an additional investment of time from you or your team. As the saying goes, if you give some clients an inch, they’ll take a mile.
Bottom line: When you agree to give more work to your client — without charging and under the same time frame as the original project — you’ve got scope creep. This is a terrible pitfall for a provider of advisory services. Your time is your most valuable resource, and clients pay for it.
This doesn’t mean that you should be super rigid and not be accommodating to your clients — far from it! Do everything possible to make sure your clients have the best experience possible, but be aware of when clients ask you to deviate from the original service plan. A single email asking you to do one more task out of scope can snowball into a huge loss for your firm.
Here are 3 ways to prevent scope creep:
Clearly define each project and contract
Prepare to charge more if they ask for big changes/more work
Prepare to say no if you aren’t able to provide what they ask for without losing too much margin via additional expenses
Pitfall Two: Being All Things to All People
This pitfall is one of the biggest problems for firms that are just starting out offering advisory services. This is because your firm can’t be the best firm for every client out there. This has big implications when it’s time to dial in your firm’s marketing for when you’re ready to go out and look for more clients.
But don’t worry — you can avoid this advisory pitfall by doing two simple things:
1. Define your ideal customer
The first step to having an effective marketing strategy that allows you access to new advisory clients is to define who your ideal advisory client is. It’s important to keep an open mind since it’s entirely possible that the same clients you provide basic services to don’t make the best clients for your advisory services.
A helpful way to figure out your ideal customer is to narrow them down by company size, how you can market to them, and the type of advisory services they need.
2. Define your firm's brand
A brand is much more than a logo and a color palette; it’s the sum of all the elements that make you the best for a certain type of client and how you communicate that message. Your brand is your visual elements, your messaging, and everything that might inspire a client to think of you.
In a nutshell, a clearly defined brand helps draw the right customers. Plus, clear branding improves how clients relate to you.
Defining how branding impacts your firm’s ability to attract clients could be its own book (or at least a separate article), but if your firm’s brand is something you haven’t yet invested in, now’s the best time to look into it!
Pitfall Three: Offering Services That Aren’t Profitable For You
Just because advisory services have the potential to bring in a significant amount of extra revenue doesn’t mean every advisory service you offer will be equally profitable for you. This pitfall usually happens to advisory professionals with an extensive career and valuable experience across a wide variety of topics.
What ends up happening is that you provide too many advisory services and lose focus. Remember that just because you can help your clients with every financial aspect of their business doesn’t mean you should.
Focus on the services that you’re best at
The best way to make sure your advisory services are the most profitable is to focus on the advisory services that you’re the best at. In other words, focus on your biggest strengths first, whether that’s financial planning, budgeting, or any other CAS-focused service. This will guarantee that you provide the most value and end up being the most efficient as possible.
Understand how to create more time with tools
Advisory services not taking off is often due to other services (i.e., tax work, bookkeeping, etc.) taking up a substantial amount of time. If your CPAs’ schedules are filled with basic tasks and client write-ups, it’s far less likely they’ll be able to focus on advisory.
Use technology to take all general ledger work off your team’s plate. You (and your clients) will have up-to-date, clean books all the time, freeing up resources for more high-value services.
Pitall Four: Not Having Clear Advisory Service Packaging
Most advisory clients don’t know what you know; that’s the reason they’re hiring you. Along the same lines, they don’t know what services to request from you. This is why packaging your services can be a very practical way to position them; it has two main benefits.
It makes it easy for your clients to choose you
One of the main benefits of packaging your services is that it makes it easy for your clients to understand what they’ll be getting from you, as well as what the pricing for each service is. This makes the whole transaction easier and will ultimately help you onboard new clients — faster and with less effort.
It helps prevent scope creep
We don’t need to say more about why scope creep is bad, but it’s worth noting that having clear advisory packaging is one of the best tools to prevent it. It makes it easy for your clients to understand that if anything they ask for goes beyond what’s detailed in the service package, it will either have an additional cost, or you won’t be able to provide it.
Pitfalls Happen, but Practice Helps
Just like an Olympic athlete, experience and training are the keys to being able to recognize and overcome pitfalls. Adjusting your mindset and approach helps, especially if you have a goal of transitioning from basic accounting services to advisory.
It’s a process that won’t be completed overnight, and knowing how to start is often the most difficult part. But athletes don’t become great on their own — they rely on trainers, routines, and the best resources available to them.
If you’re looking to increase your firm’s margins by expanding your services to include advisory, check out the resources available for free download in our Resources Library, or click below to get your copy of “From Tax to CAS: The Accountant’s Guide to Creating More Opportunities." It offers simple but proven strategies for navigating the bridge from tax to advisory work. Get your copy today!