How does an experienced accounting professional merge their years of experience and skills with the specific needs of their clients? To be honest, it ain’t easy, but it’s an essential piece of providing accounting advisory services.
To get your clients adding on advisory services, you’ll need to dig into long-term goals, understand what motivates them, and take time to discuss what they want most from you—how your firm’s unique positioning can offer them a boost toward growth.
To start, here are five questions you should be asking your clients to be able to provide them top-tier advisory services and position yourself as an essential piece of their business solution.
Question 1: What are your longer-term goals?
This one might be obvious, but you’d be surprised how many firms set out to help clients without having an actual understanding of their goals.
Simply put, your advisory services need to be tailored to each individual client’s unique goals and needs. Someone who wants to rapidly grow their business into an empire and someone who’s content with accomplishing financial freedom will have different wants from an advisor.
But don’t stop there! Once a client’s goals have been defined, dig in with follow-up questions.
What actions are they currently taking to work toward their goals? How are they tracking progress?
You have an incredible value proposition by helping them define SMART KPIs (key performance indicators) that suit each goal. Once you’ve identified KPIs, you’ll have a better idea of the reports and forecasting you can generate to help them succeed.
What you’re offering your client is essentially a GPS with their desired goal as the destination.
You’re showing them how they’re progressing toward their goals, whether they’ve veered off course, and giving an estimate on how far away they are from reaching them. But a GPS is worthless if it can’t pinpoint the desired destination. That’s why asking about long-term goals is so important—it determines how you should structure your advisory services.
Question 2: Will you be seeking funding anytime soon?
According to a study by Fundera, 43% of American businesses applied for a loan in 2019. In 2020, small businesses flocked to programs like the PPP and EIDL to access the necessary capital to weather the pandemic. Now more than ever, the reality is that businesses will need access to capital for growth.
Once you know their timeline on when they’re looking to get additional funding, ask what path they’re going to take.
Will it be a traditional loan?
Maybe even looking to bring on investors?
While every situation requires the same reporting, the likelihood of getting funding depends on what’s behind the numbers. Accountants can help prepare the documents but also support in writing out a business plan, creating slides for investors, and reviewing how to talk about the reports favorably.
Beyond that, you can help structure a plan for how the funds will be used. By setting up specialized reporting, you can track how quickly they’re spending the money and provide updates to the business owner. You’re not just offering them assistance in getting the capital but making sure they’re getting the best possible return on those funds.
Question 3: What are your upcoming hiring goals?
Making the decision to hire an employee brings on a lot of extra consideration for business owners. They’ll need a payroll solution, a plan for employment taxes, and a solid understanding of how it impacts their profitability.
Tackling these questions is intimidating and can cause business owners to freeze up on making the decision, potentially going too long without making a hire and impacting their productivity. If your client is showing interest in making new hires, ask what their timeline is. The sooner the anticipated hiring date, the greater the need for understanding how it will impact their business.
Your accounting skills are also helpful in determining whether hiring a person is the true solution to their challenges. And it’s also an opportunity to upsell with additional services: how are they running payroll?
You can ask what results they’re hoping to achieve with a new hire. For example, what’s the revenue or margin per employee they’re wanting to see? This is another opportunity to set up KPIs and reports that can track their performance with each additional employee hired. You can also flag when there’s room in the budget for increasing the workforce.
Question 4: How are your relationships with suppliers?
One of the key ways to increase profit margin is to cut down on supplier costs. But businesses can get so comfortable with a system that works (or one that they think works) that they don’t consider it constructively. Asking this question can get the conversation started on potential cash-saving opportunities.
Once the conversation gets going, ask them how their ordering habits have changed with their business.
If they’ve been upping production gradually over time, they may not realize there are opportunities for savings by buying in bulk from another supplier. See if they’ve investigated other suppliers and what their options entail.
Accountants can help identify when cash flow enables new opportunities that weren't there before.
By setting up cash flow reporting, you can see when they have enough money coming in to potentially afford bigger orders. These bigger orders typically cut down the unit cost of their supplies. And hey—identifying opportunities for cost-cutting is a great example of good CAS.
Question 5: How can I help your business financially?
Every client that comes through a practice has different expectations and aspirations. After asking some exploratory questions, give them the floor. Remind them that there’s no wrong answer. After all, if it’s something you can’t help with, surely you can work with them to come up with a compromise!
No matter how big or small the task is, follow up by asking the most important question: why. Asking why your client wants advisory help will illuminate what they’ve struggled with in the past and how you, specifically, can provide support.
Take for example a client wanting a lower tax bill.
When you follow up by asking why it’s important, there can be a wide variety of answers. Maybe they heard on a podcast that there are ways to make your tax bill smaller with smart spending on deductible expenses. Or maybe they get blindsided by their tax bill and it makes them struggle with cash flow every year.
While both have the same objective, they’re for very different reasons. How you position your advisory services should reflect that. With the former, talk about how you stay up to date on tax laws and can make sure they never miss a deduction or credit. With the latter, talk about how you can provide forecasting and cash flow projections to budget for the tax bill. This ensures you’re not just providing a bandaid fix, but digging into the root of the problem.
If you want to narrow the scope of where you’re providing assistance, you can also consider specializing in one of these 8 emerging verticals. Having an area of specialization will improve your service offerings and make for more consistent support across your clients.
Asking Questions Is Just the Beginning
Once you’ve made the decision to add advisory services, these five questions will help you define how you can best help your clients. But while advisory services are the best return you can get on your time, you’ll need to find time to actually have these conversations. And let’s be real—what accountant has a lot of time on their hands?!
Here’s where tech comes into play: you can increase capacity by automating the mundane, time-consuming bank reconciliation process, report generation, and more. But like helping your clients find their way toward their goals, you have to be the one to make the first move.
Rest assured that you’re not alone on that journey! If you want to know more about how advisory is the next natural step of evolution for accounting firms, check out our free guide on how it’s shaping the industry. Click below to get your copy!