There’s a battle raging in the accounting profession. Full services firm versus specialized offerings? Not that one. Shifting to automation technology and to an FP&A value pricing model? Kind of, but not that one, either.
The controversy we’re talking about is whether or not accountants (as a rule) are introverts. It’s estimated that three quarters of our colleagues like hiding in their proverbial spreadsheet shell, but some are going as far as to call that number “fake."
Regardless of where you stand in terms of the controversy or on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, one thing remains—getting client communication right is as necessary as it is difficult.
So if you’re feeling squeamish about increasing your communication with clients by offering advisory services, let’s get you more comfortable.
First, recognize the reason(s) for discomfort
As with most things in life, you must understand the root cause(s) of any issue before achieving resolution. Fear of putting yourself “out there” is common, but a manageable condition, when handled intentionally.
Here are three prominent reasons for those squeamish feelings:
- Lack of time: You’re busy, and it seems that way year-round. The fear here is that you’ll gain advisory clients and collect a healthy fee only to find yourself falling behind, working longer hours, or not providing enough value to these clients.
- Lack of preparedness: You picture the dream where you go to school in nothing but your underwear, only in a boardroom or Zoom call with your clients. Advisory isn’t ad hoc, no “off the cuff” stuff. Those who succeed have set processes, but you still fear that when you get “in the room” nothing will come to you.
- Lack of confidence: Imposter syndrome is a very real thing. If your firm is struggling in any way, how are you going to tell others how to maneuver theirs? Maybe it’s a lack of confidence in your ability to speak, poor body language, or other attributes of those we consider great presenters.
Have a fear we haven’t mentioned? That’s ok, but it is a great idea to recognize, define, and isolate those feelings.
Because they’re often the first hurdle to making positive moves (in life, not simply offering advisory in your firm). Once you understand and define the feelings behind why you squirm thinking about it, you’re able to focus on what exactly needs conquering.
Speaking of which, let’s cover some positive moves forward.
Getting cozy takes clear definition
Giving clear definition to your fear is important, and so is the clear plan to crumble those anxieties to dust. Although, since fears differ, this is a bit subjective. So, here are a few potential scenarios, which are all great practices for advisory.
- Clear deliverables and expected outcomes: What exactly do you offer? Merger and acquisition help, structure financing (loans), succession planning, and/or other services? Each offering should be clearly defined to include the “what” you do and the value your clients get from each. Doing this practice builds your confidence in knowing how you’re serving your clients (aka, destroying that imposter syndrome).
- Documented processes (for all services): In addition to the clear definition of services, having each task and timeline of those processes further builds confidence in your business. When you know what stage each service is for every client, and can quickly dive into those workflows, you’ll have the confidence to speak to each situation.
- A set plan for improving communication skills: You’ll still need to improve the deliver-y of your deliver-ables. Meaning many advisory services take in-person (or video call) meetings to explain your findings and suggestions (not 1-3 word emails with a link to this month’s report). Set aside time in your calendar to work on your abilities (many of which we cover in the next section).
Gain skills that enable confident conversations
Gaining communication skills comes down to two key components:
- What you say
- How you look saying it
What you say
When it comes to what you say, empathy matters. In short, you must understand how your clients receive, interpret and respond to what you’re telling them.
If you’re collecting information from the client, asking the right questions is vital. But just as important is to ask follow up questions until you’re certain you understand what they’re saying and have a clear idea of serving those specific needs. And if you’re delivering reports and advice, it’s vital that you ask questions that (not insultingly) get clients to relay what you just told them back to you.
Doing so ensures they understand you.
For example, an accountant says to an advisory client, “Based on your last few quarters of revenue growth, your cash reserves are almost in a spot to buy that new [insert piece of equipment]. However, with inflation, I’d encourage you to consider bulk buying material to produce your widgets. It’s not likely prices are going down in the next 1-3 years, but likely they’ll go up more.”
On the surface, the above statement is fantastic advice (for our fictional, non-existent product company). However, there’s too much information, even in the short statement, to immediately move onto the next phase of conversation.
In other words—Stop.
Give a bit of advice, then ask questions to ascertain how the client interpreted your recommendations.
After everyone is on the same page, recommendations can resume. For instance, our example scenario could be offering a solution of ordering double their normal shipment (with cash) while financing the equipment.
It’s easy to imagine that after 20 seconds of Zoom pleasantries and about 3 minutes of time, this accountant has read the entire script without the client saying anything.
This is where empathy comes into play. You speak clearly, and then work to understand how that information hit your client.
- Did you spark inflationary fear?
- Do they scoff at that advice?
- Are they thinking what you’re thinking?
To find out, give a bit of advice and why you offered it (like in our original script). Then, ask something harmless yet telling like, “Is that in line with how you looked at the financials?”
Chances are great that the next statement from your client won’t directly answer the question, but will clearly show how the advice hit them. From there, your nerves give way to a conversation, moving away from the initial jitters.
How you look saying it
When it comes to public speaking (of any type), perception feeds heavily into reality. And this is a double-edged sword. If you know how you look and sound when speaking, it feeds your confidence. And when those hearing you see your well-executed communication (whether it’s one business owner, or a boardroom full of executives) they feel more confident in what you’re saying.
In other words, it’s important to work on body language.
Some of the best advice we’ve seen is from International Keynote Speaker and Communication Skills Teacher, Vinh Giang. In one of his viral videos, he discusses a simple process to quickly improve how you look when speaking.
- Record a five minute video of yourself, doing an improvised speech. In this case, act as though you're having a normal strategy session with a client. (Or a discovery call, whatever is the most nerve-wracking conversation you have.)
- Turn the sound up and put the phone face down, to only hear how you’re saying things. Vinh calls this your “vocal image.” Notice what you like and dislike about how you spoke during your speech.
- Play the video, again, this time with the sound off while watching the entire video of yourself. This view is to notice anything you don’t like about your body language (not your body itself). So things like sitting too still, waving your arms wildly, or the expression on your face.
- Get a transcript of the recording (you can use an app, or Google drive for this). Then, go through it like your 9th grade English teacher, marking every “uuuhhh” and “ahhh” along with everything else you don’t wish to communicate with your clients. These things rob you of clarity and can put off those who are listening.
Still feeling squeamish?
Of course you are. And that’s ok.
There’s a certain confidence that only comes through doing hard things until the fear subsides (although, they may never entirely leave). The first step is to identify and define those fears. Are you ready to begin?
Want to learn more about advisory services? You’ll find tons of linked resources and information on our CAS info page.