There’s no denying that more and more firms are positioning themselves to offer their clients advisory services, and the reason is clear. Financial guidance is a cornerstone of business success, and business owners need a trusted advisor to provide a data-driven path to achieving their goals — and avoiding costly mistakes.
But what might not be as clear to an accounting firm is what exactly you’re offering as advisory. Is it consulting? Is it something you and the client are both agreeing to? Will it become a time-consuming, always-on relationship with a client? (No one wants that!)
Indeed, successfully providing advisory services requires some definition. You need a set of deliverables that are repeatable, profitable, and valuable for your clients.
Crafting the Perfect Deliverables
Before diving into some specific examples of advisory services, let’s define what a valuable deliverable should look like.
In a nutshell, ideal advisory deliverables check these two boxes:
They’re profitable for you. What does the associated time investment look like? Do you have the bandwidth to offer these services? Does the math check out?
They provide the service your client is expecting. After talking with your clients (and prospects), do these services fulfill their needs? Do they help your client reach their goals and further strengthen your relationship with them?
Getting this right requires solid communication and effective pricing.
The perfect deliverable might look different for each of your clients, and it’s up to you to make sure you’re crafting the right deliverables.
For example, if you work with professional service companies, they may often ask about scenario planning to project the cash flow impact of hiring.
They may ask questions like, “How do I know when I can hire?”
These questions provide a first step in understanding the potential for a great deliverable: knowing there’s a need.
But that’s only one side of the equation — just because a specific advisory service works for this one client doesn’t mean it will work for all your clients, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s great for your firm, either. But you could have the opportunity to take that service and bundle it up into a deliverable with the proper pricing structure. From there, you could use the same strategy with other clients and services.
Evaluate your pricing strategy
Of course, making sure your client is satisfied is only half the battle. Once you’ve clearly defined the deliverables your clients expect, you’ll still need to nail down the price point that works for you.
And to be fair, setting your firm’s prices is a challenge in and of itself !
Many firms are beginning to move away from hourly billing toward fixed monthly pricing. The reason is simple: you get paid for your expertise and value provided — not for your time.
That’s not to say you’re oblivious to the time your staff is putting in! You’ll need systems for tracking time to ensure the deliverables are profitable for your firm.
As a crude example, let’s say 20 of your clients want to add cash flow forecasting services. You’ll need to calculate the projected monthly hours required of your staff to provide it.
You may need more bandwidth to deliver these services, meaning higher expenses. So you’ll have to build this into your fixed pricing to ensure profitability as you grow and scale.
Key Action: Set a three-tiered pricing model
A simple approach to pricing is to have at least three options:
Basic: A package with no frills, set at the lowest price you’re willing to accept
Standard: The ideal price point for you — usually the best deal
Premium: A price anchor option that appeals to particularly ambitious clients
Having a handful of preset service packages works well, regardless of the type of services you offer. Because they’re completely standardized, you can easily define both your deliverables and your pricing, then scale up rapidly.
Properly communicate your solution
Making sure the client feels satisfied at the end of each engagement doesn’t have to be complicated. Usually, it’s more about communication than anything else!
Key Action: Setting a scope of work —When you first meet with a client, you’ll need to define the scope of the project. Your scope of work should include short- and long-term project milestones, standards for frequency of communication, and the goals you’re working toward. Ideally, you should have the definition of the perfect outcome in writing, too.
By setting your scope of work, you can avoid scope creep by documenting the deliverable for reference later.
Practical Example: Cash Flow Forecasting
Let’s take a look at a couple different deliverables related to cash flow forecasting,which has become a vital advisory service for businesses.
Cash flow forecasting is a great example to work with because it can take many different forms, but that also means you and your client must agree on what it means to each of you when you begin planning an engagement.
Here are a couple of practical examples that demonstrate how these concepts could be applied to cash flow forecasting services.
Cash flow forecasting is effective, but it’s never foolproof. To account for the inherent unpredictability of the future, many advisory service providers offer scenario planning, the practice of creating multiple forecasts, each of which assumes a different outcome to a variable that drives a company’s success.
If a client is intent on increasing their revenue and requests cash flow forecasting to help them get there, here’s how you might define the perfect scenario planning deliverables:
Goal: To increase year-over-year revenue growth from 5% to 8%.
Deliverables: Scenario planning reports that are updated each quarter, each of which includes four possible revenue outcomes projected over time horizons of six, 12, and 18 months.
Price: A value-based package with a fixed fee for each report.
A client that requests cash flow forecasting might not necessarily be focused on growing their gross revenues. They might be more concerned with reducing their monthly costs by finding holes in their budget.
Instead of offering them scenario planning based around revenue outcomes, you could propose refining their budget using variance analysis with a focus on retaining solvency and liquidity.
Deliverables: An analysis of last year’s spending, a revised budget for the next 12 months, and monthly reports discussing any actual variances over 10%.
Price: A value-based offering with fixed fees for the deliverable of budgets and regular meetings to discuss variances.
It All Starts with Bookkeeping
As great as these advisory services can be, providing them to any of your clients is impossible without square one of your firm’s operation: efficient bookkeeping.
You need to be able to draw insights from your client’s data in order to advise them. And your ability to extract meaningful insight from data is only as good as the data you’re working with. Even the greatest CFOs in the world would find it difficult to lead their company in the right direction with sloppy or incomplete records!
If you’re an accounting firm looking to take your advisory services to the next level, start by laying down a rock-solid foundation.
Botkeeper’s AI-powered bookkeeping will slash your overhead costs, help you rapidly scale your business, and integrate seamlessly with your financial planning systems (all while being protected by bank-grade security).
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