Let’s take a moment to consider how different accounting is these days.
It’s no longer just about balancing books, running payroll, preparing taxes, and performing audits. These are still priorities, of course, but thankfully AI makes all of these much easier on accounting firms. In addition, clients now want year-round engagement with their accountant as a trusted financial advisor, not a simple tabulator.
The data supports this realization: the Sage Practice of Now study from 2020 showed that 54% of accountants think business advisory is a critical skill for future employees in the field, up from 44% in 2019. That’s because their clients are asking for more than plain old bookkeeping—they want help running their businesses.
That said, not all of your existing clients are suitable for accounting advisory services. So if you’re looking to grow your firm by building a CAS practice, here’s what you need to consider about your current client roster.
Which Clients are Best Suited for Advisory Services?
Advisory is a conversation. And just as we’ve all had small talk stall into an awkward silence, the advisory discussion can go nowhere if the people you’re engaging with aren’t a good fit.
Before we dive into the specifics, here’s a major takeaway: your best clients for advisory services should already have concrete goals in mind. They’re not simply requesting you to “fix their financial life” or help them “do better.”
And that’s another area reinforced by data. According to a study by Wasp Barcode, the top complaint about accountants is that they’re more reactive than proactive. But what clients don’t understand is that they have to be willing to meet in the middle—they disclose their goals, you provide them with guidance and support in reaching those goals, and we all live happily ever after.
When a client has a vision of what they want to achieve financially, advisory becomes a conversation. You can then be active instead of reactive, helping them set goals, prioritize, plan effectively—and inspire your own CAS practice growth.
What Do Clients Want Most from Advisory Services?
In 2020, 79% of accountants reported clients wanted their services to include finance consultancy. It’s guaranteed that clients have demand for advisory services, but what exactly are they asking for?
Even though you’re the financial expert, it’s important to remember that clients are experts in one important field: their wants. Yet some financial advisors have different priorities than a client, which results in misaligned goals and an underwhelming client experience.
By taking time to understand what a client really wants, you can begin to define the path to your client’s goals by the actions you choose to take.
Here’s the gist: Do less upfront, listen to their “wants,” and make it a collaborative process.
Here are the 4 most common “wants” you’ll see from clients—and how to market to them.
1. Help reaching financial goals
Unsurprisingly, “help me reach my financial goals” is the top reason a client will hire a financial advisor for both their individual and corporate needs.
When talking about your services, highlight common client goals and how you’re positioned to achieve them. For example, take someone who isn’t interested in numbers but wants to buy a house. They won’t care about a potential return on investment, but they will care about a nest egg becoming an actual nest in 5 years. Part of your job is being a translator; you have to explain how your plan will achieve their goals.
These goals should also be the primary focus for all initial prospects, as well as the focus of ongoing review meetings to show that you always have the client’s priorities in mind.
How to market to a client’s financial goals
Focus on the goals of your “best” clients: Wondering what prospective clients want? You have an amazing data set in the clients you already have! Take your most recent clients and try to write out their goals. Then, write down the services you provided to achieve them. In initial prospect meetings, these are real examples you can pull from to outline your solutions for their goals.
Sell to a client’s individual goals: Money is the tool, not the goal. Every client will have something they want to achieve and by when. The strategy should always be dictated by something tangible rather than “growth.” Let early conversations be about understanding the client first, then let your advice be personalized to these details.
2. Relevant skills and knowledge
When we need assistance with something we don’t understand, we put a lot of trust in someone else’s skill set—that’s why entrepreneurs hire outsourced accounting. Anything that makes you stand out as an expert in your field is a huge boost and signals to clients that you know what you’re doing and you understand accounting standards. Because of this, it’s no surprise that relevant skills and knowledge are highly valued by clients.
Prospective CAS clients will vet your experience thoroughly. With public spaces like your firm website and LinkedIn, every aspect of your education and past work can be known in a single click. This means you’ll have to play up your skills and experience on every public page you have.
But know that once a prospect has come to you and set up a meeting, it’s no longer time to sell them on your past experience. They’ve likely already checked out other CPA firms, vetted you, and you passed the test. Once a prospect comes through your door, it’s time to switch focus from what you’ve done in the past to what you can accomplish for them in the future.
How to market your skills and knowledge
Use PR to bolster credibility: You probably won’t be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, but there are ways to get your name out in big publications. Help A Reporter connects journalists with experts for stories they’re writing. Or, if you’re particularly good with words yourself, you can be a guest author. Getting published on any blog or resource bolsters your reputation as an expert. For example, to get started writing for Forbes, take a look at these four tips to getting your first guest post published, or consider hiring a PR firm.
Earning additional certifications: The word “certified” packs a good punch to any professional’s title. Obtaining additional certifications in the accounting space shows your qualifications, bolsters confidence in your abilities and potentially opens up new revenue streams. Multiple certifications exist, including becoming a “certified internal auditor” or CIA.
3. Good communication skills and help understanding financial concepts
For many, financial literacy doesn’t go far beyond simple budgeting techniques. But if you have a way of making more complicated concepts easier to understand, you’ll earn the trust of your clients. This is incredibly valuable for retention.
The knowledge gap between an expert and a customer has been a space of exploitation for years. Seinfeld had a whole story arc about how difficult it is to find a fairly priced, honest mechanic, and not much has changed since then. Prospective clients will have their guards up, but they can be broken down by narrowing the gap with education.
Be sure to use more layman’s terms when talking about financial advisory on your website or in public spaces. Try running some of the language past a friend or family member to see if what you’re trying to say is what’s actually being heard. Remember—you’re talking to an average person, not a peer.
How to market good communication skills
Start with the desired result and work backwards: Once you’ve discovered what a client’s goals are, it becomes easier to understand what concepts you need to explore in greater detail. People are also more likely to understand something when they can relate to the real-world example used to explain it.
Be empathetic in your conversations: Humans make emotional decisions and use logic to rationalize them, which can make it frustrating to push someone toward the “right” behavior. When it feels like your advice isn’t being taken for emotional reasons, don’t give up on the conversation. Show empathy in understanding where they’re coming from so you can address the root issue. This will help you effectively quell those feelings so your strategy can stay on track.
4. Returns on investments
Oddly enough, ROI isn’t always the highest priority for clients. It shows that people put more value on a human experience when it comes to working with an accounting advisor. But it is still a priority, and talking about it in the right way will help you create value for your clients.
It’s important to keep a balance in how you talk about financial advisory. Yes, it’s important to talk about what results are possible from a dollars and cents perspective. But you also need to frame it through what it will accomplish for the prospective client.
Sell someone on your ability to save them stress and help achieve their goals, then keep them with how well you’ve guided them.
How to market returns on investments
Don’t sell yourself as “mistake protection”: As mentioned, humans make emotional decisions and use logic to explain them. But we also aren’t always aware this is the case. If you try to sell your services as protection from making those mistakes, it won’t resonate with people who aren’t aware they might be making mistakes in the first place. Behavior management should not be your selling point.
Create a unique, specialized value offering: If you find one particular audience and cater to them, you become a specialist. With specialization, you can tailor your language to exactly what your audience wants. After all, return on an investment means different things to different people. A startup has different financial goals than a business that’s been around for 50+ years. Refining your audience allows you to contextualize your services (and returns) for the ideal audience.
Find the Right Advisory Clients & Let Your
A-Team Serve Them
Really, there are two key steps in expanding into advisory services:
- Identifying the best prospective clients
- Refining your services to their wants and needs
When you’re offering financial advisory, you aren’t just selling your service, a monthly report, or tax filing at the end of the year. You’re selling an end result. Through your advice, a business is better suited to achieve its goal(s).
Find ambitious businesses that proactively want to grow and recognize the importance of an experienced financial partner. Focus on their specific needs while providing a powerful advisory experience. Then, you’ll get—and keep—advisory clients.
Identifying and pursuing advisory with the right clients is just as important as building the best team possible. If you’re trying to build the best advisory team for your clients, check out our interactive resource on putting together a CAS dream team. Click below to get started!