Strategies to Expand Your Advisory Footprint

Despite what many accountants think, businesses want advisory services. In this connected and ever-changing global economy, value-add advisory could mean the difference between a business thriving or having to close its doors for good. Because of this, businesses are increasingly seeking out those accountants who provide the services they need—or looking for ways to plug the gaps themselves. There is huge scope for accountants to step up and do more work of passion and purpose, while boosting their own revenue. And yet, many firms are hesitant to take the plunge.

To address this issue, Patrick Stern (Enterprise Business Development Manager) hosted a webinar with Richard Francis FCA (Spotlight Reporting CEO), and Russell Kibbee (Senior Account Manager). Each had a unique perspective on the matter informed by their different background, but all three agreed on the same salient point: now is the time for accounting firms to transition to advisory services, if they haven’t already.

You can access the full webinar here. Otherwise, here are a few ideas they touched on:

1. Offering Advisory Services is a No-Brainer

Having worked as an accountant in both large and small firms, Richard Francis has firsthand experience in what business owners of all backgrounds want:

“I got a lot of clients back in the day who came to me because their firms weren’t providing advisory,” he says. “Isn’t it funny that there are so many businesses that already have accountants, but still have to look elsewhere?”

Many accountants initially begin to look at offering advisory services because they have one or two clients who are asking for it, but this barely scratches the surface. A significant percentage of your existing client pool will benefit greatly from what you can offer, but are simply unaware of your potential.

Similarly, accountants often bypass investing in advisory services because they underestimate the potential revenue it will bring. When Richard put together his first advisory team at a large firm, the increased fees he was able to charge surprised and interested the partners. Unlike compliance, advisory is about value—and value can and should be monetised.

If you’re not offering advisory services, your clients may well start looking for them elsewhere. Russell Kibbee works with business clients looking to implement Spotlight Reporting directly into their processes, and has seen this firsthand. 

“Businesses want to automate their systems,” he says. “They want to get away from manual processes, they want to have it all linked up and connected. Businesses are curious—if you don’t provide, they might start wanting to do this on their own.”

In short: clients want advisory services, firms will benefit from providing these services, and those who don’t will be left behind. What are you waiting for?

2. How to Begin Your Advisory Journey

Although intensely rewarding, beginning the journey to becoming an advisory-first firm can be challenging.

Over the years, Patrick, Richard and Russell have had the privilege of working closely with thousands of accounting firms across the world as they transition from compliance work to advisory. Around half of these firms experienced a 10-50% growth in advisory revenue in their first year using Spotlight Reporting, with one firm achieving over 100% in revenue growth. 

“Half of our subscribers don’t see much growth in their first year, because they don’t have the commitment, they’re not putting in the time and effort,” says Richard. “This isn’t a five minute sideline, this isn’t just for one client—this is a philosophical repositioning.”

Those who are prepared are the most likely to reap the biggest rewards. That in mind, here are five key pieces of advice to get you started: 

  1. Commit: it’s not enough to intend to provide advisory services. You have to commit to doing the hard yards in order to realise your full potential. The leaders at your firm must be ready and willing to put in or allocate the time, energy, and resources this endeavour deserves.
  2. Get your team onboard: “It’s really important to be bottom up, as well as top down,” says Richard. “Leadership might love the idea of advisory and advisory revenue, but you need to make sure  every single person in your firm is going to be there with you.”
    It likely won’t take much to secure the buy-in of your team.
  3. Be proactive: while working at Xero, Russell fielded many calls from accountants who wanted to enquire into the software after their clients asked for it. This was the wrong mindset for success, he feels. Accountants should understand and acquire the right tools for the job before their clients are even aware of the possibilities.
  4. Start small: some firms pick the biggest, most complicated clients to begin their advisory journey. This usually results in failure, and subsequently destroys all motivation. Instead, start by providing a basic Spotlight Report to a few trusted clients, and grow your offerings from there. 
  5. Collaborate with Spotlight Reporting: Our team is always ready and available to help, whether that’s workshopping your advisory strategy, holding training sessions with your team, or providing the resources you need to get the most out of your journey.

3. How to Expand Your Advisory Client Base

So you’ve made the commitment to begin providing advisory: you’ve strategised your approach, acquired the tools, and completed the training—what next? 

Believe it or not, you don’t need to go looking elsewhere for your new advisory clients—your perfect advisory clients already exist amongst your current client base. To begin tapping into these new potential advisory relationships, the first thing you need to do is start asking questions. 

When clients weren’t achieving the outcomes they expected, Richard used to ask them if they’d like to talk strategy with him. He would offer them things he saw they needed, like mentoring services, or a forecast to talk to when meeting with the bank. These conversations would not only deepen the relationship, but often be the springboard clients needed to ask for more value-add services.

“It’s about human-to-human interaction,” says Richard. “I found that these conversations worked well as a marketing and sales strategy.”

Another strategy Patrick recommends is offering value up front. He suggests beginning with a free basic report that will benefit the client. After that, you can move on to identifying and suggesting a more customised approach that would better fit their business model. If you can show clients the value of what you can provide, they’re more likely to engage your services

“It’s really important to be bottom up, as well as top down. Leadership might love the idea of advisory and advisory revenue, but you need to make sure  every single person in your firm is going to be there with you.”

“Not every customer might want that higher-end report, but it starts planting the seed,” says Patrick. “It also means that you aren’t pigeonholed into the specific pricing on your website, for example. Firms could really leverage this—here’s a basic report, but here’s a better report we think you need, based on the information you’ve given us, that will add more value to your business.”

Yet another way to drive sales and revenue is to specialise in a vertical or niche . Every industry will have different reporting needs, whether that’s measuring financial or non-financial KPIs, tracking industry-specific metrics, or creating a growth strategy. Spotlight Reporting’s Industry Templates are a great place to start, and once you begin creating a network of clients, you can begin setting benchmarks based on the experiences across the industry.

“The more clients you have, the more normalised the data will be, and that’s the beauty of it,” says Russell. “It’s the network effect—the more data points you have, the more you can do for other clients, and then suddenly you’re the data expert in that industry.”

For further information, you can watch the full webinar here.

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