Accountants: How to Scale Business Advice Without the Gurus

By Posted in - Members Blog on January 20th, 2016 0 Comments

How to scale business advice - Commentary

In part three of this five-part series we looked at the Clarity layer of The Value Pyramid for Accountants and Advisors, and how it lets firms elevate themselves beyond the commodity layers of Real-Time Data and Compliance.

Innovative financial reporting and forecasting apps such as Fathom, Spotlight Reporting and CrunchBoards can help accountants and advisors demystify and simplify the process of presenting financials to their business clients.

But guess what? That’s not enough.

In this article—part four in the series—we’ll explain why giving your clients impressive, colourful management reports and financial dashboards is just the start of a conversation. And how providing CLARITY helps the advisor progress to the next layer of adding value.

The COMMENTARY Layer

Having interviewed clients from many accounting firms*, we can confidently say they’re far less excited about cloud accounting, management reporting apps and real-time Key Performance Indicators (KPI) dashboards than their accountants and business advisors. (Oh, how tech-savvy accountants love their Bright Shiny Objects.) All business owners really want to know is where to focus and what to do next. And they last thing they need are dozens of numbers and ratios to monitor. One or two will suffice.

In short, they want to know what actions will give them the best results.

You can’t just give your client a management report or KPI dashboard and leave them to it. You need to interpret it for them as well. After all, as an advisor you should be providing meaning and insights, not just data.

This is where the COMMENTARY layer comes in. By summarising what the latest management report and changes in KPI trends mean to the business you can provide insights, and recommend areas that need immediate focus in the next week, month or quarter.

And if you’re a Partner or Principal in a firm then we have some good news for you.

This is scalable.

Now we’re not talking about live consultations where advisors think on their feet and draw on their vast experience and problem-solving skills to come up with suggestions on the spot. That’s hard to do, and even harder to scale (i.e. attract, recruit, train and retain staff to do it). Which is why this live advice—consulting and coaching—is in the STRATEGY and INNOVATION layers of The Value Pyramid as we covered in part two of this series.

Instead, imagine this…

Your firm is producing monthly management reports and providing real-time KPI dashboards to all your business clients. And they’re all paying for that value you’re providing. (So many firms we see give this away as “added value”, which is code for “We haven’t figured out how to sell and charge extra for this so we just include it at no extra cost”.)

Thanks to you, your business clients now have the important numbers at their fingertips on their smartphone and tablets. They like that.

Enter the intelligent graduate on your team. It could also be the advisor with five-plus years of experience (or whatever they’d need for the complexity of your firm’s typical business clients). Their job is to “make sense” of the clients’ management reports and dashboards each month. They look at the changes and trends in the business’ performance—not just the lag indicators (traditional financial KPIs), but also the lead indicators that produce those results. They can look at the trends, and see which ones are good for the business and which ones are issues that need to be nipped in the bud.

In short, they “get” what each business needs to focus on.

And because they’re a dispassionate third party who isn’t caught up in the emotion and ‘operational whirlwind’ (a 4DX term) of each business (unlike their clients), they can see the forest for the trees. Their fresh perspective allows them to glean insights the business owners don’t even notice, let alone think through.

They write a paragraph or three that summarises these insights, and what the business owner needs to focus on in the next period. By cutting straight to the point, they save the client having to interpret the reports and dashboard, which provides a lot of value to them.

And here’s where the scalability and quality control comes in for the COMMENTARY layer. Just as a Partner or Principal can review and sign off a set of accounts and financial statements, they can do it for written advice and commentary.

That’s why we hear stories** like the one about the firm that currently has a 19-year-old non-accountant performing this role, drafting commentary for each client month after month.

“Nineteen years old,” you might be thinking. “That’s ridiculous!” But this 19-year-old has four years experience in the firm, having started on a cadetship while still in school. And apparently he’s sharp as a tack and very savvy—technically and commercially.

Wow. There’s some scale. And value delivered. Consistently. Systematically. With profit margin.

Think through how your firm is providing the CLARITY and COMMENTARY layers of value:

  • Are you providing this level of value to all your business clients?
  • Are they paying you for it?
  • Do you have a team and system in place to scale the delivery of this value?
  • Have you packaged this value into your services so it’s standard for your clients to subscribe to these services?

There’s another rung of value in The Value Pyramid that your business advisory team can step up to, and that you firm can also scale.

We’ll cover that in our fifth and final article in this series.

* We conducted these interviews as part of market research on behalf of accounting firms.

** This story was shared at our Cracking The Code Masterclass, a workshop that focuses on how to effectively market, sell and scale advisory services.

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