No Gurus Allowed: Challenges for Accountants in Making Advisory Work Scalable, Profitable & Sustainable
One of our core mantras that we keep sharing with accountants and business advisors is, “If you can’t scale it, don’t sell it”.
There’s no point in promoting (or even offering) your service if you can’t:
- delegate it to team members
- systemise, automate and standardise large chunks of the process.
The last time I checked, the bottleneck was still at the top of the bottle. And it’s the same with an accounting or advisory business. The bottleneck—in terms of service delivery—is usually at the top, and so the last thing you want as a Principal or Partner in a firm is to promote high-level
advisory services that only the most senior people in the firm can deliver.
If you do, you don’t really have an advisory business at all. It may look like you do, but in reality all you have is a job where you’re selling your personal labour (and smarts) for money.
And it’s a recipe for advisor burnout.
Over the years I’ve heard plenty of public speakers, coaches, consultants and now-defunct franchise groups offer accountants well-meaning but misguided advice such as:
- You should be a Business Development Advisor to your clients
- You should advise your clients around their marketing
- You should become a business coach to your clients.
Trouble is, all of these approaches have failed. Why? Because these services can only be delivered by ‘gurus’—people who are:
- Highly experienced
- Highly intelligent
- Highly creative
- Highly skilled at selling their ideas (i.e. advising).
Unfortunately, these types of advisors are:
- Difficult to recruit
- Difficult to retain
- Difficult to manage
- Often your future competition.
Pursuing these guru-level services as a growth strategy is a guaranteed formula for wasted time, wasted money and frustration.
That’s why one of the rules we teach at our ’Cracking The Code’ Masterclass workshops is, “No Gurus Allowed”. A key objective for a business is to make its offerings scalable, which means:
- Gurus aren’t needed to deliver the services
- The processes can be systemised
- Training can be consistent and thorough
- The firm can draw from a much larger available labour pool when recruiting
- The activities can be delegated to less-experienced people
- The client experience quality and service standards can still be met consistently
- Target profit margins can be achieved due to less expensive resources required
- Technology can be used to eliminate or automate steps in the process
- The processes can combine the high-tech and the ‘high-touch’ to ensure the personal touch is maintained at specific points during service delivery.
Again: if it’s not scalable, don’t sell it.
So why do so many accounting and advisory firms struggle to grow and scale, especially their future-focused, non-compliance advisory services?
To be effective in the non-compliance advisory space, a firm needs to be competent in a three-step continuum:
MARKET > SELL > DELIVER
1. MARKET: If you can’t market the services to educate your existing and prospective clients as to the benefits, there’s no demand. And that means no leads or enquiries.
2. SELL: Even if you can generate interest for your advisory services through effective marketing, you need to be able to convert those leads and enquiries into engagements. Most firms stumble at this point. (See our last post, The Skills Paradox.)
3. DELIVER: There’s no point being able to market and sell advisory services if you don’t have the people and processes to deliver–in a scalable
way–on the promises you’ve made.
As you can see, each competency is a discrete step in the process. The trick is to start at the DELIVER stage by designing scalable services, and then market and sell them. But don’t even think about moving on from the DELIVERY stage until it’s scalable.
And what’s the process for designing scalable services? We methodically step accountants and advisors through it in our Cracking The Code Masterclass hands-on workshops. (You can find out more about it in our Events Calendar.)
One insight into the process is recognising where you and your team are on The Hierarchy of Advisors spectrum:
–7- Innovation –6- Strategy –5- Accountability –4- Questioning –3- Commentary –2- Clarity –1- Compliance
The highest levels of the hierarchy (e.g. Strategy and Innovation) are very difficult to scale because they break the No Gurus Required rule. But if you focus your service mix predominantly at the Compliance level your services will be perceived as commodities, which means you’ll be competing on price.
And that’s not where you want your business to be.
Instead you can design added-value elements to your firm’s advisory services across the Clarity, Commentary, Questioning and Accountability levels that can be delivered by advisors with five to ten years’ experience. You don’t need advisors with decades of experience to deliver value at these levels. You just need to put the right processes and tools in the right hands. And by ‘right hands’ we mean advisors with good communication skills.
So while we advocate a ‘No Gurus’ approach to your service design, we also strongly suggest, ‘No Grinders’. (See The People Paradox post for more about Grinders.)
The Clarity, Commentary, Questioning and Accountability elements aren’t based on advisors drawing on a massive ‘knowledge base’ in their head, or ‘being a guru’ and having all the answers.
Instead, it’s about following a process of questioning and a consulting methodology that adds value to business clients by:
- helping them understand what their key issues are
- asking them questions that draw out answers and solutions from their own knowledge and experience.
The power is in the clarity you give and the questions you ask—not in the answers you provide.
That’s the key to making business advisory services scalable.
Your business clients have experience. And if you ask the right questions they can come up with their own answers. The challenge for business owners is to make time for the ‘slow thinking’ they need to get perspective on their business, and to step away from the day-to-day busy-ness of it all.
Which is exactly what a well-designed business advisory service provides.
This is why non-gurus can deliver advisory services to your business clients in a way that not only provides value and insights to clients, but is also scalable for the firm to deliver.
Time to take action. Join us at our next Cracking The Code Masterclass to get hands-on with designing your firm’s advisory services. (Here’s where you can learn more about what we’ll cover and who should attend).