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CPA Advisory Services

Don’t underestimate the value of CPA advisory services

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

As a professional tax advisor, have you considered how you can better estimate the value of your CPA advisory services as a billable product, rather than giving your expertise away for free?

If you don’t know the value of CPA advisory services, can you expect your clients to? According to the Thomson Reuters podcast episode, Pulse of the Practice: “What is Advisory?”, people typically go to tax and accounting firms to get help with taxes, but they often have questions beyond the scope of their tax compliance engagement.

How often do you give information away for free?  

There is a difference between offering free advice and offering advisory services. Everyone loves free stuff, but a lot of firms may be wondering how they can be compensated for their advisory services. Many tax professionals say they feel like they are often providing these services by answering questions, but often not getting paid for sharing their knowledge.

Defining advisory services for clients can be challenging for a lot of firms. It may seem easier to just answer client’s questions because they don’t want to lose a client by asking to be compensated for their advisory services at the last minute. How can your firm be prepared to offer these services in a professional manner? It may just feel natural if a client comes to you with a question to answer it when you haven’t explained the firm’s advisory services capabilities and the value they offer ahead of time. There are ways to offer advisory services as a value-added service, and not lose your client’s loyalty.

The rise of the value of CPA advisory services

There’s a growing number of firms embracing niche or specialized accounting by learning to not give advisory services away for free but instead, seize new opportunities. Without setting up advisory services with your clients at the beginning of the relationship, you might find yourself answering many so-called “quick questions”.

Have you considered how much time and expertise you spend if you do this for every client?

Opportunities are often missed to be able to come back to a client and say there is an are available advisory services offering where they can get expert advice consistently. This is something that’s within the scope of any accounting and tax firm’s repertoire, but how is it defined? When a client comes to you, they might purchase a tax return, but you have no idea if they need any other advice, making that door for opportunity wide open.

The 2018 Small Business Accounting Insight Survey published in Accounting Today indicated that potential clients are interested in other services beyond just assistance with taxes. In the survey, 41% said they would utilize professional tax planning, and 23% would consider business planning assistance.

It’s important to be proactive and consider what other advisory services you might offer at the beginning of the client/firm relationship, or even for an established client. Tax clients may wonder, but don’t know how to ask for help with many issues. If advisory services are available, you have to pre-determine how to approach offering forward-thinking services to clients. Firms with this aspect defined is a big part of what advisory services really are as it helps clients understand what  services they may receive and what other resources are available to them beyond taxes. Are they getting a transaction that merely involves a completed tax return? Or are they actually buying your brain?

Four ways to make your advisory services available

In the podcast, it is discussed that accounting firms are already doing advisory work; the question is, are they being compensated for it? There’s a difference between being an advisor to a client and centering your relationship on advisory services. Here are four ways to broach the subject of advisory services and gain more business:

  • Take time to understand internally the scope of these value-added services
  • Consider your client’s needs beyond tax returns
  • Have your advisory services offerings defined and priced to offer new clients
  • Send communication to existing and prospective clients promoting these advisory services

Molding your client’s perspective is the key to the value of CPA advisory services

Clients don’t necessarily have an expectation that they should get answers from their tax expert. Whether your answer is “the answer”, or your answer is “that’s not included in our service, but let me talk to you about our advisory services”. Always consider that the client may be open to these advisory services offerings, especially if it gets their questions answered in a timely manner. This conversation opens up a dialogue where the dynamic has changed from you feeling obligated to answer casual questions, to a more formal transaction that helps your client and your firm. Someone in the tax professional’s shoes on the side of the accounting firm says, “well, they asked the question, they must be expecting the answer”. One can take a more facilitated path of providing the best answers via advisory services offerings.

A big part of advisory services is listening differently. Tax professionals can miss opportunities to be able to offer advisory services. A client might come to your firm to buy a tax return but, in your eyes, you have no idea what else they might need, so why not offer more with advisory services?

When you listen to your clients you can change your approach. You know your client needs help, especially in today’s complex tax environment. There’s so much opportunity for firms to do something different but it’s easy to get stuck in not being prepared with a formula for how to bill for these services. These are options that must be considered by your firm with some forethought.

The Small Business Accounting Insight Survey showed that 78% of clients want their accountant to be a trusted advisor and 69% preferred an accountant who communicated well with them. With these statistics in mind, we move into understanding the value of advisory services.

If a client comes to you with a question where you are able to answer and possibly solve a problem that saves them maybe $20,000 of value, for example, what do you charge for that? If it takes five minutes to figure that question out, are you going to charge for five minutes or will you look at this from a value perspective and an opportunity? Don’t water down your firm’s body of work or your experience. That knowledge is valuable to clients, and your firm can tap into those valuable resources to utilize the potential growth opportunities that come with the value of CPA advisory services.

Respond to questions with the right context

A true tax advisor needs to respond to client questions with contextual understanding to provide them that deeper level of advisory services. Accounting firms may lump themselves into this pool of knowledge that is termed “advisory”. If everyone’s an advisor, what does that mean? If your firm is going to offer advisory services, you need to be deliberate and define how you are advising them. Consider what you are trying to get out of these client relationships. How are you using these relationships to continue to move forward through the changes of what’s being asked of you and your firm? If you’re going to say you’re an advisor, which all tax advisors can be, then show it through how you are engaging your clients successfully.

 

Listen to the “What is Advisory?” episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform:

Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify

 

 

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