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CPA Advisory Services

How to start offering new advisory services in your firm

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

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

Are you considering offering something new in your firm but you’re not sure where to begin? The only way to overcome some of that paralysis you might feel when considering advisory services, or anything new, is to put one foot in front of the other and see what happens. The fact is you just need to start. You have to consciously place the effort for any kind of change to occur by moving it up in the priority list and begin.

You might be thinking of trying something new with clients, such as advisory services, and it might be the next conversation you have with a client. Do you play it out in your head first? Do you start reading a different book? Do you start looking at something differently? In this episode of our Pulse of the Practice podcast, “Just Start”, Paul and I discussed ways to begin something new.

Set time aside to implement advisory services

When you’re working in an accounting firm, you have this innate ability to be busy. You’re never done. There are always emails to answer, clients to follow up with, deadlines, and so on. It’s easy to get inundated with busyness and that consumes you when you believe that’s what will lead you to generating revenue. But where do you fit in new ideas to expand your advisory services, for example, and offer something new to clients?

We all personally have had those moments where you consider doing something new, but where do you go from that thought in the firm strategically? What do you build off of and what are the building blocks? How do you start gaining confidence that it’s going to be okay? Once you start believing in your vision and implement the right tools, it may be a leap of faith, but you know it will work. That fear of “not knowing” is what paralyzes people. But you have to start somewhere and take it from there to begin implementing advisory services or anything new.

If we wait until after we’ve crafted something perfectly before talking to clients about some new, innovative idea, it’s too late. A plan on paper that we haven’t walked through in reality is not perfect. Why are you waiting to find out what does or doesn’t work? That’s one of the first challenges of the experience of introducing a new idea. Making no decision is a decision in itself. And the further we wait to make a decision or to take action, the more constricted our choices become and the more forced our hand becomes over time. When we talk about just starting, you have to create space to feel comfortable introducing something new.

How to approach clients with new advisory services

If you’re going to introduce something different in a 30-minute client meeting, for example, you need to carve out at least 15 minutes beforehand to start thinking differently about the conversation, to change your mindset, to take a breath, to slow down. Remind yourself, why am I going to do this differently? What’s the real outcome we’re going for with advisory services? And you have to carve out time on the back-end, too, in order to have that post-meeting reflection time to consider the impact.

If you don’t create space before and after a client meeting when you’re going to attempt to do something different, you’re not going to be ready mentally or be able to capitalize on the learning process, the experience, and that real life education afterwards. You have to create that time for planning.

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Step outside your comfort zone to introduce innovation

Generally, in the world of accounting and taxes, confidence comes from experience or a textbook that you might have read. But what if it’s something you have never offered before? How do you get it off the ground? You have to start somewhere: a brainstorming session with your partners, or feeling out your clients to identify their interests in other services.

Let’s say you’re sitting across from a client – or maybe you’re on the phone with them –  and they have a problem they are asking you to fix for them. How is this going to go? What’s your plan? They may not even know exactly what they need. If you have a basket full of value to offer, it just becomes a matter of explaining that value, whether it’s to a new client or an existing one.

So many accountants are awesome people with awesome knowledge. You’re passionate about what you believe in. You just don’t have a way to communicate that sometimes because you can get stuck on completing daily tasks and meeting deadlines. The idea of just getting started with something new can be the breakthrough you need to advance yourself, your firm, and your clients.

This applies to your firm’s internal process or mechanical changes, as well to bringing in ideas from everyone you work with, in terms of making space for new ideas. It is highly unlikely that a significant problem will slip through the cracks and go unnoticed because you’re paying a heightened level of attention (because you’re doing something different). Even with internal changes in the firm, create the space to reflect on what’s going on and to be ready to be iterative.

How to consider pricing for advisory services

This process of starting something new without knowing everything contradicts the nature of accounting in some ways. Traditionally, accounting is all about being right, being accurate. When you work in this other world of innovation and new ideas, it’s not necessarily about being correct, it’s about taking some kind of action. Your client might want to do something different or new, but how do you price it? If you don’t know, just pick a number. It’s probably more than you’re getting right now because most people are charging nothing for some advisory services, so start somewhere and work from that point depending on the needs of the client. Then you can at least rationalize how you priced the service, whether it’s a number of hours, or value, or both.

Don’t get bogged down in the details

Some people struggle to get things in motion because they’re too busy and they’re unsure if it will work. Others struggle because they step back and feel overwhelmed at all the areas they might want to change. You need to take a step back and think about these changes. They don’t have to be done through a linear process. Things are certainly interconnected, but if you want to start charging for the advisory services that you are considering offering in your firm, you need to develop collateral and an engagement agreement. You need an internal process and a value proposition to deliver, as well as some third party relationships lined up.

Begin with a list of ten or fifteen things on a whiteboard or in your notes that need to change, then look at your calendar and ask yourself where you have an opportunity to implement just one of those changes. Don’t get hung up in the perfect sequencing, but use that as a starting place.

This is where you might get too far ahead of yourself, focusing too much on the details and getting paralyzed with too many To Dos. Maybe you don’t have your sales collateral or delivery mechanism yet. It’s okay to not have it all figured out. The trick is to just have the conversation to get the ball rolling. If you’re aware of the changes that you want to have happen, don’t be scared by the volume and become hypnotized. Just start. The sequence will begin to build on itself as you see positive impacts from those changes.

To recap, just start with something and you will be surprised when you look back after you take on a tall task how quickly you evolve. You may look back a few months later and won’t believe where you came from to where you are now. What people need to understand is that it’s going to be okay. You’re going to be fine. So just start.

Listen to the “Just Start” episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform (Google Play, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher) or here.

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