Undoubtedly you have heard the phrase “go after the low-hanging fruit”. It’s a common approach for businesses that want to grow but may be unsure how to do it or not ready for an expensive expansion. For accountants and bookkeepers, the easiest way to do this is to sell additional services to existing clients. In other words, you’ll increase your revenue by doing what you already know, with people that you already have a relationship with. Combine this with the talk over the past few years about the need for accountants and bookkeepers to offer more than just compliance services, and it starts to make sense to look towards advisory services to increase your revenue.
As technology continues to automate the monotonous compliance related tasks, many clients now expect and look for this form of ongoing advice from their accountants rather than simply calling on them for compliance lodgements. Advisory services can not only increase your revenue, but also significantly help strengthen client relationships.
Even though this might all sense, it doesn’t mean that it’s a walk in the park. Advising clients on tax and other compliance issues is one thing; providing impactful business advice is another. There are many challenging steps that you need to address to provide additional services. Let’s look at 4 areas in more detail to help you get started and deliver advisory services.
1. Choose your services
In our industry, client relationships are the mainstay to our success. It takes time and valuable resources to start, grow, and maintain these relationships. Once that trust is built and you can identify which clients need extra services from you, it’s not even really a sales process—it’s just an extension of your current relationship. Start small. Don’t try to sell every service to every client right off the bat. Even if you do succeed and they all say yes, you likely won’t have the capacity to deliver on what you’ve sold them. Here is a good process to follow:
Step 1: Understand your Client Service Matrix
Gain a solid understanding of your current client service matrix by listing all of your clients against all of the services you currently provide. Mark off which of these services your clients are currently using.
Step 2: Pick a service to sell
The next step is to choose a few services that you would like more of your clients to take up—for example, cash flow monitoring. The services you pick should be those that you are confident in your ability to deliver.
Step 3: Capacity Planning
Reviewing both your current capacity and your team’s overall capabilities is vital to decide how many of your existing clients you could feasibly provide this service to. You don’t want to over-commit and underdeliver.
2. Train your team
A key part of offering advisory services is ensuring that you have a team that can do the work. Depending on the current expertise and makeup of your team, you may need to invest in some training. You will need to train them to know how to identify opportunities in your client’s financials. Where can they optimise costs? Are there opportunities that you can see? How is their cash flow - is there enough or do they need funding? Is revenue increasing or declining? Can you see any cyclical trends? Are profitability ratios changing?
The team must know how to ask more questions of your clients to help them uncover the root causes of why all these things are happening in their business. Do they need help with goal setting? Do they need help with KPI monitoring?
Teaching your team how to identify and answer these questions will be cornerstone to a good, scalable advisory offering. It will also mean that you will be able to bring them on the advisory journey with you, grow their confidence and take bigger steps towards a successful rollout of new services.
3. Marketing your new services
Once you have selected your services to market you can use your client matrix to identify all the clients that aren’t currently benefiting from this service. You may well prefer to market on a one-to-one basis via a phone call or email but for the best reach, you should consider a one-to-many approach.If you don’t have an existing CRM tool for mass communications then consider using an easy alternative like Mailchimp. You can import into these tools a list of emails for the clients that you would like to offer the additional services to. Remember, your communication should explain clearly the service you want to provide, what is the value of this service, options available to the delivery of the services (once-off, monthly, etc) and how the client can contact you for more details or to kick off the process.
4. Getting Engaged and Paid
Scoping is your secret weapon. Scoping needs to become a well-integrated part of your firm’s workflow, especially when providing advisory services. A detailed scoping session will provide much-needed context into your clients’ existing practices and goals for the future—enabling you to provide better advice that makes a lasting impact on your clients’ businesses. A thorough scoping session will give you all the information you need to produce a detailed and accurate letter of engagement that guides your working relationship going forward.
Once you’ve identified what your client needs, how much time this advisory service will take your firm, and how much it will cost, you should then create and send out a detailed engagement. Engagements clearly state what’s expected, when, and how much these services will cost—thereby eliminating misalignment between accountant and client, especially when it comes to services and fees. A signed engagement greatly reduces the risk of scope creep and minimises the potential for fee disputes going forward.
You should send an engagement agreement as soon as they decide to proceed or update your current engagement agreement. Taking payment upfront is the next logical step. You’ve already confirmed the price, so why not also ensure that you’ll be paid on time?
If you operate on a monthly recurring fees basis, then you need to be in control of the payments process. Therefore, make sure to take down your payment details as soon as you engage with a client. You never want to find yourself in a situation where you’ve agreed upon a monthly fee, are supplying ongoing services to your client, but they’re failing to pay you.
Taking payment details upfront is a similarly useful strategy for clients who operate on a bill on completion basis. Once you finalise the work, immediately raise an invoice in Ignition and set the wheels in motion by arranging to take payment. If you operate using time-based billing then don’t worry. Simply provide your clients with a price range or an hourly rate, all of which can then be billed on completion.
Whilst this might all sound like a lot of work, it is also where technology can help! By leveraging systems such as Ignition, you can template your engagements, send them digitally to your clients, collect digital approvals/signatures and payment details. Ensuring you are protected when taking on advisory services for your clients, and helping you have full control over the process.
So now it’s time to go out there and sell!
To that end, Ignition helps you create exceptional client experiences and foster win-win relationships. With features that facilitate proposals, billing, and client management, Ignition’s client engagement and commerce platform makes doing business a breeze.