Three steps to building advisory work in 2021

Accountants have inevitably been giving their clients free business advice this year as they face up to the challenges of the pandemic, but can now turn this into profitable business. AVN’s Shane Lukas highlights the pitfalls and tips on how to expand advisory services in 2021

Over the course of 2020, thousands of business owners have relied on their accountants to help them survive. Accountants have helped them to navigate the complexities of CBILS, bounce back loans, SEISS, furlough and much more. You have played a crucial part in keeping businesses afloat. So how can you build on that and sell more of your high value advisory services in 2021?

In a business environment where no one is certain what is coming next, it is more important than ever to stand out from the crowd. Business owners will want to know you can deliver real value and help them face the inevitable challenges to come.

Many accountants say they do business advisory work but actually get very little take-up of these services. To be successful, you have to see it from the business owner’s point of view.

Here are the top three mistakes accountants make when they are trying to sell their advisory services.

  1. You give away the crown jewels for free

This first mistake stops your existing clients from even needing your advisory services – because you’re already giving them away for free. How many times has a client said to you: ‘Can I just pick your brains for a minute?’ And you’ve listened to the question, told them the answer (in some detail), and then realised afterwards that you have just given away all your hard-won expertise. Without earning a penny from it.

To stop this happening in future, here’s how I suggest you respond to these requests:

‘That’s a great question. In order for me to give you the best possible answer, I’m going to go away and do a bit of investigation for you. It’s going to take me two or three hours and I'll come back to you with a proper response. Now, obviously I’ll need to charge for that. It’s going to be £XXX amount. Would you like me to go ahead?’

This really sets that expectation that you are providing something of value and if they want it, there is a charge.

  1. Your offer is too vague

It is not enough to have one sentence on your website that says: ‘We can help you grow your business.’ To make a business owner excited about what you can do for them, you have to be more specific.

Where can you make a difference; better cashflow, paying less tax, increasing profitability? And what is the ultimate benefit of working with you? Less time at work and more time to spend with the family? Enough cash in the bank so they can afford fabulous holidays? Think about it from their point of view.

Try using something like this instead. ‘Our five-step process will increase your sales, your profitability and your cashflow in three half-day sessions. We’ll help you get more of what you want from life.’

Now the business owner can understand the benefits of working with you and exactly how you will impact their business. That is a far more enticing proposition. Of course, you have to back that up with a genuine five (or three or seven) step process and that leads on to mistake number three.

  1. You cannot show them how it works

If it is difficult to understand what you do, your clients will not buy.

On the other hand, if you have a methodology in place, it simplifies the advisory process, both for you and for the client. Your clients can see what the process is and understand where they are within it. You do not have to devise a plan for each client individually. And it is easier than you might realise to come up with one.

Think about the clients that you have successfully helped in the past. Where did you start? What did you say? What did you do? Look for the commonalities between them, the things you always do or say.

Once you have identified these, that is your methodology, and you can start to build it into a sequence. It could be five, three, seven or any number of steps, but this is the basis for a system for advisory work.

It is also important to look for the commonalities between the clients you have helped. What were the problems they were facing? What mistakes did they make? Which of them benefitted most from your advice?

It could be that your methodology is only successful with a certain type of client or in certain circumstances. When you identify your ideal client, you can be confident in selling your advisory services to them, knowing that they work.

This just scratches the surface of how to build up your advisory services. You do need to put some work in before you see results, but it is well worth the effort.


About the author

Shane Lukas is managing director of AVN, a training and coaching organisation for accountants

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