Adopting the perspective necessary for an advisory focus

Practice Management Planning with team

Cloud accounting and other advancements enabled firms of all sizes to streamline operations and improve their service delivery. However, while automation and machine learning allowed firms to serve clients with modern accounting techniques – and specifically advisory accounting –  firm must shifts their focus to adopt the mindset of an advisor rather than simply implementing the latest trending tech stack.

The automation angle of advisory accounting has been discussed extensively. I’ve even written about how to add value to your firm with process automation services. However, acting as a trustworthy business advisor involves much more than a “when in doubt, automate it” approach to accounting. To move your firm from a compliance focus to advisory, you must become a trustworthy business ally: an advisor accountant.

It begins with trust, not technology

It’s especially important to recognize that being an advisor is about prioritizing trust, not systems, in your client relationships. Sure, increasing efficiency through cloud accounting and other technological advances is great and gives you more time, but unless people trust you, your firm isn’t going to have any clients.

Although creating trust within a business relationship can seem awkward, it doesn’t need to be. Here are three tips that may help you build trust with your clients:

  1. Display testimonials from past clients on your website and other marketing materials.
  2. Demonstrate honesty and transparency in your client interactions.
  3. Consistently deliver high-quality deliverables and services that are valuable to your clients.

Understand their challenges, then address them

Our clients approach us to get help with a specific problem or scenario. As firm leaders, we can often mistake a client’s requested service as their need, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Provide the service and you’ve fulfilled the need, right? Wrong.

Don Miller, author of “Building a StoryBrand,” points out that people are mainly concerned with either avoiding a negative consequence or achieving a positive outcome. While they may ask for a specific service, it’s best to consider their underlying needs as well. Why are they interested in your accounting and/or tax planning services? Why did they seek out an accounting firm? What are they afraid will happen? Understanding what your client hopes to achieve or avoid may help you tailor your services to their needs or upsell other relevant services.

Your clients may face unrelated issues as well. While typically reserved for long-standing, established relationships, these discussions can be an eye-opener and a way to increase your value. If clients are concerned about a data breach, for example, you can either recommend basic cybersecurity practices, remedial efforts or refer them to a competent partner in the cybersecurity space.

Explain your actions to your clients

It’s tempting to assume that your clients are informed about all of the aspects of your service, but this may not be entirely accurate. While some may be well-versed in your services, others may be more focused on getting their accounting and tax done instead of taking the time to learn about it. That said, it’s essential to explain the reasoning behind your directions or advice, increasing their trust in your expertise.

A compliance focus elicits an interrogation-style interview, where a checklist controls the conversation. Conversely, an advisory focus facilitates a discussion where the client’s needs are prioritized. Of course, no one bats a thousand all the time. If your reasoning is wrong or misplaced (hopefully, not a lot), you’ll still be able to have an honest discussion with your clients about their desired direction and goals. Remember, the goal is to facilitate a conversation, not an interrogation, between you and your clients.

Become a student, not an expert

Paradoxically, the best teachers are students. Committing yourself to an advisory role means you are also committing to an ongoing learning journey within your profession. As an accountant advisor, you must be interested in continually learning more about the accounting and tax profession, and strategically improving your service delivery. Your clients can rely on outdated knowledge or a “know-it-all” leader, but know-it-all leaders rarely do.

When you admit the limit of your knowledge on a topic, your clients will appreciate your honesty. When you then commit to learning about that topic, for their sakes, your clients will appreciate your dedication to them.

Becoming an advisory firm is a commitment that begins with having the proper perspective, not the correct software. While tools and techniques are undoubtedly helpful in providing and analyzing critical data, they can’t replace the reason people come to your firm: you.

Invest in yourself and your team, and build a winning client experience that prioritizes people over process. Keeping people at the center of your operations will help executives and business owners recognize that your firm’s value is an experience that grows their business.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Firm of the Future.