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How to be a proactive advisor: process, training, and endurance

Practice Management Diversity in firms

Transitioning your practice to advisory services can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be. After many years and thousands of hours partnering with some of the best-in-class tax and accounting firms, I have found that those in transition share three key tenants: process, training, and endurance.

Establish a process

A firm’s ability to pivot to an advisory model is equally proportional to having an adequate standardization of processes and controls. This observation is especially true for firms that have not consolidated their clients’ technology. An excellent example of a bad system is servicing multiple years, multiple versions, and numerous vendors for legacy desktop accounting systems. You know this, right? It’s the conversation that usually starts with, “I can work with whatever you bring me.” No – you don’t have to do this, I promise. Narrowing down, and getting specific with, your clients’ technology, including their technology stack, will save considerable time and headaches.

Lack of a concise, repeatable onboarding program, compounded by having multiple versions of software to consider, can be another often overlooked critical area. The best firms formalized their onboarding, and the very best have learned to carve out a 90-day formal onboarding program. Onboarding is when you get to peek behind the curtain to see the shape of the books. It can help you avoid pitfalls that may not have been discussed in the initial client meeting, look for opportunities to add or expand services and increase firm revenue, and, at a minimum, help your team price future engagements appropriately. I also like a formal onboarding program because it establishes you as the trusted advisor, while grounding your client in an advisory model from the start.

Josh Lance of Lance CPA Group just wrote an article on the sales and onboarding process, so I encourage you to read it for some great tips. In addition, remember to set the expectation to review your client agreements annually. Technology accelerates rapidly, new advances happen daily, and you will want to leave an opening to talk through new apps, pricing conversations, new roles, and responsibilities.

Another way to be a proactive advisor is to move clients to quarterly closings rather than an annual cleanup of the books. If you think this is impossible, I have some pretty great news for you: You don’t have to move everyone at one time. But, please start with some, and when you are comfortable, move some more.

After all, if we have any chance of getting the next generation excited about the tax and accounting profession, we have to collectively solve the brutal, massively condensed workloads brought on by year-end compression and driven by tax deadlines. I meet with professionals every week who have done it – and I know you can do it, too.

Client engagement is another deceptively simple, but massively effective opportunity to create additional capacity within your firm. Set the appointment, funnel the work, and lead. All too often, I meet with accountants, especially tax professionals, who allow their clients to drive their interactions with the firm. You know the scenario I’m referring to: The client calls with a question, comment or concern; your team pivots to try to solve the question, comment, or concern; and before you know it, a full day or two have been eaten up.

Instead, try to funnel all of those touchpoints into a recurring monthly or quarterly meeting. Consider the following:

  • How often do you engage with all of your clients, and how do those conversations sound? Do you meet monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually? Benefit of cloud accounting platforms such as QuickBooks® Online Accountant are real-time insights and actionable data. For the business owner, it defeats the purpose of seeking your expertise to only work with you annually.
  • Once you get on a monthly or quarterly 30-minute meeting schedule with your A- and B- tier clients, their perceived value of your firm will skyrocket. You will likely uncover valuable insights that you may have missed in the past, and may even find opportunities to add or expand services that drive additional revenue.
  • Are you taking advantage of virtual meetings to cut costs? Our new normal during COVID-19 is making this option more popular with clients in all industries and all sizes.
  • Consider a short, prerecorded video review to enhance the financials. This is a stylish way to quickly add value.

Implement regular training

Advisory models take a new level of understanding technology, systems, and clients. Much like the year-end cleanup example, technology is moving at such as rapid pace that we must incorporate education into more of our work lives. I was recently looking at the latest list of QuickBooks Online features and improvements, and there are no less than 14 significant enhancements to the platform designed to simplify work and create capacity within your firm and your clients’ businesses – and that’s just one month of updates.

Self-education is key. Renewing your ProAdvisor® certification only once a year is not going to cut it; monthly or reoccurring training sessions are the way to go. However, I realize sticking to a schedule might not always be feasible with tax deadlines and ever-changing legislation. Still, putting training on a monthly cadence will build confidence with you and your team, help you power prosperity with your clients, and possibly generate additional revenue. If you are unsure about the revenue piece, let’s connect on social to talk more.

Maintain endurance – but it takes work

The journey to an advisory services model takes stamina; in fact, I’ve heard some experts call this a once-in-a-generation change. Implementing change in an organization requires a level of endurance that can be amplified by better lifestyle choices and a community of professionals who want to help.

I had open heart surgery a couple of years ago, and ever since my recovery, I block out my calendar and set the alarm every weekday from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. to remind me to walk for 20 minutes. When it rains, I try to jump rope or follow a beginner’s yoga video. If I do not put it on the calendar, life gets busy and I forget. An added bonus is that since I started sharing my health journey, I have met many excellent people who check in to encourage me and share their stories. Maybe starting with something as simple as a walk will work for you, too.

Similar to good health, I am big on community, and it is in the DNA of the advisor to want to help. At Intuit Accountants, we get to work with some of the best, brightest, and most caring individuals, organizations, and corporations on the planet. In your world, there is a tremendous opportunity for pros to lean on other pros.

You could, for example, log into your favorite online social media group and ask your peers your latest technology, legislative or process question. I guarantee a community group will alleviate most, if not all, of the headaches. Plus, it just feels darn good to connect with those who get us. Don’t forget to pay it forward in the future!

Start making changes today

I know transition to an advisory services practice isn’t as basic as following these three tenets, but you can successfully offer advisory services without totally changing your firm and your life. It only takes a few changes in how you do things now, learn some new skills along the way, and build yourself up to be your very best version. I would love to learn some of the techniques you have used to implement an advisory model, so leave a comment below and share your ideas with me and others.

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