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What are business advisory services?

2nd Oct 2017
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Business adviser

In the first of a two-part series, Steven Briginshaw unpicks the frequently used phrase business advisory services. You hear it a lot, but what does it actually mean?

You’re at your local bank’s networking event and your bank contact introduces you to a dream prospective client.

You go into your normal 20 seconds elevator pitch. “Hi I’m Steve, I’m an accountant and we provide business advisory services…”

Before you can finish, the prospective client interrupts, “What are business advisory services?”

It’s a great question.

It’s much like another phrase a lot of accountants use, ‘proactive service’.

There are many proactive accountants in the UK, you may be one of them, but most don’t give their clients valuable and useful information before their clients ask for it, they just use it as marketing buzzword to win work.

Similarly, a lot of accountants are using ‘business advisory services’ as a buzz word compared to the small percentage that actually are improving their clients’ businesses and making an impact.

So what is business advisory?

Through my entrepreneurial journey of starting and selling two accountancy businesses, as well as working with hundreds of business owners, I’ve found there are three different levels of business advisory services that build upon each other.

Level 1 – Number interpretation

This is going through the management accounts, dashboard and KPIs with your client explaining what is happening and asking questions based on what the numbers tell you.

As simple as it sounds, you’ll deliver valuable insight to the business owner. Remember, even if they are a numbers person, they are too busy running the business to check the numbers.

It’s still working on historic figures being a week or two out of date but you can give proactive information based on these numbers.

Level 2 – Number analysis

This is doing more of a finance controller-type role where you are creating cash flow forecasts, budgets, actual vs budget variance reports and financial models.

You’ll ask questions and give advice on how to improve or maintain profit and growth.

Again, this level is reactive working from historic information but there is an element of predictive numbers work. By updating and maintaining the budget and cash flow forecasts you will be able to provide valuable and useful information to your client before they ask for it.

Level 3 – Number improvement

This is being a finance director/business coach to your client where you work on the strategy, business model and tactics of the whole business and not just in the finance department.

In a nutshell, you’ll help the owner, through your business advice taken from the numbers, to get their business from where it is now to where they want it to be.

Proactive advice from the numbers, and your skills as a businessperson, is essential here with you using the historic and predictive info to help you not just on the day to day, but on the big picture too.

I’ve found there are many traits to be a business adviser but there are four key requirements. Check this out before jumping feet first into one of the advisory levels.

You need to:

  • Listen,
  • Ask great questions,
  • Get access to the current business numbers, and
  • Be able to understand and explain those numbers.

As a chartered accountant you easily have the fourth point sorted, numbers are what you are good at and love. With practice you can become a good listener and learn to ask great questions, that’s if you’re not yet at this level already.

So the only obstacle is getting the right numbers from your clients.

Or is it?

Yes, getting your clients to give you their management reports within a week or two of the month-end isn’t easy, that’s where you can add value with your accounting services.

But there are three other obstacles to delivering real advisory services to your clients which you may have overlooked.

We’ll go through what’s holding you back from delivering great business advisory services in the next article.

Replies (12)

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Man of Kent
By Kent accountant
02nd Oct 2017 14:36


At last someone has addressed the elephant in the room.

All the smoke and mirrors about advisory services, which are, when it comes to it, what we do already if we're doing our job properly.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Kent accountant:
Steven Briginshaw
By Steven Briginshaw
02nd Oct 2017 18:28

Thanks for your comment Kent Accountant.

Exactly! You’ve hit upon an element I cover in part 2 :)

Thanks (0)
Replying to Kent accountant:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
04th Oct 2017 14:04

I know from KentAc's posts his practice is similar to mine, and quite frankly I am staggered that anyone ISN'T doing these very basic run of the mill things keeps their clients, albeit I dont wrap it up in business speak.

I talk to 'em and help 'em out if I can. They wont pay for it, but they will value it and it keeps them coming back the following year.

Thanks (1)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
Steven Briginshaw
By Steven Briginshaw
05th Oct 2017 22:25

I completely agree but sadly, from the business owners and the accountants I speak with, it's not happening.

Thanks (0)
By Lesser Tax
02nd Oct 2017 21:13

How about another question. What is a client?

Thanks (1)
Replying to Lesser Tax:
Steven Briginshaw
By Steven Briginshaw
04th Oct 2017 12:58

Absolutely! A great question that we all need to ask but it can be extended to ‘what is an ideal client’? When we work with clients that we enjoy working with, can really help and they can pay the right value it’s a win/win/win situation. I wonder how many accountants still take on clients that are not ideal? I wonder how many accountants actually know their who is an ideal client? And I mean specifically, SMEs isn’t an answer (although I often hear it). There are 5 million SMEs in the UK in different industries, sizes, business phases etc. They all can’t be ideal. Rant over :)

Thanks (0)
By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
04th Oct 2017 13:37

Does Scenario Planning feature? Or Sensitivity Analysis? And SWOT Analysis is always a good sell.

I don't like "proactive". My wife's proactive, and returns my used socks to my sock-drawer. And my mug's found its way to the sink already.

Thanks (2)
Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
Steven Briginshaw
By Steven Briginshaw
05th Oct 2017 22:29

For sure. They feature in the Number Analysis level along with anything that requires analysis that an accountant is already trained to deliver. My short list of examples wasn't exhaustive :)

You're a very lucky man :)

Thanks (0)
By Eric Kiprono
13th Oct 2017 12:42

Very insightful piece, thank you very much.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Eric Kiprono:
Steven Briginshaw
By Steven Briginshaw
10th Nov 2017 15:23

Thanks Eric. Glad you found it helpful :)

Thanks (0)
By Era Shetty
09th Nov 2017 13:06

Thanks for this info. Keep up the neat work. I'll be returning often thanks for sharing...

Thanks (1)
Replying to Era Shetty:
Steven Briginshaw
By Steven Briginshaw
10th Nov 2017 15:23

You're welcome and thank you Era :)

Thanks (0)