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How to deliver advisory services at scale | accountingweb
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How to deliver advisory services at scale

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With more and more accountants seeing the benefits of offering advisory services to their clients, how can you make the most of this high-revenue trend?

20th Feb 2023
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The benefits of offering advisory services are clear for both your practice and your clients. For your practice, it can mean higher fees and increased revenue, as well as more interesting work for your team. 

For clients too, the benefits can be transformational, leading to a better understanding of their finances, better potential for growth and ultimately happier clients who are more likely to stay loyal to your firm.

But often the ability to scale these services across your client base is limited by resource issues. So to increase the number of clients you can help with these valuable services, you need to look at both technology and training.

Who should be able to deliver advisory services?

Ideally, you want as many people as possible within your practice to be able to deliver these services. 

Obviously, there may be certain elements that are best delivered by your most experienced, and qualified team members or partners. But there will be many elements of the service that can be delivered by other members of your team, provided they have the right skills and technology to help them.

Stuart Hurst at Accounts and Legal agrees: “When I speak to other firms, there is sometimes a bottleneck as you’ve got one person that is the adviser. This slows things down. Futrli has enabled us to have 30 of our 50 staff who can deliver some form of advice. Not top-level with all the bells and whistles, but at least someone can look at the figures in a bit more detail. It’s really important to ensure that this work isn’t just stuck with us but opened to the team.”

How can the right tech help with advisory?

It’s important to have access to up-to-the-minute, accurate data for your clients if you want to be able to offer advisory services, so some form of cloud accounting platform and/or bookkeeping software is going to be needed. This gives you and your clients access to the same information and as long as you are confident your client is keeping the data up to date then this will be the basis of your advice. 

If you’re not confident in the data, you won’t be able to have any confidence in the forecasts and projections, so educating clients on the need for accurate real-time records, or offering bookkeeping services to those who aren’t willing or able to manage their books is the first step.

There’s a whole range of tools and reports you can use to deliver insights and analysis, including management accounts, cashflow forecasts and performance dashboards. These reports and visual aids help clients understand your ideas and inform the business decisions they need to make to keep their company on the right track. We’ve produced a free downloadable guide in association with Futrli by Sage that covers the topic and more.

Generating forecasts for cashflow, sales, expenses and profit can help businesses measure their yearly performance and plan responsive strategies. By modelling different scenarios, the adviser can help identify further opportunities and improvements to the businesses. 

Traditionally, firms might use Excel to gather data from various sources and build models for forecasting and cashflow for clients. And while this can still be a valid way to generate reports, it can be time-consuming and manual, meaning it’s hard to scale. That’s where linking the data from the ledgers in the accounting software to forecasting tools comes into play. 

Having forecasting tools that can be integrated with your accounting software and generate the reports you need automatically can save huge amounts of time and allow more of your client-facing team and part-qualified staff to have meaningful conversations with clients, using charts and ways of presenting the data that your clients are more likely to be able to understand. 

How to upskill your team to deliver advisory

The most obvious thing you need is good data presentation skills. Being able to report on and clearly communicate complex financial information is the cornerstone of a successful service. You also need to be able to break down complex data to inform wider planning so that you have a positive influence on your client’s strategy. As mentioned, the right forecasting tools can really help here.

The other most important skills are the ability to be able to deal with clients, to listen to them and understand their business and their goals. If you’re able to have regular communication with clients and be able to spot potential issues with cashflow well ahead of time this can be extremely useful for a client, who may be so concerned about cash in the bank that they miss out on growth opportunities.

While not all of your team will have years of business experience that they can offer to firms, they are likely to be more comfortable with the systems that you use than most of your clients are, and with the right tools, they will have access to the necessary information. So getting them confident to start to have the initial conversations is the first step. 

A training plan that covers the type of conversations to have and the things to look out for to trigger interventions and advice opportunities is a great start. Whether that is having them sit in on conversations or listen to previous calls, it will build their knowledge and identify opportunities for your more experienced advisers or partners to follow up.

Where to start with advisory?

Speaking on a recent webinar Hurst suggested that you “start with the clients you’re most familiar with, who you’ve already got some trust and rapport with and who will benefit most from the services”.

He added that a common misconception was that those who were struggling may not be able to afford or be willing to pay for this type of advice, but he said that “the exact opposite is true – those that are struggling, need this more than any other client” and that in his experience the clients most willing to pay were those that really needed this support.

He recommended an initial conversation based on the client’s own data being used in Futrli as it will show problems ahead, or opportunities that may otherwise be missed.

Hannah Dawson, founder and CEO at Futrli by Sage summed it up: “We have seen that practical and tactical advisory for all is growing in favour of the larger strategic-type advisory projects for high turnover clients that used to prevail in years gone by. This equalisation of advisory offering and ROI generation for both parties generated from success stories is heartening in the uncertain world we live in.”

Futrli by Sage’s predictive three-way budgeting and forecasting solution is the perfect tool to help forward-thinking practices move from compliance to advisory services. Get a free trial to find out how it could help your practice.

Replies (3)

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By Hugo Fair
20th Feb 2023 19:51

".. a common misconception was that those who were struggling may not be able to afford or be willing to pay for this type of advice, but he said that “the exact opposite is true – those that are struggling, need this more than any other client” and that in his experience the clients most willing to pay were those that really needed this support."

Or in other words, those who are desperate will believe anything you tell/sell them ('this sack of bricks will assist you to keep your head above water') ... whereas those who are doing OK will stop to ask how/why/etc (and be less impressed to hear that 'it only works in shallow water and if you stand on the sack after it's sunk')!

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
Jake Smith, AccountingWEB
By Jake Smith
21st Feb 2023 16:52

Hi Hugo, thanks for your comment, whilst this article may not have been of interest to you or your clients, I think it's fairly clear from his quote that many of Stuart's clients do find the services useful.

Far from believing anything they tell them, the clients value the services they are offered (otherwise they wouldn't buy them) and Stuart and the team at A&L have built a successful tech-enabled business servicing a large number of clients, giving them the confidence to run and grow their businesses.

The article was intended to show some of the ways they've done that, which may be of interest to other accountants looking to grow their practices by offering this type of service.

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Replying to Jake Smith:
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By Hugo Fair
21st Feb 2023 19:30

I don't dispute any of those points ... and don't believe my previous post suggested otherwise. Indeed I'm happy when people wish to share their experiences (good and bad), as I've done throughout my (lengthy) working life.

My specific point was intended to highlight that a casual phrase (quoted in the article) could be construed as suggesting that targeting those in desperate straits can be a profitable approach ... which may well be true (see Payday Lenders) but is not generally considered a good look within professional services - and may not be what Stuart meant.

So good luck to him (and his clients), but in my opinion (and that is all that I can offer) I would in his shoes revise the wording of that phrase if it is to be used in the future elsewhere.

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