The nature of accounting has changed.
It may have been debated to death, but compliance will always be at the core of an accounting firm’s service offering. If anything, the growing complexity of tax laws may increase the demand for assistance expertise (even if the execution of that assistance becomes increasingly automated).
What may never change, however, is that the room to increase your prices for what clients view as a standard service is limited. Valuable advice, on the other hand, is something clients are more open to paying a premium for.
And when they can benefit from that advice on an ongoing basis too, the doors to your firm’s revenue growth begin to open themselves.
An advisory service is when you charge your clients in exchange for analytical or forward-thinking advice. That might be business and growth advice, financial planning, mortgage broking, app advisory, human resources guidance, or any other service or consultation that you have expertise in, and your clients have a need for.
A repeatable advisory service is when you provide that advice to the same client on an ongoing basis.
With repeatable advisory services, you can standardize your processes to create smooth and scalable processes for your accounting practice.
In contrast, one-time advisory services are more difficult to provide. It's hard to create and deliver a one-shot project without standardized processes, and it's less efficient for you and your clients.
The magic happens when you can provide valued advice regularly and offer it as a service.
Common themes of advisory services provided by accounting firms include:
Cash flow forecasts
Tech advice or setup
You'll notice that ‘forward-thinking’ is a common thread. Planning ahead to this degree gives your clients an edge over their competitors. Your sound advice enables them to plan for and track progress towards specific goals.
Sound advisory services also enable your clients to be proactive instead of reactive. Rather than pointing out errors after the fact, you anticipate potential problems and make fast, educated decisions to correct the current course.
Advisory services give your accounting firm the opportunity to engage with your clients throughout the year. Your relationship no longer consists of a single once-a-year transaction such as tax return, but ongoing insight into their business. You essentially become an extension of their team.
Your clients can easily compare standard compliance offerings between firms—but it's hard to put a price tag on advisory services. For your clients, these services are more about the value provided than how much the service costs.
If your advice saves your client a sizeable amount of money annually, you can command high fees, regardless of how long you spend working on the project.
For your firm to solidify its offerings, you must make advisory services a product you offer. Here's how to provide repeatable advisory services:
Before you can offer a repeatable service, you must define your service into a product.
Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all service, consider breaking it into tiers. Each tier should provide increasing access to greater:
Some things to consider when structuring these tiers include:
What services are you offering specifically?
Will customer support be strictly through email, or will you offer chat and phone support, too?
What technology will you include in each plan or tier?
Then, price each tier accordingly.
For example, for a three-tier product offering, you could provide:
Tier 2—Every service the client currently receives, plus bookkeeping
Tier 3—No change in service, but divide their current annual price by 12 and allow monthly payments
You may not upsell all clients, but those on annual payment plans may welcome the ability to pay monthly.
With detailed productization, you need to contact your firm's current clients and ask them which plan best fits their needs from now on.
It's as simple as asking what they need as far as current bookkeeping methods, tasks, and processes, and illustrating which tier could improve their current bookkeeping.
After your clients successfully sign up for your repeatable advisory services, their onboarding processes should be seamless.
Create a list of what you need for client setup. Don't begin the actual bookkeeping work until after completing the onboarding and gathering all the required materials.
Some of your long-term clients may have opted to stay "grandfathered in" with the services they've come to expect. But in the future, any new clients must sign up with one of your three-tiered plans.
This is the most seamless way to scale your accounting firm. It might take some discipline to turn down potential clients that want to handle their own bookkeeping, but it's the best way to ensure you can scale up seamlessly.
Accounting firms have been dealing with an unprecedented increase in leave and benefit entitlements due to COVID-19. So, to handle this shift initially, they diverted resources from advisory services to compliance to manage payroll.
As a result, some firms relying heavily on advisory service income took a hit.
When you’re considering your options around providing repeatable advisory services, it’s important that you understand that advisory services alone aren’t enough.
You can quickly gauge your firm’s advisory vs. compliance balance by asking yourself:
Is there sufficient balance across advisory and compliance offerings?
What if advisory services stopped tomorrow—could you survive?
What if compliance services stopped tomorrow—could you survive?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, consider reevaluating your profitability structure.
Restructuring your service offering to include productized and repeatable advisory services will take some time to plan and implement.
But the results will see value added to your clients, and boosted revenue for your firm.