How to introduce a valuable, profitable and scalable business advisory service
What is business advisory?
I like to think that delivering business advisory is much like baking a cake. Yes, you heard me right!
If you’ve ever baked a cake or watched the Great British Bake Off, you’ll know that baking is pretty scientific and winging it, is just not an option! Ingredients and the recipe are key. And more specifically, measuring the ingredients accurately [understanding what you’ve got and what you’ll need to get] and following the recipe [plan] religiously are critical to success.
It’s really hard to bake a cake without a recipe, and those that do, usually end in disaster. It’s just not like other forms of cooking where you can try a few things and change on the fly until you get the desired taste. And frequently checking the oven to see how the cake is coming along and making adjustments to cooking time or temperature are also vital to ensure you get the desired result [measure and monitor]. How often do you see contestants of baking programmes on the floor staring into their ovens!
Compliance isn’t dead
For years accountants have been told to move from compliance to advisory. “Compliance is dead!” is an often-heard rallying cry. We know this isn’t the case.
Small businesses will always need assurance over the raft of constantly changing regulations and legislation. Compliance is here to stay. But for most accountants, a pure focus on compliance services doesn’t deliver sustainable profitability.
Combining compliance AND advisory is a path that does work for many (including the larger accounting firms). But it’s not just about more money………. it’s also about more impact and more happiness.
So why have firms struggled to introduce business advisory services?
Traditionally, business advisory hasn’t properly leveraged the right combination of people, process and technology.
Advisory services are often delivered by more senior team members (partners and managers), to top clients and often with a bespoke service. This works well for our top-tier clients, who can afford and are prepared to pay for that type of service. Senior team members have limited time, so what happens when we try to introduce more junior members to the equation and offer advisory services, using traditional methodologies, to our smaller clients? The more junior team don’t have the experience and existing systems and processes are still heavily dependent on time-starved senior team assisting, training or delivering. Smaller businesses are not prepared (or able) to pay the fees associated with a bespoke service and the most senior team members. And often, partners assume that smaller businesses, who reluctantly pay for accounts and tax returns, won’t want to pay for advisory services – even though they do pay for coaches, mentors and business organisations.
Business advisory made simple
So what is business advisory and how does a firm implement or scale business advisory services?
Advisory certainly has been a tough nut to crack and scale in the past! Success at business and business advisory is much the same as baking a cake.
Quite simply to deliver business advisory:
- you need to understand where your clients are now [what ingredients do you have in the cupboard];
- where could/should they get to [what cake can you make with the existing ingredients or should you make a different cake with other readily available ingredients];
- calculate the gap [what ingredients and utensils do you need to bake];
- create a plan [check out the picture, get a recipe and create an action plan with timings]; and
- measure and monitor actual results against the plan [check the oven and adjust temperature and timings as necessary]
Business advisory really is that easy. In fact, this exact same framework is used by large scale consulting agencies, Big4 firms, small niche advisory accounting firms and pretty much any other business in wealth management, tax, marketing, branding, time management, cake making – you name it!
How do we get started and how do we make changes stick
Appointing a champion and abrogating responsibility doesn’t usually get results. And don’t think it’s ok to fire out reports to already overwhelmed business owners and consider it ‘advisory’. By all means test and trial and just get stuck in. However, to ensure successful implementation and firm-wide rollout, it’s important that there is agreement from the partner/leadership team about the strategy and plan. They need to understand what success looks like, set targets and implement and review progress. This really is no different to how we would approach, or advise our clients on, any other aspect of business. The firm also needs to understand:
- it’s clients – what they need, want and value
- the business model – how the firm creates and adds that value; and
- the systems and processes needed to deliver this.
Planning for and creating quick wins is critical for success. It builds confidence and stories to share with the team and other clients and allows the leadership team to form a powerful coalition to drive through organisational change. Check out John Kotter’s 8 steps to transformation and if that resonates, do get his book “Our Iceberg is Melting”. It’s a quick and simple read, that goes through the steps and is great for the team.
At Clarity we understand the importance of getting started, building quick wins and then planning for successful roll-out and scale. Check out our OneClearPath programme (it fits in after our fast-track and quick start programmes), which will give you the next steps to help you scale your business advisory services. I wish you every success on your advisory journey and am happy to help or answer any questions, issues or challenges you may have – just reach out!