There is a lot of talk among owners of accounting firms about building business advisory services to grow and evolve their business models. There are differing opinions on this, but what is really interesting is Panalitix’s findings on what really drives accountants.
I’m not a business coach but I do work with many accountants and accounting firms on business and personal brand strategy, and I’d like to share some of my take-aways from the terrific Panalitix webinar lead by Colin Dunn this week. Like Colin, the main thing I hear from new clients is, ‘We want to grow’ and ‘We want to do more business advisory work’, but unpacking what growth really looks like in terms of changes in the business and in terms of day-to-day activity… and whether this actually aligns with what the accountants really want, can be another thing altogether.
What accountants really want
The findings of the Panalitix global study of owners of accounting firms found that building business and being entrepreneurial were not highly-ranked values, particularly in the APAC region compared to the U.S.
What accountants were prioritising above this was financial security, making a contribution, enjoying work and creating a lifestyle that included time out. While accounting partners may be saying, ‘We want growth’ and are often willing to embrace change, in reality they are time-poor and risk-averse.
“While accounting partners may be saying, ‘We want growth’ and are often willing to embrace change, in reality they are time-poor and risk-averse.”
A realistic way to grow your business advisory
While many say compliance work is disappearing, Colin argues that it is changing rather than disappearing entirely. Accounting firms have a choice of being a compliance-only business focused on ultimate efficiency, or using compliance as a foundation for other more holistic work.
The major reason accounting firms get stuck when trying to grow their business advisory services is that they don’t realise or won’t take the amount of time and effort necessary to provide a robust advisory. This involves strategic planning and up-skilling your team – and not just the partners!
Colin suggests thinking of growth in 3 stages:
Stage 1: Fix your issues and get your internal processes at maximum efficiency, to create space for growth.
Stage 2: You are now gaining excess capacity
Stage 3: With that capacity, do the work to grow the business through product development, internal training, marketing, sales processes and delivery. Consider how your wider team can support in these areas (with the right training) so you are not just loading up the partners with a whole lot of extra work.
What might your business advisory look like?
If you really haven’t done much of this at all at your firm, there is a lot to learn, and many ways to go about it. But the question to always start with is: How can I support my clients to achieve their business goals?
Of course, that means you must actually be clear what your clients’ goals are – what they really are, not what you think they are (as we’ve seen, what people really want and what is said or assumed are not always the same things!). Colin suggests some tools for researching your clients in depth, but even if you just start by scheduling time to talk to your top clients one-to-one… the clarity and the relationship-building that results is pretty powerful.