What accountants really want, and what growing an advisory really looks like

by | Aug 24, 2019 | Business planning, Running a Business

In this article:

  • Findings from Panalitix global survey on what motivates owners of accounting firms
  • The challenges of building a business advisory into your accounting practice
  • Realistic ways forward to achieve this
  • Branding, marketing and sales process: Communicating offerings to existing clients and to new clients
  • Resources

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.

Your clients’ goals will inform the plan you put in place for them. An advisor of course needs to understand all the pieces in the business puzzle – like systems & processes optimisation, product development, pricing strategy, sales processes and pipeline, client/customer management, brand and marketing. That’s not to say that an accounting firm needs to be across all these areas – developing key relationships with trusted consultants and suppliers can be the best way to assist your clients here – but being able to spot the weaknesses, the things to consider, the things to plan for and measure, are part of the business advisor’s role.

Like anything, it’s about developing a system that allows you to deliver this level of business advice, and tie it seamlessly with your work in structures, tax advice and other compliance.

What next?

Sounds like a lot of work? Um, yes. So the question becomes: What do you most want to achieve in your business, and what level of change and growth will get you there? Do you need to plan for a small change? Incremental growth? Or are you going all-in with a full-service advisory and a network of supporting service providers you will project-manage for your clients?

Communicating what you can offer to new clients

As Panalitix point out in this blog post, ‘if you’ve only ever offered tax and compliance services to a client, why should they believe you can help them improve their business?’ Once you have a new system in place to deliver more, you must boost your growth by ensuring you are communicating your abilities very clearly in your branding, marketing, and through your people. This will assist new clients to understand what they can expect from you, and will attract the right kinds of clients your way – the ones who want to develop an ongoing relationship with an advisor they can trust.

Communicating what you can offer to existing clients

Communicating your additional services to existing clients is not about being a ‘salesperson’! It’s about proactively providing specific information based on what you see in your clients’ numbers, that will inform their decision-making in the business. Being a ‘trusted advisor’ by showing your interest and care, and building on these initial starting points with great insights into their businesses.

Final thought

Advisory is an art as well as a science. It starts with clear goals and a strategy, but it centres around human connection, proactively seeking to solve clients’ problems, and a desire to empower them to achieve their goals.

Recommended reading

The E-Myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber

Instant Cashflow, Bradley J. Sugars

Formula 1 for Business, Simon Frayne

Other resources

To get the work, people have to know what you do and why they’d want to work with you!


This article is intended as general information only. I purely wish to share some great tips I came across, rather than personally endorsing Panalitix products or services, as I am not a client of theirs, nor a collaborator.

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