Strategic advice, though, is a broad term. One client might want you to help them improve efficiency while reducing headcount, another might need better processes, a third might want a way to reduce wasted stock.
‘There’s an app for that’
Happily, the proliferation of cloud apps means that solutions exist which can help businesses achieve almost any of their goals. As an accountant, all you have to do to offer meaningful strategic advice is to ensure that clients are using the right solutions for their needs.
But how much assistance should accountants provide as their clients move their processes online?
There are two broad types of service to choose from. Firstly, offering a full bells-and-whistles approach with hands-on implementation help and ongoing support. Or alternatively, recommending some useful apps then taking a step back. Let us examine each in turn.
Helping with implementation
Setting up a new solution can be stressful for any business, as many accounting practices that have made the step up to Xero will know.
That stress can go up exponentially when more apps are added to the mix. And while providers can be relied on to support their own products, they would not necessarily know how to build a Cloud stack that benefits your client’s specific needs. That is why some accounting firms — and many specialist agencies — now offer help getting businesses online.
For accountants, the benefit of offering a setup and support service is clear.
- You get sole credit for solving your client’s problems
- Ongoing support can be essential to their success
- You get the opportunity to add new revenue streams (for instance, by taking commission on subscription fees)
However, those benefits come at a cost. Implementing can be tricky, requiring full commitment and considerable expertise. And if it goes wrong, the results can be disastrous.
For example, I recently had to introduce a customer to a specialist Cloud agency after their accountant attempted to implement Unleashed without the assistance of a certified Cloud expert. The accountant did not set units of measure properly for their client (a distillery), meaning each product sold suddenly cost $1000s more than it should.
The customer had to pay the agency to fix the issue and to set up Unleashed correctly —a hefty bill that they could have easily avoided. And the accountant got the blame.
At Unleashed, we rarely see accountancy firms taking on implementation for their clients. When they do, it is usually the bigger players, with both a clear strategy and a team that is dedicated to managing and supporting implementations. The resource drain for smaller practices is just too much.
Helping with referrals
Referrals are the core of any advisory service. You inform your client about some solutions that could benefit their business, then step back and let a specialist take on the burden of implementation.
Again, there are some clear benefits and drawbacks here. On the good side, you get credit for getting your client online with all the risk of implementing removed. On the bad, mitigating that risk means sharing credit with whoever gets them up and running, losing the opportunity to offer dedicated support and missing out on potential revenue streams.
I would argue, however, that a purely advisory service can be just as essential to businesses as offering support. I would also argue that it can provide a powerful means to grow your practice revenue.
Many of your clients will be unaware that apps exist which can enable them to grow their business, improve efficiency and scale their processes. By introducing them to these tools, you are reinforcing your position as a provider of meaningful, useful advice. Even if those clients go somewhere else for implementation and support, they will still come to you as their primary advisor — an absolutely essential role for the vast majority of SMEs.
And on the revenue side of things, you do not need to add extra revenue streams to get value from advisory. You will be able to increase the lifetime value of your existing client base and get new business by strengthening your proposition. Build out a comprehensive service, and you can choose how to charge for it: with increased billable hours, with a one-off consultation fee or by quoting based on the value you can deliver.
From humble beginnings
When we are dealing with accountants and bookkeepers who are moving to advisory at Unleashed, we usually recommend starting small and growing from there.
Once you are at the point where you feel you have got maximum benefit from suggesting apps, it might be time to consider adding an implementation service. But if you do, ensure that you understand the risks involved – and the level of expertise needed.
Before that point, there is still a huge amount of value to be gained from signposting. And at Unleashed, we are passionate about helping accountants realise that value.