The CPA is the most trusted business advisor, yet many CPAs focus on transactional and compliance services rather than advisory services. Why? Typically, it’s because old habits are hard to break, and change is difficult.
Transactional services have become commoditized, and the hours required to produce them have been reduced or eliminated by technology. This is bad for accountants who focus on compliance, but it’s an opportunity for trusted advisors who can provide value at a higher level while leveraging the technology to handle compliance work. There are tremendous opportunities for accounting firms that know how to package, price and name advisory services.
Most successful entrepreneurs and business owners realize they are better off outsourcing their accounting, tax preparation and advisory services to a professional so they can focus on what makes their business successful. And most accountants want to provide both compliance and advisory services. The challenge is often learning how to create a new business model by packaging, naming and pricing these services. My advice is to first think like an entrepreneur rather than an accountant.
Package your services
Entrepreneurs create value by eliminating dangers or focusing on opportunities. One of the dangers business owners face is finding quality accounting at a reasonable price. A competent bookkeeper can cost more than $50,000, plus the investment in an accounting software solution. What is the value to the client of eliminating these dangers and outsourcing them to a trusted advisor? I can assure you it is more than most advisors charge.
Next, what is the value of the client’s time spent focusing on revenue rather than payroll, accounts payable, receivables, financial reporting and tax planning? Again the value to the entrepreneur is generally greater than the value in the eyes of the accountant. CPAs can capture these opportunities, increase margins and monthly cash flow and create a pipeline for advisory services.
The first step is to talk to some of your entrepreneurial clients about their pain points and goals. I like to say, “Sell tickets and then produce the show.” Rather than spending resources building a service that may not meet your client’s needs, let them tell you what they need and want.
Your menu of services can start in a limited format and expand based upon client requirements. Innovation comes from combining what you already know with new capabilities (knowledge and technology). Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to focus on too much. Focus on no more than their three top dangers, three top opportunities and their top three strengths.
Name your services
Naming your services may not seem important, but it’s very important to your potential clients. The one who names the process owns the process. Naming is tricky, but you can engage the talents of a professional marketer. I recommend Dan Sullivan’s naming process:
Start with “The” to connote exclusivity.
Use a technical word that describes your process.
Protect the name by trademarking it.
Some good examples of this method include The Cloud SolutionTM or The Entrepreneurial SystemTM.
Price your services
Now for the tough part: pricing. Again, value your advisory services from the client’s perspective. Price your services using a subscription model, using fixed price agreements that narrowly define the scope of services. I suggest you consider a pricing matrix, as it is generally easier for clients to get on board. Clients like options and they like to know the cost in advance.
Be sure to include a change order clause to protect both parties. Many firms have change order clauses in their engagement letters, but few firms capture significant revenue due to the fact they fail to execute change orders before completing additional work that is beyond the agreed scope. You can solve this problem with awareness and training. Often, the staff accountant recognizes the opportunity, so don’t be afraid to offer your staff an incentive to recognize opportunities and execute a signed change order.
The following action plan should help you get started quickly, test the market and grow your revenue stream:
Think. Brainstorm using a mind map to identify client dangers, opportunities and strengths. Identify the obstacles and develop strategies to overcome the obstacles. Exponential, rather than incremental thinking is imperative.
Plan. Develop a written one-page plan listing your strategic objectives, initiatives, dues dates and responsible parties.
Grow. Test the market with your best clients; checkwriters are the most important opinions.
Some people make it happen, some people watch what happens and some people wonder what happened. Be a doer.
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L. Gary Boomer, Visionary & Strategist of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is recognized in the accounting profession as the leading authority on technology and firm management. He consults and speaks around the globe on several topics including strategic and technology planning; mindset, skillsets and toolsets for the future; change management and developing a training and learning culture. He also acts as a planning facilitator and coach to some of the accounting profession's top firms.