How to start advising clients about their future rather than their past

Jun 7, 2022 | Business Strategy, Client service, Sole practitioners

It occurs to me that some accountants keen to do more advisory work might find it easier if they change their mindset.

I suggest that the first and primary way to develop the advisory side of your practice is to be clear as to why you want to do it.

If your motivation is simply to earn more fees by providing more services to clients you may struggle as compared with those accountants who evidently want to make a genuine difference to the life of their clients.

Of course some accountants say advisory work is a route to securing the future of their firm by transitioning so as to be able to do less work for higher fees. Others like the idea in theory of doing more advisory work as they are bored and want to do more stimulating and enjoyable work.

Let’s be honest. Few of us like being ‘sold’ to. Especially if the salesperson has initiated the conversation. Why should we expect clients to feel differently? Few of them appreciate it when you try to sell additional services to them.

A better approach is help clients to recognise that you are more interested in providing an additional service that will be of value to them without you appearing to be pushing or selling a product, package or advice.

Do your clients trust you enough to believe you are honestly and truly more interested in serving them than simply selling additional services?

The key to unlocking that desire from a client to be willing to engage you to provide more advisory services, is for them to recognise and accept gaps in their abilities and in their armoury. Of course you can help them along the way to such realisations.

For example what additional information do they need to take their business to the next level?

Start by asking about their ambitions (both personally and for the business). What could stop them achieving those ambitions? Maybe they need better cash flow projections, management and some expansion?

What is holding them back? Is it fear? Not sure where to start? What additional skills, insights and guidance would be helpful?

The key you need is to know what questions you can ask in order to help clients appreciate those gaps, feel the pain and frustration caused by those gaps and increase their desire and motivation to engage you to help them close those gaps.

Whatever your motivation you need to learn how to convince clients that you care enough about them and their future prospects for them to believe that you are well placed to help them.

One simple approach that I recommended to one of my accountant clients awhile back involved him identifying one specific client that he felt he understood and liked better perhaps than all the others. And for this to be a client where he believed that there was a desire to grow the business. I suggested that during their next conversation the accountant simply asked good questions and we talked about how these might be formulated in order to get a better idea as to what the client wanted to do.

At this stage there was no pressure on the accountant to give the client any advice. However in our next conversation he related to me the client’s aspirations and we discussed possible routes the accountant could go in terms of providing what ought to be valuable advisory topics that this client would appreciate and value.

We also identified the extent to which the accountant had or had not advised on any of those topics before. And we discussed options as to how he might develop his knowledge in order to feel confident that he could provide valuable advisory services to that client.

The other key lesson that came out of our conversations was how few of his clients did he know well enough to be able to assess their aspirations for the future of their business or the financial demands of their hopes and dreams. He realised that the more he learns about what his clients want in the future, the more advice and service he can provide to help them succeed.

One of his comments was in line with something I have heard from a number of clients over the years: “I realise that the approach you adopt when mentoring me is a great example of what I need to do with my clients if I want them to value and pay me for advisory services. By continuing our conversations, not only am I benefitting from your input and insights, but I am learning how I can replicate what you do to better serve my clients.”

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