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The Shift from Accountant to Advisor

Updated: Apr 2

During times of uncertainty or economic downturn, business owners need you. More specifically, your analytical brain, firsthand empathy, and creative business model ideas. They need YOU, their advisor.

So, what does that mean and how on earth do you meet the need?

Call them and ask

It almost sounds too simple but ask how your business clients are. Develop a communication strategy to reach out to:

A - your top paying clients

B - your lowest paying (highest growth potential)

C - everyone in between

Perform a quick pulse check on their revenue. Spend the most time with groups A and B, as those groups offer the highest chance of recurring profit, however, it is important to take care of every client, so be sure not to neglect a group.

Here are some key questions to ask:

1. How is your team?

2. Are you communicating regularly with your customers?

3. Is cash flow steady?

4. Do you know how many months of cash flow you have left?

5. Are there any disruptions in your supply chain?

6. Have sales changed? How?

7. Do you need any help with the PPP, EIDL, unemployment, or new tax credits?

8. Should you develop a crisis budget?

9. Is anyone helping you manage and plan your finances?

10. Have you talked with your banker about a LOC or debt restructure?

11. Can you identify any new services or products to increase revenue?

12. What do you need from me right now? How can I help?

Build out meaningful & valuable products to offer

Once you have data on how your clients are doing, and even before, ask yourself, what can a few CPAs and accountants do to help? Brainstorm some thoughtful ways to positively impact your clients’ businesses. Identify some new things you can do to elevate and change their perception of you. Even if there's nothing you can do, the questions you ask and the time you invest, along with offering proactive service, sets you apart in their minds. Even if they don't need you now, this is an opportunity to be top of mind the next time they do.

During the COVID years, we found that these products kept us connected to our clients:

1. Cash flow planning. Through tools like Float, Cash Flow Tool, and Fathom, you can begin to show them how to answer questions like, How many months of cash flow do I have left? What revenue should I accelerate? What debt should I explore restructuring? What payroll strategies should I employ?

2. Budgeting. QuickBooks Online has fair budgeting features. Tools like Float are better. Cost and expense control during periods of stress are huge in allowing the business to survive a few more months.

3. Revenue / business model consulting. If your clients are running on a slim margin or were already struggling before this particular economic downturn, it may be time for a business model change. This may be an opportunity for your client to offer a new product or service at a better margin, reduce variable costs with suppliers, sublease or explore offloading unused warehouse or office space, or change their employee and contractor arrangements.

4. Buy-low, opportunity consulting. Some clients are booming. Some have millions in investable free cash. For these clients, there may be significant strategic purchase or acquisition opportunities to expand their empire, bring manufacturing in-house, sweep up property, or buy a key supplier or client. Helping with a cost, benefit analysis, or M&A forecast can help your entrepreneurial clients think through big decisions.

5. Bankruptcy consulting. While we prefer not to talk about it, bankruptcy may be some clients’ best chance at a clean exit and fresh start. If you have experience with this or existing partnerships with good bankruptcy attorneys, this may be a valuable service you can offer. If you can help close a business, who do you think they'll call when it comes time to open their next venture?

6. Ongoing outsourced CFO. Why stop with project-based engagements? Aren't we going for MRR after all? After you help a client build a crisis budget, implement a cash flow planning tool and think through new ways to offer service and keep revenue flowing. Introduce some form of bi-weekly or monthly accountability through outsourced CFO or financial reviews. This is a great way to walk through the next 30-60 days with your clients, build some great relationships, potentially save businesses, and position yourself far above your competition who is busy cranking out tax returns.

Allocate new workloads, delegate, train, and go!

Now the real work begins. Do an inventory of your team. Who will make the initial client communication and calls? Who is able to do the technical work such as budgeting and cash flow planning? Who do you have on your team that can fulfill the role of fractional CFO? What training do these different people need? Do they currently have the capacity to handle the extra work? Will you need to re-allocate projects? What will these new tasks look like in your project management system? A consistent deliverable for each new service is fundamental to a great client and team experience. Once the workflow is crafted, share it with your team and make improvements with each use. It's important to meet a few times a week with your new implementation team to get feedback, answer questions, and explore any new opportunities that might arise. The job here is to delegate and lead so that you guarantee a scalable service offering and avoid working yourself into horrible hours. Training and communication are absolutely essential to this process.

Build a Feedback Loop

When you deliver your new products, end each offering with an opportunity for feedback. I always like to ask, "On a scale of 1-10, 10 being extremely valuable (exceeds all expectations), and 1 being a complete waste of time (I want my money back), how would you rate this program?" Be sure to thank them for their feedback. If they said 7 or 8, ask, "What can we change so that future clients give us a 10?" This feedback will help you get ahead of service issues and increase your confidence in your new products. If the feedback is strong and you've identified this individual would make a good outsourced CFO client, ask them if they would like to continue the service. Describe a world where you continue to check in bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or some combination. Lay out the price (go for a flat monthly fee) and remind them that everything is month-to-month. If they say yes, congratulations, you have a new advisory client!

Offering advisory services often means a step into the unknown, an attempt at something new, and (at times) faking it until you make it. There's no proven formula, or we would all be doing it. The key is a personal relationship with your client, and a tailored offer for their particular needs. You are the guide. It’s said, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care - provide value, care deeply, and you will have a client for life.

Joe Montgomery, III, CPA, CPBC

Founder, GroupUP


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