How to scale advisory from someone who’s been there

Hear from John Thompson Managing Director of F3C Advantage, who talks us through his experience in how to scale advisory services. They offer a Complete Advisory Solution (CAS), which is a fully joined up end to end business advisory process.

 

There is a lot of stuff and nonsense talked about advisory.

I’ve been an advisory Partner in a top ten firm and a 100% New Business Director in a Regional Practice, plus I’ve worked in big corporate world for a large leisure company and been FD of an SME M&E Contractor. I currently run F3C Advantage and we work with accountancy practices that want to get serious about Advisory – by providing them with an advisory delivery platform called CAS – the Complete Advisory Solution.

So, I reckon I’ve got a pretty good fix on what clients want from accountants and how advisory can help with this. And a pretty a good fix on what accountants feel about advisory and why to date so few dabble rather than getting serious.

OK, let’s get into our helicopters and rise up, look at the big picture, make sure we can see the whole forest and not just a few trees.

Now looking down from our helicopter, let’s keep it simple, what is advisory? The best description I’ve found of advisory is:
Helping clients to…

  • Move forward
  • Protect and improve their personal positions
  • Protect and develop their businesses

And when we accountants help clients we are “facilitating INSIGHTS to INSPIRE clients to INNOVATE and make changes”.

It’s all about the clients

It starts by helping clients clarify what is most important to them. As we know clients are not all the same and they want different things. Never assume clients are clear about what is important to them.

When we help clients clarify what’s important to them this enables us to fully understand their client goals and aspirations. Not only is this essential to ensure we are providing best advice but it’s one of the 3 things that all client surveys over the last 30 years or more have identified that clients want from their accountants:

  • Show they care and are in it for the long haul
  • Bring new ideas
  • Understand me and my business

The Success Gap Model is an excellent way of illustrating what is important to a client or prospect. Some measures of success will be financial – the pound note – others will be non-financial – the smiley face. Do you know all the pound notes and smiley faces for all your best clients?

How can we help clients achieve this?

Every time you see your clients, think: what’s the plan, their plan? Have they got a clear plan? Does it go beyond just numbers?

Helping clients put their plans together is a powerful position to be. Being in the room when the decisions are being made establishes you as their MOST trusted advisor. You want to be more than just someone who helps them with implementation.

An annual planning day with your best clients is a great place to be and is core to advisory. Regular client advisory meetings with the reference point being their plan, the plan you helped them put together, is core to advisory – and will result in a new recurring income stream and project spin-off work.

Scale advisory

Well, I was the 100% New Business Director in a Regional Practice which tripled in size in two years and I have seen other firms achieve great results. How? The answer is – the same way you scale everything else in your business – with systems and process. We know that good process provides:

  • Leverage and scale
  • Consistency and quality control
  • Accelerated learning and development

Most firms whether they are large or small have written or unwritten processes for how they deal with accounts and audit work or tax work. Let’s call them standard operating processes or SOPs. Few have SOPs for advisory work. The successful firms have SOPs for advisory.

Accepting that most firms seek to be better at the WIN

W – Winning new clients
I – Increasing client spend
N – Nurturing client relationships for retention

Then successful firms develop standard operating processes

W – SOP to differentiate to attract new clients
I – SOP to broaden the services the clients buy
N – SOP to protect and develop client relationships

Systems and processes are essential for scale as is the development of SOPs. You could create your own process in your head or you could look to bring in a proven process from outside – make sure it is client-centric and can be deployed in a way that fits you and firm’s priorities. But, if you really want to make life easier for yourself and are serious about advisory and scaling it, then you should find yourself a fully joined up delivery platform.

So how does this work in practice?

I was talking with a small firm before Christmas with 2 partners. Partner number one has started as the champion but the plan is to involve a new director who joins them after Easter. The champion model becomes a pod model. The longer-term plan is to build the advisory revenues and integrate advisory across the whole firm but in the short-term, it is champion to pod.

They reckon they have 200 or so business clients and they have segmented and targeted the top 20%. Post year end or pre-year-end meeting are being held with each of these clients over the next 12 months using one of the CAS tools specifically designed for such meetings. The plan is to migrate a proportion of these clients from being primarily compliance to being compliance advisory. Forty client meetings piggy-backing off existing meetings over 12 months they believe is very manageable.

Supplementing this will be a process for handling prospect meetings. The plan is to attract compliance advisory clients and advisory only clients. More on this another time.

This firm is serious, it is organised, it’s deploying process in a way that suits them and they are making their life easier by using a delivery platform – and they are scaling.