Demystifying advisory services

Advisory
A flat lay including a newspaper, a coffee cup, a plant, a calculator, and a pen

Advisory has long been a buzzword in the accounting profession and industry at large. With so many qualified accountants taking the leap into this world, it can be an overwhelming subject to even consider.

We’re on a crusade to demystify advisory services for you. It’s far more simple than many make it seem. To begin, you need to get in the right frame of mind.

What do you want to achieve this year?

This is the way you need to begin every client meeting. No more hiding behind a wall of numbers, instead it’s time to ask the questions that really matter to your clients.

Perhaps it’s an increase in monthly or yearly revenue, or to embrace a more flexible working structure. It can sometimes feel like these dreams are miles away but, actually, business advisory services can help you and your clients achieve these goals. Focusing on the future aids success on both sides, as you spot positive trends and optimise businesses.

So, what does an advisor look like?

We describe an advisor as a blend of a business coach, mentor and accountant. You’ll still be focusing on the numbers for your clients, but it’s taking things up a notch. The idea is to lead with your knowledge and help businesses grow.

Ask questions about what your clients would like to achieve. Examine previous trends and set up forecasts. These practices help you become your clients’ trusted go-to: someone they can turn to whether they need a simple question answered, or for the heavier subjects that need a full examination and diagnosis.

If you think about the last time you really asked your clients about their businesses – or even a friend who owns a company – could you get a word in edgeways? Probably not. Leverage their passion to get more out of your relationship with them. You’re likely to make a lot more money too!

You already know that watching your goals become a reality is one of the best feelings. Advisors are positioned to prevent or correct mistakes in businesses, aiding their success.

Section 1 – Why advisory is the future of accounting

There are a few core reasons why adopting advisory services to your firm is going to improve things.

Firstly, you’re going to build client relationships that really last. A core part of nailing advisory is to win over the trust of your clients. They need to see you as a source of knowledge, support and reliability.

In a traditional firm, your clients may worry they’ll be charged for even a quick phone call. Embracing advisory means you can actually absorb the hourly cost of such a thing in a monthly recurring revenue (MRR) package.

You’re changing your focus to sell your expertise and your time, rather than relying on compliance as your bedrock. This results in your clients being armed with more information than ever when it comes to decision-making, which will strengthen their businesses and help them mitigate risk. This is what’s valuable to clients.

If your clients need a report because the bank demands it, they may see that as a necessity rather than something valuable. Running variables through scenario planning, however, may alert them to potential dips in sales or revenue. That is undeniably valuable to any business owner.

Pricing is set by your firm, but it’s up to you to recognise your fee earning potential. There are two clear fee-earning sources from every client: MRR to cover monthly review meetings, and one-off costs which will probably grow over time. If you’re offering anything like a health check for free, limit it to that – you’re not a charity!

Satisfied clients will likely go for an MRR pricing model. As mentioned earlier, demonstrating the value that comes with advisory is key to really get this going. Once a client starts seeing the value of your work, you can introduce more services to them.

Reduce churn. When you’re providing advisory services, your clients will start to trust you more than ever. Their trust becomes loyalty as you’re helping them on their path to success.

For you and your team, there are a load of benefits. You’ll find, with the right training program, that you can get even your most junior accountants adding value to clients – and your bottom line.

From the hundreds of accounting professionals we speak to on a regular basis, we hear time and time again that challenging a team to pick up and run with advisory is a fantastic opportunity. Upskilling helps even the most experienced team members refresh their passion and skill sets, reinvigorating them in their work.

Many firms are starting to realise that advisory is the future of accounting. Those ignoring this evolution might get left behind if they don’t update their services.

Section 2 – What difference will advisory services make to your clients?

The majority of business owners are looking to grow. With this in mind, it’s time to utilise both your knowledge of various industries and businesses and combine it with a tool that will allow you to see under the hood of a company.

For instance, seeing the impact of certain decisions you need to make in business is priceless. The power it gives you is unmatched. To gain a 360° view of a business, it’s best to get your clients working on the cloud.

Furthermore, practices like cashflow forecasting are essential for business. Playing with live data means you can see what’s really going on in a client’s business. Helping you spot dangers and opportunities for the business in question, you’re positioned as your client’s trusted advisor.

Help clients boost their profitability

Our community of advisors all have different techniques for diagnosing problems in client businesses, but one of our favourites comes from Andrew Van De Beek from Illumin8 Advisory. He asks his clients to draw a mark on a graph he presents them, to see where the client believes their business is.

After discussing all things professional and finding out what the client’s personal goals are too, Andrew will draw a mark to display where he believes their business is in its journey.

This practice will show what work needs to be done to get your client to the place they want to be as a business owner.

Another member of our community, a firm in the UK called The Peloton, conducts site visits to really understand what goes on day to day in a company. They’ll get to know the client, the business and their team before asking the owner all about their professional and personal goals. For example, a client might want to spend more time at home with their family. The advisors at The Peloton can then strategise to help make that a reality.

That’s what really makes advisory so different for clients. The focus on them as people, as parents, partners and friends, rather than just as business owners, means that this kind of work is a lot more valuable to them. It’s like when you go to a cafe and the staff remember your order – you feel welcome and helped, not just another person popping in.

Section 3 – Main benefits

The core features of Futrli compliment advisory services perfectly. From advanced cashflow forecasting and analysis, live business budgeting, planning and monitoring, all the way to consolidation, we have you covered for any client’s needs. But to dive deeper into what these services really mean, let’s look at each individually.

Cashflow forecasting

Using actual historical data, you can build a 3-way (from the P&L, balance sheet and cashflow statement) forecast in seconds. We’ve made sure you can see far into the future, up to 10 years, so you’ll know the impact of any decisions being considered short and long-term.

It’s crucial to know how much profit a business is making, what the cash position is today and where things are going to be in the future. Use cashflow forecasting and reporting to navigate a business’ path safely.

Scenario planning

As we touched on earlier, we can help you and your clients wonder ‘what if?’ The Futrli platform allows you to set up best, worst and middle case scenarios for any question you might have. Is your client thinking of hiring more staff or expanding? Run this decision through the scenario modelling tool to get a great understanding of the impacts of that behaviour.

Automatic alerts

Logging in to each and every client account is time-consuming. That’s why our alerts feature is so powerful. They’re integrated with cloud accounting packages to ensure you get notified the second something changes. We present areas that are in need of attention first. Warning alerts are presented next, to help you move away from the danger zone. Finally, our good news alerts. Any alert that is within the realms of safety will appear here, giving you and your clients peace of mind. You can even connect Futrli to Xero HQ to get alerts when client thresholds or goals are reached. Increase your firm’s efficiency and ensure client businesses are monitored 24/7.

Non-financial data

Being able to include non-financial data in your forecasting and reporting means you can really show your clients a full overview of their businesses. Non-financial data might include customer satisfaction, average customer headcount (for a hospitality business, for example), or perhaps staff turnover. These elements are all going to have a huge impact on a business, so the results need recording and monitoring.

Let’s say your client does run a hospitality business – a cafe for argument’s sake. If their wet sales gross profit is low but their customer headcount is high, we can see there’s something amiss. Do the team need to be upselling more? Are people nursing a single drink for an extended period, therefore cutting into profits?

Essentially, the main benefits of advisory include seeing why things are happening, not just showing that they are happening. As a way of working, it has the power to revolutionise the way businesses operate.

Section 4 – How does advisory co-exist with compliance?

The main thing to remember is that compliance is likely to be your bread and butter while you look into and start adopting advisory. Every business you work with now and in the future is still going to need to be compliant.

So, this co-existence has to be balanced.

We’d recommend when starting to adopt advisory that you dedicate a small team to it at first so the rest of the firm is still working to keep the majority of your clients compliant. Shift this ratio slowly over time to get the rest of the team upskilled. But remember not to turn your back on compliance work completely.

While there is much competition in both spaces, it’s a good time to break into the advisory space. There is more to play with in terms of billable services, and it’ll keep things interesting for your team.

One good way to get the ball rolling with your advisory services is to set up a separate pricing system. For example, you could look to create bespoke packages for each client, to include the core services they need. Alternatively, you could charge a monthly subscription fee for each client to keep everything fairly priced and on track.

Then, once you start selling advisory services, you could either absorb the cost of their compliance work or clearly state that it’s an additional fee. With so much technology on offer to help automate these processes, there shouldn’t be any negative impact on your bottom line.

Every firm does this differently, and we encourage you to really plan it out before you jump in. Advisory is far more lucrative than compliance – the trick is to make sure you’re earning the higher bracket of fees like you should be.

Compliance isn’t being replaced by advisory and they absolutely must coexist. The core point here is to work out your balance.

Section 5 – How to reach your advisory potential

As much as research will help you get ready to embrace advisory, there’s nothing quite like jumping in head first. You need to consider both your internal and external approaches, as you want to get this right first time. When done correctly, advisory services can really boost your revenue and get your team reengaged with their work.

Here are some of our favourite bits of advice we’ve gathered over the years from successful practices:

Get a small team of people to lead the charge. Who are the most personable members of the team that aren’t afraid to jump into something new? This group of people can be used as guinea pigs to head up an advisory department until the rest of your team is ready to join.

Our Advisory Certification will help you and your team upskill, quickly. We’ve divided the course into four modules (Foundation, Forecasting, Reporting, Practice) so it’s easy to fill the gaps in your knowledge. Each one will answer questions you have on each topic – you’ll be a forecasting and reporting master once you’ve checked out those modules!

The level of service you’ll be providing once in the advisory space doesn’t lend itself to hourly billing – you’ll be losing out on revenue. Instead, we recommend you look into packages (say, forecasting and reporting, scenario modelling and alerts) and add-ons to a monthly subscription fee.

Finding a niche is often a great way to roll out advisory to a control group. You’re changing direction quite significantly by taking on this new way of working, so it’s great to practice a little with a small group of clients who might give you feedback.

Section 6 – 6 tips and tricks for nailing the first few months

1. Work with real-time data. You won’t be able to see a realistic representation of a client’s business without working in real-time. Advisory is all about being agile and being able to pivot – two traits your clients need to nail too. Using real-time data is the only way to achieve this.

2. Cashflow forecasting. Historical reporting can help you set targets for future periods and see how and why your figures are what they are. It is, however, much more beneficial to be looking to the future. While you can set yourself targets from previous results, using a forecast will help you predict where you can position your clients’ businesses.

3. Measure KPIs. Key performance indicators are an essential part of operating a business, as they give you a broken down quantitative view of each department in your clients’ businesses. Without this granular view, it’s hard to spot the trouble areas of a company, which over time could really impact the business’ bottom line.

4. Model different scenarios. Dare to ask what-if with our in-depth scenario planner. You can see the best, worst or middle case outcome of decisions, then dissect the possibilities with your clients. Furthermore, you can compare the scenarios you’ve built for heightened insight.

5. Get certified. Business and accountancy are both becoming more complex, so it’s vital you and your firm keep up. Everyone learns in different ways, so that’s why we’ve ensured our online curriculum is comprehensive. It’s CPD-accredited and will help you master the Futrli platform, adapt to market change and roll out and scale advisory services.

6. Own your platform. You’re not a software reseller, and nor should you have to be. White labelling allows you to present your very own advisory toolkit, powered by Futrli. Your logo and colours are added to dashboards, so your clients constantly see your branding. A fantastic (and effortless) way to up your brand recognition, it’ll increase brand loyalty too.

Conclusion

We hope you’re now feeling empowered and excited! Your advisory journey beckons, but make sure you always put your clients first. This is the one surefire way of nailing the transition.

We create the tools to bring confidence to the decisions that small business teams are making. You will ensure that the help that small business needs at the right point in their life cycle, is received.

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