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The Difference Between Being an Advisor & Business Coaching

Posted on 20th April 2017 in Advisory

Written by Amy Harris

In life there are a lot of people waiting to give you their two cents, whether you ask for it or not. We’ve spoken to enough business owners and accountants to know that advice is, sadly, in short supply. For that reason, they’ll pay far more than two cents to know their business is in safe hands and you’re there to support them. If you’re getting started with offering clients future-focused advisory services, this blog addresses the differences between being an advisor or a coach. Murray needed support and your clients are no different and we think they’ll probably prefer it isn’t coming from their mother!

Advisory and business coaching live under the same umbrella. They are both there to help business owners moving towards their goals and growth, but what are the fundamental differences and how do you know which is best? Let’s look at the wording itself in the first instance. A coach is someone who will help us improve and develop at something in life. An advisor gives advice on a particular field. So, when working out which route to take, stop and think about your clients. You might need to do both depending on the level of support your clients require and what results they’d like to achieve.

What does being an advisor really mean?

As an accountant, your role in supporting business owners has evolved. There’s a wealth of data in your reach thanks to the cloud – but don’t consider it to be the key thing here. The insights this will provide are pivotal to how you operate. Clients are becoming increasingly aware that reporting on what’s already happened is a dated way of working. Trust me, when you’re in business, you are always occupied with what’s coming next. If you’re helping your clients to control cash flow and accelerate their growth by looking forwards clients, you will be their hero! And, although we are trying to change it, an anomaly.

For a business owner, hindsight is a luxury so have great confidence in your experience and what that brings to the conversation. You work with enough business owners to know what is and isn’t acceptable.  A good advisor will ask questions and dig into business, looking at previous trends and teaming that with a forecast, or three, will allow you to think ahead to the impact of coming events. When you can see the numbers, good or bad, you can react. Have they set targets? Are they meeting those targets? Will they be happy with their end results if the business stays the same? If they don’t have a process in place to manage this effectively then again, it is time to step in and help get set up. Hannah and I had to figure all of this out ourselves and when we couldn’t find it, build FUTRLI, this is your opportunity to transform their business.

What is business coaching?

A coach, as I’m sure we all remember from school, is there to hold your hand through learning a new discipline. Let’s consider how Judy Murray coached sons, Andy and Jamie Murray. She was there to get them up, take them to practice and tournaments. In business, this is the same, as a coach will look at a client as a whole project, focusing on everything from team management, to how the business owner’s professional goals can be achieved alongside their personal goals. A much broader role, coaches are valuable assets to obtain. They might, however, not be a suitable (or viable) path to venture down for a small or medium sized business owner. The cost for this kind of service can be damagingly high. The Huffington Post make the great point that smaller businesses might not realise the difference between a coach and advisor, therefore waste precious cash on services that won’t fit their needs.


I spoke to Senior Business and Cloud Advisor, Josie Attard, of Morrows, based in Melbourne, Australia, who has explained this simply: “Business coaching is about running the business, managing the staff – it’s the much bigger picture. Advisory is the middle ground – it’s taking clients from just giving them their year end accounts to giving them more meaning to help them reach their targets. It’s being proactive with clients and looking forwards, not backwards.”


Can you afford to drop the ball with your clients?

Imagine you’re a business owner looking for some guidance. Usually, it’s those new to the business world, those who can’t afford it, or don’t think they need it that actually need advice the most, so writes Steve Tobak, Management Consultant and Author, for Entrepreneur. But that’s like the old saying, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. Be the source of help for your clients. It’s up to you to be asking your clients what it is they want and need from you. Don’t simply stick a new button on your website with a list of services and a price; do get out there and speak to your clients, big and small, and see what it is that they feel is missing from your services. Some might need a full-time coach, others may simply need a hand with setting up a dynamic forecast and looking at profit improvement.

Playing “Doubles” – don’t forget the power of partnerships

Being an advisor or coach does not mean you’re an expert in everything. That is impossible and it is far better to play to your strengths. If your client has a sales problem, who can you refer them to that would help them improve this area? If they can’t get the right staff in a post or employee turnover is high, again, who could you suggest they speak with? Your objective is always to make the business the best it can be and moving the needle on the P&L and balance sheet is a team effort. The important part here is that you have spotted a ball that’s heading off the court and prevented a “loss” for their business. These referrals can work both ways, of course, so this could be another way to generate new business for you.

Serving up your advice

The worst thing you can do is read this and let it prevent you from taking action. You don’t need to go back to school, register your entire team for an MBA or run around the country setting up partnerships. What you should focus on is taking the first step and you can’t do that alone, you’re going to need to know what other practices have done well (read our success stories here) and great software to allow you to scale. 

Some of our clients have made it a directive from the management team and everyone has got onboard from day one, including their team and clients. Others have scaled up slowly by testing their offering on one or two clients to get it right before approaching all. Our team can help you work out the best approach for you. Most importantly, have confidence in your decisions and trust your gut. Imagine if you were a client of yours, would you be happy with the service you’ve received to date? And if not, what are you doing to change it? The sooner you begin, the quicker you’ll be confident in a new way of working and on a path to become the best advisor they need.


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