Client advisory services, like any other offering in an accounting practice, must be profitable to be worthwhile for your business. At the same time, Strategic Advising, or client advisory services, have the distinction of being the most open-ended type of work you can do in the spectrum of public accounting.
This might seem like a really great opportunity, but it can also be your biggest potential risk if you don’t plan for the work correctly. Those who overcommit will always under-deliver.
Monetizing is about creating new types of revenue from work that was not revenue-generating before. How can a person possibly monetize advice? And what type of advice is worth paying for in the eyes of prospective Strategic Advising clients?
When thinking about how to monetize advisory services, it can seem daunting to try to organize and define this type of work, since it involves a lot more in the way of soft skills and relationship management than most of what goes on in public accounting.
Here are three simple things you can do to put yourself on the right path:
1. Know what you’re selling
Advisory services, like any other type of service, can be defined. And, you should define what strategic advisory is for your firm and your related scope of services. While you can’t simply monetize talking, you can monetize the value of the service, and its associated deliverables.
A useful way to go about defining advisory for your firm is to start with three lists:
- What your clients seem to be asking for most
- The things you think are important for your clients
- The things that the industry is telling you are important, even if you don’t totally understand them yet
The sum of these lists will give you a comprehensive look at the possibilities.
Examples of items you might include on your lists are:
- Cash flow planning
- Business valuation
- Business plan writing
- Strategic planning
- Budgeting and forecasting
- Building proformas
- Market analysis
Next, identify the work associated with each of the items on your list. Do you do the work now in your firm? Can you add it reasonably? Do you have the skill sets and software toolsets to cover it?
It’s O.K. if your answer is “no” for some of the items on your list. Maybe this exercise will reveal education you want to undertake in order to get up to speed in some areas that are new for you. But allowing yourself to start fresh and consider all the options, no matter what your services are currently, will make your end product the best.
In evaluating the list, your considerations should include: the skill sets of your staff, education you want to undertake (and the cost of such education for your firm), potential profitability, seasonality, and market and client-based readiness.
Based on your considerations and analysis, pare these lists down to one final list of items that your firm will offer. Now you know what you’re selling! Plus, you also know what you’re not selling, which is just as important.
Successful companies know and are able to articulate who they are and who they aren’t. Companies like this are very comfortable telling potential clients “no” if they are not a good fit, or if a request falls out of scope.
2. Price right and offer options
While monetizing has to do with creating a revenue source from something that wasn’t before, pricing those things is another step entirely.
Pricing is an art, but you’ll need to be strategic. It’s mostly about what the market will bear, but you should consider the value your customers will place on your products and services—both the upper and lower limits. That process might feel a bit like trial and error, but you have to start somewhere.
A good way to get around this potential for error is to offer your clients options. Options for clients will help define upper and lower limits and give you room to increase price when you realize that your client is ready for more. You can offer options in a tiered approach, or an entire range of things to choose from à la carte that add to a base price.
A fixed, tiered system is a simple way to start, and allows the client to select from a base, mid-level, or high tier. Clients can move along the tier structure as their needs increase.
A more comprehensive way to approach options is to offer everything from your list and let clients select what they want, building a value-based package. The software product Cloud Pricing is a nice solution for helping you organize your options and offer this type of selection to your clients.
3. Stay within your scope and upsell
The final, yet crucial piece to monetizing advisory services is to remember to stay within your scope of work. If you forgot what your scope of work is, remember that you established it in step one when you made your list of items, and determined the work required to accomplish those items.
That list of work is your scope. Do not do work that falls outside of scope, because you aren’t being paid for it.
Every so often (and you should actually plan for this), you will need to offer your clients enticements to upsell them. But it shouldn’t be forced. If you are helping a client to grow their business, they should need higher level services from you anyway. That said, you need to be sure they know what’s available, and that they are paying for the right value-based service.
A good example of this is offering a SWOT analysis after four or five months of an established client engagement. A SWOT takes little time, but the findings can provide huge insights into your client and their business. You can pull from those findings over time to upsell your clients into higher level services.
Here’s an example: Maybe your Tier 1 offering is reporting-based (including items like month-end reports and KPIs), but a SWOT analysis reveals that strategic planning is something your client is interested in. That’s a good opportunity for you to show the client how your Tier 2 service might be a better fit. You might have to give a sample of that service in order to upsell them fully, but if you are careful about how you do it, you can offer just enough to entice them to move up to your second tier of service.
Monetizing advisory services is a necessary step in the evolution of an accounting firm. Taking the time to establish your own menu of advisory, in a way that is clear for your clients to understand, will be a huge benefit in winning advisory work and bringing new revenues to your firm.