Many accountants new to advisory services say the hardest part of the work is knowing how to get started with clients. The reporting feels natural, but knowing how to start the engagement they say, is tricky.
The best start to a strategic advising service is one that:
- will encourage your client to be engaged and responsive
- allow you to deliver valuable information
- is efficient for both you and your client — not time-consuming
In addition, you want to be sure that you are proactive, not reactive to your client's needs. Lead the way and develop a roadmap to get ahead of your client's concerns, questions, and needs. You want to be flexible and nimble, but also show that you know exactly what you’re doing.
These things can all be accomplished with the right introduction or as we like to call it a Kickoff Meeting, but you can name it whatever you’d like. There is a purpose behind the name, and 5 key ingredients that make it a valuable way to start your strategic advising relationship. We’ll get to all of them, and even give you an agenda at the end, but first, a word about lean planning.
Why Lean Planning is important for advising
Lean Planning stems from the principles of Lean Management. The concept that systemized work, which removes all unnecessary steps, in a cycle of continuous improvement, is the best way to ensure quality and scale. When you apply these principles of quick and continuous refinement to your strategic advising service, you create a steady stream of profit for your firm.
This is because you charge a flat, or value-based fee for your work. The more efficient and streamlined you become, the less time you spend on work related to your flat fee, and the more clients you can add. That’s how you build revenue, margin, and profit.
LivePlan is built upon the principles of lean planning: a method of using just enough information to build a plan and forecast. We bring this concept of lean work to The LivePlan Method for Strategic Advising, our step-by-step process to help you deliver and refine your services.
The Kickoff Meeting is the first phase of our system, and it sets the tone for everything else. Let’s explore each of the elements of the Kickoff Meeting and where your new lean mindset can make a difference.
5 steps to lead a successful strategic advising kickoff meeting
It’s called a Kickoff Meeting for a reason: the name sets the tone that you really are kicking off work. And while you will eventually get to the work, it’s important to set aside this time at the beginning of the relationship to address some fundamentals. Doing so sets the stage for better quality work and excellent advising.
The work that comes after Kickoff will be focused on forecasting, reporting, and analysis. This meeting will help you know your client in a new way, let them get to know you, and accomplish some other fundamental things for the work that is to come.
It’s important to set aside time with your client that is just for getting to know them in a new way.
Tell them what to expect from you, and what you expect from them. Tell them the cadence of meetings and how to contact you between meetings.
Essentially, set the rules, which in this case are about communicating what’s in scope and what’s out. The customer can add more, and you’re happy to do that, but if they do need more, it would be an upgraded package and price.
2. Model what it’s like to work with you
The best way to get your client to understand what the advisory work will be like is to actually do a little of the work in real-time. It’s much easier and more straight-forward to show this work than to explain it.
Give a sample of your work together by previewing their metrics in real-time, and giving them a little bit of feedback now. Pick a metric or two and ask some questions, offer some suggestions. Keep it little—very little. Just enough that they get a taste.
Also, remember that this sample of working with you should include all the tools and resources you’ll employ with them during your advising. Again, don’t just talk about what you’ll do, but actually, get in and show them.
3. Make the client want more
For knowledge-based work like advisory, it’s important to remember that because it isn’t compliance based you’ll need to be proactive about keeping your customers interested and loyal. So you’ll want to do more to show the benefits in a concrete way. Be proactive in showing the value.
Modeling the work and giving them a taste of some advice from you will make it much easier to explain the value of what you’ll be able to accomplish together. You’ll be able to show how lean planning, a financial forecast, and the benchmarks and dashboard review are a comprehensive way to plan and manage their business.
Your combination of concrete advice, explanation about potential, and winning personality will leave them wanting more!
4. Learn what your client knows about goals and financials
The Kickoff meeting must also set you up to continue the deeper planning work with your client, which will guide your real advising. In order for you to get going with this planning work, it’s important to know a couple of fundamental things. In the spirit of Lean, you don’t need to know all the things, you just need to know the most important things.The rest will come later.
It’s really useful if you can learn a little about what your client understands (and doesn’t) about financial metrics and planning. How do they talk about their goals now? Do they have a structured vision and a way to articulate that? Do they equate business goals with financial goals?
This will help you know how much education you’ll need to bring to them along the way. It’s also an early indicator of if they are in the right bundled service (price) with you, or if the scope of your work will need to expand to meet them where they are.
5. Learn your client’s biggest business goal
Leave the meeting with an idea of their big business goal—the really big one. Do they want to grow a certain amount by sales or profit? Do they want to expand what they sell or add a new location? Try to learn their one, BIG goal.
This big goal will lead your Lean Planning session, which is the next phase of work. And talking about it at the end of the meeting is another way to hook them on you. Connect to their goal—empathize with it.
The other thing to remember here is that the small business owner/operator is just that: an owner AND operator. They don’t have a team of executives or managers—it’s usually just them, and so their own goals, the things they are concerned about, the things that keep them up at night, or their overriding motivations become those of their business. It’s important for you as their advisor to know what those are. You’ll only be as successful as your understanding of those things.
LivePlan’s Agenda for Your Kickoff Meeting
The LivePlan Method for Strategic Advising includes an agenda for your Kickoff Meeting. This guides you and your client through a series of steps to get at all of the important elements of the Kickoff Meeting described above.
Download the official LivePlan agenda to prepare and successfully lead your first kickoff meeting.
Beyond the Kickoff Meeting
It’s natural to think, “what comes after the kickoff meeting?” Having a 12-month plan for your work with each client is important. You deliver everything all at once.You won’t deliver everything all at once—you’ll spread out the work.
Month 1: Kickoff, Lean Planning, Build Forecast (all the setup work)
Month 2 - 3: Iterate on the forecast and get it right
Month 4: Review the policies and procedures that affect finances, like AR/AP policies, benefits plans, etc.
Months 4 - 6: Add push goals to the forecast (plan) and monitor those against actuals
Months 7 - 9: Add a deeper dive on new elements like competition or market analysis
Months 10-11: Tax prep if this is a part of your service
Month 12: Full-year review and prep forecast for next year, offer upgraded service level
As you can see, the work develops over the course of a year—that’s completely natural and is the best for ensuring your work is rich and grounded. By the end of the first year, you’ll be in a rhythm with each client that will be obvious.
Have fun with your strategic advising work. It’s truly some of the most rewarding work you’ll do!
Kathy Gregory has over 20 years of experience in business development, including: financial forecasting, strategic planning, process development, project management, and mergers and acquisitions. She has worked in public and private, small to mid-size organizations doing business development, and strategic planning and implementation, working with executives, boards and their investors. At LivePlan Kathy runs the specialized program for Strategic Advisors. She is a graduate of the University of Oregon.