Introducing light-touch accounting advisory services

Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides

6 min read

Someone, somewhere has probably told you to consider offering advisory services. It’ll help boost revenue and keep you relevant to today’s small business market, so the logic goes. But in practice, advisory services aren’t always easy to introduce. Don’t worry. There’s a simpler way.

James Solomons

James Solomons – Co-founder, Aptus Accounting

James runs a popular Australian advisory practice and works as head of accounting at Xero. He gives his advice on how to build out your service offering.

Online accounting software is automating a lot of traditional accounting and bookkeeping tasks. Many accountants and bookkeepers are using the extra time to branch into advisory services. They’re diving into business numbers and turning that data into insights. The line between accounting advice and business advice is blurring.

The firms and consultants who do this are becoming more ingrained in their clients’ businesses. They provide more billable services and may even graduate to a year-round retainer.

An opportunity with challenges

Online accounting software is automating a lot of traditional accounting and bookkeeping tasks. Many accountants and bookkeepers are using the extra time to branch into advisory services. They’re diving into business numbers and turning that data into insights. The line between accounting advice and business advice is blurring.

The firms and consultants who do this are becoming more ingrained in their clients’ businesses. They provide more chargeable services and may even move to charging a monthly monitoring fee. 

The upsides are obvious, but it might not be practical for you to offer these services. Your clients might not show any interest in them, for a start. Or you may not have the resources to provide them. And adding services is not something you can do overnight. The transition process can be complex, requiring you to:

  • scope new services and decide how to deliver them

  • figure out how much to charge (and how much your clients will pay)

  • communicate the benefits to your clients

  • pilot the services at reduced cost to refine your offering

  • update your marketing material

Plus you may have to get training or bring in extra resources to do the job properly. It’s a big commitment.

Accounting advisory services don’t have to be complicated

It’s worth remembering that advisory services means a lot of different things to different people. Big-ticket advisory services like virtual CFO, business process improvement, and financial planning get the headlines, but you don’t have to go to those extremes. Most businesses would benefit from far simpler advisory services.

A Xero study found that 65% of failed enterprises blame their closure on financial mismanagement. That includes things as simple as losing sight of cash flow.

For the many businesses struggling with these sorts of basic issues, you could make a world of difference by offering ‘light-touch’ advisory services. You could:

  • help them choose some key performance indicators

  • set up a dashboard to track those metrics

  • use the dashboard to help them stay on track to achieve their business goals

What are light-touch advisory services?

You probably already give your clients advice – a phone call here, an email there. You may not always charge for it because it’s ad hoc. But by setting up a simple dashboard, you can grow that offering into something more regular, and more billable.

  • Share graphs of their cash flow situation and explain what it means for their business.

  • Highlight revenue trends, or patterns of spending.

  • Suggest ways in which resources can be deployed more efficiently.

  • Show their progress against agreed KPIs.

This is a logical progression from the work you already do for your clients. It’s really just identifying patterns and talking to your clients about them.

Advantages of light-touch accounting advisory services

A softer approach to advisory services works for you, and for clients. It can be introduced quite informally and you can build on it however you like.

Why it works for you

  • Setting up the dashboard is simple with the right software.

  • You can create a whole service around watching and reporting on the dashboard.

  • You can tailor your services to client budgets – staying really light for smaller businesses.

  • You’ll get opportunities to troubleshoot business issues and sell extra services.

Why it works for clients

  • You’ll help cure the cash flow blindness that affects so many enterprises.

  • They’ll be able to make more informed decisions, right across the business.

  • They’ll have renewed confidence and peace of mind.

  • You can ease them into it – so they don’t have to spend more than they want.

Once you switch this service on –  and clients begin to see the value in it – you can use it as a stepping stone to bigger things. Or you can simply limit your service to light-touch advisory services and outsource bigger issues to other firms or consultants.

Advisory services come in all shapes and sizes. There's no need to jump straight in at the deep end.

Setting up a dashboard is straightforward – and powerful

Smart online accounting software comes with it’s own business performance dashboard which you can share easily with your client. If you set up bank feeds from the business account/s and use the same accounting software for invoicing, you’ll get a powerful set of data, including:

  • accounts receivable

  • accounts payable

  • cash reserves

  • revenue over time

  • expenses over time

  • cashflow position

Millions of businesses have this simple data buried in paper records or on spreadsheets. Don’t underestimate the value of making it accessible and visible. The true power of dashboards is that they make information actionable – giving you and your client at-a-glance analytics. That will give them a far greater sense of control, which is an incredibly valuable benefit to provide.

If you have a client with more complex needs, you can add an app such as Spotlight, Crunchboards, Fathom or Microsoft Power Bi. These apps will integrate with the accounting software to track a wider variety of metrics and create more elaborate dashboards.

Growing your accounts

Even if a client hasn’t formally engaged you to track their KPIs, you can still look across this data quickly and comment where appropriate.

If you can see where things could be going better, it gives you an opportunity to make proactive, constructive suggestions. It’s easy for you to do and shows you have a concern for their business. At the very least, it’s a great courtesy to your clients. And it could be the first step towards a deeper consulting relationship.

Don’t forget the assurance dashboard

Business performance dashboards aren’t the only online accounting tools that can grow your client relationships. The best accounting software packages also come with an assurance dashboard, which allows you to check on the activity happening in all client business bank accounts.

In a matter of minutes, you can review deposits, withdrawals and reconciliations to make sure everything checks out. It’s a great way to identify unusual or suspicious activity in your client's Xero file or see if your client’s getting stuck on something. For example, you can see how much time they’re spending on bank reconciliations and offer to take it off their hands if it’s too burdensome.

Turning accounting advice into revenue in four steps

It's easier to convince someone to pay for services once they understand the benefits. Here's how you can ease them into advisory.

  1. Get them set up
    Invest a few minutes in each client and set their dashboard up for free. It’s a relatively simple process for you, but the value for your client is enormous. They’ll thank you for it.
  2. Decide on a pricing structure
    Your client will be able to see the dashboard themselves, but propose a retainer for you to monitor it for them. The discipline of scheduled check-ins will ensure they make use of the extra insight.
  3. Delivering the service
    Once you set up a dashboard and pull back the veil on your client's cash flow, they’ll begin to see the real value of your service. Stay in communication. Call out interesting numbers and trends. Identify problems. If they haven’t already decided on their KPIs, suggest a meeting to do that. It’ll help keep them focused.
  4. Extra accounting advisory services  
    If light-touch advisory services begin to lead into bigger projects, think carefully about how to handle that opportunity. You might outsource those jobs to a third party or do it yourself. If you do it yourself, you’ll need a disciplined approach to figure out how to resource and deliver the new service. 

A stepping stone to advisory services

Advisory services come in all shapes and sizes. There's no need to jump straight in at the deep end. You can start small, offering bite-sized advice that's valuable to your clients. And you won't have to radically restructure your firm to do it.

Remember that you already have an untapped resource – your own accounting experience. Light-touch advisory services let you generate new revenue based on that experience.

Soon your clients will wonder how they ever coped before they had access to your insight and wisdom. In this way, light-touch advisory services lead to better client relationships. And that means better business for you.