Now more than ever your clients need a business advisor. They need more than someone to complete their tax return or PPP form. They need more than someone to pass along updates and FAQ documents and to inform them of changing deadlines. They need someone who understands their business, the rules and opportunities and helps them figure out a path forward amid uncertainty and change.
The current pandemic has brought defining “business advisor” to the forefront of the profession.
What is a Business Advisor?
In reading some of what has been written on the topic of business advisors, it seems the accounting profession still lacks a clear sense of the term. Some people use business advisor to describe individuals who advise clients on a number of issues on a regular basis. Others use advisor or advisory to describe a team of consultants who perform specialty services for clients. At times we’ve seen both definitions included in descriptions of what a team of business advisors should look like for a firm.
The lack of clarity in the term business advisor leads to two things. 1. Continuation of the status quo. 2. Lower performance than what is hoped for. Many CPA firms have experienced both as they have moved to become less reliant on traditional services. And now, compliance deadlines are being shifted and audit work is being deferred AND your clients need help. Mobilizing your team to become advisors to clients is critical.
Firms that are most successful in developing the non-compliance side of their business make a distinction between business advisors and consultants – yet recognize the relationship between the two.
Business Advisors vs Consultants
On one hand, firms have a group of consultants who have specialized skills in a variety of disciplines – specialized tax services, business valuations, IT systems and security, etc. On the other hand, business advisors are not necessarily the subject matter experts, and in many cases will not perform the services that clients need. But they are highly skilled at exploring a variety of non-audit and tax topics relevant to their clients’ businesses. Business advisors are needs assessors who should be continually looking for additional ways the firm can help clients. Advisors are adept at helping their clients understand their challenges and engaging in conversations about solutions. The best business advisors have deep relationships with their clients, instill confidence and ultimately feed work to the firm’s team of consultants.
|Frequent and continuous||Less frequent, more discrete|
|Strategic, high-level||Operational in nature|
|Predictive, forward looking||Present issue(s) focused|
|Relationship based||Expertise based|
Business advisors go beyond simply being available and responding when clients call. Good business advisors are future-oriented. They identify opportunities and make suggestions for improvements that go well beyond identifying problems or dealing with historical information.
Attributes of Business Advisors
Look for the following attributes to help you identify individuals in your firm that will make good business advisors:
- They have a passion to be an advisor vs. just a passion for compliance work
- They are trustworthy – understanding and practicing the behaviors of trust such as being straightforward and following through
- They apply both questioning and listening skills
- They are willing to learn, to practice new skills and then master them over time
- They have excellent communication skills, both in clarity, frequency and choosing the right “method” for the situation
- They not only get the numbers right but are able to understand what the numbers mean, how the future will be impacted, giving them the opportunity to offer solutions to clients vs. telling history
- They are willing to specialize – spending the majority of their time serving 2-3 different industries
- They are driven by curiosity
- They are ok with ambiguity and not always knowing the answer, but are committed to finding it (or introducing someone else who knows it)
- They are confident enough in their relationships with clients that they aren’t threatened by introducing another “expert”
Firms that do this right have a competitive advantage now and in the future that is identifiable and easy to talk about in marketing and business development activities. They also have the ability to create loyal clients who are less vulnerable to being courted by competitors.
Take the First Step
Start by bringing internal leaders (current and future) together to create a vision for the firm’s future and the role of business advisors. Agree to a very specific list of service attributes you expect business advisors to deliver as well as two to three behaviors for each attribute that will lead to the accomplishment of the vision. Begin to name the practitioners in the firm who are best suited for the role and identify training opportunities to develop the right skills and processes to fulfill it. Create performance standards that tie to the firm’s evaluation and reward system.
An outside facilitator can help make the process of defining the vision, attributes and behaviors easier. If you would like us to help, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.