If you look at definitions of ‘Advisor’, a few things are apparent:
1) An advisor usually has deep knowledge in a specific area
2) An advisor usually has multidisciplinary or cross-functional expertise
3) An advisor does not merely complete tasks. Instead they give guidance and mentorship
Does this sound like most accountants you know?
Deep knowledge? Yes. Cross-functional expertise? Maybe, it depends on which functions.
What about providing guidance or mentorship (as opposed to being task driven)? We often see a deficit in this area and the implications are significant. For one thing, clients pay more for (genuine) guidance or advice than they do for the completion of tasks.
So how do you acquire the skills to be an advisor? A starting point is to acknowledge that there are certain skills to be acquired. This won’t ‘just happen’ and there’s no ‘quick fix’. It will take some work.
Next, an advisor will recognize that they are valued only if they tackle a real business problem. Something that REALLY matters to the client. Clients engage advisors to address challenges and opportunities that make a REAL difference. They engage accountants to complete tasks related to finance, accounting, tax, audit etc.
To test whether you are advising a client (or completing tasks on their behalf), ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you helping the client save money? Businesses seek to be profitable so reducing expenses really matters. Are you helping clients identify savings opportunities and then take action implement change?
2. Are you helping the client make more money? Profit is also driven by increased revenue which involves investing in marketing and sales to generate leads and close new business. Some products, sales teams or regions may be more successful than others. Some customers will spend more than others. How are you helping clients understand this information and take action to grow sales?
3. Are you helping grow the value of the client’s business? Enterprise value will be more important for some clients than others. A listed company will watch their share price carefully and a prospective seller of a business will want to maximize value. Business value may be derived from revenue and profit but there are often other factors at play: recurring revenues, intellectual property, growth, net assets, debt ratios etc. How are you helping clients understand this and take action?
4. Are you discovering new business opportunities for clients? Often clients are ‘deep in the weeds’ running their own businesses. They are trying to optimize existing business functions rather than exploring new frontiers. They might miss highly strategic opportunities such as acquiring a business, entering a new market, divesting of certain assets, raising debt or equity finance etc. How are you alerting clients to opportunities supported by astute analysis?
5. Are you helping to reduce the client’s risk profile? Business is risky. Your client is juggling a lot of things they hope will work but they may not. There is a huge failure rate in business, especially in the early stages. Risk takes many forms: product risk, market risk, regulatory risk, financial risk, personnel risk to name a few. How are you helping clients quantify and mitigate risk?
6. Are you improving the client’s ‘peace of mind’? Businesses are comprised of individuals so this is where things get personal. Those individuals feel the pressure from colleagues, customers, owners, suppliers, regulators and managers. How are you helping them sleep a little better? How are you analyzing their decisions and the possible outcomes to provide more certainty?
7. Are you developing the client’s profile or reputation? Reputations are really important in business. They are built over long periods but can be destroyed in just moments. How are you helping your clients take decisions which will enhance their reputation in the community? What connections can you help them make? How can you help them present themselves better?
8. Are you helping clients improve their lifestyles? Some of your clients want to work less. They want a business which leaves them free to do other things. Others want to work differently. They want their job activities to shift to something more enjoyable. Enabling this change involves understanding how an organization works and finding efficiencies. How are you identifying opportunities for positive change and then helping clients implement?
So these are some ideas whereby you can connect with clients on subjects that really matter and use the ‘language of business’. By doing this, clients will value you as advisors. Does it sound intimidating? Well, there’s good news too:
Good News 1: You are probably doing some of this already… but maybe you are not expressing it in the ‘language of business’. Get really clear on the value you are offering and talk about it with clients.
Good News 2: Advisors don’t have to do ALL of the above on ALL assignments. One is enough!
Good News 3: You are probably a buyer of services yourself. And you probably apply the same criteria to your suppliers. There are some who are ‘completing tasks’ and some who are guiding and mentoring. They are both valuable… but very different.
Good News 4: This becomes a habit. You can learn to quickly process what a client needs and then articulate your value to appeal to those needs. It takes some boldness and some practice.
If you are interested to rapidly grow your skills as an advisor, consider a Panalitix course on the ‘Language of Business’. These courses are often oversubscribed but some places remain available. Get your team involved so you can spread the load. Here’s to building the advisory capabilities of your firm!