Over 50% of small business owners think of their accountants as trusted advisors, according to survey data from OnPay. But many clients leave their accountants because they aren’t getting the advisory services they need. The frustration is real when you actually do offer the services the clients who leave are looking for, but the client just doesn’t understand everything you can (and want) to do for them.
This article will explore five services your small business clients probably need but likely don’t know you can provide. We’ll explore the benefits of offering these services through your firm, how to price these high-value services, and some ideas to help make your clients aware of them.
Why should you offer additional services?
For over a decade, thought leaders in the accounting industry have been touting the need for accountants to become “trusted advisors.” This clarion call has been centered around the rise of artificial intelligence, which has unfortunately, unfairly, and falsely led many small business clients to believe they no longer need an accountant to keep their finances in order.
Although artificial intelligence – and the marketing tactics of some small business accounting software companies – has had an unfavorable impact on the accounting profession, most accountants have tamed this technology, so it’s not quite the threat it once was. Even though there may be a handful of clients who think AI will handle all the accounting work without the need to pay an accountant, as they grow, business owners realize the value of working with a professional (and realize the human element is too important to forgo).
Today, though, there’s new competition that small and mid-sized accounting firms should be aware of: Venture capital and private equity. As accounting firms get gobbled up and consolidated, some big-money backers are starting to ramp up marketing efforts to attract small business clients. This is an opportunity for your practice to proactively make your clients aware of the services you offer (and they likely need) beyond traditional accounting to remain competitive and viable in this emerging landscape.
Now that we’ve determined why you should offer additional services, let’s focus on what additional services your firm can offer to your clients (and some techniques to communicate them).
What services should you offer?
Ideally, you want to offer services that are already in your wheelhouse. Yes, you could get a securities or insurance license to expand your offering, but that would put a strain on your already limited time. Plus, trying to manage all aspects of your clients’ financial lives yourself shuts out the potential for strategic partners to send you referrals.
So this article focuses on five services you can easily offer your clients, without needing to go to classes or pass another exam. Bonus: Since a license isn’t required, anyone on your team can offer these services on your behalf (creating opportunities to scale).
Service #1: Budgeting and Forecasting
There’s an abundance of budgeting and forecasting software available on the market. The problem is that many business owners who try to use this software on their own either:
- Get bogged down in the details
- Experience frustration when the numbers don’t make sense.
Then what happens? Most customers abandon the software before getting any useful information from it.
No software can replace an advisor who will sit down with a business owner, discuss the direction they want to take their business, and then build a plan to help them get there. When you offer budgeting and forecasting services, you’re helping business clients keep their expenses in check and plotting a course for their future.
Service #2: General Consulting
We’ve all encountered clients who are great at what they do but need a bit of “handholding” when it comes to the fundamentals of running a business. For good or ill, starting a business in most parts of the US is very easy. This means that even well-meaning clients who are trying to do the right thing could find themselves in hot water because they simply don’t know what they don’t know.
Accounting firms can help with this by offering general consulting services on various aspects of business ownership. Education on payroll record retention, sales and payroll tax requirements, LLC renewals, and a host of other issues can be a potential source of income for your firm and an invaluable service for your clients.
A bonus: You don’t have to offer all of these services yourself. You can partner with:
- Insurance agents
- Managed service providers
- Other complementary business services
Essentially, you can build a dream team “board of advisors” for your clients to count on. Now you not only have happy, well-educated, and legally compliant clients, but you also have a broader referral network for your firm.
Service #3: Purchase and Hiring Consulting
You don’t want to find yourself in a position where a client calls you every time they head out to the office supply store. However, whenever a client weighs the pros and cons of a sizable investment in their business, the one person they should consult is their accountant. Why? Because you know the benefits of leasing vs. buying, buying outright vs. financing, and if certain types of property will be eligible for expanded tax benefits.
And business investments go beyond making purchases. You can help your clients plan for growth by working with them to determine their business’s capacity and the best times to expand their team through strategic hires.
Service #4: Software Consulting
Accountants are in a unique position because many of them have firsthand experience with various software solutions, how businesses use them, and how those solutions interact with one another. Whether it’s an inventory management system, a point of sale system, or a full ERP, you can provide consulting to help your clients streamline and upgrade their software. This not only makes their businesses more efficient, but your work also becomes easier when your client abandons the bubble gum and duct tape approach to software in favor of a fully streamlined solution.
Service #5: Strategic Management
Your firm can fill a need that most small businesses have but only a few can afford to bring in-house: CFO services. Often referred to as fractional CFO services, you can use your skills and knowledge of others in your firm – to provide the strategic guidance of a CFO at a fraction of what a client would spend if adding this position to their staff (but at a price still profitable for your firm.)
Bonus: Tax planning
Every client wants to pay as little as possible in taxes. You know there’s a better way for them to do it than to spend down their bank accounts in December (and sweat through the resulting cash crunch in January and February).
By offering strategic tax planning services, your clients retain more of their wealth for the future, increasing the value of your services (and revenue for your practice). As a bonus, those strategic conversations during the tax planning process open the door for the other five services named in this article.
Now let’s discuss how pricing factors into the equation.
How should you price these services?
Charging hourly for these services will only serve to deter your clients from taking advantage of them. The good news is that high-value consulting services like the ones named in this article lend themselves well to a value pricing strategy or a subscription-based model. This is a win-win for your firm and your clients:
- It shouldn’t increase the burden on your firm’s billing department
- Clients will always know what they will pay for the enhanced level of guidance you are providing them.
A subscription-based model for consulting services and a value pricing strategy for tax planning and strategic management services tend to make a lot of sense. Your subscription-based model could have tiers based on the number of hours a client would like to meet with you per month, whereas your value pricing strategy could be based on anticipated tax savings or increased profitability. Ultimately, you will want to choose the best strategy for your firm’s culture and clients’ needs.
After pricing structures have been established, the next step is to spread the word.
How do you let your clients know about these services?
To build awareness around your new suite of service offerings, communication is key, and you will need to let your prospects and clients know you offer these services at every available opportunity. That way, your name — and not a competitor’s — will come to mind when they need the service.
Use your business’s website, social media accounts, and email newsletter to highlight your additional services. These media will appeal to prospective clients and will run “in the background” for your existing clients. And don’t worry about repeating yourself: marketing experts say it typically takes at least seven impressions to make a sale.
Besides, it’s likely you already have a secret (and perfect) marketing tool at your disposal: your routine conversations with them. If you’re not the person in your firm scheduling these meetings with your clients, train your team to identify pressing client needs and then introduce the service offerings to fulfill them. This doesn’t mean every person on your team needs to become a salesperson; however, you want to make sure your whole team feels empowered to hone in on each client’s needs and share with them how your firm’s solutions can help.
Tame the changing landscape
A decade ago, the rise of AI seemed like the greatest threat to the accounting profession. Then it was the decline of new accountants entering the profession, coupled with a record number of accountants retiring. Now venture capital and private equity have entered the arena.
The accounting landscape has been in a state of change for more than a decade, and it’s likely that it will continue to evolve. Harnessing the power of these value-added services will help you tame the ever-changing landscape of the accounting profession, add revenue to your firm, and provide the services your clients need. In turn, you will remain a trusted advisor for your clients, helping them shape their financial futures by leveraging the potential of the best investment in their portfolios: their small businesses.