By David Ross, SuperCoach
Let’s start with a few assumptions.
1. First and foremost, you recognize that coaching and advisory services are critical to the future of your firm.
2. Secondly, you have more than likely followed or been involved with an industry coach or mentoring group in the past.
3. And lastly, despite the first two assumptions, you are still struggling to develop a viable and efficient coaching/advisory division – you know – one that makes money rather than simply being a side project.
Now, if you are having roaring success with advisory/coaching for your clients, I congratulate you. You are no doubt enjoying the rewards from a deeper working relationship with your clients.
However, if the third assumption rings true with you, and everything you have tried until now hasn’t worked, you are not alone. Many of your peers have the same issue, and are most likely making the same mistakes.
What’s amazing is that 20 years ago, when I entered the accounting industry, the same scenarios existed: there were many partners eager to move beyond compliance to the “enjoyable” work and countless industry advisory groups instructing how to build advisory within your firms via bootcamps and all manner of resources. In fact, I have been a huge proponent of such groups, personally being heavily involved in one for over 4 years. But for some reason, the recurring problem still exists for the majority of practitioners. There seems to be a blockage between knowing what you want (and in fact, need) to do, and the actual successful implementation.
So why hasn’t this been solved?
I believe the answer is to look at how accountants are structuring coaching/advisory compared to other divisions. It has much to do with what you believe you should be doing as accountants.
Before we get to that, let’s debunk a couple of myths as to why it hasn’t worked in the past.
Time: Many partners will state that the issue is time; this is not true. If you don’t have the time to do something highly profitable, you need to resource it. If you are too busy fulfilling deadlines on other work such as compliance, can you afford to simply ignore advisory?
Tools and software: Some of the best coaching and advisory work requires a simple conversation between you and the client. Before the bells and whistles, listening to your client can gain a massive amount of leverage for work.
So once we rethink the common myths or “excuses” for inactivity, what is stopping you as an accountant from having a hugely successful coaching/advisory division within your firm? Being not the brown cardiganned accountant, but the true advisors to your clients?
With most firms, what I see is that coaching/advisory work is seen as the holy grail. It’s like the partner has donned the chain mail and rallying his army with a “This is the work that I shall do as a partner, once I have delegated all else to you, my soldiers!” The problem is, if the partner never moves away from the other work, everything stalls. “We will do that when…” becomes the cry. Even more interesting is the fact that the majority of firms will stop there; no one else drives the process forward, or if they do, they are given very little support or instruction on how to succeed.
Back in the 90’s, many firms introduced financial planning with this approach. One partner wore the planner hat – the problem was, he would arrive at work in the morning as the accountant. By lunchtime, he was a planner and then he would switch back to the accountant just before home time, so not even the family noticed anything different. This multiple personality approach was doomed to fail.
And so came to pass the myriad of options to do planning. Joint ventures, separately staffed and owned divisions, even changes in career for some partners. These models have all been aimed at removing the partner as the one that drives the division, and engaging another party instead: a fully delegated model.
Compare this to the way things typically are – I’m sure you can relate.
You arrive at the office in the morning, and what is the first thing you do in your practice? That’s right, something compliance related. Not compliance? Then it’s most likely management related or aimed at growing the accounting base. There are so many competing interests for your time that you simply cannot keep up with them all. So, you decide to make someone a champion for coaching/advisory within the office, but after a while you see this as a distraction for them as well, more a side project than a fully-fledged division. Better get them back to compliance work – lots of deadlines to meet!
Ring any bells?
Coaching and advisory work is an opportunity that is so clearly yours to take as accountants, that you think it will just happen naturally.
Newsflash: it doesn’t. There is a solution, but it will require you to change your approach.
To build a successful advisory business within your firm, there are 7 key steps:
1. Make a strategic decision to drive advisory/coaching within your firm.
Commit to this decision and plan adequately for its contribution. Most advisory services are being created organically, and therefore little forecasting is done as to what services to provide or targets for revenue and profitability. It is bizarre that as accountants this area is often neglected.
2. Adopt an existing model, don’t reinvent the wheel.
You need to be ready to roll out workshops, seminar content, articles, marketing and more importantly, a qualified coach with an accounting background to deliver services for a minimum of 12 months. Sure, you can do the hard yards and create IP yourself, but history reveals that most firms stall at this point.
Certainly, I am not talking about coaching for your firm here. There are plenty of industry coaching groups available to help your firm operate more effectively. What is needed though is a licensed group approach to building your coaching/advisory division. Not a franchise for which you pay a substantial fee to “secure” your area, but a real collaborative approach to ensure your success and future growth. Our licensed SuperCoach model was designed for this very purpose.
Work with your model to develop your team and internal division. This step provides longevity to your coaching division. The coaching skills can be learnt but don’t need your 100% involvement. Use your initial coach for this. Do not appoint yourself as being in charge of coaching/advisory – you will not get there. The coaching work needs to be performed in a timely and consistent manner with a system for the involvement of partners on both a strategic and operations level. Once established, you will be largely self-sufficient from a resource point of view, using your licensed resources and product range to roll out to your clients.
3. Advisory and coaching can be a significant contributor to your fee base and the value of your business; treat it as such.
Don’t assume only some clients will be interested. It has to become part of what you do, not just a part-time add-on down the corridor.
4. Keep your marketing simple.
Too many firms stall here and become the best kept secret going around. The old saying about low-hanging fruit is critical here. You do not need a huge, ‘whiz-bang’ marketing campaign to make your division work. A few simple steps to build recognition with your client base are all that is needed. Do great work and the reputation for it will follow. Develop a plan to keep working with a client beyond the one-on-one project, helping maintain client stickiness.
5. Develop a system to flow through accounting based work.
Remember, you don’t want your coaches to be doing accounting work! They are there to coach and leave the ‘numbers work’ to you.
6. Generate leads.
The comment you are after is “your accountant does what?” Become known for the services that you provide. Build a better client base in line with the type of work you desire.
Is it hard work getting your division successful? Yes! But rarely is something worthwhile not hard work. Just take a look at the numbers:
Let’s take, for example, a typical 2-partner firm with 10 staff. Let’s assume 1.5M in fees, (largely compliance), with an average business client fee being $5,000 – that’s 300 clients. With an average advisory/coaching fee of $10,000 per client, with only a 10% conversion rate (extremely low), you are currently ignoring additional fees of $300,000. Under a licensed model, with minimal resourcing by you in the first 12 months, you could clear $90,000. In subsequent years, profitability of the division typically doubles.
You would also ensure that you protect your client base from the business coaches, retired mentors, and other advisers (even bookkeepers!) that are eating into your market. I know, we’ve all queried that entry in professional fees for $10,000+ from a client that pays us a fraction of that for compliance.
So it’s time to be honest: what are you doing to drive advisory/coaching within your firm?
As accountants, you are great advisors, but you can’t do everything. Your coaching/advisory services will not take off unless you make some changes. Maybe it is time you looked at your approach to establishing your coaching/advisory divisions and got out of your own way!
David Ross is a Chartered Accountant whose passion lies in coaching Australian businesses on how to improve the profitability and value of their business. David is the founder of SuperCoach, a professional business coaching company. Through his work with SuperCoach, David has created a licensed model for accountants called SuperFirm, designed to provide the missing link in implementing a successful coaching and advisory division within their firm.
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