A practical guide to selling accounting advisory services by Ignition image

A practical guide to selling accounting advisory services by Ignition

Today, most clients want and need their accountants to offer guidance on everything from strategic financial planning to navigating tax legislation.

Posted byIgnition
onTuesday, 23 April 2024

Key takeaways:

  • The demand for advisory services in accounting is growing. Clients today want more than traditional accounting; they want a strategic partner who can provide guidance to help them navigate the tax landscape, plan their finances, and more. 

  • Want to sell advisory services? Start by analyzing your client base, recognizing patterns in service requests, and then tailoring offerings based on their needs.

  • A great first step to landing your first advisory engagement is to tap into your existing client base. Reach out to current clients who may benefit from additional services, and explain how you can help them address their specific challenges and contribute to their growth.

  • Consider bundling advisory services with existing offerings to highlight their comprehensive benefits. Sometimes referred to as packaging advisory services, this is an excellent approach, especially if you’re already providing free advice to your clients. 

  • Successfully selling advisory services requires you to communicate your value, focusing on outcomes and ROI. Being consultative rather than salesy and focusing is a must. 

Advisory services have seen an upward trend in the past few years, and it's not hard to see why. Certified Public Accountant (CPA) clients – including consumers and businesses alike – expect more from their professional service providers. They're not just looking for someone to tidy up the books or file paperwork. Today, most clients want and need their accountants to offer guidance on everything from strategic financial planning to navigating tax legislation.

A survey by AICPA and CPA.com reports a 16% median growth in client advisory services. The research also shows a lot of optimism for these services. According to CPA.com: 

"Respondents projected 15% continued growth in the current year, with 72% of All Respondents and 81% of Top Performing firms expressing confidence that their pipeline shows opportunity for continued growth."

All this to say that advisory services give you tremendous opportunities to serve your clients better and grow your business. 

That's why if you're not offering advisory services (or maybe you already are but not charging for them), it's high time to do so.

In this article, we'll walk you through some of the steps you can take to sell your advisory services to clients and come up with a competitive pricing strategy.

How to sell consulting services and advisory services to clients

So, how exactly do you go about selling your advisory and professional services to clients? We recommend taking these steps. 

Understand your client's needs

The first step to selling advisory services is determining your offerings. Remember, advisory services can take various forms, depending on your firm and your clients. As Reuters points out, these professional services and offerings can include accounting advisory services such as  estate planning, as well as business advisory services like tax planning and strategy or even advice on tax-related legislation.

So before you connect with clients to see if they're interested in advisory, ensure you're offering services that truly add value. In short, you need to understand your client's needs. You can do this by:

1. Looking at your client base to determine the types of individuals or businesses you can serve. Go through your roster of clients and see if you can spot patterns. Is there a particular type of business that you serve really well? Do you have a particular set of clients that constantly need additional assistance or seek advice on specific issues?

Taking this step will help you hone in on your target ICP for these services so you can tailor your offerings.  

As Dixie McCurley, Principal of Digital Advisory at Cherry Bekaert, said in an interview with the Journal of Accountancy, "Clients want specialists, not generalists. They want their CPAs to speak the 'language' of their industry almost as well as they do."

When you know your clients and the exact types of people or businesses you're targeting, you can fine-tune your services to best serve their needs. 

2. Analyzing your previous client engagements and paying attention to out-of-scope work. Another good way to figure out what types of advisory services to offer is to look at common out-of-scope requests. 

Let's say you're a tax preparer and often get clients asking for guidance on how to save taxes in the coming year. This can indicate a need for advisory services, in which you create a service that helps clients plan and save on taxes all year round, not just at tax time.

By taking these steps, you'll be able to hone in on types of advisory services to provide AND determine which clients would be the best fit. 

Build on existing client relationships

Already decided on what types of advisory or consulting services to offer? The next step is to actively market and sell your advisory services to clients. Start with the low-hanging fruit – for example your existing clients. 

In the previous step, we recommended analyzing your client roster and identifying those who may need additional services. Go back to that list and connect with those clients by personally reaching out and telling them how your advisory services can address their specific challenges.

Let's say you serve high-growth businesses that would benefit from strategic planning. You can use this as an opportunity to educate them about the value of advisory services and how you can help them improve their financial position. 

Reach out and say something along the lines of:

Hi [client name] –

I know your company is experiencing rapid growth, and one of the best ways to harness that momentum is through strategic business planning. 

Our advisory services are designed to help you navigate these exciting times with tailored financial strategies that can improve your bottom line. 

Do you have time for a call next week? Let's discuss how we can support your journey towards even greater success.

Position yourself as a thought leader

Credibility is vital when you're selling consulting services. People are much more likely to buy from those they know, like, and trust. 

To that end, one of the best ways to establish credibility is to demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership. 

Start creating content on topics relevant to your target clients. For instance, if your advisory services focus on helping businesses navigate tax laws, you can publish commentary on the latest tax legislation updates. 

From there, come up with a distribution strategy, which may include:

  • Sending informative emails to existing clients.

  • Publishing content on your website.

  • Promoting your content on social media.

  • Pitching to the media and getting quoted in the press.

Taking all these steps will enhance your visibility and establish you as an authoritative voice in your field, which will help you attract clients interested in your consulting or advisory services. 

Consider bundling advisory services with your existing offerings

While you can certainly sell advisory services straight up, you can also try packaging (aka bundling) them with your existing services. Bundling or packaging advisory services can make it easy for clients to grasp the comprehensive benefits of your offerings. 

For example, if you're selling bookkeeping services, you can start offering financial forecasting and budgeting advice as part of a premium package. Doing so enables you to provide even more value to clients (so they can be more successful). Plus, it increases retention and revenue per client by offering a more integrated, holistic service approach.

Pro tip: You can package advisory services with Ignition, which enables you to create different proposal options. For example, you could decide to offer three packages. Let’s call them “Basic,” “Standard,” and “Premium.” 

Once those packages are set up, your clients can pick the option that best suits their needs once they go over your proposal.

Packaging advisory services is a great approach, particularly if you already provide those services (for example, giving advice) but don't charge for them. When you position advisory as a value add,  you can formalize those extra services and actually get paid. 

Pro tip: Ignition makes adding advisory services to existing client engagements easy through the platform’s Service Edits feature. 

With Service Edits, you can modify active services on an accepted proposal without having to create and send a new one. This means you can offer advisory services in a frictionless way, so bundles or packages, are a snap for both you and your clients.

Communicate your value effectively

You won't get clients to use your advisory services if you can't convey their value. That's why it's essential to have a strong plan for communicating these offerings to your clients. 

Here are some tips to help you do just that. 

Be consultative, not salesy. When selling services, it can be tempting to be… well, salesy. However, a "hard sell" isn't the best approach here. That's because advisory services require trust and a deeper understanding of the client's business.

So rather than overtly selling professional services or advisory, strive to be consultative. Focus on understanding and addressing the client's needs rather than pushing a sale. Ask insightful questions that prompt them to think about their situation in new ways. This consultative approach positions you as a trusted advisor rather than just another service provider.

Focus on outcomes and ROI. Clients want to know that investing in your advisory services will offer them a good return.

Will your service save them from paying a hefty tax bill? Will forecasting allow them to make smarter, profitable business decisions? Whatever the case, do your best to convey the value you provide in terms of cost savings, revenue growth, or other financial metrics. 

Come up with a competitive pricing strategy for your advisory services

Pricing is a critical component of any sales initiative, so take the time to iron out your pricing strategy. Here are a few things to consider when devising a competitive pricing strategy.

Fixed-fee agreements. If your advisory services have well-defined scopes, then a fixed-fee agreement may be the best option. Fixed-fee agreements are simple and straightforward. They provide clients with cost certainty while giving your business more revenue predictability. 

Value-based pricing. You can also choose to price your services based on their perceived value to the client rather than the cost to deliver them. This approach is ideal for services where it's not always clear how much time or resources are required (for example, fractional CFO services or strategic planning).

Value-based pricing can also position you as a premium service provider. It helps justify higher fees, especially for services that offer significant ROI.

Pro tip: Regardless of your pricing strategy, Ignition can help. The platform's flexible billing capabilities can support any pricing model or approach. So whether you're implementing fixed-fee billing, upfront payments, or hourly rates, Ignition has you covered. 

Example of advisory services done right

What does success look like when you effectively launch advisory services? To answer that, let's look at Washington Accounting Services Inc, a firm that offers proactive accounting and tax services that focus on profitability.

Tiffany W. Davis, President and CEO of Washington Accounting, successfully transitioned the firm to offer advisory services by leveraging Ignition for automated client engagements and payments. 

She introduced advisory services and packaged them up in three tier pricing options. 

"While thinking about the client's needs and how we could show the value of our services in a simplified method, creating three service offerings was the solution. Everyone loves to have options and we figured out a way to make it simple," Tiffany explains.

Ignition's three-tiered pricing options easily enabled her to create these customized packages to meet her clients' varied requirements. Offering advisory services also meant she and her team got paid for the extra work offered. "Now we stick to the scope of services, we don't do anything for free anymore," she says. "I will not move a pen, a mouse — nothing — until a proposal is signed."

Ready to launch advisory services?

Advisory services are not just an add-on; they're a necessity in today's financial landscape. Adopting advisory roles allows you a way to significantly boost your firm's value and client satisfaction, so you can stay competitive in today's market. 

And with platforms like Ignition, adding advisory becomes a streamlined process, so you can focus on serving your clients.  Watch a demo and see how Ignition can help you elevate your service offerings

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