How to Respond to Clients Regarding Your Credibility to be their Business Advisor

One of reasons some accountants are reluctant to offer business advisory services to their clients or prospective clients is a fear that their credibility to act in this capacity may be questioned. I don’t believe this should be an issue so I’ve put together some thoughts on how you could respond to the questions that may occasionally be raised.

Why haven’t you talked to me about this before?

We’ve been doing this sort of work for some of our clients for a long time but just recently we decided to put more focus on it. To do that we have implemented new systems and have invested in new resources to improve our advisory services protocols.

We have taken a very hard and long look at our business model as well as the clients who we believe have the potential to take their business to the next level. You are one of those clients.  In fact as I mentioned earlier we have run some numbers on your business and we’ve discovered that there’s at least $100,000 <you refer to the profit improvement you have estimated> of additional profit that we think you could tap into and to the extent that is sustainable over the long haul the impact on the value of your business is staggering.

Instead of waiting for you to come to us with a request for help with your business development process we decided that it would be appropriate for us to take the initiative hence the reason for this meeting.

How would you know anything about my business, you’re an accountant not a business person?

This practice is a business and we experience precisely the same challenges that you face. The product we offer is different to yours but in all other respects we confront the same issues on a daily basis.  For example, we need a strategic and operations plan, we need to market ourselves, we need to design and implement a customer service strategy, we need to hire, develop and retain team members, we have to monitor our profitability and cash flow … in fact all of the things every business needs to address we must also attend to.

But uniquely and perhaps more importantly, we work with hundreds of entrepreneurs and business managers just like you. We see some extremely successful ones and we see some abysmal failures. From this vantage point we are able to take an objective look at our clients’ businesses. We see systems that work and we see those that don’t. To the extent that much of the unexploited potential in any business will come from focus and process systematization it’s logical that we can help you because we are ‘systems’ people.

It’s also important to note that we are not suggesting we will run your business. That’s your role. Our role will be to act as your external non-executive Chief Financial Officer. Every business, large or small, needs a CFO but small businesses don’t need that person 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year.

When we took the decision to allocate time and resources to this area of our practice we realized the critical importance of having access to a network of other people who specialize in business advisory services. For this reason we are a member of the Principa Alliance. This is an international network of accounting firms that offer business advisory services to small and mid-sized businesses just like yours. We not only have access to the people in that network but to an enormous array of business enhancement tools and resources that we can draw on to support you.

I can’t afford this service

Probably the greatest cost incurred by most businesses is the cost of the lost opportunity. It’s an invisible, but real, cost. It is invisible because, unlike other business expenses, it is not reflected by a transaction but it is real and it shows up time and time again in under-performance. It is the sale that was never made because of a customer service failure, it’s the action plan that was not implemented because there was no-one holding you accountable.

From the Profit Improvement Analysis we have just done with you you’ve seen the potential benefit is a substantial increase in your disposable income and a corresponding increase in the value of your business – probably you’re most valuable asset. The cost, of course, is substantial but there are few “cheap” investment opportunities – in the final analysis you get what pay for.

In a sense, what we’re talking about here is no different to the decision process you must have gone through when you started the business. You invested in the belief that you would achieve a return that exceeded the time and money you invested in the business. You have achieved that. Now it’s time to take the business to the next level or to put that another way, to make another investment.

How can I be sure this will work?

The simple answer to this is you can’t and nor can we. But there is one thing that we can take as a certainty and that is the certainty of change. The competitive landscape faced by all businesses in this country is changing and in some cases rapidly. What worked for you in the past probably will not in the future. Customers are demanding more for less and employees are expecting better conditions and higher levels of compensation.

Most importantly though, at no stage in process will we be suggesting that you bet the business on an idea. In fact our approach is built on a simple philosophy of testing and giving attention to detail. The key, we believe, is not to take the negative position and contemplate whether this will work but to take the positive view and make it work. If you do not take that position we can’t work effectively with you. We all must believe in a positive outcome.

Why can’t I do this myself and save the fee you’ve talked about?

You may be able to re-engineer your business and I hope that our brief meeting has at least made you realize that it is both possible and necessary. However, the sad reality is that most people in business know that there is scope for improvement but they are so bogged down with day-to-day operating problems that they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Business owners are generally the worst self-disciplinarians. It is too easy to put off doing those tasks you set for yourself. When you are not accountable to anyone but yourself you forgive yourself easily. However, when you have made a commitment to another person you are much more likely to honor it.

This is precisely the reason elite athletes need a coach who is vitally interested in their performance and who can help them keep focused on the results they want to achieve and the work they need to get done to. This is the role we are proposing to play for you.

In that role we will help you map out the game plan and set specific objectives with time frames and benchmarks. We will assist in prioritizing the activities that need to be performed so that you can keep focused on the main goal. We will also contribute our specialist expertise in financial management, planning and control. In short our job will be to help you take care of the money side of your business so you can concentrate on all of the other important areas.

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