Practice Management Small Business

Becoming the Most Trusted Advisor – Part 1: The Paradigm Shift

Written by Doug Sleeter

During the past few years, the paradigm has shifted for accounting firms. In the new paradigm, public practitioners must build dramatically different business models that are much broader in scope (more services) and deeper in focus (more client-focused, more business-process oriented).

While many of the technologies we’ve been using for the past 30 years have served us quite well, the velocity of change in the business world has increased pressure on small businesses to keep up with customer demands. Your clients’ customers now assume they can work with every business via the Internet. Similarly, clients assume they can work with their accounting firm via the Internet.

In addition to working with clients via the Internet, new business models for accountants must align with what clients really want from us, and that goes far beyond the compliance services of tax and accounting. In short, we need to become what we’ve always said we were – the “most trusted advisor.”

In Part 1 of this series, I’ll explain what I mean by becoming the most trusted advisor, and I’ll lay the groundwork for helping you make that transformation.

Your Current Role

Think about the role you currently play in your clients’ businesses. Are you:

  • The one who produces financial reports that show “yesterday’s” results?
  • The one who fills out forms and files the tax returns?
  • The “janitor” who cleans up client-entered data?
  • The one who handles the money?
  • The bookkeeper?
  • The one who enters data?

Ever since the PC revolution, accountants have been isolated from the general ledger. This has moved the profession further away from being a partner in the business to being more of a servant who provides commoditized services.

Most trusted advisor

These services have flourished in the “old world” of client-centric software, and accountants have built significant businesses around these models. For sure, these roles are necessary and even noble in the overall picture of the businesses we serve. But would you call the CPA who provides these services a “trusted advisor,” or would it be more accurate to call this person a “trusted servant?”

In January of 2013, The Sleeter Group conducted a survey to find out what small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) want from their CPAs. We found some significant gaps between what SMBs want and what they receive from their accountants:

  • 68% of SMBs surveyed say they want strategic technology advice from their CPA.
  • Only 38% say their CPA provides (or wants to provide) technology advisory services.

Service gap

This is why I say it’s time to reimagine what it takes to become the most trusted advisor.

Your New Role as Most Trusted Advisor

In the “new world,” the meaning of “most trusted advisor” is changing. Now that we can collaborate with clients and access their data in real time, we have incredible opportunities that allow us to:

  • Move from being isolated to being in the field with each client.
  • Take a leadership role with our clients, where we help them find the individual solutions that fit their needs.
  • Turn our relationship from serving to partnering for success.

Deepen client relationships

These opportunities greatly broaden and deepen our client relationship, so that we can actually help our clients with what they want as opposed to just what they need.

But how do you do that? In Part 2 of “Becoming the Most Trusted Advisor,” I’ll discuss the next step – Making It Happen.

About the author

Doug Sleeter

DougSleeter (@dougsleeter) is the founder and former CEO of The Sleeter Group, an international network of accounting software consultants, and the former producer of SleeterCon, an annual conference and tradeshow for accounting professionals.

In 2015, he sold The Sleeter Group to Diversified Communications ( and the company has since become The Accountex Network.

He is a passionate leader of innovation and change in the small business accounting technology world. As a CPA firm veteran and former Apple Computer Evangelist, he melded his two great passions (accounting and technology) to guide developers in the innovation of new products and to educate and lead accounting professionals who serve small businesses.

Always in search of the next big thing, he is currently focusing on digital currencies and blockchain technology. He believes these technologies will change virtually everything in global commerce.

The CPA Practice Advisor recognized Doug as one of the "Top 25 Thought Leaders" in the accounting profession and he has been named to Accounting Today's "Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting" each year 2008 through 2015. In 2013, he was recognized by Small Business Trends with the Small Business Influence Champion award.

In the early 1990s, Doug was a pioneer in developing the first QuickBooks seminars in the country and has since built the largest group of accounting software consultants in the small business accounting profession. Doug serves on several advisory boards for technology companies and has consulted with numerous industry leaders including Intuit, Sage, Apple, and Adobe Systems. 

Doug is the author of numerous books and courseware materials including The QuickBooks Consultant’s Reference Guide, and QuickBooks Complete, a college textbook.
Doug attended both the University of California Santa Cruz and Santa Clara University and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Information Systems. Doug and his family live in Pleasanton, CA. Doug's hobbies include woodworking, golf, and lifelong learning.


  • Very much looking forward to you next instalment Doug. “Evaluating a client’s business” is a logical first step to opening up a range of service possibilities for CPAs looking to proactively make a difference.

    • John,
      Thanks! For sure, evaluating the business financials is a necessity. But also, diving deeper into the numbers behind the numbers is where accountants can really provide value. Products like your Biztools helps a lot. Beyond analysis, there are so many broken business processes that are just waiting for improvements and accountants can really develop other services to lead clients to better, more efficient processes.

  • Thank you for sharing this! It was succinct and valuable, easy to digest. As such, I found this article so useful for our own business’ growth that I’ve forwarded it to my entire team to help them understand the shifts in our clients’ needs, our industry, etc. You are very on-point here as we see the expectations shifting drastically as we continue to service NYC’s small businesses… except that now we have clients from around the world, expecting to work remotely, almost in entirety. I look forward to sharing part two with my team – and thank you for being an inspirational leader.

    • Thanks Mathew,
      Part 2 is coming soon. Glad to hear the concepts resonate with you. In many ways, what we’re talking about has been coming from for years. But it seems that people are finally starting to pay attention and implement new business models. A great trend!

  • Another good reason for becoming a trusted advisor is that clients tend to want to ask for our advice which means they are up to date with technology, both of us are more productive in our businesses, and we make more money from billings.

  • What SMBs want is advanced analytics and the “most trusted advisor” to SMBs going forward will be the analytical tools themselves and people able to refine, analyze, and understand that data. More CFA & data scientist than CPA.

    Brad Smith and Intuit have said big data will revolutionize SMBs, drive decision making, “help SMBs operate more efficiently and enable local entrepreneurs to compete effectively with a company of any size anywhere around the globe.” The fact is the products and services coming to SMBs from Level Up (Intuit) marginalize/reduce the role of the accountant and expand the role and importance of the CFA & data scientist.

    A real world example? The Insightsquared-Quickbooks integration solution for reports. Heck, we don’t even have to dig into it, just look at their slogan? “Financial Reports your CEO will Love: no more waiting for your accountant to “run the numbers” and never export to Excel again. Your financials are just a click away”.

    We now live in a world where the analytical tool makers that offer QB integrations with their tools advertise to SMBs as a benefit that their accountant’s no longer needed. Of course accountants will always be around…but as most trusted advisor? Clearly not. The most trusted advisor going forward is an analytical tool (Level Up, Bison Analytics, Insightsquared, etc all offering integrations with QB for SMBs) coupled with a CFA or data scientist. That’s the new bar to be ‘most trusted advisor’.

    • Hi Thomas, I’m the CEO of Bison Analytics. I’m not aware of Brad Smith’s comments on “big data”, but analytics against a growing company’s data, “small data” as I call it, can be done by CPAs and QuickBooks ProAdvisors. Furthermore, small data is what nearly all growing companies in the real world actually deal with. The point to well-made business intelligence tools is that with business knowledge, especially cross-industry expertise, reasonably savvy users can create great business intelligence. You do not need to be a data scientist to deal with well-made tools. The key here is that analytics solutions require a sharp and engaged analyst or the solution will fail. This should be an internal user at the client, or the accountant. With a little bit of work, an accountant can become a qualified business intelligence expert in a reasonable amount of time. There is a world of difference between a standardized dashboard and a real business intelligence solution. The latter requires an advisor. If accountants work at it, they’ll be the most trusted advisor with analytics leading the way. It’s definitely achievable.

  • I completely agree with you Doug. I’ve always felt that we will respond best to our clients when we are on their turf, in the field. I constantly coach my staff to raise the bar and lead; it’s what clients want and need.

  • Thanks, for sharing, it is definately a changing arena and we need to stay on top of things – if we don’t change with the times, we will fall behind. I look forward to part two as well…

  • First time visiting this website and I’m so glad I did. I enjoyed the article and looking forward to the second part. I’ll be exploring this site as well.

Leave a Comment