Practice Management

How Can You Make the SHIFT to Trusted Advisor?

This is the first of two articles examining the challenges and opportunities in making the shift from compliance to advisory services. Our industry is full of men and women who have worked hard to build their practices. They’ve got many attributes in common — attention to detail, highly specialized skills, and a strong work ethic. Only a handful, however, have reached the pinnacle in our industry and attained the mantle of “Trusted Advisor” in the eyes of their clients.

Why is that?

The skills, focus, and mindset required to excel in the fields of audit, tax, and compliance are vastly different from those required to excel in the disciplines of strategy, advisory services, and coaching/consulting. The core distinction lies in the difference between whether you are seen to be an expert, or to have expertise and insight.

The client will always pay more money for expertise and insight because their perceived value to the business is much higher.

This first article focuses on the key steps you must take to plan and orchestrate the move. The second article will highlight how to successfully execute the transition by acquiring the right set of skills, focus, and mindset.

Moving From WHAT to WHY and HOW

As an accountant or bookkeeper, you are already a deep subject matter expert in all things financial. However, most of what you do for your clients is focused on the numbers that describe the past and present of the business. Audits, financial statements, tax returns, and key performance indicators (KPIs) all help answer the basic question of WHAT has transpired in the business to date. However, these compliance tasks are highly price-sensitive, the scope of work is limited, and it is almost impossible to leverage them to create influence with your client.

In order to create influence, you must move into the domains of WHY and HOW — these hold the key to helping your clients move forward. Coaching and advisory services are the gateways to WHY and HOW, respectively. The graphic below sets out the three gateways and illustrates the path from accountant/bookkeeper to coach and trusted advisor.

Trusted Advisor

Both WHY and HOW require a future-based, big-picture focus as well as a broad, inter-disciplinary approach. While all three dimensions require deep subject matter expertise, only the trusted advisor possesses the key set of skills, focus, and mindset that leverages their specialized knowledge in a way that is impactful and influential.

SHIFT to Help Your Clients Move Forward

The acronym SHIFT summarizes the five key strategies you must put in place to move your firm from compliance to advisory services:

  • Solve Problems
  • How To
  • Invest
  • Focus
  • Time Is Your Enemy

(See description of each of these five components below.)

Cloud accounting and machine learning (or artificial intelligence) are putting more data and power directly into the hands of your clients today. As a result, there is a very real possibility that most of the WHAT tasks you’ve been doing will be automated in the near future.

To take an example, IBM created a computer, nicknamed Watson, that can diagnose your medical condition without human intervention. Watson has memorized two million pages of medical textbooks and 25,000 training cases. Along similar lines, Associated Press and other global news agencies already use robots to write sports reports and finance updates. You might have even read one today in your newspaper without knowing it!

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not just blue-collar workers who are being impacted by this development and will continue to be. It’s skilled professionals just like you.

According to a research paper released by the Centre for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), “In the next decade there is a high probability that occupations such as accountants, estate agents and even economists will not exist or will be significantly depleted.” The researchers even go so far as to hypothesize that 94% of what you do right now as an accountant or bookkeeper will be replaced by machine learning and artificial intelligence by 2030.

That is only 13 years from now. Are you ready to retire or lose your practice?

This is why thought leaders, industry bodies, and training organizations are urging you to focus on becoming the trusted advisor.

Yet, as already noted, achieving this mandate continues to be elusive. Why?

Our industry and the way we educate and train new recruits is focused on technical skills, legislative changes, and GAAP processes. These establish you as an expert but are not enough to elevate you into the realm of expertise and insight. When you sit down to advise your clients, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “explaining accounting” and focusing on WHAT, as opposed to focusing on the specific steps and strategies your client must implement to grow safely and profitably.

There is very little training in university, on the job, or in our industry bodies to show you HOW to become the trusted advisor. Becoming the trusted advisor is about connecting with your clients and communicating in a way that inspires and empowers them to take action to improve their results.

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About the author

Rhondalynn Korolak

Rhondalynn Korolak is the founder of businest®. businest® was selected as The App You Should Be Using at Accountex in 2016 and was also named one of the Top 10 apps in 2016 by Intuit QuickBooks. Dashboards only diagnose pain... businest® fixes it.

Rhondalynn is a lawyer, chartered (public) accountant, business coach, best-selling author, keynote speaker, and expert on business improvement. She has distilled the secrets to business success that she learned working with some of the world’s most successful brands, and produced a simple step-by-step process that any small business or accounting practice can apply to attract more high-value customers, close more sales, and boost the bottom line and cash flow.

Rhondalynn is the author of On The Shoulders of Giants, Financial Foreplay, and Sales Seduction. Rhondalynn can help you put strategies in place to grow your business and ensure that your customers would never think of going elsewhere.


  • This article is so wrong. It clearly does not understand the current roles and responsibilities of bookkeepers or accountants in the Australian context.

    Maybe the issue is that these positions means something very different in America.

    In Australia it is the bookkeepers who are taking he best tools and the best techniques into business and increasing their efficiency.

    Our basic laws around doing business, employing people, gst and accounts record keeping only begin to create the ongoing role for bookkeepers well into the future.

    Business people don’t want to understand how to interpret the way the business operates in the context of gst, implementing the best software etc etc. they engage experts (the bookkeeper ) to do so

    • Regardless of whether you look at Australian, North American or British research, these same stats keep coming up:
      – adoption of cloud software still only 20-25%
      – compliance revenue continuing to rise (average revenue per client is down and we are delivering more value for the same price or less)
      – while 90% believe they need to evolve and make the shift to advisory services today, only 10% have done so
      – only 8-9% believe profession is future-ready today

      The app ecosystem is growing exponentially (Accountex predicts it to double — 800+ in 2017) and demanding more and more of our practitioners’ time and effort to learn, review, and evangelize these apps with their clients. Both accountants and bookkeepers are struggling to find the time.

      If bookkeepers in Australia are leading the global industry by taking the best tools and the best techniques into business and increasing their efficiency, that is groundbreaking indeed and worthy of exploration in a follow up, stand-alone article. Would you be willing to share your research on this topic so we can highlight the visionary role of our bookkeepers?

      There can be no doubt that accountants and bookkeepers have very different roles – if they didn’t, they would not have different job titles. That being said, the intelligence behind these apps and cloud software is automating a wide-variety of tasks which offers both the accountant and bookkeeper the unique opportunity to get paid primarily for the value that they bring to the table. Regardless of the specific work or advice for each profession, the shift will still necessitate new skills, focus and mindset being taken on by each to excel at these new roles in the realm of WHY and HOW.

      Where it was once touted that the jobs of the future would be in coding… most have now come to the realization that the most valued positions/professions will actually be in the managing of big [bad] data, interpretation of insights and explaining those to the key stakeholders. With the right strategy, skills and implementation, both accountants and bookkeepers are uniquely positioned to excel in this new environment.

      • Hi Rhondalynn Thanks, very happy to keep up the dialogue. We at Institute of Certified Bookkeepers are very much of the view that Professional Certified Bookkeepers need to know and implement the best tools that are being brought to us.

        I think we are saying the same thing, with the same perspective that all such professionals need to be very much in tune with what is happening in technology and that to be a professional service provider (Bookkeeper or Accountant or other) that they have a responsibility to Know, Inform, consult, implement and improve the way each business uses technology.

        This is a concept and position of our current conference series where I present the current state of A.I (which although I acknowledge Artificial Intelligence, today I believe we only have Automated Intelligence and I am very much looking forward to Augmented intelligence).

        The Professional Bookkeeper needs to know what is being developed around them, which absolutely will have the impact on how they do what they do. No longer will our entire time and budget be exhausted on creating data, we will use the benefits of technology improvement including what is being called “Cloud” (internet connectivity of data and apps with a few other elements of technology) to provide better certainty and better understanding.

        Bookkeepers are the experts who understand the business and implement the improvements and automation to business process. If that’s what the term “Trusted Advisor” relates to then I think we are well down the journey.

        Your article from yesterday “What got you here wont get you there” published in Accountants Daily has some great strategies. Very similar thinking to what we are presenting.

        • Glad to hear we are on the same page with respect to our thoughts and strategies on this important issue. I look forward to having the opportunity to collaborate with you and ICB. I am interested to hear your views on a. i. (in particular the evolution from automation to artificial and then augmented).

          I understand 86% of your members are women. Nothing would make me happier than to see Australian women at the forefront of our industry globally – leading the charge with visionary strategies, commitment to continuous learning/improvement and inspiring SME clients to step up and take purposeful action that boosts results.

          This is such a pivotal moment in the history of our industry… the likes of which we have not seen since personal computers and desktop accounting software were introduced back in the 80’s. I forsee that this time we are better prepared and will have much more control over our own professional destinies.

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