Where in the past you were in complete control over how you went about doing your job to produce an output, you must now shift to the opposite end of the spectrum — relinquishing control and collaborating with your client to steer them to their desired result. You can no longer sit back and simply tell them what the problems are. In order to lead them to the solution, you are going to be doing a lot less talking and a whole lot more listening and asking questions.
In the new realms of WHY and HOW, your ability to gain leverage and inspire action has less to do with your knowledge and qualifications and more to do with your ability to influence and persuade. Some may mistakenly equate this with “selling skills,” but in fact influence is far more essential and universal.
Rather than merely investing in the technical skills (for yourself and every team member), moving toward WHY and HOW necessitates a deeper understanding of how your clients tick, what motivates them, and how to persuade them to take action. In this new realm, professional trust is a given and your expertise and insights will only be valued if you have first laid the foundation to develop strong personal relationships with your clients.
The fourth step is the shift toward focusing on what is crucial to your clients. In the realm of WHY and HOW you move from being precisely accurate toward being directionally correct.
What do I mean by that?
Compliance tasks by their very nature necessitate a high degree of accuracy and correctness. Advisory services, on the other hand, involve the management of risk and uncertainty. That is why it is now more important to be directionally correct, relevant, and meaningful. The future is uncertain and constantly changing, so in order to deliver insights and advice that are valuable and significant, your recommendations must be more flexible and agile.
In the domain of WHAT, you will have placed a great degree of emphasis on forecasting (often 12+ months into the future). In the realms of WHY and HOW, tangible strategies and tactics to help your client move from where they are to where they’d like to be, and navigate the inevitable speed bumps, are more valuable than numerical targets. Dashboards and forecasts don’t guarantee the future or fix problems. Your ability to roll with the setbacks, react to challenges, anticipate changes, and help your client to pivot (if necessary) become much more valuable and influential.
Time Is Your Enemy
When shifting your practice toward WHY and HOW, detail and time will become your enemy. In fact the more detail you put into your forecast, advice, or service, the more likely you are to be wrong and unhelpful. At first this may sound counter-intuitive, but coaching and advisory services necessitate a 180° degree shift from back to front (i.e., from the past to the future) — and the ability to empower your client to move forward and react quickly to trends, changes, opportunities and threats.
As a result, many accountants and bookkeepers have inadvertently made the mistake of placing far too great an emphasis on cash flow forecasting as an advisory service offering. In many ways forecasting is just a hybrid version of a compliance-based task. It is often billed as a time-based task, as opposed to being priced and delivered based on impact and value created. Invariably, too much time is focused on the details of the actual forecast itself — meaning there is too much detail to be helpful and not enough time invested in implementing the strategies and systems to guide the client toward the desired result.
Unlike many other professionals in the advisory space, accountants and bookkeepers have detailed knowledge of their clients’ financial systems. However, this great knowledge is both your ally and your potential enemy. You must learn to use your financial power for a greater calling or mission — to dig into details or raise the alarm for key issues, without allowing it to consume your focus or cloud your holistic view of the enterprise.
As you begin move into the realms of coaching and the trusted advisor, your value will be solely tied to the impact you can create. Time spent becomes irrelevant. The amount you can charge is directly proportionate to the strength of your long-term business relationship and the insights you can deliver based on your ever-expanding knowledge, skills, focus, and mindset.