Thinking of Adding Advisory Services?

Professional providing advisory services
Advisory services give you a chance to provide more value.

How I became an adviser.

At one point earlier in my life I was stuck professionally. It was time to head in a totally new direction. I’d had some successful education in the basics of accounting so when I got a recommendation to a financial planning firm, I gathered my courage and jumped!

What a shock! This wasn’t advising! I was expected to go door-to-door to the small businesses around the office — and SELL!

Well, that really wasn’t easy for an ex-schoolteacher! But I persevered – learned some valuable sales lessons and developed a whole new level of self-confidence!

Meanwhile, I also fell back on habit and started getting more formal education to go with what I was learning on the ground. Soon enough I became a Certified Financial Planner. Those skills and credentials helped me develop a profitable 16-hour executive planning class and even write a book (my first) for people facing unplanned early retirement.

Yes, my product sales continued. But now they came after some real analysis and were accompanied by in-depth consultation. Clients were friendlier and less suspicious. Ultimately I was able to start charging for purely advisory services.

Above all, I was getting a lot more satisfaction out of the work I was doing!

Today, many professional firms face the same sales challenges.

“Product” sales are pretty straight-forward. The professional can master the details of the product/software/process relatively quickly. The client can understand and usually even see exactly what he or she is getting.

This simple sell-buy relationship would be fine except — it’s turning out to be a race to the bottom.

What’s keeping many accounting firms from growing?

Advances in technology are sucking out profits.

According to one AccountingToday article, as much as 75% of today’s accountant’s work can be performed by software automation tools! These tools get the job done faster and more reliably – and are getting cheaper all the time.

Savvy clients understand. They shop for ever lower prices – and many start learning the software themselves so they can take over doing some of these basic accounting jobs.

(I’m thinking QuickBooks here. It claims to enjoy 80% market share of U.S. small businesses. Yes, accountants use it to generate the traditional products: tax returns, payroll, etc. but the relationship with the client runs the risk of becoming commoditized.)

Without a new level of respect and guidance through a consulting relationship, client accounts are at risk.

Clients don’t know what other services you (can) provide!

It seems pretty obvious that professional firms need to focus more on developing new advisory skills and services – that is, beefing up that 25% of what only they can offer.

What stands in the way? First, and most fascinating, clients say they want their accountants to give them “advice” – but they really don’t know what kind of advice to expect or even ask for!

(This problem isn’t peculiar to accountants. We’ve written about it before for consulting and professional firms! See Referral Regrets )

This suggests that professional firms either don’t do a good job of marketing – even to existing clients – or they themselves don’t know what sorts of advisory services they could offer! (If you think you do have advisory credentials, but aren’t confident that they are getting the appropriate exposure, take a look at the questions in this article on being recognized as an authority.)

What sorts of advisory services could you consider for your practice?

Here’s a quick list of some professional and non-traditional advisory services being offered successfully by accounting firms. Note that most of these services look forward rather than relying on hindsight.

  • Specific industry trends and expertise
  • Marketing and pricing
  • Security (data and premises)
  • Fraud consulting
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Personal financial planning for business owners and families
  • IT consulting
  • Business continuity planning

How to decide about adding a new advisory service?

First, you’ll probably feel that there’s no use offering something clients don’t want. But don’t ask your clients, because clients don’t KNOW what they want because they don’t know what’s really available! Your own research can identify some services that your clients might benefit by – you can start with the list above. When you’ve decided, then make sure clients learn that yes, this service IS available through your firm.

Second, you’ll want to provide services that you think are valuable – and services you can really get excited about. That enthusiasm will be necessary to carry you through whatever ramp-up is necessary – building a business plan for the new service (including pricing), getting the training necessary to provide it, and developing the marketing plan for getting the word out to the right prospects (probably starting with current clients). This will take some time.

Third, you’ll want to be sure your new advisory services are positioned to take advantage of new technologies such as cloud-based data storage, applications and communications. New is new – sticking with old-fashioned, in-house tools will limit you in the future.

The “Business Survival Project” may be an opening for you to add a new advisory service.

The Marketing Machine® has developed a pilot program that may allow you to put your foot into the water of adding a new advisory service.

We’ve based the program on a couple of things: first, our own enthusiasm for helping small businesses STAY in business after a disaster, second, our experience in the field of emergency preparedness, and third, our years of success with carefully directed lead generation programs.

Business continuity planning is a special service – but one where an accountant or CPA has a strong head start. We have created a step-by-step program to engage your clients (and ultimately new prospects) in a discussion of their vulnerability to threats from natural, business or individual actions. That discussion will lead to them taking steps to prepare for disaster and to be able to recover more quickly when something happens.

We believe the key words here are “WHEN something happens” because chances are greater every day that something WILL happen.

To learn more about the advisory service potential represented by the Business Survival Project, read the full description at our companion site.

Your Website – Hub of Your Marketing

You’ve heard the statistic. Your website visitor gives it only 3 seconds to answer these questions:

Who is this?  What do they do?  Am I in the right place?

If the visitor can’t find these answers, your site isn’t doing its job!

(And as for that visitor? He’s . . . GONE!  Likely never to be seen again.)

As a professional seeking new clients, the 3 second test is even more important, since 83% of people check your website first before ever taking another step. That means —

Your website is at the center of all your marketing!

In fact, your website serves as the hub of your marketing. Take a look at some of these common lead generation situations for professionals where your website would be involved:

  • You are interviewed at a convention. Your website address is flashed across the bottom of the screen. Will it reflect the impression you’re making in the interview?
  • A potential client gets one of your business cards. She immediately checks out your website from her phone. Is the site mobile enabled?
  • Someone seeking the answer to a thorny problem looks on Google. Will your website article – that provides the perfect answer — show up in the search?
  • Your name comes up on someone’s LinkedIn search. They immediately check your site to see if you have the credentials they’re looking for. They also check the sites of the other names that came up. How well will your site compete?
  • You want to add names to your mailing list. Do visitors to your site have a way to sign up?

Is your website well designed?

The situations described above are individual, and not every website will hold up well in every circumstance. But if your site is well designed, it should.

“So how do I know it’s well designed?”

Start by asking yourself: “Does the designer of the site understand marketing?”

Here are three simple steps to a professionally-designed marketing website. How well do you think your site rates today?

  1. The site is built around your marketing plan. The plan has identified your own lead generation activities and shows how the website relates to them.
  2. Appropriate copy has been written for each individual page. Different pages have different purposes and thus require different marketing language. (If you’re not comfortable writing it, get a professional copywriter.)
  3. The design displays the marketing messages to their best advantage.

Can an old website be updated?

Absolutely. Websites, unlike printed brochures, can be updated and published quickly!

But analyze what you have before throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Do you have an established “brand” that includes a logo, colors, a typestyle (font), a particular “attitude?” If you’re well known, you don’t want old friends to land at your new site and think they’re in the wrong place!

And just as you are cautious about falling for the latest advertising gimmick, watch out for the latest trends in website design. The flashy “look and feel” of a high-tech retail site probably won’t work for your professional site. At the other extreme, you can simplify and streamline so much that in those first 3 seconds the visitor can’t find a single answer!

So again, while your website can be updated, you may want to do it gradually. (And regularly.) And, as we said before, with the help of a designer who understands marketing.

What’s your next step?

From our perspective, a good website has four foundational pages plus some optional pages. Each page has its own purpose, and is integrated with and supports different  marketing efforts – speeches, networking, referrals, direct mail campaigns, advertising, social media, etc.

If you’re interested in learning more about each of these elements, get a copy of The Marketing Machine guidebook: Website – The Hub of Your Marketing Plan.

It’s 50 pages of detail aimed specifically at the professional business owner. With it, you’ll have a much better understanding of how well your site is doing its job — bringing in more business!

So You’re An Authority

Gavel showing authority

Let’s assume you’re an authority in your business world. If so, these questions should be easy enough to answer.

Questions for the Accounting Authority:

  • What’s your specialty?
  • Who (what kind of person) would say that you really make a difference for them?
  • What plans do you have for maintaining your reputation?

These questions all have to do with face-to-face interaction.

Now let’s look at your authority from another perspective, namely, that of the person who finds you via your website.

Here are the same questions about your authority website:

  • Does the visitor sense immediately that you are an authority and with what specialty?
  • Is it clear who (what kind of person) will benefit from your expertise/ experience?
  • Does the visitor know what to do at your website to get the most value out of it?

If you’re confident in your answers . . .

. . . to these questions, you may truly be an authority and you may have an “authority website.” Congratulations are in order!

But because we can all make improvements to our sites, here are seven review questions to help in that process. You may want to address them now, and save them for future reference.

1. Does your site cover your topic thoroughly and accurately?

Unlike many internet marketing sites, an authority site isn’t built overnight. In fact, it probably has dozens of pages, added over time, that deal with your specialty in all its facets. Not only is the information interesting, accurate and useful, but the pages include outbound links to other well-established resources for even more value.

Do your visitors trust your site? Here’s the telling question – do they refer your site to friends and colleagues?

 2. Does your site “skim” and “scan?”

Internet readers, no matter how profound the subject, expect to “get the message” immediately by skimming from headline to headline and picking up key content via subheads and perhaps a few lists of bullet points. If they are looking for a specific answer to a particular questions, they want to be able to “scan” your site to quickly locate that answer. (FAQ are an important resource for people in a hurry.)

Research shows that by the time readers reach the middle of an article, half of them have dropped off! So write in what the Nielsen Norman Group calls called the inverted pyramid style. It focuses on  high-value content at the start of a post or article, so the reader will have gathered the main point even if he or she does drop off.

3. Can visitors easily get to what they are looking for?

People don’t just accidentally land on your website. They have come following a particular key word thread or as the result of a search. They are looking for something particular. Can they make an immediate choice from the landing page – whether it’s via a navigation link or a click on a sidebar or an illustration — that will take them closer to their target?

If they have to pause to figure out which of your (clever) menu items is really what they’re looking for, you will lose them.

4. Can they get there fast?

An authority site loads fast, delivering readers to the content they’re looking for without frustrating wait times. (Free “speed checkers” like Google’s PageSpeed Tools give you ideas about what may be slowing your site down and suggestions for how to improve its speed.)

5. Can they get there on their smartphone?

More people access the internet today via smartphone technology than via personal computers.  (According to CNN, it happened for the first time on February 28, 2014!) So your site must be “responsive,” i.e., it needs to automatically adjust to whatever device is accessing it. (Of course, it’s valuable to find out how YOUR target market prefers to access your site.)

6. Can visitors access your authoritative content in the format they prefer?

Some people prefer to read, others to watch a video tutorial or listen to a podcast. Can you re-purpose your content into different formats, and give people a choice?

7. Do visitors know what you want them to do?

Yes, visitors arrive looking for answers to their questions. But surely you want to engage them in some sort of dialog. Do you want comments? Do you want them to sign up for a white paper, or subscribe to your newsletter?

Make it clear what steps you want them to take.

While you may prefer an understated call to action, don’t hide it too far down the page! “Above the fold” is still the most valuable real estate on the site.

In any case, in EVERY case, content is “front and center!”

The seven questions are all meant to help you refine your site – as necessary!  Your authority site needs constant attention to stay up to date, both from a content as well as a design point of view, so you’ll probably be looking for another checklist soon. In the meanwhile, see whether these suggestions make sense.

Virginia Nicols
The Marketing Machine®

P.S.  You will have noticed that this post assumes you have a website. Moreover, it assumes you have a website that is designed to appeal to the people who need YOUR services. If you’re not positive that your current site does the best possible job of this, you may want to invest another few dollars to make sure. At The Marketing Machine we’ve put together a short book specifically for professionals focused solely on the role of the Website as The Hub of Your Marketing Plan.  You can use the book as a checklist to confirm the effectiveness of your own site. Get more details here.

Hiding Behind Your Accounting Credentials

Hoping they will bring you more clients?


In the words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?”

Accounting CertificationsIt’s a well-known “secret” that professional accountants find marketing something close to voodoo and often actually recoil from anything that smacks of sales.

At the same time, ambitious professionals of all sorts, including accountants, look proudly at their progress as measured by the designations that follow their names. They add them to business cards and on the letterhead of the company and even on the front door of the office – and consider them “marketing.”

The problem: unless you’re with the government (!) . . .

Prospects are not looking for accounting designations.

As you have surely discovered, most people outside the profession don’t even know what the various initials stand for!

What people are looking for is . . .

Someone to help them with their personal problems.

They know what their problems are, but most likely do not – in fact CAN not – describe them in professional accounting terms. So for them, the more “professional” you appear, the less secure they are about being able to get your help!

On the other hand, if your marketing makes it clear that you understand and solve problems just like theirs – your chances of landing new clients go way up!

The right marketing plan, systematically laid out and faithfully executed, helps define those problems, determine where people with those problems are to be found, and directs them to you.

How to build that marketing plan is a whole other topic. In this space, let’s stick with misconceptions.

Professional sales are subtle and conversational.

So, take professional sales. Professional sales are subtle. Far from anything resembling aggressive promotion, professional sales can be described as “consultative” and “solutions oriented.” Sometimes referred to as “question-based selling,” a professional sale for accountants is really a managed conversation that discovers the client’s perceived problems and finds solutions to them.

This can often be accomplished without any use of accounting jargon, and certainly without reference to any certifications!

Professional marketing is focused on the client, not on you as the accountant.

As for marketing, think of it as a magnet or “gravitational pull” that is designed to draw people to your business. The Marketing Plan begins with a careful analysis not of who you are, but of what kind of clients will make a good, long-term fit for the practice.

The strategy that results will be designed to locate and attract inquiries from these carefully-targeted prospects. The plan also includes the step-by-step communications designed to convert prospects into clients.

Throughout, the marketing plan focuses on the needs of the prospect or client.

If your plan has been focused on getting yet another set of initials after your name . . . it’s time to take another look.

Joe Krueger
The Marketing Machine®

P.S. How many of the designations in the graphic can you name?

P.P.S. If some of these observations make you wonder if your marketing plan is doing its job, take a look at what’s in Strategic Marketing Plan. We wrote this ebook for professionals like you who may have finished the first draft of their marketing plan but want to be sure it clearly promotes what makes the practice unique.   It has a companion book just on marketing tactics — to help you pick the tactics that complement your practice and are most likely to result in new business.



Essential Marketing Tool for Professionals

Your List of Target Prospects

Target3Depending on your location and your specialty, you should have a list of anywhere from 50-250 viable prospects AT ALL TIMES.

“Whoa, maybe I should buy or rent a list from a list broker to add numbers?”

Hold on!

As you can imagine, it’s not the numbers that count, but the quality of the names.

But before you even get to the quality of the names on your list, let’s take a look at the make-up of the tool itself.

How good is your list?

You can make a useful determination of whether your prospect list is properly set up for action by going through THREE simple steps.

Step 1: Examine the state of your current list. 

Take five minutes or so to define your current list.  For example:

  • Do you actually maintain an ongoing list of prospects?
  • How many are on your list right now?
  • How many are individuals and how many are company names with no particular contact person attached?

Step 2: Compare the format of your list to your company’s needs.

Many business owners or sales people keep a pretty good list in their heads, but not necessarily in any retrievable or sharable form.  As with just about everything in life, “getting it down on paper” begins to make it real and workable.  So with that in mind, let’s move on.

Today, most big companies are turning to the cloud for customer relationship management (CRM) software to track both prospects and current clients. And they put a business development person in charge (not an IT expert). The cost of this format is in the tens of thousands of dollars a month.

Medium-size firms do much of the same, but look for something less comprehensive and less expensive, maybe like SalesForce, Netsuite or Zoho.

Smaller firms are likely to prefer something even simpler.

The important thing is to maintain the list in a format useful for YOUR  practice’s needs.  How do you keep and access your list?

  • Do you keep it in handwritten form, like in a daytimer or on index cards?
  • Do you keep it electronically, as a list or spreadsheet?
  • Do you use a CRM or other contact management program?
  • Who accesses your list? You alone or others in the office?
  • How/when do you access it? Only when you’re in the office? Via your mobile phone? Via a tablet?

The prospect list is a dynamic asset and if your marketing plan calls for regular activity (as it should!) then your list will only serve you well if it, too, is easily accessible and updateable.

Step 3.  What information do you keep on your prospect list?

A prospect list is not the same as a mailing list. The prospect list needs to contain essential marketing data that you will use to help prioritize your marketing activities.

As you can imagine, every practice has a unique “profile” so your marketing data needs may differ from those of the practice down the street.  However, here are some initial questions that will give you an idea of how effective your prospect list is likely to be for marketing purposes.

For example, do you track . . .

  • Where you got the name?
  • When you got the name?
  • Why you added this name to your list?
  • What more information you still need to capture about this prospect?
  • What steps you have already taken, and what the next step is with this contact?

Action item: take 15 minutes right now to lay out a “prospect data card.” What information do you need?

If you’ve neglected your list of prospects, you can start now to rebuild it. Some of the questions above will give you guidelines for the information you should be collecting. Whether you’re directing your own business development effort, or hiring others to help, your list is the natural place to start.

Joe Krueger
The Marketing Machine®

Are you serious about your marketing, and not sure where to head next? We’ve written a simple little paper aimed at clearing things up. It’s called The One Main Thing for Accountants. Get the free report now.