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Firm Management

3 Tips for Developing True Consultants

In a tax or audit engagement, the scope of services is well defined and documented. But consulting has almost unlimited possibilities. How do you train people to recognize all of those possibilities and meet client needs?

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If you’re like most firm leaders, you’re working on expanding your firm’s core service lines to become more consultative for your clients. Firm partners and managers know the technical side of the business. They can teach and train it well. But even if they serve a consulting role with clients, teaching their staff to act like a consultant is entirely different. Many aren’t even sure where to start.

In a tax or audit engagement, the scope of services is well defined and documented. But consulting has almost unlimited possibilities. How do you train people to recognize all of those possibilities and meet client needs?

We developed our Certified Consultant Training to meet a need we saw in the profession. While growing into a true consultant takes time and practice, here are three changes you can start making in your firm to help you move toward that goal.

1. Create capacity

One of the first hurdles many CPAs face when they’re trying to expand their service offerings is finding the time and headspace to do it. When people are working eight, ten or more hours a day on compliance work and feeling the pressure of deadlines and client demands, there just isn’t the time or bandwidth to do more.

Most of us have very little uninterrupted quiet time to think deeply about what our clients really need because we spend so much time fielding texts, calls, emails and more.

There’s no one “right” way to create that capacity. For most firms, it involves a combination of technology, process, delegation and prioritization. Whatever combination of strategies works for you, make a commitment to make a change. Freeing up even an hour a day to have more in-depth conversations with clients and really think about how the firm can better serve them can really move the needle in your firm.

2. Collaborate

Consulting is a team sport. It requires a variety of skill sets and backgrounds. To serve your clients in new ways, the people in your firm will need to think and act differently than they do today. This may involve working more closely with people in different departments or siloes. It will almost certainly involve hiring non-accounting graduates. It’s about getting the best person for the job, regardless of their degree or designation.

A good collaborative team checks their egos at the door and focuses relentlessly on the goals of the project or the needs of the client.

Invest in tools that allow your team members to collaborate with each other (and with clients) regardless of their location, including cloud-based systems and communication tools. If you don’t have these capabilities, your firm will miss out on opportunities.

3. Have better client conversations

One of the most critical steps to successfully selling a consulting engagement involves having a conversation with your client. Many accountants dread “sales” and approach these conversations with apprehension.

Everyone in your firm needs to get past their fear of “sales.” Exploring client needs and figuring out how the firm can create value is the responsibility of everyone in the firm. The first step is building a relationship – something everyone should already be doing in their compliance work roles. The second step is to show clients how the firm can solve their problems.

It’s rare for a client to approach their CPA with a clear understanding of their problems and how the firm can help. Instead, we need to become adept at asking the right questions and earning their trust. That ability doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s something that can be cultivated over time.

It’s easy to put off consulting conversations when people are busy doing compliance and transactional work. And many professionals fear consulting because they think they need all of the answers. But as a consultant, it’s more important to be interested and interesting. There’s never been a better time to work on increasing your connection to clients and offering them more strategic services. Embrace a new mindset and become a true consultant for your clients.


By Sandra Wiley is President of Boomer Consulting, Inc.

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