Make the move from ‘trusted’ to ‘transformative’

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Accountants, bookkeepers and tax practitioners need to go beyond being merely their clients’ “most trusted” professional to become truly transformative advisors, according to consultant Joe Woodard.

In the kickoff session of the annual Scaling New Heights mega-conference he hosts, Woodard told the assembled accountants, bookkeepers and advisors, “I don’t like the term ‘trusted advisor’ because you can be trusted to keep deadlines and help your clients be compliant, but that doesn’t necessarily increase their wealth.”

Transformative advisors go beyond taking care of compliance issues and reacting to client emergencies.

“What if we flipped the paradigm?” he asked. “What if, instead of the client ringing our bell, we rang their bell? What if we were anticipatory about their needs?”

Rather than waiting for a client to call about an IRS notice or a sales tax audit, for instance, Woodard suggested that a transformative advisor would arrange the necessary authorizations to get ahead of issues -- and then prod their clients to make sure they’re complying.

“The difference between standard services and transformative service is who’s responding to who? We want them responding to us,” he explained. “The client really does want us to be in charge of what they’re trusting us to do well — we just have to accept the mantle of that trust.”

That mantle includes increasing not just a client’s financial wealth, but also their relationship wealth, and the cultural wealth of their companies, and helping them succeed in their journey through in whatever for that may take. It also means protecting them in an increasingly scary world — whether it’s from predatory lenders, litigious employees or customers, or from hackers.

Woodard acknowledged that some are reluctant to make the move to being a transformative advisor. “The two biggest reasons accountants tell me they can be transformative are, ‘My client doesn’t perceive me as someone who can do that,’ and ‘I don’t have the time to focus on that,’” he said.

“If your clients are seeing you as overhead, don’t blame them — make them see you as something more,” he continued. Being proactive about advisory services — even forceful — and demonstrating that you can add value will change their minds. “You will never be paid what you’re worth. You will only be paid what your clients think you’re worth, but you can control their thinking. You control their thinking by creating wealth.”

In terms of finding time, Woodard stressed the importance of standardizing processes and technologies so that services aren’t individually customized for every single client, which will free up adaptive capability.

“If the typical QuickBooks Pro Advisor ran a Starbucks,” he joked, “we would encourage customers to bring in their own Keurig machines, and then we’d have a shelf of all their different Keurigs, carefully labeled ... and we’d let each of them tell us how to make their cups of coffee.”

Getting there from here

Joining Woodard in the kickoff session were a number of industry experts who served up a range of tips, strategies and best practices for becoming a transformative advisor.

Go narrow. Shafat Qazi, CEO and founder of BQE Software, recommended taking a vertical focus. “You need to start thinking about how you can stop doing what you’re doing — serving every client you can find — and focus on one industry you’re passionate about, and create a niche,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re going to survive.”

He suggested professional services like architecture and the legal profession as a good choice, since they are individually small enough to need business advisory services, but combined represent a market of 1.8 million people generating $1.6 trillion of revenue. “And professional services will survive e-commerce and Amazon,” he said. “People will always need these services — and they need help!"

But if a firm has a strong area already, they should stick with that. “Pick your best industry and go with it,” he concluded. “Don’t move away from your expertise.”

Don’t sell yourself short. Consultant Mark Wickersham urged accountants to know their own value. “Accountants are too cheap — we charge too little,” he said. “We have to be comfortable charging for our value. People associate price with value. You cannot be a transformative advisor and be cheap. ... If we’re going to transform people’s lives, our prices need to reflect that.”

He cited Apple as a great example of a company that knows and insists on its own value, and knows who they want to sell to. “Have you noticed that Apple never discounts?” he asked. “Their price reflects their value — even though their prices are insanely expensive.”

Value, not hours. Mayumi Young, founder and CEO of CPA Moms, threw down a major gauntlet: “I challenge you: Stop selling your time. It’s an opportunity to remember that your true value as an accountant is to bring your skills and talents to the entrepreneurs who need you,” she said. “We have to redefine our value away from being based on our time. We need to be accountable for turning data into dollars.”

A simple tool. Joel Hughes, CEO of Right Networks, offered a great tool for managing change — the Start-Stop-Continue model of assessing what a firm should be focusing on:

  • Start: Firms should start working on new ideas that are high impact.
  • Stop: Firms should identify non-critical “business as usual” activities that are low impact and stop them.
  • Continue: They should identify critical “business as usual” activities

“The Stop list is the most important,” he explained. “You need to free up resources to enable you to do great new things.”

A culture of love, not service: Consultant Simon Bailey stressed the importance of client love, not just client service, and the overall value of culture.

“Customer service is dead — that dog won’t hunt anymore,” he said. “It’s about customer love. ... And your clients love you because they know you don’t see them as a transaction — you see them as a relationship.”

Firm culture underpins that relationship. “Organizations that create customers for life know how to build a culture,” he explained. “Create a culture where everyone matters — the culture is not the mission/vision statement on your web site. It lives in the head, heart and hands. ... What allows a culture to succeed and be transformative is when you are in ‘emotional congruency’ — everything you think, say and feel is in alignment.”

Finally, Bailey stressed the importance of thinking like a transformative advisor every day: “You don’t create the future — you create your transformative habits, and your transformative habits create the future — because the future is created in the present.”

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