[IMGCAP(1)]Remember dating in high school? You know that guy or girl who you liked but were pretty sure didn't feel the same way back?

It is likely that you doubtless spent countless hours trying to wow him or her, but to no avail. In the end, although you were unlikely to admit it, you knew he or she didn't like you back. Despite all your charisma, your efforts were simply wasted on the wrong person.

Just as you tried to get the attention of that guy or girl in high school, today your CPA firm is trying to differentiate itself by offering business advisory services. Adding business advisory services is essential to growing your firm (see A Beginner’s Guide to Advisory Services). But your firm should not offer these services to all your existing clients. The reason is that many CPAs, just like those in the high school dating scene, spend most of their time trying to "wow" the wrong guy or girl. Therefore it's key that you identify clients who will be as enamored with your services as you'd like them to be.

Step 1: Identify Key Clients
Start by identifying a short list of key clients (it could be as few as five) to whom you will begin providing business advisory services. Use the following characteristics to select key clients:

• Client relationship: Identify clients with whom you already have a strong relationship. You will be more comfortable and they will be more receptive as you introduce new services.

• Client potential: Choose clients who have unrealized potential. You and the client will be able to see tangible results as you help them grow their business.

• Owner mentality: Focus on proactive clients who frequently ask questions about improving their business. These clients tend be more appreciative and willing to pay for your professional advice.

• Business health: Select a few clients with poor financial health. They will perceive your services as a need rather than an unnecessary expense.

Step 2: The Discovery Process
The next step in the process is to develop a strategy for your firm to approach the list of target clients. According to Sageworks director of advisory services Lauren Prosser, this includes thinking about the needs of each business, what’s going on in their industry, their goals, what resources your firm has to offer them, and ultimately how to communicate those services to them. Such a discovery process could include client surveys or merely conversations with clients to gauge their satisfaction with your firm and understand their business needs better.

By using these two strategies, your firm will increase the odds that it garners clients who utilize your valued-added services.

Shawn Moriarity is a senior consultant in the Advisory Services Group at Sageworks,a leading provider of private industry data, financial analysis, and risk management software for accounting firms and financial institutions. Moriarity has worked with thousands of CPA firms to implement Sageworks’ financial analysis software ProfitCents for standardizing and documenting regulatory requirements and adding value to client relationships while increasing revenue.

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