Art of Accounting: Big-time consulting by small-firm owners

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I’ve done considerable small business consulting. There have been some good billing opportunities, but by and large I was not compensated extra for most of these services as they were part of my fixed- or value-priced bundled package. I’ve presented my views on this considerably so will not repeat them now. Today I want to discuss performing consulting services for fees for large clients. While my contention is that small businesses will not pay for consulting services, it is a normal practice for large businesses.

"The New Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond" by Elaine Biech (published by Wiley) is about running a consulting business. It is not about how to perform the services, although there are many descriptions of the types of services that could be “sold” to large firms. Also, this book can be applied to any service business, including traditional accounting practices and is a complete how-to book that I wholeheartedly recommend.

I liked reading it and found it very helpful. One way I assess a business book is by the number of ideas I get from it, and I got a ton of ideas. When I started it, I made notes on a large bookmark I usually use, but quickly stopped and just made the notes on the book’s pages. When I first picked up the book in my public library and opened a page that was toward the end, it contained a story of a week in the author’s life being a consultant. When I checked it out, took it home, and started reading it, my first impression of it being a book on how to perform consulting services was mistaken. It was about how to run a business of being a consultant. I got to page six when I ordered a copy and returned the book to the library.

I am a CPA, but my stock in trade is ideas. If I relied solely on the great job I did preparing tax returns and financial statements, I believe I would have done pretty well in my business, but when I started generating ideas for clients, I did great. Any source of ideas is fuel for me, and that’s what this book is. It is also a nuts-and-bolts road map on running a consulting business with thorough chapters that cover all the essential areas. Much of what the author wrote can be applied not only to your business but to your clients’ businesses as their “consultant.”

I have spoken to and met with thousands of fellow accountants, and I truly believe many are underpricing their services, undervaluing their abilities, and downplaying their expertise in areas other than the traditional accounting and tax services (and I’ve told them this). Well, this book can be a wake-up call to move out of their comfort zone and into areas I am convinced they are fully competent to perform. They just need a mission statement, a marketing plan, a “shove” and the other detailed instructions this book provides. The book also has easily downloadable exhibits and forms.

Larger companies commit substantial amounts to engaging consultants who offer specialized, targeted services. There is no excuse for an owner or partner of an accounting firm, even a small firm, to not get part of this action and be well paid, if they want to. This book will show you how.

It has an accompanying workbook: "The New Consultant’s Quick Start Guide," also by Elaine Biech. Both books were available in my local public library. Read this book!

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” He also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Consulting Small business Consulting fees Value pricing Ed Mendlowitz