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A roadmap for implementing business advisory services – insights for 10+ partner firms


A roadmap for implementing business advisory services
– insights for 10+ partner firms


Successful implementation of business advisory services can result in a myriad of benefits, from attracting and retaining the best people and customers to combating the margin erosion occurring in traditional compliance services due to digital disruption.

However, it’s not an easy road, as great leadership, new skills, an openness to change and patience are required for success. As a result, firms have attempted over the years to unlock the opportunities associated with implementing advisory services with varying degrees of success.

This paper explores how professional service firms at any point in their journey towards implementing advisory services can take the next step, by mapping:

  1. Where they are NOW,
  2. WHERE they wish to be in the future and
  3. HOW to efficiently implement the right strategies for advisory success.

Digital disruption, through cloud accounting software while not resulting in the ‘sky falling in’ as predicted by some, has resulted in margin erosion through greater automation, offshoring and other productivity-improving mechanisms for traditional compliance services.

Hence, business advisory provides an opportunity to transition into margin-rich territory by attracting mature clients seeking further value-added services to help them grow their business and profit levels.

Huge opportunities exist in the market place to assist businesses by smoothly integrating new advisory service lines, however there are a number of obstacles to overcome:

  1. Many partners are already time poor, with a full work schedule so have difficulty investing time to learn new skills
  2. Automated,  ‘quick fix’ systems, lead generation tools and dashboard software seem appealing but fail to have any long term impact on client challenges
  3. Team members need to be provided quality training to move beyond the numbers, and be agile enough to change tack or address any client challenge
  4. Advisory services need to be integrated into ‘how the firm does business’ to accelerate referrals and cross-selling.

Acknowledging that adopting business advisory services successfully will take time is a first step. It will involve transformational leadership, tenacity and a heavy investment over time in training, integration, technology, education and people. There is no quick fix.

Success will mean a future proof firm which acts as a  ‘net’ exploring, nurturing and converting a wealth of client opportunities.

The motivation is there for firms to change, quality clients are demanding more support to help them grow, digital disruption is eroding margins in traditional compliance areas so the final question becomes ‘does the firm waste years attempting to work it out themselves’ or ‘find the right support solution to boost their probability of success’?

The journey so far

independent_road-aheadFor more than 20 years professional services firms have attempted to move away from a reliance on revenue purely derived from traditional compliance services, capitalise on their ‘trusted advisor’ status and implement a broader range of advisory services into their client offering.

Some have succeeded, some have failed, but most are still at various stages of the transition journey.

A changing landscape

Digital disruption of many traditional compliance services through the introduction of cloud accounting software is now turbo-charging the pace of change required to stay relevant to customers (while not becoming a commodity service) and sustain revenue and profit targets.

Change is now unavoidable for firms seeking success in 2020 and is in fact something to embrace to improve their levels of growth and profit. Overcoming short term change hurdles will reap long-term benefits.

Too often firms spend years ‘getting ready’ and by then the market has passed them by. Make a start then learn and adapt quickly.

This roadmap provides an outline for successfully implementing and developing advisory services in a professional service firm with 10+ partners.


The format of this roadmap provides an overview of the ‘typical’ NOW analysis of a larger firm, WHERE firms should set goals to be over the next three to five years with regard to the implementation of advisory services, and the HOW steps required to implement them successfully and profitably.

A starting point

small_quote1Each professional service firm is different, with different goals and at various stages of the journey. This roadmap is meant to be a stimulus for ideas and strategies for each firm to make the transition successfully and significantly grow advisory services regardless of their starting point.

A note about the different journey papers

This journey paper is one of a series focusing on different types of advisory service providers. The distinction used is -/+ 10 partners, an arbitrary figure which allows us to address the different issues that may exist between firms with a national footprint and multiple divisions, versus those with a local presence and partners who take on a multitude of responsibilities. We acknowledge that there will be many firms where a combination of issues and strategies described in both papers will be equally relevant.

NOW – the current state of play

independent_signMost larger firms already have some value-added services provided to clients such as profit improvement, growth strategies, payroll services, management accounting, staffing, outsourced CFO services, marketing services, digital marketing, recruitment, training and development or IT services.

The growth of these non-compliance services tends to be slow, in part due to the typical conservative culture of a traditional compliance firm and the need for these firms to adopt a more corporate mindset and structure to smoothly integrate new service lines.

Firms have invested heavily over many years to develop capability and capacity in traditional compliance services, making it much easier to make substantial profits from compliance over and above other advisory services where little to no investment has been made to date.

Many firms have also had false starts with various advisory products and support which has led to question marks on future endeavours.

Adapting to survive

Margin erosion in many areas is forcing firms to adapt and invest heavily in advisory services but they will need to move quickly before the depletion of available funds from ‘cash-cow’ compliance services reduces the ability to re-invest in ‘rising star’ advisory services.

Compliance services can be highly leveraged within the existing team or taken offshore to drive higher productivity and profitability, making investing time in other services difficult or seen as a distraction to the business.

Changing customer needs

Meanwhile, quality customers are maturing in their business acumen, seeking more value and wanting to be guided by their advisors.

Most business owners and managers have a focus on growth, profit and achieving specific goals. They want to be challenged by their ‘trusted advisors’ and have a senior sounding board to help them achieve their goals.

Technical compliance services will comprise a key part of the solution but opportunities will present themselves for assisting business in a myriad of other advisory support areas such as:

  • small_quote2growth
  • profit
  • leadership
  • sales
  • coaching
  • training and
  • change

However, most firms lack the skills and capacity required to capitalise on these opportunities and in many cases even fail to recognise they are there in the first place.

The ‘leaders as advisors’ conundrum

Often in firms only a partner with exceptional natural leadership skills, high emotional intelligence, an inquisitive nature about business and good problem solving abilities succeed in providing any form of advisory services to clients. These people tend to have an intense drive to further develop their own professional skills and be of greater value to the success of their clients.

Most have learnt their problem solving skills through the school of hard knocks over the years with only ad hoc training or the occasional attendance at a motivational seminar assisting along the way.

Leaders in the firm are often unsure how best to provide the training and support required to accelerate the provision of advisory services to customers as the teams are full with work already and time poor. As a result such services generate little income and generate a poor return on investment for the firm making it even more difficult to justify the investment required to make it a success.

Due to the time poor nature of their team or a belief that supporting clients with ‘strategy’ is outside their capability, some firms turn to ‘quick fixes’ to tick the box they are doing seen as  something by buying software, templates, scripts, lead generation tools or coaching systems.

While this can be valuable at first to small businesses it is limited in its scope and long-term impact. Most larger, quality clients would not buy the services at all as they are
too prescriptive.

Moving beyond automated solutions

small_quote3How can you drive accountability or coach a client if you don’t understand their vision, challenges and strategy?

The above is seen time and time again with firms. Hearing a customer has a profit issue for example doesn’t mean to automatically implement a ‘profit tool’ as a solution. Often that approach can just accelerate that client in the wrong direction wasting time and money for all.  Quality advisors need to dig deeper for the root cause and give the customer perspective.

If all an advisor is doing is staring at a business’s forecasts or their financials for guidance it’s providing only a very small picture of the opportunity or challenge at hand.

Challenges also change so rapidly an advisor needs the ability to be agile enough to change tack and facilitate a solution to almost any issue at anytime. Offering prescriptive solutions just doesn’t work in a volatile and unpredictable market.  Clients want authenticity.

Many ‘automated’ systems providing leverage sound great on paper (“buy me and build a successful advisory business in 6 months!”) but in the field with real customers they just don’t deliver sustainable outcomes as customers don’t ‘follow the script’.

Moving too fast

small_q4Adopting advisory services within the firm cannot be implemented successfully using a similar mindset to that of other ‘compliance’ service lines or technology products.

Attempting to get ALL team members delivering advisory services quickly is a recipe for disaster as there is typically no track-record or level of competence in delivering advisory services within the firm. This approach also results in any marketing initiatives pushing new opportunities through an incapable system, denting the confidence of the partner driving it and leading to self-sabotaging behaviour across the team.

Early adopters face an uphill battle

Those firms with partners and managers who have been early adopters and are already delivering advisory services successfully within the firm often find they feel alienated, different and experience significant frustration as they are seen as poor cousins to other service lines despite often being the key attraction and retention tool for quality customers.

The challenge is educating others in the team, firm and customers in what they do and how they do it.

When others see the fantastic outcomes for the firm and clients, the doors start to open.

Implementation challenges

Any attempt to “seed” advisory services using experienced consultants, hiring coaches or a joint venture is also high risk, in part because of the constraints of the professional service firm are significant. These include a reluctance to cross- sell advisory services to existing clients, cultural disconnects, poor capability, over-zealous sales techniques and outside consultants relying too heavily on the firm to generate sales rather than driving new business themselves.

It’s a challenging, downward spiral of events:

  1. a firm’s partners have no time to invest in learning new skills,
  2. the firm’s partners don’t understand the opportunity or skills required,
  3. advisory services are treated like a ‘quick fix’,
  4. the partner or partners alienate any attempts to bring in new skills from 3rd parties, and
  5. lack the knowledge or confidence in the services to refer them to their existing customers.

Something has to give way to enable success.

The final sting in the tail when attempting to implement advisory services comes through a lack of investment in marketing these services due to a difficulty understanding where value-added services fit in the overall firm client support model.

Overall it is an environment littered with big challenges for time poor firms adopting advisory services but at the same time a wealth of clients are desperate for assistance in a difficult market.

Only a small percentage of firms will achieve success in advisory without the right support.

WHERE – future opportunities

idependent_binocularsSuccessfully adopting advisory services across a firm will involve transformational leadership, tenacity and a heavy investment over many years in training, integration, technology, education and people.

The outcome will be a diverse professional service firm that acts as a ‘net’ exploring, nurturing and converting a wealth of opportunities from quality, target market clients. Growth and profit advisory services delivered by the firm will be the starting point that attracts and retains the best customers.

Each to their own

Each partners’ portfolio of fees and individual vision will drive a different ‘blend’ of advisory support required by the partner and their team.

This blend of advisory services may for some in a multi-partner firm be just 5% of their overall revenue while for others it will be 50% of what they do. There is no right or wrong mix, however there needs to be an element of advisory services in almost all portfolios for a sustainable business model in the future.

Digital disruption hype?

The ‘sky is falling in’ mentality being peddled by many ‘industry gurus’ around digital disruption of traditional compliance fees will not materialise as quickly or impact as heavily as many expect in small to large firms.

This is because most have already moved up the food chain with more value-added services, are offering quite technical services or are addressing more complex client challenges in compliance areas that will not be as heavily impacted.

The story however is very different with very small firms or book-keepers where digital disruption has already hit hard due to a focus on predominantly micro businesses with simpler needs.

However, firms need to be aware that margins will be eroded through more efficient processing methods (offshoring, some compliance services being done by customers, less time required due to cloud technologies) putting pressure on the need to replace that revenue with other value-added service lines.

Practice what you preach

small-quote5Adopting advisory services can initially be of great benefit by encouraging the team to use the tools and methodologies within the firm itself addressing pressing ‘margin’ issues. This benefits the firm by demonstrating capability to customers by using their own advisory methodologies to improve the firm’s profitability and growth. It also demonstrates authenticity which is a trait clients are valuing more and more when searching for an advisor.

Understand in order to sell

Partners or senior managers seeking to drive a team that delivers advisory services successfully will not be able to avoid being competent in this area themselves. Most people with good core values cannot sell a service they do not understand or in which they cannot demonstrate capability.

With quality customers more risk averse and buying through committees, they are no longer swayed by flashy marketing brochures or hype.  Regardless of whether new business comes through a referral or an automated marketing program, the partners or senior managers will have to have the ability to convert new business by being great problem solvers rather than ‘pitching’ a service. To do this they need to be fluent in problem solving and strategy development tools.

Invest in learning

The investment of time put into learning these skills to boost capability and confidence should be directly linked to the blend of advisory within that portfolio of fees.

Firms that invest more in skill development continuously will reap the rewards. There is no quick fix.

Challenges to leverage advisory

The nature of advisory services means that it is often difficult to leverage these services to others within the firm as for example the owner of a $40 million turnover manufacturing business may not feel comfortable having their strategy challenged by a junior team member who has spent a few days of training learning how to deliver a strategic planning workshop.

However a partner with a wealth of business acumen can quickly complement their knowledge with the skills required to facilitate these support services (at high rates) and then leverage the on-flow of specific projects to more junior team members. As these junior team members grow in confidence and capability a greater depth of leverage will be possible. The services provided by these partner led teams will provide ‘basic’ advisory support services such as strategic planning days, profit improvement, advisory board roles, problem solving and coaching support roles.

Firms need to create the capacity to grow advisory revenue within the team. Once capacity is created focus can change to filling that capacity on a continual basis through tailored, marketing initiatives.

Leverage your team

small_quote6Team members understanding where a business is now, where they want to be in the future and their top 3 challenges as to how they will get there will provide valuable direction and prioritisation to any projects and coaching delivered. Imagine the opportunities the team will spot with customers if they all adopted that mindset and questioning? This opens the door for ‘leveraging’ the firm’s junior team to drive basic advisory solutions as they build confidence to accelerate the growth and profit objectives of customers.

Dedicated advisory division

More experienced consulting support within successful larger firms will be delivered by a dedicated ‘business advisory support’ division.

This division, run by a partner 100% focused on advisory services drives a team of dedicated consultants, coaches and potentially 3rd party specialists to drive more complicated change projects, training and development opportunities along with growth and profit initiatives outside the skill set held by an individual partner’s team.

They also regularly educate the wider firm on their skill set and where they fit in the wider service model so as to complement the work being done by individual partner-led teams. It may be the case that some clients of the firm only utilise advisory services and are not tax and compliance clients. In fact it may be the advisory services are twice the revenue of other compliance fees.

Two way referrals

Strong referrals are driven across the firm which thinks and acts as one team. While the business advisory support division will derive much of its business through referrals from the firm, it will need to win much of its work from its own external opportunities which then bring other benefits for the firm.

The advisory team becomes an ‘equal’ contributor to the entire firm. To achieve success, common advisory methodologies, training, and coaching technologies need to be used across the firm.

The right mindset and energy to change

A big component of being a successful advisor is the ability to bring energy and the right mindset to each client engagement. Clients who are change fatigued, lacking clarity or seeking strategic insight want to have advice provided by somebody that gives off terrific, positive energy rather than somebody that takes it away.  This is often an over-looked key success factor.

Thus managing energy as an advisor is important. Keeping healthy, having good life balance, having regular mental stimulation, good family time and financial stability all contribute to a positive mindset and high energy levels when working with clients to solve their issues and challenges.

Finding the right blend for your firm

small_quote7Overall firms need to find a ‘blend’ of advisory services that suits the vision and target market of both the firm as a whole but also the individual partner’s portfolio. This blend will be dictated by:

  • the target market clients’ needs
  • the appetite and tenacity of that partner for growth in this advisory area
  • the existing skill-set of the partner and the team in business advisory
  • the quality of support provided by leaders within the firm to drive advisory growth
  • the growth targets for that partner

A wealth of client opportunities await larger firms who have the quality leadership, skills and tenacity to go after them.

At what stage in the journey is your firm?

Your stage in the journey will dictate the initial strategies to evolve the firm and the depth and intensity of support required.


HOW – the roadmap forward

The steps within this roadmap assume the firm has engaged with Mindshop to support the implementation of advisory services successfully across the firm.

Those advisory firms who are already part of the Mindshop community should also look to the Top 10 Advisory Insights Study 2016 (see Mindshop blog) for strategies to adapt their business over the year ahead.

Like any journey it will have the occasional detour, speed-bump, times where the pace is fast and others where there is a need to go slow.

The intent however is to reach the destination safely and, in the case of a large professional service firm, with a well-integrated, profitable advisory offering in place across the firm that complements the other service lines offered.  Success is what the firm defines.


Journey assessment diagnostic

Take some time to assess your current position on the journey for achieving your business advisory goals by completing this short diagnostic.

1.  Is there a business advisory division in place?


2. What advisory services have been delivered over the past five years? What has been the track record of success?


3. Who has been delivering advisory services? Who have been their target markets and what have been the average annual fees?


4. Rate your firm on a scale of -5 to +5 (with -5 being poor and +5 being very good) for the following:


Reflect on the comments and scores above. Where are the top 3 areas that need focus? What strategies need to be implemented to ensure successful growth of advisory services?

HOW – The roadmap in detail

1. Assess your current position

An assessment needs to be undertaken of what advisory is being done, who is doing it and who they are doing it for. Often partners are undertaking advisory either gratis or billing it as part of their compliance fees.

Conduct an audit of current potential for the provision of advisory services, advisory skill-set and quality of leadership to drive change.

2. Discuss and gain buy-in for change from leadership

Discuss these findings with the firm’s leadership team and gain buy-in for adopting Mindshop to drive the acceleration of advisory services through the various stages of the journey. Set realistic targets for the first 12 months for both internal benefits (efficiency gains) and some direct new revenue from client wins. Many larger firms provide themselves “room to breathe” by purely focusing their first 6-12 months on internal benefits and professional development (but commercial benefits inevitably flow quickly).

3. Identify high potential people to commence a pilot

Identify the high potential people within the organisation who have the skills and abilities in advisory services, people and leadership.

Often this analysis has already been completed as part of a talent management strategy and captured in their performance management plans.

A correlation between these high potential people and the current provision of advisory services needs to be assessed (to check are they capable and open to adopting new skills). This initial batch of high potential people will be sounded out on their involvement in driving further growth in advisory services with the support of Mindshop.

4. Review other talent options if required

If strategically important areas of the firm are found to be lacking in high potential people further options for sourcing talent need to be explored, such as hiring non-accountants to be directly part of the firm or a joint venture with a specialist consulting or coaching firm to drive these services while capability is built internally.

Each option has its challenges. Third party consultants and coaches can also inject rapid capability to complement the skill-set of those within the firm while high performance people are coming up to speed

5. Sign off on a blended advisory support program with Mindshop

large-quoteWhen the high potential people or other support options have signed off they want to proceed with a proposal, an initial pilot group will be discussed and a proposal put forward to the firm on the blend of support required. The direct intensity of support from Mindshop for these people will vary:

a. Full Mindshop advisor license where partners or managers attend training days, access online resources and training and gain experienced coaching support. (For partners or managers seeking to get on the front-line driving advisory services with full support from Mindshop).

b. Mindshop Online user license for those that just require education in the tools and training, using the online portal and coaching support from internal resources within the firm. (For managers in a support team role or partners seeking basic education in delivery of advisory services).

c. Ad hoc online training courses for those requiring knowledge of a specific tool set or methodology. (For those in support team roles with a specific single learning focus).

Often the blend for this support package is based on one full Mindshop advisor license to an average four user licenses and then online training courses for others in the firm as required.

This provides the right balance of support within the firm so those with a user license have the right support from a Mindshop advisor where applicable.

So a larger firm may have 10 Mindshop advisor licenses and 40 users licenses where each user is supported by the firm’s Mindshop advisors to coach their advisory skill development which drives internal ownership and skill development of the Mindshop advisors (as they have to train others which boosts retained learning).

This internal development can be accelerated (if required) with the support of Mindshop by way of an internal training and development academy where Mindshop can structure, tailored quarterly training days for users within the firm to up-skill them in the advisory tools they need to learn but delivered by the firm’s Mindshop advisors or 3rd parties if required (to speed up the implementation process).

This can help ensure all stay on track with their development plans and are held accountable for commercial outcomes. These options are all explored based on each individual firm’s
advisory goals.

6. Launch workshop

small_quote8A one day workshop to launch the advisory support program with Mindshop will be completed and would include sharing of the vision, explanation of the likely barriers, basic training in the core Mindshop tools and an overview of the support program for individuals participating in the program. All Mindshop advisors would be present. Ideally the Managing Partner or CEO of the firm will take an active role in the training and implementation of this program.

7. Build the advisory model and achieve quick wins

This initial pilot group will operate for a period of 12 months minimum with a focus on:

a. Putting in place a starting point of basic advisory services

b. Refining an advisory delivery model

c. Becoming confident in leveraging online training and coaching technologies

d. Refining a sales process for advisory services supported by marketing team

e. Integrating the advisory services with other service lines

f. Educating the rest of the firm in the capability of these services

g. Building a track-record and competence in the early adopters

These initiatives will be supported through the training, support, coaching and networking provided as part of Mindshop’s support solution. It’s innovative online coaching and training technologies will provide just-in-time support to time-poor senior people as they drive change across the firm and implement new services with customers.

8. Train other firm leaders

All leaders within the firm will be offered basic training where applicable in various problem solving tools during the pilot group’s first 12 months to provide everyone a chance to be educated in a common approach to advisory within the firm.

9. Quarterly reviews and regular coaching

Regular quarterly reviews will be conducted to ascertain progress against goals with coaching provided to overcome hurdles and continuously adapt the plan.

This time will be used to identify who has the highest potential and also who may be blocking the process. Those with the highest potential may be used to drive a new business advisory division if it does not already exist. This head of advisory services needs to report to the Managing Partner or CEO of the overall firm so that the advisory practice is protected from some of the negative aspects of the professional service firm culture.

10. Build a business advisory services division

After 6-12 months the advisory services leader develops plans to grow the business advisory services division and invites (where applicable) other high potential people within the firm to move to a full-time role in advisory services (but avoids conflict by not taking team members from other areas of the business where they want to continue in their current roles).

Initially this may only be a few people supplemented with some experienced 3rd party consultants but in time the fees generated from advisory will become significant in this division which is fed by referrals of more complex opportunities from other areas of the firm.

Some of the high potential leaders may ultimately return to their previous technical specialities in a more senior leadership role but that will enable improved cross selling across the firm if it occurs.

11. Annual review of progress

After 12 months, a full review is completed of the pilot program and a further roll-out of advisory services continues in line with the vision and targets of the firm. This is supported by the successful high potential people used during the initial pilot program, who are now advocates of the process and generating a fantastic return on investment.

12. Ongoing innovation, coaching training & development

After 12 months, with the support of Mindshop, the firm’s partners and teams, the business advisory division continues to thrive through regular coaching, training, innovation, networking and the injection of new technologies.

As credibility grows and advisory is just ‘the way we do business’ as part of an integrated model, referrals continue to increase and advisory becomes the key attraction and retention service for the firm in regard to both quality customers and quality team members.

You only fail if you stop trying

As with any business plan, some aspects of this strategy will be successful and others will fail. Each can be a benefit to the firm in the learning and experience created.

Changes to the overall strategy will be made in response to these experiences through the combined effort of the firm and Mindshop.

Unlocking the advisory opportunities for a firm to attract and retain the best people and customers while combating the margin erosion in traditional compliance fees is a huge opportunity for all larger firms at present. It’s not an easy road as great leadership, new skills, tenacity and patience will be required for success.

We look forward to supporting you in making this journey a successful one.

Download a PDF of the roadmap.

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