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Guide to increasing revenue with advisory services

josh By Josh Lance 


Over the past few years, there’s been plenty of talk about the need for accountants and bookkeepers to offer advisory services. 

Even before 2020, the market for accounting services was shifting. A global pandemic then brought a step change in digital transformation and significant economic turbulence. The war in the Ukraine and related events are also pushing up inflation and curbing economic activity worldwide. In the US, the near future might look challenging, but accounting and tax firms of all sizes still have increased expectations of growth in 2023.

According to Accounting Today’s report on The Year Ahead: 2023 In Accounting – Building a Foundation for the Future, “Accountants have realized that they can do better than other organizations, even in the most difficult of economic environments. While growth rates shrank over 2020 and 2021, they stayed positive and firms had more work than they could handle.”  One of the major focuses for firms this year will be the shift away from, “a compliance-first mindset to one that focuses primarily on higher-value advisory services,” the report says. “Firms increased their time spent on advisory work in the past year, and fully half of them expect to increase it again in 2023.”

These services are typically the most significant accounting challenges that clients face in their businesses. These are priorities that keep clients up at night: ‘how do we manage cash flow?’, ‘how do we best pay our people?’, ‘how do we build a business that we really want to build?’.  

In this ebook, we’ll look at exactly how to increase your firm’s revenue using advisory services and how Ignition can help to maximize your profits in this area. Let’s dive in.


Table of contents

Chapter One: How to decide which advisory services to offer

Key takeaways:

  1. Start planning which services to launch by asking six key questions to find your firm’s sweetspot.
  2. Inform your research with market insights about the advisory services clients are likely to demand in 2023.
  3. Use your existing compliance work to consider if there’s a clear need for advisory.
  4. Choose the advisory services to offer using a simple four-step process.
  5. Using Ignition to automate tasks can free-up time to offer advisory services.

In this chapter, we’ll look at how you can start finding your business's sweet spot or ideal customer profile (ICP). We’ll explore how to use your existing compliance work as the basis for considering advisory services you could launch. Knowing which advisory services are in strong demand is also important at this stage – and there’s more on this below. We’ll also describe how these can be used to attract new clients and increase revenue from existing ones. 

6 steps to finding your firm’s sweet spot

Sean M. Duncan, CPA, is the Founder and President of SMD Consulting & Accounting, LLC in North Dallas and the creator of the Chief Proactive Advisor Program. He teaches accounting and tax firm owners how to find their sweet spot. He recommends that accountants wanting to generate more lucrative and meaningful work start by asking themselves:

  • What kind of work do I want to do?
  • What am I good at?
  • What type of client do I want to help?
  • What do those clients need?
  • What does success look like for me?
  • Then create a business plan based on the answers.

Accomplishing the answers does inevitably involve challenges and some investment of time and energy. But it could be a catalyst to many advisory opportunities. Sean M. Duncan, CPA, who uses Ignition in his own practice, pivoted his firm from performing strictly tax prep work, which brought in on average $800 per client, per year in 2017 to more specialized services, such as wealth management and estate planning. He now makes over $10,000 per client, per year. 

The shift has been a win-win for him, his firm, and his clients. He’s achieving his own personal goals to provide more meaningful and impactful services to his clients, and have a positive impact on their lives and their businesses. Sean M. Duncan, CPA’s framework for launching advisory services in his firm is available to read and follow below. 

See how Sean M. Duncan, CPA, 4x his net income percentage with advisory

Sean Headshot - White Background (High Res)

In my firm Lance CPA Group, we’ve niched down into craft breweries and digital agencies. It’s allowed us to become experts in those industries. We’ve made it our business to get to know these types of businesses, pairing our expertise to meet their unique demands and to help ensure their financial wellbeing.

At the same time as laying the groundwork for your ICP or niche and researching suitable advisory services to launch, it pays to also know which services clients will be clamoring for in 2023. These services are likely to include:

Tax advisory: Helping your clients optimize their tax situation is a service they’re likely to want during the downturn. We did this in our firm and we found we got an overwhelming number of clients that wanted that work and signed up for it. If you’re just doing tax returns right now, ask yourself, ‘how can we expand this out so we’re working with clients throughout the year, helping them with tax planning or tax estimates?’

Cash flow forecasting and advice: If business owners didn’t want this before 2020, they definitely did after lockdowns started happening. The issue here isn’t likely to be convincing clients they need the service – it’s making it clear that it’s a service they need to pay for.


Technology advisory: Many clients are likely to need help with their tech stack – business software is rarely a plug-and-play affair. You’ll need someone with technological expertise to take on this work, but if you already employ such a person or can hire or partner with one, this could offer significant revenue opportunities. 

“You’ll be a hero to your clients if you can handle the tech side of things,” Sean Duncan says. “If your firm can advise, for instance, a medical practice on what practice-management software they should buy, then install it and make sure it integrates with their other software – then provide IT support if any issues arise – that’s something you charge a lot of money for,” he says. 

Client advisory services (CAS), such as virtual CFO: ‘The cloud’ and the SaaS products it has enabled, means it’s never been easier for businesses to outsource back-office functions such as finance to their accounting and tax firm. Few businesses can afford $300,000 for a full-time CFO, but if they want to grow they do need strategic advice. (If you’re considering focusing on client advisory services (CAS), you may want your staff to study for AICPA’s Client Accounting Advisory Services Certificate.)  

“Many businesses want a Virtual CFO and this is something my firm generates a ton of money from,” says Sean M. Duncan, CPA. “But, be it a fractional CFO or controller or anything else, you have to establish clear boundaries around how big the fraction is. Are you spending a few hours helping the client understand their financials and make management decisions every week, month, or quarter?”

How to use compliance work as the basis for your advisory services

Advisory services don’t have to be separate services from those you already offer. In fact, these services could come out of your existing compliance work. If there’s a clear need for an advisory element, there could be an opportunity to service clients in a much better way. 

As I discuss in Choosing the right advisory services for your practice to offer, clients may come to firms with a need such as a tax return, but what they truly want is high-value guidance.

elling additional services to existing clients could allow you to increase revenue from your existing customers. This means leveraging your client relationships, but many accountants struggle with putting it into action. This is often because they don't know where to start or they try to do too much at once. The key is to start small. Don't try to sell every service to every client right away. Even if you are successful and they all agree to it, you may not have the ability to fulfill what you’ve promised. 

Below is a simple four step method to help you kickstart the process for choosing advisory services to offer in your firm. 

Step 1: Understand your client service matrix

First, gain a solid understanding of your current client service matrix by listing all of your clients against all of the services you currently provide. Mark off which of these services your clients are currently using. 


Step 2: Identify services to sell 

Next, ask your team what you should be doing for your clients that you’re not currently doing and that would provide a lot of value. Also identify with your team the typical areas where clients are pulling the firm out of scope. This is a great way of identifying a potential need for services. The services you pinpoint should be ones your team is trained (or can be trained) to deliver.

Step 3: Expand your current offering

When you’ve identified services you could offer, revisit your matrix looking at the industries your clients are in. Consider if your other clients in the same industry have similar demands for the out of scope work you identified in Step 2. This may be an indication that this industry has a certain need, and you could look at expanding to include this offering.

Step 4: Capacity planning and how automation and training play a key role 

Reviewing your current capacity and your team’s overall capabilities is vital in deciding how many of your existing clients you could feasibly provide this service to. Capacity is a precious resource and safeguarding it is essential. You don’t want to over-commit yourself. 

Automation software such as Ignition plays a key role here. Automation is really important because firms don’t have much time. It’s not like we can hire where we want when we want – and firms are struggling to provide advisory services because they’re busy doing the basic work. 

CPA.com’s report, Where Opportunity Meeting Value: Business Model Trends for Accounting Advisory Services, shows firms that automated highly manual tasks, “opened up time for them to provide more advisory type work”. It also allows you to respond or be more proactive with the clients you currently have. 

One of the other capacity challenges firms have with advisory is that it’s still being carried out at partner level or senior level. As a result, they have a lot of requirements on their plate – they’re trying to manage the practice, people, clients. They can never get to that work or feel constrained about the amount of advisory they can really do. 

To overcome this problem I recommend training staff to do advisory work. This opens up the ability to scale this better, but also makes this a more viable opportunity within your firm. It’s less reliant on the partner and more reliant on the staff and the firm to do it.”

Other ways to proactively manage capacity include hiring employees offshore and using value pricing. More of the latter below. 

Chapter Two: How to price your advisory services

Key takeaways:

  • If you use value pricing for advisory services you’re able to take on less clients, ultimately do more work, and get paid for the value you’re creating.
  • Prices for advisory services differ from firm-to-firm because of the variables involved, so there’s no ‘correct’ price for a service.
  • Your clients will almost certainly compare the market, so being clear about how and why you’re pricing services a certain way is essential. 
  • You can use Ignition to upsell your services and grow revenue by presenting clients with up to three proposals to choose from, ranging from basic to premium.
  • Soft-launch your advisory services to iron out any potential issues.

When you’re introducing advisory, top of mind is how to price these services. In this chapter, we’ll look at the pricing models you can use, how to present your pricing to clients, and how to position it using Ignition’s three-tier structure.

Your pricing strategy

The aim of your pricing strategy is to earn a healthy margin on a service there’s consistent demand for. There are several models you can use to do this. In Ignition’s article on How to manage rising costs and pricing services as an accountant, I explain the various pricing models available to you. Moving your practice to year-round recurring revenue also describes the benefits of charging a monthly subscription fee for your advisory services, which can work well for Client Accounting Services (CAS), such as Virtual CFO. 

How value pricing introduces benefits beyond the bottom line

Of all the ways you could price advisory services, I recommend using value pricing. I know this from my own experience, when you value price you’re able to take on less clients, ultimately doing more work. And you’re actually getting paid for the value you’re creating for your clients, so you don’t need as many.  

Using value pricing means you’re not racing to get the number of clients you need to make your practice viable. We’re also less stressed. We’re working normal hours during tax season, not running around all the time. Ultimately, it’s a better result and not just from a bottom line perspective, but from an employee morale and employee experience perspective as well, alongside customer experience, too. 

When you combine value pricing with automation, you have a winning formula to make advisory work really well.

How do you know what to charge for advisory services?

Deciding how to price your services goes hand-in-hand with the question of what to charge for them. The answer is different for every firm: “Anyone who claims there is a ‘correct’ price for a service is lying,” Sean M. Duncan, CPA points out. 

“You can ask other accountants what they charge. You can ask new clients what their old accountant charged. But given the variables involved, there’s no way to work out what you should be charging other than by trial and error. Pro tip: if you’re not getting much pushback from any clients, you’re charging too little,” he says.


How to present your pricing to clients

Regardless of what you charge or how you charge, it’s important to clearly communicate the specific factors that went into determining the price. “We want clarity around price and this is a big reason why I’m not a fan of hourly pricing, because there’s no clarity around it: ‘Okay great it’s $250 an hour. What does that mean for me as a client? It can take two hours, it can take 10 hours, it can take 200 hours, I have no clue. I just know your price for that unit metric’,” he says. 

When you’re presenting pricing to your client:
  • It should be clear what you’re pricing.
  • It should be clear why you’re pricing tasks a certain way.
  • Your pricing should show the schedule of your prices:
    • Recurring.
    • One-time.
    • Hourly.
    • Retainers.
Your pricing should provide the total investment for the proposed period of time.

Why tiered pricing packages and free trials are popular

Three-tier pricing structures can help you clearly present your pricing to clients. You might want to offer a bronze tier, where clients pay a modest amount for basic services; a silver tier, where they get the basic services along with some advisory ones; and a gold tier, where the client gets the full concierge experience. Nobody wants to be wondering what the bill will end up being with hourly pricing, which is why tiered pricing is so popular. 

You can use this feature to supercharge your sales process in Ignition, by offering clients the option to choose from up to three proposals. This makes it easy to guide clients to select the recommended option that best suits their needs.


Chapter Three: Starting the sale

Key takeaways:

  • Soft-launch your advisory services to select clients first, so you can iron out any issues.
  • Sell your advisory services using a two-step process for your scoping session, and proposal that includes the all-important letter of engagement.
  • With Ignition, you can create impressive online proposals and automated engagement letters that make it simple to engage clients, get paid and run your firm on autopilot.   

One fundamental question underpins all the above points: how should you sell advisory services? In this chapter, we’ll look at the sales process, breaking it down into how to soft-launch your services, followed by a simple two-step process for scoping the work; and creating a proposal and letter of engagement.

Soft launch your advisory services

Before starting to sell a new service to your client base, consider soft-launching it first. That way you can gather data and iron out any bugs before rolling out the service more broadly, and clients may also sign up for the new service once the trial ends. 

As part of your soft-launch, include one or more testimonials and case studies in marketing emails. Most of the time, your business clients will be delighted to provide a testimonial or participate in a case study because (a) it’s free advertising for their business and (b) they know how important social proof is and have probably made similar requests of their own customers. You can make the process easier for all parties involved by systematizing and automating it.  

How to get into the sales mindset

Many accountants struggle with the sales process. They didn’t get in the business to be sales people but they may now find themselves working in sales to rein in work for their firm. To understand the sale process better and get into the right mindset, I suggest reading Blair Enns’ book The Win Without Pitching Manifesto


Setting up your sales workflow

You’re likely to have already defined your niche or ICP. A standardized sales process identifies if the client:

  • Is a good fit for your firm.
  • Aligns with who you serve (ie, your niche) or the services you provide.
  •  Values your work (ie, isn’t focused mainly on price rather than valuing your expertise).
  • Truly knows what they want (sometimes the client doesn’t know, so a discovery process is needed to find out or to gather more information).
  • Has agreed to a defined scope (more on this below).

Use your scoping session to understand client needs

Step 1: Arrange a scoping session.  Scoping is your secret weapon. By holding a detailed session with your client, you can precisely determine a client’s goals, their business’s context/unique circumstances, and what sort of advice they’re looking for you to provide. 

Scoping needs to become a well-integrated part of your firm’s workflow, especially when providing advisory services. A detailed scoping session will allow you to provide better advice that makes a lasting impact on your clients’ businesses. It will also give you all the information you need to create your proposal in minutes, plus a detailed letter of engagement. For example, if you’re planning to launch tax planning and business advisory services, Intuit’s proposal template in Ignition can help you quickly and easily package and price these services. 

Step 2: Create a proposal and letter of engagement 
As part of your proposal, your letter of engagement should clearly state what’s expected, when, and how much these services will cost – thereby eliminating misalignment between accountant and client, especially when it comes to services and fees. Engagements should be the catalyst of all work. A signed engagement greatly reduces the risk of scope creep and drastically minimizes the potential for fee disputes going forward.


Leveraging technology to save time and reduce admin

To automate tasks in the client engagement and payment process, you can connect your favorite apps to Ignition. This saves time, and minimizes admin, tedious tasks and mistakes. From the moment your client signs your proposal, automated workflows swing into action.

“My senior staff and I have saved countless hours thanks to Ignition,” says Sean M. Duncan, CPA. “[It] integrates nicely with our other software, which means everything can be automated. Once the client has provided the necessary e-signatures on the relevant documents and paid the required upfront fee – and only then – our Ignition software activates the project in our practice-management system. Everything is in writing, which means I spend far less time on calls with upset clients. If there is a dispute, I can be confident I have the paperwork required to claim on my errors and omissions insurance,” he says.      


Accept payments on your proposals upfront, using Ignition

Naturally, you want to make sure that you get paid for the work you do and not waste valuable time chasing payments. Ignition can take care of this. It allows you to go from proposal to paid, in one place. So, you can collect credit card or ACH information upfront on your proposals. 

Ignition also allows you to automate that process. So, if you sign up a client and you’re going to do monthly accounting services for them at $1,000 per month, now that you have their payment information you can automate invoicing and receive payments without any additional work on your end as a result. 

Since implementing Ignition, customers spend almost half the amount of time managing the client engagement and payment process.

Chapter 4: Chapter Four: How to market your advisory services

Key takeaways:

  • Using one-to-many marketing tactics such as email enables you reach as many prospective clients as possible.
  • Use Google search phrases relating to your niche to inspire content such as blog posts that answer prospects’ questions.
  • Discover expert insights on digital marketing tactics for your firm in the article, Using a digital marketing strategy to grow your accounting firm.
  • Ensure you use a range of tactics and strategies to attract advisory clients and avoid over-relying on social media.
  • Use your knowledge of your clients’ business to work out the best time to pitch your services to them. 
  • Discover services and additional resources to help you transition to advisory.

Clients may not know your firm offers a service or how they could benefit from it. In this chapter we’ll look at the marketing tools and tactics you can use to get your name and services out there.

You may prefer to market your advisory services through word of mouth referrals, and on a one-to-one basis via a phone call or email. But for the best reach you should consider the following one-to-many approaches.

Leverage the power of email marketing

Using a CRM or marketing tool doesn’t need to be complicated. If you don’t have an existing CRM tool for mass communications then consider using inexpensive and easy-to-use email software such Mailchimp. You can import into these tools a list of emails for the clients that you would like to offer the additional services too. Your email (or emails) should explain clearly:

  • The service you want to provide.
  • The benefits and value of this service.
  • Options available for the delivery of the services (one-off, monthly, quarterly, and so on).
How the clients can contact you for more details or to kickoff the process.

Just as you did during your soft-launch, you could include a case study or testimonial. Proving the value of this service is a great addition to the marketing campaign. Again, offering a free trial for a short period of time works especially well if it’s a fairly new concept to the client. 

Before hitting send, don't forget to make sure you have a follow-up plan in place. How will you keep track of the offer recipients and who has taken it up? Make sure you touch base with those clients that didn’t respond to confirm whether or not they’re interested in the additional services in question.

Create content for your website that targets advisory prospects

“Keep in mind that great websites have great content,” says Jennie Moore. “Think: messaging that’s clear, error-free, and meaningful, like tips, blogs, downloadable documents, or other ‘bait’ that hooks your audience and builds trust. Also think: client testimonials and reviews, as those are both a way to build trust and up your position in search engines,” she says.

You can increase your website’s visibility when people search on Google by creating content that’s targeted to your clients. If you are targeting brewery owners for example, you might search for phrases such as ‘how to set up taproom financial reporting’. By answering the questions that come up in the search results, you can provide valuable information to your target audience and establish yourself as an expert in your field.   


Digital marketing one of the fast ways to get traffic to your website

A digital strategy is using technology to improve your business performance. In this Ignition article on Using a digital marketing strategy to grow your accounting firm, Jennie Moore describes how to scale your firm’s growth using digital marketing tactics.

Avoid over-relying on social media

Most accounting and tax firm owners or partners are fully aware of the importance of sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram to promote their business. I’d encourage accountants to not overly rely on social media as a promotional channel, which is one of the mistakes I see firms making. While social media can be a valuable tool for promoting your services, it's important to consider using other marketing strategies as well. Diversifying your marketing efforts can help you reach a wider audience and effectively promote your services. 

Timing your launch campaigns

Knowing the best time to launch your services comes down to your understanding of your clients’ business and when the timing is best to pitch your services. If your niche is a particular industry, you’re likely to have an in-depth understanding of your clients’ pain points and world view. You can use this information to guide the timing and what to say.

Over to you

Knowing what you should do to take your business to the next level is a lot different to actually putting it into practice. But with Ignition, you can spend less time on time consuming administrative work. Ignition makes the transition to engaging advisory clients easier, and allows you to get paid and run your accounting firm on autopilot. 

Want to find out more how Ignition can improve efficiency, optimize your revenue and deliver seamless experiences for your advisory clients? Sign up for a free 14-day trial.  

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