Transform Your Team: Making...

Transform Your Team: Making it a (Mandatory) Part of Process

This is the second deep dive in a series of three focused on how to transform your staff into trusted business advisors. For a background on why this is so critical to the long-term success of your practice, read our intro to the series here.

In our first article in this series, we covered the need to train advisors on how to analyze business health AND have meaningful conversations with clients about it.

Formalized learning and development is important, but the majority of learning happens in more real-time environments. Furthermore, once everyone gets ‘busy’ with client work, a portion of the formalized learning is long forgotten. 

Public accountants are process-driven creatures of habit. A core part of training is “make sure you complete all the steps because we don’t want to get regulatory fines.” Therefore, integrating steps into your workflow at the right moments is key to actually creating the habit of being a trusted business advisor. 


Firms do a great job of doing risk assessments to make sure that they want to keep working with a client and to see where there may be additional work needed (for audit teams looking at impairment-type indicators or for tax teams looking at new jurisdictions of operations as examples). This is done well because it is a required part of working with clients. However, on the flip side, there are little to no internal requirements to ask questions that would uncover additional opportunities, likely because they don’t fit in neatly with current tech (e.g. you wouldn’t document this in your Caseware or tax prep files). There is latitude though to add these sorts of exploratory conversations and financial analysis as part of a planning meeting agenda. Examples could include: 

  1. Are you planning on extracting cash out of the business? Do you know how to do this in the most tax-efficient way? 
  2. Is there excess working capital that could be deployed more efficiently? 
  3. Is the business appropriately leveraged and/or are there opportunities to grow using external capital? 
  4. Are there significant asset purchases coming up that would need external funding? 
  5. What does your time horizon look like for selling the business or creating a succession plan? How can you take action today to make the business more valuable in the future? 


As part of the completion/sign-off of an engagement, having a step that requires confirmation data has been looked at for additional opportunities and/or to generate a report on the financial health of the client’s business is an easy win. The most recent information is now available. Shifting the conversation from a purely compliance step to a true business advisor opportunity is invaluable in building trust with a client. The conversation flow would be something like: 

  1. Here are your statements and/or tax return 
  2. here is what it is telling me about your business, compared to: 
    1. Historical performance (your trend) 
    2. Industry benchmarks (your peers)  
  3. Here is where you can improve 
  4. Here is how we can help you do that 

Off-cycle Moments 

There is a perception that clients only want to hear from their accountants during tax time. That is because traditionally accountants have been perceived as being their deliverable. However, as the need for SMBs to have more holistic support grows, accountants can fill the gap and be a valued resource throughout the year. 

This is also when accountants are typically less busy and have time to do more one-off project work that comes from these trusted business advisor discussions (tax planning, advisory services, etc). 

Some firms are also moving to being more like fractional CFO support, which naturally means more meaningful conversations on an ongoing basis. 

Successful firms often focus on creating a tiered approach to client outreach throughout the year (most valuable clients have a check-in monthly or quarterly, then the next tier quarterly/semi-annually, and finally the ones that are just the once-a-year compliance exercise). Putting clients into tiers and then using this as a guide to track against outreach (whether via spreadsheet or a CRM) is super-important in making sure the most is made of the off-peak time in growing a firm.


Author: Dave Bunce, CPA, CA.