TFYW#082: Four Different Advisory Offers

Apr 5, 2024

This week, I’ll get into the step-by-step process of offering strategic advisory.

Caught up on Labels

Offering advisory was intimidating.

It seemed like a huge leap.

I was stuck in my head about what I could and couldn’t do.

How could a young CPA and new accounting firm owner offer CFO advisory services?

I had been a controller and part of a team that advised on M+A, but I felt I lacked the skillset to offer strategic CFO advice.

I was stuck thinking that it was an either/or proposition.

Just last week, I wrote about leading with advisory in crafting offers, but to be clear, advisory is not just CFO services.

Firstly, ‘advisory’ is the worst term. I know it’s just an umbrella term for all ‘non-compliance’ services, but it’s the worst offender of accounting speak.

For most small business owners, it is ambiguous… and it sounds expensive or overkill for what they need.

On the flip side, many competent professionals concoct ideas of what advisory should be, and never fully charge for ‘simple’ yet valuable advisory services.

Sometimes, we define what we do based on corporate roles: Senior accountant, Controller or CFO. We think this clarifies how we can help our clients, but in reality, those identifiers distort and create boundaries about how services are delivered.


If you don’t remember anything else from this newsletter, remember this:


Advisory work is a broad spectrum. Don’t get stuck on the label. Focus on the value delivered.


We usually offer a mix of the above roles – providing business-changing advice and support.

Drilling down on what you do empowers you to standardize and charge for truly valuable work.

What We Do

Let’s get really simple here:

Reporting Where They’re At

This is a single snapshot of the business, either annually or monthly.

It’s a P&L or balance sheet.

It’s the most common work we do.

The advisory you can offer at this stage is descriptive advisory.

You usually confirm what the biz owner’s gut is telling them or serve them with a heavy dose of reality about their current business model’s viability.

The downside is that the data is discreet and incomplete.

You increase the value at this stage by adding reference points of benchmarked data.

Add simple metrics like

    • % of Revenue for the direct and admin expenses helps benchmark their operations.
    • Revenue per headcount is another simple benchmark.

Some benchmark data might not suit your client’s business size, but they can still act as targets.

Another opportunity includes discreet, segmented results by product, geography or customer type. However, this requires an investment at the beginning of the process.

There are ways to add value with standalone data, but it is limited either way.

Consecutive data is better.

Reporting How They Got There

This shows the evolution of your client’s business.

It’s the month-over-month P&L or balance sheet.

It adds context to where the business is at.

This is Examination Advisory.

You can quickly examine the cause and effect of new marketing campaigns, gains from switching vendors, decreasing headcount, and price adjustments.

Successful businesses get fewer decisions wrong, and examination advisory is that feedback loop to make decisions faster and better.

An extra layer of feedback can include tracking expenses by vendor instead of just expense categories.

When we dive into vendors, the discussion changes from generalities to specifics, focusing on promised vs actual ROIs, potential substitutes and restructures.

The next step is to leverage current results to help depict the future.

Projecting Where They’re Going

The next step is helping the client know where they are going.

This is Forecast Advisory.

Certainty is an underestimated and undervalued offering.

While almost all forecasts and budgets are inaccurate, they help businesses play offence.

Anything that helps create a better picture of reality is worth the effort.

A client might want top line growth of 30%, but projections and assumptions based on historicals may paint a more realistic picture.

It’s not that you’re pooping on their goals, but giving them a better starting point to make real and necessary changes.

Once you’ve established what will happen if nothing changes, you can introduce options and plans to get there.

Discussing Their Options

This is the pinnacle of advisory.

This is Scenario Advisory – strategic advisory.

Most of us already offer this type of advisory work, but to a lesser extent.

Instead of advising on the direction of the business, we advise on components:

    • Buy vs. Build
    • Pricing models
    •  Finance vs. Lease
    • Employee vs. contractor
    • Service agreement structures

Most accountants can break down the drivers of component advice by talking through the decision variables.

The same applies to strategic advisory for businesses.

And we talk through the variables by properly executing the above three advisory services.

You don’t have to jump to business strategic advisory.

Get good at description and examination advisory first.

And to get good at those, you’ll have to charge more than you think for them.

It’s a sinking ship to try and offer it without the resources to do so.

I hope that was valuable.

Build the firm you want.


P.S. Email with something that you want me to talk about. I’ll add it to the list. 

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