12 Traits of a Good Advisor
If you’ve been in the accounting world for more than a few months, you’re probably familiar with the industry shift to value pricing and advisory services. Accounting thought leadership, and even the AICPA itself, are recommending that accounting professionals increase their value by adding advisory services. However, changing from data entry to advisory isn’t simply a change in workflow, it’s also a change in mindset and approach.
12 traits of a good advisory accountant
When making the shift to advisory, it’s important to consider not only the task changes, but also the person you need to be to be a successful advisor. Advisors don’t just give advice, they also give perspective, ask questions, and are forward-thinking. Clients want to work with someone who’s on their team but has the insight to see what they can’t and the initiative to prevent potential problems.
Here are 12 traits of a good advisor:
1. Analyze objectively
Clients can’t see objectively into their own business, as they can be burdened by their emotional connection to their business. As an accounting professional, you can see the financials for what they are – so that’s a value add.
2. Create clarity and eliminate confusion
Your clients will think more accurately about their companies and their growth because of how you interact with them. As you teach them how to read their reports and understand the numbers, you will give them insight and skills to manage their finances.
3. Match patterns
Good advisors study patterns. Pattern matching is critical to a growing advisory practice. Another benefit of working within a niche, experts within their niche can detect industry patterns that generalists cannot. Anomalies in patterns are valuable information to your clients because they would not detect such anomalies independently. Seeing and deciphering such patterns takes years of practice within the same niche and meticulous attention to detail that general accounts often don’t have visibility to. For example, if your niche is retail, you probably know that the standard shrinkage rate for a clothing boutique is 1.8%. If your client’s reports show they have 5% shrinkage, you would be in a place to bring that to their attention. This metric gives insight into a deeper issue: too many goods are being damaged out, lost, or stolen, so you would be able to provide the next steps to your client regarding what to do with this information, potentially discovering a quality control or theft issue.
4. Take the initiative
Remember that line, ‘If you see something, say something? That applies so well to the advisory role. You’re the expert with their numbers. Don’t wait for permission. Proactively look for insights and share them with your clients. You’re no longer in the backroom: as an advisor, you’re in the boardroom.
5. Create action steps
Clients regularly find themselves in analysis paralysis when it comes to numbers. They often don’t know what to do with the information you give them, so as a good advisor, it is an opportunity for you to hold their hand and walk them through the process by creating the next steps. If their cost of goods sold is too high, maybe help them analyze their COGS by product line to see which item is stealing their profit. You could also help them rework their pricing strategy to cover their costs. It’s not just ‘here’s the numbers, it’s ‘here’s the numbers, now we can…’.
6. Provide accountability
And do it with patience and grace. It can be frustrating for clients to realize that what they’re doing is not working. Therefore, so as an accounting professional and a leader in their workplace, you want to encourage and teach and remind them what they can do to improve their situation. If you gave them the next steps in the advisory meeting, set a reminder to check in with them in two weeks and ask them how those next steps are moving along.
7. Listen actively
Clients aren’t just paying you to talk. They’re paying you to listen—your goal: talk less than they do. Take physical notes when they’re talking; it shows them that you care and hear what they’re saying. When they’re finished, repeat back to them what they said, as it creates an opportunity for them to clarify or give you more information.
8. Be confident
Confidence is often the biggest roadblock when it comes to advising. Make sure your mindset is in the right place: ‘I am here to serve. I am the expert. What I’m teaching my clients will have a massive impact on their business. The value I am bringing far surpasses what I’m charging.’ Adding a client experience strategy and becoming a trusted advisor extends beyond just giving advice. You must believe in what you are doing, and they have to know that you believe in it
9. Cast vision
Advisory is leadership. You can’t lead if you don’t know where you’re going. Have a vision of where you want to take them, based on what you’ve learned about their goals and business. Make a plan and show it to them, even if it’s just a draft or some key metrics. It will encourage them to have a finish line to run towards.
10. Communicate well
How you communicate matters as much, if not more, than what you say. Be empathetic when they had a challenging year, even if they caused their own problems; this business is their baby. Accounting can be scary to clients, and some even carry shame around their own habits, so be sure you’re being soft and patient with them. This doesn’t need to be another stressful part of their business. When they come to you, they should be able to sit down and sigh in relief because you are a piece of their support system. They aren’t doing this alone.
11. Be direct, open and frank
When discussing hard business decisions, sugar coating, or talking around difficult subjects leaves clients confused. Nothing builds trust more than honest, direct communication. Your clients will feel understood knowing that you’re on their team.
12. Be responsive [or stay in touch]
A lot of accountants seldom respond to their clients. It’s a common reason business owners leave their accountants for new practices. They rarely do so due to skill level. Consistent communication will mean the world to them. It will build trust and put them at ease knowing you’re only a phone call away.