8 Questions to Kickstart Advisory Conversations with Your Clients

June 14, 2019 Victoria Hoffman

Questions to Kickoff Advisory for Accountants & Bookkeepers

Whether you’re considering adding advisory to your service offerings or are a seasoned advisor looking build deeper relationships with new and existing clients, there are a lot of ways to approach advisory-focused conversations.

Often, these types of conversations will happen organically. Based on the type of information you want to learn from your client, however, there are some specific questions you can ask to kickstart productive advisory discussions.

To discover some of the best ways to launch advisory conversations, we reached out to leading accounting and bookkeeping advisors and asked:

1. What is a question you ask your accounting/bookkeeping clients to kick off advisory conversations?

2. Why do you ask this question?

Read on to learn their answers (and be sure to test some of these out in your upcoming client meetings)!

Cecilia Gordillo & Natasha McLaren-Doerr, Flow CPA

Question for client(s): Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

"It may sound like a common question, but this helps us to put in perspective what a business owner’s ultimate goal is with regard to work/life integration. For example, if a business owner sees themselves taking the company public, then we work on strategies that will help the business become more appealing for investors, such as having an excellent business development team and a compelling sales strategy. The goal is growth.

"Another business owner may have a goal to travel more and provide a nice lifestyle for their family. Then, the strategies are geared toward cost efficiency and making the business owner ‘obsolete’, in a way. We implement strategies that will allow this owner to own a company that doesn’t own them – for example, we help them to automate as much as possible, and create simple processes for every department that anyone can follow. The goal here is freedom.”

Kelly Gonsalves, Totally Booked

Question for client(s): In order to make better, more informed decisions, what is the most important and useful information that we can provide you with?

“I usually ask this to see where their head is at. Sometimes, business owners don't know what they don't know, and sometimes they think they [already] know what they need. Or, some think they know it all and don't realize what they might be missing. My hope with this question is that they will give me a broad wish list, then we can go through each request and see how it may or may not be helpful.”

Nayo Carter-Gray, 1st Step Accounting, LLC

Question for client(s): What’s the biggest challenge you are having in your business right now?

“I ask this question to get a better understanding of what keeps my small business clients awake at night. Hearing what they are struggling with and then helping them craft a solution to the problem makes me feel like I’m contributing to their success and makes the client feel like I truly care.”

Mohammad Bajwa, CloudCPA LLP

Question for client(s): What is the most important aspect of your business? (That one key thing that will keep your business running? What keeps you awake at night?)

“As an entrepreneur, you have a million things running through your mind and you are constantly thinking about your business. We want to remove all that noise from our client’s mind and let them focus on one critical part of the business that, if taken care of, can handle everything else.

“What we find is that it almost always leads to cashflow. Cashflow hits all aspects of the business. When we have this conversation with our clients, we change their mindset from constantly worrying about remaining compliant to more important aspects of their business. With this change in mindset, our clients view us more than just their typical accountant – we become their go-to trusted business advisors.

“It goes without saying that this would not be possible without the use of cloud accounting. With apps like QuickBooks Online, Hubdoc, and Fathom, we’re able to streamline the compliance part of our practice and turn our attention and focus toward advisory services, which (in our opinion) provide way more value to our clients.”

Eric Saumure, Zenbooks

Question for client(s): How do you currently do {Insert action}? Do you see any problems with that?

“This helps the client reflect on processes and helps them to rethink if what they're doing is really the best thing for them. It's not just about whether they’re doing this efficiently, but do they WANT to be part of the process at all?”

Question for NPO client(s): How will you be evaluated by the board?

“This is a key difference between non-profit organization (NPO) governance and small business governance. NPO leaders are evaluated and accountable to the board based on the goals that were approved. These goals are typically written down in a plan, but it's important to know how the NPO leader will be assessed against those goals.”

Sherrell T. Martin, Nitram Financial Solutions

Question for client(s): Based on where you are year-to-date and what I know your goal is, what types of strategies are you looking to implement to meet that goal?

“When kicking off advisory conversations, I typically ask questions around growth, profitability, and sustainability. While looking over the financials, I point out trends and anomalies, and ask probing questions to get to the root of what is happening, if I don't already know.

“This question ensures that the business owner understands their current financial position and has an actionable plan on how to move forward. It will also give me insight into planned or unplanned spend that is a part of that plan, which in turn can lead to additional questions (and open up the conversation more).”

Rafael Alvarez & Joel Lacayo, ATAX Franchise, Inc.

Question for client(s): If we were to give you a 're-do' for your business, while able to retain all that you have learned, what are the top three things you MUST do to accelerate your growth?

"This allows us to empower the business owner and laud them for whatever level of success they've had, which then allows them to feel more comfortable to share the areas of the business that most need attention. Getting this insight allows us to efficiently guide the conversation toward the resources/tools we have available for critical self-identified gaps as well as strengths that come up."

Tammatha Denyes, TD Accounting Services

Question for client(s): I have been reviewing your last year's increase/decline in growth and wanted to discuss your upcoming need to increase/decrease staff/production based on the trends. Do you have some time to discuss this?

“Asking the question moves the mindset of the business owner from the ‘here and now’ to the ‘future’ of the business. Growing a business starts by looking forward and projecting what the future is going to look like so you can prepare for either the ‘busy’ or ‘slow’ season. Teaching the business owner to plan forward by six to nine months helps them focus on what is important and allows for contingencies to be put into place.  

“Not only is this helpful to the business owner, [it also] allows our team to focus on what the business owner is going to need in the future.”

Learn more tips for getting started with advisory services in our Pre-Advisory Checklist.


About the Author

Victoria Hoffman

Victoria is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Hubdoc. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto and has 5+ years of experience in digital marketing. She appreciates a fun pun and is always looking for a good book to read.

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