Despite a wave of new technology changing the face of accounting, the modern accountant needs to offer what software can’t – strategic client service and counsel on everything from forecasting to hiring plans to increasing growth margins. In other words, today’s accountant needs to become tomorrow’s business advisor.

Business needs have evolved, along with the tools that help serve them. As such, more than ever, accountants need to know how to evolve their role as a trusted – and indispensable – business advisor. Making the switch can sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are four simple steps toward taking on more of an advisory role with your clients.

1. Embrace technology

For accountants to level up and provide the kind of high-level business strategy that adds value to clients, they need to invest in tools to automate and streamline what they previously did by hand – hr software, workflow, payroll, sales tax calculations, 401(k) deductions, charity donations, etc. Become an expert in the services out there and a champion of tools that automate such tasks as sales tax, payroll, benefits, compliance, productivity, applicant tracking, practice management, and even core bookkeeping and bank reconciliation. Not only will this position you as an expert in today’s small business ecosystem, but these services will free you up to spend more time on strategic advising.

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2. Be a subject-matter expert

To provide the best strategic guidance to your clients, it helps if you have a meaningful understanding of their specific industry, business size, or target customers. It may seem like they, not you, are the experts on these subjects, but remember: They live and breathe their business. You add real value by offering a broader range of experiences and insights to draw from. E-commerce companies, such as Catching Clouds, help accountants advise their clients on inventory management. These tools give you a sense for benchmarks, best practices, and other situations that your client likely doesn’t have access to. For example, how much are their competitors paying employees? Do most local small businesses with fewer than 50 employees offer benefits? When is the best time of year to hire great people?

3. Develop a network

An accountant is often the first advisor around a new business. But shortly after, they’ll likely need a lawyer, someone to design their logo, or possibly a PR firm or marketing agency. They also may need to open a business account at a small bank, acquire directors and officers liability insurance (D&O), or property and casualty insurance (P&C). Develop a network of advisors you trust and enjoy working with. BNI is one example of a great referral network. Referring advisors or services to your clients will prove that you’re a valuable asset who knows your chops. It also means you get to work alongside people you respect and enjoy.

4. Think beyond the spreadsheet

Business owners need more than a spreadsheet of their profits, losses, and tax liability. They want to understand how to better run their business. Today’s accountants need to offer the insights behind the numbers. Explain what product lines have the highest margins, whether or not they can afford to hire, and how to go about expanding to a new location. One way is to look into using business intelligence software. These tools won’t replace your value; they will enhance it.


There’s no doubt our industry is at a crossroads, but we shouldn’t fear the direction it’s headed. This is an exciting time, and there are tremendous opportunities to learn and grow. With the workforce changing and all kinds of tools and technologies popping up, evolve with them and you’ll become an indispensable part of your clients’ business strategy – their modern business advisor.

This story was originally published in AccountingWEB.

Saad Shahzad Saad Shahzad, a contributing author on Gusto, provides actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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