Interested in launching a People Advisory practice, but nervous about your lack of HR chops? As a thoughtful, client-centered professional, this makes sense. But before you start canvassing your network for an HR pro, consider this: More likely than not, you or someone on your team already has what it takes to be a top-notch People Advisor. 

People Advisors combine financial expertise with knowledge of people operations to help clients build a great place to work. And chances are, there are many ways in which your firm already offers People Advisory Services to clients. Whether that’s guiding them through employee onboarding, explaining how to use Gusto’s time tracking or PTO features, or even helping them access PPP funds.

Many firm owners find that their team is delivering value around payroll, they’re just not charging clients for it—yet. 

So, the key is to know what your team is already doing, what they’re capable of doing, and when to hand over to an HR pro.

People Advisory? Tell Me More.

People Advisory is a consultative service in which accountants pair their financial expertise with people operations to guide clients on building a great place to work. 

By putting people at the heart of your advice, you can help your clients and their teams with advice on payroll, benefits, and people operations that they need now.

People Advisory Versus HR Advisory

Although People Advisory centers on people operations, it’s distinct from HR advisory and benefits advisory, each of which is their own discipline. The key is to recognize the differences and know when to call on the expertise of others.

People Advisory is:

  • Focused on the financial impact of a business’s people and rooted in payroll
  • A combination of financial insight and business acumen
  • Knowledge of people operations best practices

People Advisory is not:

  • HR services or HR Advisory
  • Legal services or legal advice
  • Benefits brokerage or advisory
  • Employee management
  • PEO services

What does this mean for day-to-day work? Here are a few examples…

A People Advisor would investigate discrepancies in overtime logged and payments made for a client but should not advise on how to resolve a wage and hours dispute. The People Advisor should recommend their client speak to an attorney who specializes in such matters.

It’s within the scope of People Advisory to identify higher than expected staff turnover and recommend an employee survey to help research possible causes. If the survey unearths reports of bullying by managers, it’s not the role of the People Advisor to implement a solution to this issue. Refer the client to an HR pro who can help define next steps.

By understanding a client’s goals and financials, the People Advisor can guide him on when and why to roll out a holistic benefits package that supports employees’ physical and financial wellness. But it’s not your role to speak about specific insurance providers or products. In this situation, you should recommend that your client speaks with a licensed benefits advisor.

The value you bring is in your analysis skills, critical thinking, ability to identify what needs to be done, and directing your clients to appropriate resources (whether they are tools, templates, or other pros).  Clients will value these skills highly. Be sure to recognize what you bring and don’t undervalue it.

Expanding Your People Advisory Services

As you scale your People Advisory practice, you may need additional HR expertise on your team. This decision can only be made by you and your firm, based on what’s right for your strategic goals and client needs. If you do want more support, you could consider one of the following models:

  • Leveraging the resources and expertise available through Gusto’s Concierge service
  • Investing in your current team’s training and development, starting with People Advisory Certification
  • Hiring a certified HR expert as a full-time or part-time employee
  • Partnering with an outsourced HR firm to deliver an integrated service

The Pitfalls in Not Offering Full-Spectrum People Advisory

When firms separate payroll from business advisory, important information can fall through the cracks. Just ask Jen Hoover, accounting manager at Momentum Accounting. 

Jen managed payroll for a client who retained a separate in-house administrator to carry out people-related tasks such as new-hire offer letters and onboarding. Issues cropped up when this person didn’t tell Jen key pieces of information, such as when they updated health insurance, when they let staff go, and when employees moved states. This created pain points. As Jen highlights, “If you don’t pay an employee in the right state, when they go to file their taxes, they’re faced with a big mess”.

When firms deliver the full spectrum of People Advisory to their clients, information flows to the right places, and services can be delivered seamlessly. Less time is taken up clearing up situations that could have been avoided in the first place, and energy can be directed to creating a better work environment for the client’s team.

People Advisors in practice

Take a look at how some of your peers have developed their ability to move towards expanding their HR capacity.

Nikole Mackenzie, Momentum Accounting

At first, Nikole believed that she needed to hire an HR expert, but later realized that her team is capable of delivering 90% of People Advisory already, and they’re excited by the chance to grow their careers. To augment their skillset, which they gained through practical experience as well as getting People Advisory Certified, they plan to leverage Gusto’s Concierge for any one-off HR questions. They’re also exploring SHRM certification for key members of the team.

Josh Lance, Lance CPA Group

Lance CPA Group already had an HR specialist who provides support to the firm’s team. This person was keen to broaden her scope to serve clients, too.

Michael Ly, Reconciled

Recognizing his clients’ need for excellent HR guidance, Michael co-founded Humnly with Laura Pillsbury to provide easily accessible HR solutions for small business owners. Michael tapped Laura to take the baton when clients need more specific HR support, such as developing HR policies.

The Time Is Now

In a time of heightened awareness around physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing, small business employers need the help of a People Advisor to create a modern workplace that attracts and retains high performing talent. Through reimagining your payroll practice you have the opportunity to meet the needs of clients head-on while also realizing important opportunities for your own team and firm.

Gusto’s People Advisory Accelerator Program provides the training and tools needed for firm leaders to develop People Advisory packages, and to staff, price, and sell them so that you can drive recurring revenue at your firm. In addition to teaching best practices, the program provides 25+ turnkey tools and templates so that you can implement what you’re learning, immediately. You’ll even earn 4 CPE credits in the process. 

You and your team can build your foundation on people operations best practices through becoming People Advisor Certified and earn 5 CPE credits. Learning the fundamentals of payroll, benefits, and people operations provides the knowledge and confidence to deliver a consistently high-value service.

By launching your People Advisory practice you’ll join a community of 2,000+ Certified People Advisors who are a part of the positive change the accounting profession and economy needs now.

Jaclyn Anku Jaclyn is the Partner Education Manager at Gusto. She started her career as a small business consultant and is passionate about teaching small business owners financial literacy and arming them with great advice. Before joining Gusto, she led business education for accountants and bookkeepers at Xero. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Oakland, CA.
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