Do you want to know how to provide human resources services to your clients? Areas of HR include learning how to manage employees, ensuring they receive adequate benefits, and being their point of contact. While most accountants aren’t familiar with HR functional areas, those with drive and a desire to innovate can be successful in this role.
Gusto is committed to helping you evolve as the industry changes. So we’re thrilled to partner with CPA Academy to bring you insights into effective outreach strategies. The webinar “Build Client Trust With an HR Advisory Practice” featured veteran speaker Caleb Newquist. He went over how you can start helping clients with the numerous areas of HR.
Caleb Newquist is the Editor-at-Large at Gusto and the founding editor of Going Concern, a leading accounting news publication featuring breaking news, developing stories, and industry insights in the field. Caleb combines his editorial eye, content expertise, and accounting background to create his unique brand.
Why your clients need an HR advisor
As you transform your role from accountant to advisor, you’ll be called upon to share your expertise to help your clients succeed. Human Resources is an area that many small to medium-sized businesses struggle to prioritize. While some companies neglect to create a dedicated HR staff at all, others are simply mired in outdated procedures. For example, many companies run HR processes manually. There’s no need for this. Time-consuming, error-prone manual procedures have no place in a world bolstered by technology.
“Many small businesses rely on manual processes to manage HR, and as we all know, not only is this unnecessary, but it’s incredibly inefficient. The solutions are out there. They cover … everything from payroll to recruiting to benefits to employee engagement. The technology is pretty robust across human resource functions, and the firms that know these tools and know what the best solutions are put themselves in a good position to advise clients about what is going to work best for them.”– Caleb Newquist
To be an effective advisor, you’ll need to know what tools are available for HR. You should be familiar with the majority of HR tech tools while getting to know one or two in-depth. Automation works best when paired with human expertise. Your clients may not know which tools are right for them, how to use them, how to optimize them for their business, or how to troubleshoot them. As an expert in one of these tools, you’re poised to be their go-to resource when they have questions or concerns, when they’re looking to expand their use of technology, or when they want to try something new.
To demonstrate your expertise and ability to help them make the right choice, you should give clients quantitative evidence for how tech can help them. Make a case by doing what you’ve been doing for years as an accountant—run some numbers.
“You understand numbers well, so do some projections. What will an investment in a technology platform or some other technology do to a client’s bottom line over the next year, or the next two, [three, or five years?] … Show how that technology will benefit [them]. How will that benefit the revenue that is going into that business? And try to give them an idea of how it will either positively or negatively affect their business.”– Caleb Newquist
Selecting someone to spearhead your HR services
Launching HR services is an exciting step that can help your firm survive the changes sweeping the industry. It’s a great opportunity to expand your skillset, evolve with the times, and widen the value you bring to clients. At the same time, it has some risks associated with it. No one can expect perfection from the inception of your HR services. Even so, it can feel uncomfortable to risk disappointing your clients as you navigate the new normal. Trial and error is a given, so you’ll need to look for a few specific characteristics in your HR advisory team.
It’s a good idea to select one person to spearhead your new initiatives. You’ll want to look for three important traits.
Desire and Motivation
Pick someone on your team who will be enthusiastic about your new initiatives. You want whomever you choose to be excited about doing something new, not overwhelmed or unhappy about a change in their role. Chances are, there is someone in your firm who is positive, enthusiastic, eager to expand their value, and who genuinely enjoys providing valuable services to their clients. Start there.
“Find someone who is going to be your champion. Who is the person that’s going to lead this initiative to launch this HR benefits advising service? And when you think about that person, ideally, that person would, number one, want to do it. That they would feel motivated, excited, see and understand the opportunity that is presented to your firm.”– Caleb Newquist
If no one volunteers right away, hold a team meeting and find out what everyone thinks about the changes on your team.
Existing Knowledge of HR
Most of your team members are likely to ask you, ‘What are HR functions?’ If you’re lucky enough to have a team member who knows the basics of HR, that is an ideal candidate.
“It would be outstanding if they already had some knowledge around human resources and benefits. … If they had some good knowledge around that, or even a working knowledge, that would really be … ideal.”– Caleb Newquist
Alternatively, you might consider which team members have the greatest potential to master HR advisory services. Remember, your team is shifting to become more relationship-focused people advisors. Good social skills, a high degree of empathy, the ability to listen, and flexibility are all important traits for those representing your HR services.
Confident and Comfortable With Risk
There’s a wide variety of personality types in any office, and accounting is no different. While your team probably all share a love of numbers, logic, and services, you likely have some team members who are more comfortable working with ambiguity. You should be able to identify who on your team is more comfortable with the unknown and who can bounce back quickly from unexpected challenges.
“This person has to be willing to take some risks. [They should not] be afraid of making mistakes, understanding that because you would be offering a new service line, there’s going to be some trial and error. There’s going to be some fits and starts, and there [will be] lots of things to work through. So whoever this champion is, whoever this leader is, they’ve got to have the right mindset for this kind of endeavor.”– Caleb Newquist
If you’re like most firms and don’t have a team member well-versed in HR, rest assured that you can still find a great person to lead. Anyone can lead your HR advisory services with the right mindset and motivation. Just make sure you train them well.
“You can [get by] with someone who satisfies characteristics one and three, [which means that they’d] want to do it and that they’re not afraid to make mistakes. [They’d need to] be willing to build up the knowledge base needed. … All of this stuff is going to require some thought, and you’ll want someone who is willing to do that thinking, that hard thinking, but [who] is also committed to learning and leading this new service area, because it will require someone’s full attention.”– Caleb Newquist
Naturally, any new service you bring to the table will involve trial and error. Your HR advocate will need to leave perfectionistic tendencies at the door. While accountants often excel because of their ability to pick out inconsistencies and point out errors, this approach won’t serve you when rolling out new HR services. You’ll want to keep this in mind, not just for whoever spearheads the initiatives, but also for your staff and yourself.
How to price your services
One of the biggest challenges you’ll meet right away is how to price your services. Since HR services aren’t something you’ve offered before, it can be hard to place a value on what you have to offer. Caleb shared his number one tip for pricing services effectively:
“How your firm decides to price these services will be a huge part of making it successful. You’re going to have regular touchpoints with these clients, so billing by the hour is not a good option. Clients don’t want to feel like they’re going to be nickeled and dimed for every ten-minute conversation. … Being able to agree on the scope of work and the price and agree on that upfront, before work begins … puts everybody’s mind at ease about what the exchange of value is.”– Caleb Newquist
Caleb explained how billing by the hour can introduce conflict and disharmony into your client relationships. If you’re charging clients for your time, but failing to produce results quickly, you run the risk of making your clients feel taken advantage of. By doing an alternative fee arrangement or some value pricing, you’ll be setting things off on the right foot.
To determine value pricing, you’ll want to follow three simple steps:
- Talk with your team about the value your HR services will bring.
- Find some clients who are ready to give you feedback.
- Package your services into something you can present to clients.
While brainstorming possible price plans and packaging services is straightforward, asking for feedback might be a bit trickier. However, it’s a critical step to effective pricing. Asking for feedback from a few key clients could give you important information about what they think is valuable or not valuable, reasonable or not reasonable. While it’s a great starting point, you’ll also want to continuously monitor feedback and reactions to your offerings. It’s a journey of trial and error until you’ve really mastered your HR advisory services.
“Prepare yourself to refine that packaging, and customize it if necessary. Just because one client told you that these three things are valuable, and that’s what they would want, of course, that’s not necessarily what every client is going to want. So be flexible when you start to package those services.”– Caleb Newquist
As a work in process, your HR offerings will be subject to change. Get comfortable with change in as many ways as possible. Your flexibility will pay off.
Pitching services to clients
The way you approach your clients will make a big difference in how you’re received. Not only are HR advisory programs new for you, but they’re also new to those you’re pitching. It takes time to build a reputation and credibility, so you’ll need to be strategic when you’re starting out.
You’ll first need to gauge how ready or available a client is to receive HR advisory services. To do this smoothly rather than abruptly, you can lead with questions about their current HR practices and level of satisfaction.
“[Your clients] probably aren’t expecting you to talk about human resources, so it’ll be important for you to draw them out and ask questions like, ‘How’s hiring going?’ and ‘Do your employees ask about health insurance frequently?’ if you know they don’t offer it. Or, ‘How does your team feel about your benefits package?’ That’s a good way to get discovery going and find out if your clients might benefit from some of these services that you’re starting to provide.”– Caleb Newquist
You’ll also want to consider how you want to frame your story—why is your firm now offering these services? How did you develop them and ensure quality control? What services do you provide? You’ll be building a new reputation for a new kind of service, so keep branding in mind.
Finally, flexibility is key. You want to develop the kinds of services your clients truly need, so welcome feedback and adjust accordingly. Your clients will appreciate it, and your initiatives will be much more effective.
“Give them stuff to choose from. I don’t think anyone [should] have [one offering and say] ‘This is it. This is what we do.’ Be willing to customize and offer different tiers of service so that you can find the right fit for each kind of client because … every client’s needs are different. It will be important that you can present options and that they can identify what’s going to work best for them.– Caleb Newquist“
Learn more about marketing for accounting firms
Offering advisory services will help you increase your value and build trust with clients. Many small businesses struggle with their HR processes or are mired in outdated manual processes. By becoming an advisor and partnering with automated tools, you can provide the guidance they need to take care of their staff.
You’ll need to be thoughtful about how you present your new services, who you choose to lead the services, and how much you charge. Be flexible and open, leaving room for error and refinement. If you have someone on your team who understands HR processes, that is the ideal person to spearhead HR initiatives. Otherwise, offering extensive training is perfectly fine for motivated team members.
Gusto’s mission is to create a world that empowers a better life. We’re here to help make marketing your business easy. Don’t forget to check out our other upcoming articles based on the same webinar: “Kruze Consulting: A HR Case Study” and “Ignite Spot: A HR Case Study“.
Becoming a Gusto Partner can make your life easier. Get payroll and HR support for your team and our new advisory revenue stream for your practice through our people advisory platform. As a Gusto partner, you’ll also get tools to help you expand your accounting practice and offer your clients new insights, plus a free payroll subscription for your own accounting firm. Sign up today!