Do you want to learn how to implement an HR service strategy at your firm? Maybe you’ve gone beyond asking, “What does HR do?” and instead focused on providing HR for startups, SMBs, and other entities. To do so, you’ll need to demonstrate your knowledge in developing employees, providing robust benefits, and creating the best conditions to retain employees.

Gusto is your partner in the ever-evolving landscape of the accounting industry. As always, we’re excited to partner with CPA Academy to help you thrive in your role as an advisor. The webinar “Build Client Trust With an HR Advisory Practice” featured the wise and funny Caleb Newquist. Caleb laid out a case study from Kruze Consulting. Their spokesperson, Chithra Rajagopalan, shared how to start a human resources department in an accounting firm.

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.

How your reputation will affect your HR advisory services

By examining how Kruze Consulting created a unique value proposition for its clients, you can learn to do the same at your firm. Kruze Consulting is a premier accounting firm serving the entrepreneurial space. Not only does it provide bookkeeping, tax compliance, and financial modeling services, it also implements HR processes for startups. By capitalizing on its robust reputation as experts in the startup space, Kruze rolled out HR services smoothly and successfully.

Kruze Consulting has a very specific clientele—venture-backed start-ups—with whom it has an excellent reputation. When you have an existing positive reputation with your clients as an advisor, they’re likely to turn to you for any number of services you offer. It’s because Kruze has built this credibility that it doesn’t have to find new clients to pitch new services to—people come to them.

“The value proposition that they have is that they have a good reputation in the startup community. Many times a startup founder or someone that’s working for a startup will approach them and say, ‘We’ve started a business, we heard you had a good reputation, can you help us?’ right? And this is because startup founders rarely know all the solutions for the multitude of business needs that are out there. … So that’s where Kruze comes in—they look at the stage that the business is in, they look at what their needs are, and then they can advise them accordingly.”

– Caleb Newquist

Never underestimate the power of the reputation that precedes you. If you find you’re struggling in this area, hire a PR professional, a marketer, or a rebranding expert to help you get back on track. Also, never assume that clients with whom you have a good relationship won’t put their trust in you for consulting that’s beyond your current capabilities. Of course, refer people to experts if you don’t feel qualified in the area they need help in. But also recognize that you’re trusted for a reason. With the right training and initiative, you can serve these clients in previously unexplored areas. 

Two employees having a serious conversation in the office.

Kruz Consulting does have a niche, one that’s particularly well suited to receive help. Venture-backed start-ups are small and often run by those who haven’t yet needed to take significant steps toward processes such as HR. While you don’t necessarily want to switch niches just so that you can offer a particular service to them, consider what aspects of your niches make them good candidates for receiving HR advisory services. 

“Where you have two people that are just building an app or a thing, whatever it is, they are focused on that thing, … payroll benefits [and] other human resources [processes] are usually not at the top of their list when they are building that business.When that business starts … hiring employees, all of a sudden those things become really important. Payroll becomes super important.”

– Caleb Newquist

Caleb further explained how start-ups looking to attract and retain top talent need to be particularly mindful of the benefits they offer. In an ultra-competitive hiring landscape, talented professionals can be choosy. Having a robust benefits program is seen as very desirable, perhaps even more desirable than having the highest salary. Work-life balance, time off, and a positive work environment are highly valued. This is all the more reason why your firm has much to gain by offering HR services.

How onboarding factors into your HR advisory services

When assessing how and to whom to pitch your services, you’ll get a lot out of asking the right questions during onboarding. This is your best shot to get the right information quickly in a smooth, uninterrupted manner.

“Onboarding … really allows them to ask the right questions of these clients. So questions like, ‘Who do you use for payroll? What do you use for worker’s compensation? How can we best help you around benefits? Are you offering benefits?’ Some of these companies … are hearing these questions for the first time. So depending on the type of firms that you advise, you can’t assume that anything is too simple, right? So the onboarding of those clients becomes really, really important …”

– Caleb Newquist

Take the time to truly listen to what your clients need. Offer support where you can help; refer them elsewhere when you can’t. Let them know what is going to genuinely make a positive difference in their firm at any given moment in time. This is how you build trust as an advisor rather than becoming known for sales pitches. 

“Onboarding … allows you to put the thought of your firm’s capabilities in your client’s heads. So even though they might not be ready for a particular service now, you really are setting the stage for them to come back to you as their trusted business adviser.”

– Caleb Newquist

With the right approach, you can smoothly weave in questions pertaining to HR services in your onboarding process. Emphasize to clients how a holistic view of business operations will help you provide optimal services tailored to their unique needs.

Your responsibilities as an advisor

If you keep in mind that you’re an advisor first and foremost, you’ll have a better chance of successfully navigating unknown territory. Be honest. What can you do well, and what do you need more support in? Who can you partner with? What areas of knowledge are intimidating to you? You’ll want to be a resource for your clients who they can turn to for other references and specialists who can best solve their needs.

“Another important thing is having the knowledge base, … giving clients all the information they need to make an informed decision. We talked about the actions that you can take to educate yourself around these human resources issues. [Know] the solutions, [know] the tools, [try] to anticipate their questions, [have] those ready solutions. … This stuff will take practice. But eventually, you’ll be ready.”

– Caleb Newquist
Employee discussing work with his colleagues while using a digital tablet.

While it’s important to be confident in your abilities and not underestimate yourself, remember that HR often involves legal processes you don’t want to get involved in. Education and awareness will be your greatest assets when consulting with clients. Be prepared, but don’t be afraid to take a step back and consult with your advisors. 

“One really important thing to really know is: … When you’re going to present these HR advisory services, know what you’re going to advise on and what you’re not going to. There’s lots of legal issues around these things. Sometimes that might be handled better by an attorney or an HR expert. Whatever the case may be, have those people ready. Either have them on their team or partner with them in some way. It’s really important that when things come up that might be outside of your scope of work or outside of your expertise that you are … a problem solver. You’re ready with a solution.”

– Caleb Newquist

There’s no doubt about it; your role as an advisor is different from your role as an accountant. This is a good thing. Stay focused on being the go-to resource your clients think of when they’re struggling with their business. The reward may be long-lasting client relationships that increase in value over time.

Learn more about marketing for accounting firms

Kruze Consulting is an accounting firm providing services to start-ups. Their implementation of HR services is a great example for those considering HR. Think about what makes your clients and niches great candidates for your services. Assess new clients for their readiness right away during the onboarding process. As you roll out your services, remember to form partnerships with HR experts and lawyers—you may need to turn to them at some point. Focus on being the trusted advisor who has a list of other experts at the ready if you’re presented with a problem you can’t solve.

Gusto’s mission is to create a world that empowers a better life. We’re here to help you expand your services and build your reputation. Take a look at our other articles based on the same webinar: “How to Get Started with Offering HR Services” 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!

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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