Gusto for Partners

So You Want to Launch A People Advisory Practice. Who’s Actually Going to Do the Work?

Jaclyn Anku Partner Education, Gusto  

People Advisory is an opportunity for accounting firms to turn payroll services into a $1M annual revenue stream. But how are you going to staff the work—especially when facing a historic shortage of talent

Fortunately, People Advisory doesn’t need a large team or an army of subject matter experts. The talent you need is likely hiding in plain sight.

Another advantage of People Advisory is that it levels up the team you already have: People Advisory creates growth opportunities (honing skills in client service, KPI analysis, and technology) that will help you motivate and retain your team. More important than ever right now.

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.

The roles

Let’s take a look at the three key roles needed to launch People Advisory Services. The skills and talents of these individuals should complement and reinforce each other.

The Visionary. This role is about seeing the future of your People Advisory practice—the big picture. If you’re the firm owner, think about taking on this role and getting others on board as quickly as possible to speed up your People Advisory roll out.

The Sponsor. This is the tactical leader of your firm’s People Advisory rollout. This person will take charge of change management—deciding details of pricing, staffing, and packaging and gathering the people and resources to bring People Advisory alive. People best suited to this opportunity are managing partners, principals, supervisors, directors of operations, and, based on experience, senior managers.

The Champion. This person delivers ongoing People Advisory services directly to the client. Champions embrace the opportunity to advance their career by partnering with the Sponsor on this new service line. People best suited for the Champion role are junior managers, senior accountants, senior consultants, and depending on experience and ambition, associates.

Identifying team members

How do you know who’s the best fit for each role? Let’s break it down. 

Sponsor

A great Sponsor is less about years of experience or educational background and more about attitude. Successful Sponsors take a genuine interest in empowering others and helping them succeed. The Sponsor is someone who can:

  • Take an abstract vision and make it concrete. This means setting goals, securing resources, obtaining buy-in from key stakeholders, and communicating progress clearly. 
  • Inspire others to action. This means attracting and retaining talent by advocating for People Advisory internally and externally.
  • Advance the team’s professional development. This means investing in the education of each team member through listening, empathizing, and understanding, and then providing the necessary training. 

Champion

The Champion is the client’s main point of contact. Along with practical knowledge, an eye for detail, and ability to project manage, a great Champion is passionate about their work and People Advisory. They are someone who:

  • Seeks to understand the full context of any service problem, is comfortable with ambiguity, and approaches problems creatively.
  • Takes initiative to complete work on time and in a practical way. They aren’t perfectionists and can successfully avoid scope creep. 
  • Communicates clearly and authentically, building trust with clients and with colleagues across the firm.
  • Is passionate about their own professional development and growing their network. 

Gusto’s People Advisory Accelerator Program provides you with tools to dig into the characteristics of these roles and find the right people to launch People Advisory at your firm.

Developing your team

What skills do the Sponsor and Champion need to launch the new services? They fall into two buckets: technical skills and soft skills. 

Technical skills include knowledge of payroll, benefits and HR, financial/accounting knowledge, and knowledge of back-end systems, Gusto in particular.

The soft skills of a great People Advisor are listening, empathy, coaching, communication, providing feedback, and creative thinking.

It’s likely that the team members are well equipped already. After all, they’re probably already delivering a good portion of People Advisory Services—your firm is just not charging for it.

Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to do a skills analysis to help identify where the individual is right now, and where there is space to grow. To support growth, incorporate training activities into their development plans so that they can advance their careers while also driving People Advisory forward. 

Where are the opportunities to build your team’s expertise?

  • Maximize opportunity for client contact. Working with small business clients day-to-day, the team will learn what business approaches work and what doesn’t. Since most entrepreneurs feel like they work in a silo, your team’s broad experience matters.
  • Get your team People Advisory Certified. Gusto’s Certification program teaches foundational knowledge about payroll, benefits, and HR, as well as Gusto’s people platform.
  • Commit to People Advisory as a journey. Understand that launching a People Advisory practice is the beginning of a journey—one that can create professional development opportunities, ongoing skills development, and avenues for more sophisticated service offerings.

Growing into the roles of Sponsor and Champion is a journey.

People Advisors in practice

Finding out how your peers identified their sponsors and champions may help you. Remember, there’s no single right approach to launching People Advisory, only the approach that’s best for your firm.

Kenji Kuramoto, Acuity

Visionary: Kenji, principal and owner

Sponsor: Tech stack team leader

Champion: Members of bookkeeping and controller teams

Kenji initially thought he would take on the role of Sponsor, but gradually realized he is, in fact, the Visionary—seeing what the future can be for the team and the clients. Acuity’s Tech Stack Team Leader is a great fit for the Sponsor role. Bookkeeping and controller team members are  the Champions. All were already People Advisory Certified and curious how they could apply what they learned. To support some of the more complex HR deliverables, Kenji’s team will continue to leverage Gusto’s Concierge.

Josh Lance, Lance CPA Group

Visionary: Josh, principal and owner

Sponsor: HR specialist

Champion: Payroll specialist

Josh has an in-house team member who provides HR services for the Lance CPA Group team. She is excited to expand the scope of her role and work with clients. She is the ideal Sponsor. One of the payroll specialists is the Champion. She is familiar with Gusto and already People Advisor Certified. At first, both were a bit apprehensive, but they sat down together and worked out who would do which parts and they are now excited about stepping into the new roles and being part of a team that builds out a new service.

Nikole Mackenzie, Momentum Accounting

Visionary: Nikole, principal and owner

Sponsor: Director of operations

Champion: Payroll specialist

At first, Nikole thought she needed to hire an HR person, but realized that her team is capable and 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. Momentum’s director of operations has taken the Sponsor role and the payroll specialist is the Champion.

Michael Ly, Reconciled

Visionary: Michael, principal and owner

Sponsor: HR business partner

Champion: Business acquisitions manager

Michael got his team involved very early on. He felt it’s important to have people involved who are customer-facing—talking to existing clients or prospective clients. The Sponsor is the CEO of Reconciled’s HR partner business, Humnly. The Champion is the Business Acquisition Manager at Reconciled. Together, they took the lead on defining and setting the strategy which allowed Michael to play the role of Visionary.

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.

Updated: November 23, 2021

Jaclyn Anku
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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