The Impact of People Advisory (and How It Can Grow Your Accounting Firm)

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to assist your small business clients beyond their finances? 

When people think of accountants, they typically picture bookkeepers and payroll experts, but accountants can provide services beyond financial management. As an accountant, you’re uniquely positioned to assist clients with employee benefits and management to improve their businesses further. 

Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, presented a webinar all about the benefits of offering your clients guidance for improving employee satisfaction. We presented our webinar titled, “Adding Value to the Employee Lifecycle with People Advisory Services.” o It featured the advisory expertise of Jaclyn Anku, the Partner Education Manager at Gusto, and Caleb Newquist, Editor-At-Large at Gusto. You can watch the entire presentation here

This article shares helpful insights from Jaclyn and Caleb’s presentation. You’ll learn about offering accounting advisory, how employee satisfaction impacts businesses, and the importance of having a positive work environment.

Providing accounting advisory services

Traditionally, accountants have primarily focused on payroll and bookkeeping services for businesses, but accountants can offer more value to their clients by assisting them with people-based operations. People-based operations include employee-focused business functions, such as onboarding, offboarding, employee benefits, and HR. 

Jaclyn noted that accountants have started using payroll as a jumping-off point to guide clients in people-based operations:

“In recent times, what’s become increasingly clear to accountants is that payroll is really just the start of something great or something important because it’s through offering payroll as a service that you now have access to your client’s people data and that they can start thinking about you as more than just an advisor on their financials.”

Jaclyn Anku

With employee data, you can assist your business clients with their people operations. At the time of the presentation, people guidance was especially critical because businesses were navigating the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the pandemic came changes in work environments, and businesses needed assistance from their accountants. 

“They likely start coming to you with questions about their team and about their people. How do I onboard my people? Is this person an employee or a contractor? … I think that this increasing trend of clients having questions about their people was accelerated all the more through COVID. …Now, clients are having to think about, ‘How do I support remote teams? How do I build culture across remote teams, and how do I stay compliant in the process?’ Small business owners need your help.”

Jaclyn Anku
Standing colleagues discussing work using a digital tablet.

As an accountant for small business owners, you’re uniquely positioned to assist businesses with financial advice and people guidance. You can offer people-advisory services, which aim to improve clients’ revenue and employee satisfaction. 

“You have this huge opportunity through delivering payroll as a service to go above and beyond what your more traditional counterparts do. … [You] combine your financial expertise, which you have as an accountant, with knowledge of people operations to really put people at the heart of your advice. The concept of people advisory is based on the idea that people are at the heart of every business.”

Jaclyn Anku

You can improve your ability to help your clients with their businesses by offering people-advisory services, and you can increase your firm’s revenue in the process. Accountants offering people advisory is relatively new, and you can demonstrate your firm’s value over other accounting businesses by providing clients with employee guidance. 

Showing the value of people advisory to small business owners

Although you may understand the importance of people advisory, your clients may be unfamiliar with its many benefits. Small businesses are often distracted by focusing only on their financial situation, and they fail to recognize how employee satisfaction directly impacts their businesses. 

“They might be thinking more about, ‘How do I save costs in the short term?’ or, ‘What are things that can immediately impact my top or bottom line?’ They might be surprised to know that things like team morale and engagement can make as much of a difference to their financials as those things like monthly rent or production costs.”

Jaclyn Anku

Employee wellbeing has a direct effect on business growth and revenue. Statistically, happier employees lead to more productivity.

“Companies with happy employees are 20% more productive. That is mind-boggling, but I know that I’m more productive when I’m happy. [I log] in a little bit earlier, [and I] take a few less coffee breaks, so it makes sense.”

Jaclyn Anku

In addition to increasing productivity, employee satisfaction also directly impacts the number of days off employees take, and it decreases the likelihood of employees exiting:

“Employees who report being happy at work take ten times fewer sick days than unhappy employees. They’re not looking for other jobs. 36% of employees would give up $5,000 a year in salary just to be happier at work. Finally, happy salespeople sell 37% more.”

Jaclyn Anku

Employee satisfaction is a critical component of operating a successful business. As an accountant, you can help your small business clients improve their work environment while assisting them with their finances. 

“When you let [the statistics] sink in, it really does show the power of combining financial expertise with knowledge of people operations to help clients create a great place to work. In doing so, you truly can help them drive top and bottom-line results.”

Jaclyn Anku

As an accountant for small businesses, you can use payroll services as a starting point to show business owners how their employee satisfaction impacts the long-term health of their business. Once you gain the ability to assist small business owners with both their finances and people operations, you’ll help them create an optimal work environment that brings in more revenue while enhancing employee satisfaction.  

The importance of creating a great place to work

Offering people advisory to small businesses is especially critical because of high employee turnover rates. High turnover rates are often incredibly detrimental to the health of small businesses.  

“This is a huge issue right now across the country. I think it’s just something that small business owners have historically dealt with. How do you keep employees? How do you avoid employee turnover?”

Jaclyn Anku
Three happy employees having a conversation in the office.

Jaclyn told the story of a small business restaurant where she used to work. Although the establishment attracted great short-term employees and a devoted customer base, the owner, Marco, struggled because he couldn’t retain employees. 

“I saw a lot of my colleagues leaving after six months, nine months on the job. They went to other jobs where they could get PTO and higher pay and health benefits. The owner, Marco, was always worried about how to find people who would stay for the long term. How could he find a more professional staff? How could he keep his front-of-house team [and] his back-of-house team?”

Jaclyn Anku

The high employee turnover rate negatively affected the health of Marco’s business. He was unsure how to address the issue, so he turned to his accountant for advice.

“The accountant advised him to take out a loan, and it was a pretty negative cycle of things that happened [after that]. … The advice that Marco really needed was for the accountant to look at the financials, see the trends that were going on, and maybe think about root causes.”

Jaclyn Anku

Marco’s accountant failed to address the underlying issues causing the high turnover rate. Rather than taking out a loan, the accountant should have evaluated the potential causes of the high turnover:

“[The accountant should have evaluated] the people’s story and the numbers. Employee turnover is high. What does that mean? If I’m an accountant, how do I help advise Marco on keeping a team more than just, ‘Hey, take out money to plug these holes that you might have?”

Jaclyn Anku

Helping small business clients takes more than just evaluating their finances—you need to assess their employees’ quality of life to address underlying issues that affect the business. In some cases, that means increasing staff size to balance your ratio of full-time employees to billable hours. Employees are the heart of small businesses and failing to address employee satisfaction negatively impacts productivity and growth. 

Learn more about people advisory

Offering people advisory is critical for both your clients and firm. You can enhance your clients’ businesses by offering people guidance, and you can become invaluable to your clients in the process. Your clients need more than an accountant in the changing work environment; they need a partner who can offer both financial and people guidance. You can distinguish your firm from other accounting businesses and increase your revenue by providing people-based services. Also, be sure to check out Part Two of this webinar article series.

If you’re unsure how to begin offering people advisory services, consider signing up for Gusto’s People Advisory Certification program. Join a community of accountants and bookkeepers building for the future with our People Advisory Certification and Gusto Pro’s modern tools. As a People Advisor, you can better serve your clients and their incredible teams. Get certified.

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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