Grow Your Firm

Gusto Next: Practicing as a People Advisor for Building Client Relationships

Gusto Editors  
Financial advisor having a conversation with two smiling clients

Original webinar date: October 21, 2021
This article is part of a series where we share the top insights from Gusto Next—the premiere conference for accounting professionals. Read the entire series and watch Gusto Next 2021.

Do you want to know how people’s advisory can factor into your long term strategy? Are you considering adding new services to your firm and looking for support?

Gusto is committed to training you and your firm to thrive now and in the future. We are so incredibly pleased to have held the Gusto Next 2021 conference and connected with our amazing community. 

We brought veteran speaker Caleb Newquist—Editor-at-Large of Gusto—on the stage to host a panel with three accounting pros: Kenji Kuramoto, CEO and Founder of Acuity, Michael Ly, Founder and CEO of Reconciled, and Nikole Mackenie, Founder and CFO of Momentum Accounting.

The panel discussed how Gusto’s Accelerator Program helped them with building client relationships and brought them firmly into the new-normal in accounting.

What is the accelerator program and how can it help your firm?

With so many rapid shifts occurring in the accounting industry, firms need to adjust how they do business. Payroll software for accountants is gaining enormous traction. While partnering with automation can help you work wonders for clients, it’s still taking away a lot of your work. The good news is that you have time to pivot and harness your innate—but maybe unrecognized—consulting abilities. 

Confident advisor showing growth graph to client

You’ve already been advising people on how to make life-changing financial decisions simply by providing your services. You may even have gone further than just the numbers, taking into account your client’s unique and complex circumstances. You can use all of this experience to shift into an advisory role that will sustain you during the automation revolution. Furthermore, you can do more than just survive the changes—you can thrive through them.

It’s an exciting time to be an accountant, but you do need support. Putting advisory services into action is challenging. That’s where the Accelerator Program comes in. This unique offering can help you and your firm confidently offer advisory services. 

What is advisory in accounting? It involves helping clients make good financial decisions around hiring and human resources, managing vendor relationships, and implementing automation. The ultimate goal of advisory is to solve complex challenges and to achieve complex goals that lead to higher profitability.

The Accelerator Program is different from other HR training programs and employee benefits programs in that it is designed specifically for accountants. This means you’ll have more support in integrating these two seemingly unrelated fields. You may even discover that in many ways, you’ve been practicing people advisory all along. 

Yet the training is what will help you capitalize on that experience. Caleb Newquist asked the panel how the program helped them:

“Accelerator gave us a framework to price appropriately, to package it, to sell it, and then to actually get our team aligned on what we were delivering.

Nikole Mackenzie

Nicole’s firm had already considered advisory services but found that the program gave them much-needed guidance. Michael also had this experience. While advisory had been something he’d been trying to incorporate for a long time, he said it felt like the Wild West to him. Navigating uncharted territory meant that he toyed with a few iterations of how an advisory service would look, including potentially opening up a separate HR firm. 

In the meantime, his clients were reaching out for help in times of crisis, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clients wanted advice on how to manage their teams, including retaining talent. Until enrolling in the Accelerator Program, Michael wasn’t able to respond to these requests. 

“The accelerator program really gave us a common language to use amongst the firm, especially for our sales people and for those who were getting involved in the service itself. But it also allowed us to position ourselves with a real unique value proposition for our clients, for them to see what they were asking for, which was definitely already there. And we were ready and willing to serve their needs. That’s how the accelerator transformed things for us. “

– Michael Ly

Kenji’s experience with the program echoed those of Michael and Nikole. While launching an advisory service is possible no matter what training you’ve invested in, certifying with the Accelerator Program makes the process faster, easier, and more sustainable. It can give you the confidence you want when you’re starting a new endeavor.

“The difference in going through the accelerator program is a lot of that work’s been thought out for you, … so it’s a much easier way … to get started with launching a new service line. It’s going to be more effective for your teams. … [Things are] pre-built within the accelerator program, and it just gives you so much of a better jumping off point.”

– Kenji Kuramoto

How can the people advisory program shift how you work?

So what will your job look like once you’ve gone through the program and launched advisory services? What will your role be, and how will you serve your clients?

Becoming an advisor doesn’t mean you completely reinvent the wheel. You’ll want to approach the services you’ve provided from a different angle. When the math and data is left to the machines, you’re free to look more deeply at strategy. You’ll want to lean into what sets you apart from automation: The ability to place the numbers into human context, to get to the bottom of what your client truly needs, and to help them navigate big changes with confidence.

Just take a look at payroll, which has been traditionally relegated to the realm of compliance. How can you shift your approach to see it as part of a larger picture within a client’s overall goals and needs?

“[We looked at] payroll [as] something we [could] pair up with CFO services and more advisory services. … Our CFOs were kind of used to seeing payroll as that thing we [give to] bookkeeping proposals, not something that we’ve integrated yet. [CFOs] were all helping people through [requesting emergency loans] and things like that. They were doing advisory work that they hadn’t even considered before. That mind shift is a little more important if you’re stuck in a thought process where payroll only sits in this one particular practice. It could be lifted out for much more value for clients.”

– Kenji Kuramoto

On the other hand, you may need or want to incorporate new practices into your advisory services. The Accelerator Program makes it easy to do that:

“[We’ve been implementing] reach reporting. Reach reporting is actually working on an integration with Gusto. [We’re able to] pull in people data as a People Advisory Report. If you want to look at employee retention or patterns in hiring, if you want to combine your employee data with your financial data and look at overhead per employee, we’ll be able to provide that to our clients.”

– Nikole MacKenzie

That’s a truly holistic model of looking at the numbers—it’s the kind of model your clients need. Businesses have a lot of moving parts such as fluctuating revenue, employee turnover, new services, and price adjustments that reflect economic conditions. Why not have services that help you and your clients make the best decisions based on multiple interlinked factors? Furthermore, when you’re impacting more than one area of someone’s business, you strengthen your relationship with them and can provide more personalized service.

Two corporate business colleagues using a tablet having a discussion in the office

So how are clients responding to these new services? Across the board, the panel described it positively.

“Clients have really enjoyed it. It’s because it’s helping them with questions and problems they’ve had and they’ve brought to us that we weren’t able to solve before and now we have a service offering that makes sense for them.”

– Michael Ly

By becoming a people advisor, you’re responding to the real needs of your clients. You’re not trying to convince anyone of anything they hadn’t thought of before. It’s a win-win for everyone. 

How can you make people advisory work for you now and in the future?

Becoming a certified people advisor is a worthwhile investment that can benefit you for years to come—just be smart about your go to market strategy framework. While the Accelerator Program simplified and streamlines the process, you’ll still need to experiment with how it works best for you.

For example, you’ll need to identify how to take the program to market. One great way to do so is to go first for clients with whom you have a higher chance of success. Identify which clients would need this service the most and have the capitol to invest in it. Businesses that are trying to scale or undergoing any other major shift would be great candidates, as would long-standing clients with money to spare. To assess a candidate’s readiness, include questions in your sales processes that can help you identify if they’d be a good fit.

“We’re continuing to experiment how we price and package the services and then also trying to standardize the way we deliver them, and that’s been a new process. It’s something I haven’t thought about before. [As it is now,] the client gets onboarded and then the team does … whatever the client asks. We’re trying to control the process a bit more.”

– Nikole MacKenzie

Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your entire team is on board with the program. Hold a team meeting, discuss how each person can contribute, and devise a strategy for how you’ll approach clients. Whether you have every person have the chance to be an advisor or you create a separate department for advisory is up to you. Michael shared his vision for the future at his firm:

“We’ll see that our team is going to start introducing People Advisory in almost every contract, [and that] really has a value-add. But also as they hear more clients say that they’re having people challenges or growth challenges, we want to make sure we’re involved in that. We also see hiring more people that don’t just have accounting backgrounds, but maybe have backgrounds in operations or in people advising that can help up the skillset in our practice. From a revenue perspective, I really do believe we could see the practice grow to a million dollars a year in revenue within our own practice.”

– Michael Ly

At the end of the day, implementing people advisory services will benefit your professional life in a number of ways. You’re providing a unique offering to clients that will truly benefit them and will also allow you to become more involved in their business. You’ll be expanding your marketability as the accounting industry evolves. Finally, people advisory services can generate revenue and allow you to expand your services to even more clients. 

Learn more about how people advisory can help your firm

Gusto’s Accelerator Program is an amazing tool to help launch your firm into the future. Changes in the industry will only continue. It’s the perfect time to uplevel your firm with new skills and tools to help navigate the new normal. By becoming an advisor, you’ll be able to help  clients with complex financial challenges related to human resources, benefits, payroll, and more.

Check out the full video for Gusto Next 2021 to gain even more insights into the future of accounting.

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!

Updated: April 4, 2022

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors


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