Top Tips for Launching a People Advisory Practice at Your Firm

Gusto Editors

Do you want to know how to change your mindset for sales success?

When it comes to learning how to sell a new service, you need to start with your perspective. The ways you view yourself, your services, and your clients are essential to your ability to thrive. 

To discuss which attitudes and practices are most helpful, we worked with CPA Academy to bring you a webinar titled “How to Sell People Advisory Services, With Gusto and Practice Ignition.” The webinar was hosted by Will Lopez, head of Gusto’s accountant community. He brought on Josh Lance of Lance CPA and Ryan Embree, head of partnerships at Practice Ignition.

Josh Lance loves helping small businesses overcome challenges and increase their revenue. His People Advisory Services packages help clients align their business goals and hiring needs, keep their teams happy with HR support and benefits administration, and strengthen their people strategy through data-driven insights.

In this article, you’ll learn how to market accounting services, how to be successful in selling advisory services, and how a mindset shift will make all the difference.

Tip #1: You are a prize to be won

The right mindset is crucial to your success as an advisor. You may need to stretch yourself outside the limits of what you’re used to when it comes to pitching, strategizing, executing, and following up on services.

Josh’s first tip applies to anyone in sales but especially to those who are pitching something new to both themselves and their clients. It’s normal to feel a little apprehensive when you’re at the beginning of something. Then there’s the added pressure of selling a completely new, albeit revolutionary, offering to a reluctant client.

The challenge is that your clients probably won’t have seen anything like this before—but that’s also your selling point. You’re positioned to offer solutions they’ve never seen before. You need to keep that perspective top of mind so that you can flip any hesitation on its head. You’ll need to flip your own perspective internally before you can confidently express it externally. It all begins with perspective.

Sales can feel especially challenging for people who set high standards for themselves. When you hold yourself to a standard of integrity, you want to deliver the best, and you expect the best from yourself. It’s hard to measure what the best is when you’re new to something, too—you have nothing to compare it to. 

Young African-American businesswoman laughing while working online with a laptop in the lounge of an office.

However, hold fast to the perspective that you are a prize to be won. You have something valuable to offer. Until you see those results, it may be a case of “fake it until you make it.” 

“You have to kind of see yourself as that prize to be won. Those clients are coming to you with a lot of needs, and you are able to help solve [them]. You’re able to help them], but they need to be able to follow your leadership and follow your process. … So I think that’s a big mindset shift in any sales situation, but especially with People Advisory services. … [Embody] that expertise, and see yourself as a prize to be won.”

– Josh Lance

Nowhere does this come across more than when it comes to pricing. If you can’t perceive your services as high-value, pricing is going to be a challenge. 

“I think for a lot of accounting firm owners, when it comes to pricing, when it comes to selling, … we’re a little awkward with it. … We tend to not ask for [the] value that we are actually bringing to the table, and [we’re] not seeing ourselves as the experts in providing these services.”

– Josh Lance

Don’t let hesitation deter you. You deserve to be compensated well for your services.

Tip #2: Follow a standardized sales process

Josh’s second tip is to make sure your processes are uniform at every stage—from pitching to sales calls to delivering proposals. 

There are many reasons to standardize your sales processes. First, standards will act as reference points and make selling less stressful, which is helpful for building confidence. You’ll also avoid costly mistakes that could occur if you’re presented with something you weren’t expecting or don’t know what to do. Standards help you deliver exceptional service.

“Following that standardized sales process … helps you [build] confidence, … but it also ensures that you follow the same process each and every time so you don’t end up selling something you shouldn’t be or … deviat[ing] from process and … [not doing] what you’re supposed to do, which can lead to not serving that client correctly or not handling their needs correctly.”

– Josh Lance

With clear standards in place, it will be easier to review your progress and make improvements as time goes on or as you go from client to client. Clear reference points make it easier to see your strengths and areas of opportunity. 

Finally, protocols save you time. Your goal is to give exceptional service, but to do so quickly and efficiently. Without guidelines, you risk getting lost in any area of the process. 

“Don’t try to [make] a bespoke proposal each time or try [and] go ad hoc when you sell. Have a standardized sales process. What does that look like? What’s the process [for] someone initially … coming into your funnel? What’s the process of having a sales call with them? What does it look like to deliver a proposal to them? What’s your … process and follow-up?”

– Josh Lance

To make things easier, you should have any scripts, guidelines, and protocols easily accessible.

Tip #3: Don’t do instant proposals on the first call

You should be discriminating with who you do business with—not everyone is the right fit. It’s because of this reason that Josh thinks you shouldn’t make an instant proposal on the first call. 

Businessman reading document during meeting.

First, the person on the line may not be a good candidate for advisory services. Someone who’s calling to ask about pricing is most likely calling other accounting firms and looking for the best deal. Your first step should be to initiate the relationship and assess it.

“[Try] to develop [the] relationship on your sales call and make sure that they’re actually clients [who] are going to listen to your advice and listen to how you’re going to lead them and not just looking for the cheapest thing available. [People like that aren’t] going to be good prospects for anything advisory whatsoever.”

– Josh Lance

If you think you have a possible advisory candidate on the line, you can follow Josh’s lead, which is simple, yet buys you time.

“We always tell the client, ‘Hey, thanks for the call. This is great. We want to take some time to reflect on the call and come up with a proposal that best fits your own needs, and then we’ll send that off to you.’”

– Josh Lance

You may even wish to set up a follow-up sales call rather than following up by drafting and sending a proposal. Either way, you should take time to reflect on the client and make sure they’re the right fit. If you decide that they are, take your time crafting the proposal and pricing model.

Tip #4: Shift from a compliance mindset to an advisory mindset

Being an advisor and being a CPA may have overlap, but as you’ve probably noticed, they require completely different approaches. You’re not here to follow your client’s lead. While you need to be responsive to their needs, you need to be guiding them. You need to present yourself as an advisor, build your relationship with them, and earn their trust. It also means you don’t fall back into a role that may be more comfortable for you.

“You’re not just going to be someone who’s just going to do a tax return for them. … You really want to have a relationship with them where you can advise them, or you can really lead them to where they need to go—whether that’s goals they’ve set or outcomes they want to achieve and [you need to show] you’re the right person for that.”

– Josh Lance

For example, if you’re hired as an advisor, but as their CPE you’re doing their tax return, reframe how you think about the tax return. Remember, it’s the advisory services that will set you apart from the competition.

“[Other firms are] just going to sell a payroll service or [are] just going to sell … [an accounting services package]. … You’re really selling them [the] advisory services that help them achieve their goals … You’ll do their tax return, … [and] you’ll do payroll, … but they’re part of a greater service.”

– Josh Lance

If you don’t position yourself as the advisor, you’re more replaceable. There are many CPEs, and clients who are looking for a bargain could go elsewhere if they think they can get it. However, not every firm has CPEs trained in advisory. It’s a next-level skill, and people will pay for that skill. You only need to show them that you have it.

Tip #5: Identify the advisory opportunity

Young businesswoman using a digital tablet.

As an advisor, you’re a problem-solver. You will succeed in People Advisory if you can clearly identify your client’s problems and provide specialized solutions for them. For each client, ask yourself: What does advisory look like for this client? What’s the best package I can offer them, and what does it look like? If you serve niche clients, lean into the expertise you have in their industry to identify the unique challenges they face.

“Maybe you’re a highly-niche practice. Our firm is highly niched to working with craft breweries, so our advisory opportunities are specialized with … knowledge of that industry.  [We] know the pain points and … the things that those clients are looking to get help with. [We’re] …not just focusing on the tax or just focusing on the bookkeeping. … [We’re] focusing on services we can provide them that [will help them] achieve what they’re looking for.”

– Josh Lance

Remember you’re not just using these tips to help you sell. You’ll want to use them to develop your team. As you grow, it’s inevitable that you’ll need your colleagues and team members on board and ready to offer their own advisory services. To scale your practices successfully, ensure your team knows the right perspectives and practices they need to thrive as advisors.

“All these tips really help in developing that People Advisory practice or whatever advisory practice you end up doing in your firm because it really changes that perspective on what you’re accomplishing. Not only as you sell that to your clients, but also as you develop that internally with your team, so they’re brought along as well. You can’t scale an advisory practice with you as the firm owner trying to do it all yourself. That will just lead to frustration and not going anywhere.”

Josh Lance

If you follow Josh’s lead, you’ll have a great start to earning client trust, strengthening relationships, and creating a profitable advisory practice.

Learn more about mindset shifts

As an advisor, consider the following tips for the best chance of success. Know the value of what you’re offering—see yourself as a prize to be won. Follow a standardized sales process, so you stay on track with each and every client. Be discerning—don’t pitch proposals until you’ve had a few calls with new clients. Shift out of a compliance mindset and into an advisory one. Finally, identify your client’s unique advisory opportunity. What problem can you help them solve?

This is just one aspect of advisory success. For more insights, check out the full webinar. Then, check out our other articles based on the same episode: Q&A with Josh Lance: Integrating People Advisory in Your Accounting Firm and Leveraging People Advisory and Practice Ignition to Scale Your Accounting Firm.

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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