Are your clients undervaluing your team’s time and expertise? Are you giving away payroll services for free, or almost nothing? Truth is, this is the current reality for most firms. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Developing a People Advisory practice has helped firms transform payroll from a compliance-based, low-margin task into the foundation of a rich suite of advisory services. Moreover, People Advisory helps firms significantly increase their revenue.

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.

People Advisory Starts with Payroll

The first step is to reimagine payroll as more than just a transaction—the simple transfer of value between an employer and an employee for services rendered. In fact, payroll is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of any team, and to our economy at large.

Acknowledging the importance of payroll is where People Advisory begins.

The cornerstone of this approach is that people are the heart of every business. People Advisors combine financial expertise with knowledge of people operations to help clients build a great place to work.

And clients need support with their people operations now, more than ever before. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are experiencing the greatest shift the workforce has seen for several generations. The changes take many forms, including the permanent uptake of remote working and the huge numbers of resignations across all sectors.

What’s exciting about People Advisory is that by reimagining payroll, you have a strategic inroad into supporting clients in ways that are increasingly meaningful to the client, and valuable to your firm.

The Four Core Elements of a People Advisory Package

Gusto’s People Advisory Accelerator Program sets out three distinct, tiered People Advisory Packages, sold on a monthly subscription basis. From tier to tier, clients get increasing levels of service, built around four core elements.

1. Access to your team’s time and expertise

Many firms either don’t charge for payroll services or have built the margin into their bookkeeping packages—making it difficult to quantify the time and expertise your team adds beyond what Gusto does as your payroll partner.

But this doesn’t mean your team does any less work. As your client’s first point of contact for payroll support questions, you do the payroll and benefits reconciliation, provide payroll tax support, and manage the integrations and setup of their backend systems—payroll included.

That’s why People Advisory Packages start with access to your team’s time and talent as payroll experts. It’s the bedrock of the Packages, so its value needs to be first and foremost in your client’s understanding of the service they subscribe to.

2. Payroll technology powered by Gusto

Recommending and implementing the technology used to power the payroll process is an important value-add you should talk about when communicating the value of your Packages.

To keep your Packages streamlined and proposals easier to build, we recommend pairing them with a corresponding Gusto plan. The features within each Gusto plan correspond directly to the services you deliver in each Package.

3. Delivery of payroll, benefits, and people support

In addition to foundational access to time, expertise, and technology, Packages define the level of support you’ll provide for each step of the payroll process. Support varies in depth and breadth across the Packages, and covers:

  • Employee onboarding
  • Time tracking and PTO
  • Benefits administration
  • Issuing payments
  • Payroll accounting
  • Employee offboarding
  • Team engagement

4. Data-Driven People Advisory insights

The crown jewel of the Packages. By delivering people planning Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you help clients understand how their team’s wellbeing and morale impact real business performance.

Delivering KPIs using a dashboard makes them easier to interpret and understand. Use Jirav for financial metrics and Gusto for team metrics. Couple these with in-person consultations where you tell the client’s people story and define  actionable next steps.

Benefits of a Three-Tier Subscription Model

Packages are recurring services sold on a subscription basis using a three-tier pricing model. The advantages of this are:

  • As an ongoing service, it’s a driver of recurring revenue
  • Payroll deliverables tend to fall in line with other accounting deliverables, simplifying workflows for your team
  • Data generated from processing payroll is the input for rich analysis you can perform downstream

Three-tiered pricing lays out three different solutions at three different price points, so you can make the right recommendation for each client. This works especially well with a productized service offering, where you bundle a variety of services into a monthly fixed price subscription. When choosing among 3 options, studies show that 66% of people will select the middle option, 23% will select the low option while 11% will pick the high option. It’s an approach that’s common in the tech world and will look familiar, since Gusto uses it to price our plans. It’s becoming an increasingly popular approach in the accounting industry as well.

People Advisors in practice

Find out how your peers reimagined payroll to revolutionize their offering to create People Advisory Services.

Kenji Kuramoto, Acuity

Acuity already presented their offerings in packages, so the predefined People Advisory Packages looked familiar to Kenji and his clients. To move to a People Advisory Service offering, they did almost no modification to the predefined Packages. “They helped us to be really clear to our clients about what they’re getting for what they’re paying”.

Josh Lance, Lance CPA Group

Payroll used to be tacked onto bookkeeping or tax services at Lance CPA Group. “We weren’t charging for the value we were providing. There was a lot we were doing for free”.

To move to a People Advisory Service offering, Josh’s team took the predefined Packages provided through Accelerator and used them right out of the box. “The tiered Packages template made it really easy to present to clients. They totally got it. I thought that was going to be a big hurdle but by presenting the offer clearly, clients understand it and know how important it is”.

Nikole Mackenzie, Momentum Accounting

Momentum builds bespoke proposals for each client. Payroll used to be a single line item in the proposal with pricing based on the number of employees a client has. To move to a People Advisory Service offering, Nikole’s team compared the predefined Packages to their line items and looked at what they could beef up, and where the gaps are. “This exercise showed me that my team was already delivering many of the services and had the needed skill set. It was just a matter of reframing what we were doing by packaging and selling payroll as People Advisory. During Accelerator we started tweaking our proposals and adding different line items so clients can see more value in those services than they did previously.”

Michael Ly, Reconciled

Payroll used to be a low-margin, task-based service at Reconciled. They offered it as part of bookkeeping services, and recommended Gusto as the preferred payroll partner. On proposals, Payroll was described in a very generic way that didn’t fully capture the value of the payroll services Michael’s team was providing. 

To reimagine the services, the team analyzed all the line items in the People Advisory Packages document provided through the Accelerator, and then identified what services they were doing already and what they were not. “We really benefited from seeing it all listed out. It showed us the amount of value clients are getting from us, and what we’re giving away. It also helped us decide which items of the predefined Packages we would offer immediately and what we could grow into”.

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.

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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