With People Advisory, accounting firms can increase payroll revenue 15x. It’s a big deal. But launching a new service can feel daunting. There are  many questions, and it can be hard to know where to start—even more so when launching a new category of service, like People Advisory.

But right now is a great time to launch. There’s high revenue potential because there’s high client need. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are experiencing the greatest shift the workforce has seen for several generations, and clients need support around their people operations more than ever before. What does this mean for your budding People Advisory practice? Opportunity. And lots of it. But where to begin? Take a strategic approach by piloting it with three pilot clients. With each conversation, you’ll learn what works best, so your approach gets better every time.

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. 

Identify Good-fit People Advisory Clients

Choose clients who will benefit most from your new service offering by looking out for the following characteristics.

Characteristics of a Good Fit

A few things will tell you a client is going to be a good fit.

  • Look for those who have complex workforce needs.
  • For example, a mix of employee types (full-time, part-time, contractors), remote employees, or employees across different states.
  • Clients intending to grow their workforce are also good candidates.
  • As are those planning a permanent shift to remote working.

Characteristics of a Poor Fit

  • Bad-fit clients have few employees,
  • their employees have worked there for a long time and aren’t likely to leave,
  • they aren’t expecting to grow,
  • and aren’t comfortable changing or modernizing their approach to technology.

Talk to New Clients First

You might be wondering whether to start with clients you already know, or those in your pipeline. While there are pros and cons to each, we recommend talking to new clients first. Here’s why:

They’re Lower Risk

A new client means a new relationship. Sure, you need to build trust with them and that happens over time. But with new clients, there is no risk of damaging an existing and hard-won relationship if you don’t get things 100% right the first time. By starting with three new clients, you can get in early learnings, build confidence, and iron out workflows before you scale.

No Change Management

Since you’re starting from a blank slate, you don’t have to lead new clients through a change management process. This means no need for difficult conversations renegotiating pricing and service.

Higher Margins from the Get-go

Earn higher margins for your services right off the bat by establishing your expertise and value add from the beginning.

Ask Discovery Questions

With new clients, asking discovery questions gives you crucial information to craft a strong People Advisory pitch. These questions help you understand their business goals and people related needs, so you can explain how People Advisory will help. Add a few choice questions  into your regular set of discovery questions to uncover people-related needs. This way, you can tee up your services without extending the sales cycle.

Here are some example discovery questions: 

  • What are the goals for your business for the next 12-24 months?
  • How do your business goals impact your talent needs? What is your strategy for hiring or reducing attrition?
  • When you have a people-related question, who do you ask for help? How is that going?
  • What kind of support does your team need to be productive and engaged?

Most small business owners don’t have support with employee matters. Really understanding the challenges clients face helps you explain exactly what problems People Advisory will solve for them.

People Advisors in Practice

Finding out how your peers won their first People Advisory clients can help you get started. Remember, there’s no single right approach to launching People Advisory, only the approach that’s best for your firm.

Michael Ly, Reconciled

Michael’s firm approached new clients first. “We use an outbound sales strategy, so we needed to think about what questions to ask to cultivate People Advisory opportunities. We added 2-3 questions to the sales process which made it more consultative. We now ask prospective clients, “What’s your growth plan with your people over the next 6-12 months?” This positions Reconciled as being able to help with growth, not just compliance.”

Nikole Mackenzie headshot

Nikole Mackenzie, Momentum Accounting

Nikole began with a mix of new and existing clients. “With clients in our pipeline, we’re talking about People Advisory Services in initial conversations and including it as part of their proposal. For current clients, my payroll specialist has identified three clients who have pain points our People Advisory services can solve for.”

Kenji Kuramoto, Acuity

Kenji’s firm identified existing clients facing retention and turnover issues and reached out to them. All are fast growing but churning through a lot of people. “They pretty much immediately understand the value of People Advisory because of this.”

Josh Lance, Lance CPA Group

Josh Lance, Lance CPA Group

Josh’s first People Advisory clients were all existing clients whose contracts were up for renewal. All are growing their business and were already asking Josh’s firm a lot of questions about benefits and HR. “We were already providing ad hoc People Advisory to one business and billing by the hour. The client wanted to move away from this and formalize the support. Another client proactively asked if we could provide them with People Advisory Services. They knew they didn’t have the time or the skill to do it right and wanted everything consolidated in one place.”

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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