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By Troy A. Waugh

CPAs are privy to more information about their clients' business affairs than any other professional. Add the fact that CPAs are business CEO's most-trusted advisors and you have the powerful potential to add real value to your client relationships. One key area in which you can add value is in helping your clients visualize their business futures. You are uniquely qualified to help clients with business strategic planning, personal financial planning, tax planning, technology planning, and many other types of forward-thinking strategies.

Sell Top Value

Most clients will tell you business-planning ranks near the top of the "value ladder." Commodity services are on the bottom rung, and services with high impact rates are at the top of the ladder. In between the bottom and top rungs are various stages of value in services. At the bottom of the ladder, price resistance is highest and competition is stiffest. Near the top of the ladder, both competition and price resistance fade away.

Some experts will tell you, "The accounting profession is moving away from compliance services." I say, "Not true." It is true that most compliance services are commodity-like in nature and therefore reside near the bottom of the value ladder. However, if you add only 20% of high-value services into your mix, you will experience a noticeable decrease in fee complaints. Adding a significant portion of value into your client service mix will enable you to collect premium fees on the commodities.

Strategic planning is a value-added service you can help provide clients. Encourage your larger clients to hold an annual planning retreat. Perhaps you could facilitate the retreat. Certainly you should attend and contribute to the dialogue. You can help with projections or forecasting. Many businesspeople are excellent at visualizing their future, but many are not good at the in-depth thinking and calculating necessary to develop a strong plan. You can help. When you help clients plan for their business futures and keep track of their pasts, you will become a true full-service professional.

Personal financial planning (PFP) and tax planning are value-added services that other businesses have taken away from the CPA. Many of us have been so busy protecting our low-end commodity services, that banks, insurance companies, and brokerage houses have become well known for their financial and tax planning. Many CPAs are uniquely qualified to provide PFP and tax planning. Talk with your clients about helping plan their financial futures. Since you are their most-trusted business advisor, many of them will welcome your suggestions.

Be in Demand

Marketing in a tornado is what computer companies call selling a new hot product into overwhelming demand. You can participate in this tornado of activity by helping your clients select the right hardware and software, by helping them have a disaster recovery plan in place, by helping them comply with software publishers' licensing rules, and by helping them learn how to use their systems. Technology planning is a new recurring service that clients need every year. Gary Boomer, of Boomer Consulting (now part of the PPC group of companies), says that any business that is spending over $50,000 per year on hardware, software, and training can benefit from a solid technology plan. Too many CPAs have lost millions selling low-margin software or hardware. These accountants have become vendors of products, rather than trusted advisors. Technology planning is a high-value service.

Perhaps you don't feel particularly visionary or creative. Helping clients plan does not mean you must have all the answers or any of the answers. You can help by starting the process of asking the questions and framing the dialogue. Here are some terrific books that will help you develop some confidence: The Art of Facilitation by Huner, Bailey, and Taylor; Innovation on Demand by Allen Fahden; and Thriving on Change in Organizations, edited by Rick Brandall. All of these books can be found through your local bookdealer. *

Troy A. Waugh, CPA
Waugh & Company
Brentwood TN 37024-1208

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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