At that time, Gheen & Co. was staffed by Gheen himself, plus three CPAs. They had about 130 clients and were using LivePlan with about a third of them. They weren’t using LivePlan to its full capacity, just for business plan writing upon client request. However, they had seen a real interest from their clients in terms of planning. They needed a process to deliver Strategic Advising consistently and systematically for all clients. Not only that, but the CPAs needed to be comfortable and confident with the work, and it needed to be scalable.
Challenge: Taking advising services to scale in a CPA firm
The LivePlan team identified three main components in the challenge of taking advising services to scale in Gheen’s firm:
Gheen was using sophisticated, cloud-based software, and had smart CPAs who were experts at executing the standard work that CPA firms do. But they were not trained in the art of business planning and advising. Their strength was providing tax advice and producing month and year end reports and statements in the realm of compliance. Helping clients with business planning seemed beneficial to them if the client was in need of a small business loan, and therefore needed a related business plan, but not for any type of proactive or regular work.
We needed to show them why regular, proactive planning would make a huge difference in the level of their advisory services, and eventually the success of their small business clients, which was their ultimate goal.
Advising services are tricky because they are centered on offering a personalized service, but firms have to be mindful of workflow efficiencies, or more loosely put, “scope creep.”
“When we introduced LivePlan, I was able to charge higher fees—much higher fees, because the clients were interested in the planning.”
Since Gheen & Co. was smartly utilizing value based pricing, they knew they had to be careful about scope. Adding any additional work that wasn’t included in the fixed fee would eat away the margin. Even though these problems seemed hard to overcome, Gheen knew that the need to provide advising services to his clients was too great to ignore. He had seen, with the light introduction of LivePlan, how eager his clients were to discuss business planning. More and more clients were asking for the service, and his business was growing as a result—but he didn’t have a way to manage it.
Gheen & Co. is set up in a standard business organizational structure, with Gheen acting as CEO and general manager and the CPAs as employees. But each CPA still has their own set of clients and and unique methods—their own best practices, so to speak. This can be effective if everyone is on the same page, especially when it comes to compliance work, the methods of which are well understood.
When a new service offering is introduced, however—especially something like client advisory services, which has the potential to be open-ended—training and systems must be set up across the organization to provide a framework for the work to occur smoothly. It goes back to the idea of efficiencies and fixed price work. Each CPA needed to be clear on procedures to budget the right amount of time. Too little, and the product will suffer; too much, and margin will be compromised.
Gheen knew that with the right systems in place and the right training, he had the potential for a very lucrative addition to his client offerings. His customers wanted it, and so did he. The LivePlan team’s goal was to get them there.