Helping Professional Services Firms to add more value to SME clients

Helping Professional Services Firms to add more value to SME clients

The January edition of the ACCA Accounting and Business Magazine featured a very interesting article from Liz Fisher, summarising some findings from a recent SME based research project.


368 SMEs were asked what they felt were the critical factors enabling businesses to prosper over the long term. The responses were as follows:


People / Team work                        39%

Strategy                                              30%

Resilience / Competitiveness       22%

Business Process                              20%

Leadership                                         20%

Interacting with Stakeholders     15%

Mission/ Vision                                 14%

Liquidity                                             13%


These areas come as no real surprise, as we all know that they are key elements of a successful business. But the key question is:


As business advisers are you (pro)actively talking to your SME clients about these drivers and challenges? Are these on your client meeting agendas?


In our experience (and a key element that we address on our Trusted Adviser programme) many professionals will either tread lightly in these areas, or avoid them altogether, because they may not have the knowledge or answers to help. There is a natural fear of being exposed.


But… if these are critical to the SME client then we need to be talking about them, asking questions, establishing if the client needs support and help. This is about providing a great client service and demonstrating that you care about them and the discussion may reveal areas in which your firm can support them through some of these challenges.


And you may want to think about building relationships with others who could provide real value here (hint hint !!).


We believe it would be useful for the reader if we delved a little deeper into some of the responses above and provided a few thoughts that may help in client discussions.


Creating effective teams and real collaborative environments is easier said than done. It requires trust, honesty and openness together with respectful understanding of team member’s different strengths – all underpinned by clear team objectives aligned with individual performance measures.


Creating vision and strategy is vital for organisations of all sizes. As the article states, “Any organisation needs to picture how it wants to look, what it delivers, and how people external to the organisation would see it in the future’. It’s about where an organisation wants to go”


“Then strategy, underpinned by processes, are what will take it there. This is about breaking down the vision into manageable steps, setting achievable goals for execution, and monitoring and reporting on outcomes”


Interestingly, per the report, 78% say strategy is discussed at least four times a year, with the owner manager and CEO playing the key part in strategy-setting. Just under half say they never involve a third party in strategic discussions but the report suggests this would add value.


We agree – your client will get a lot of benefit from having you (or another qualified and objective professional) providing a different perspective, challenging thinking and assumptions, asking the ‘what if?’ questions and guiding the conversation. Strategy setting is dynamic, it needs constant re-assessment so we would advise that businesses should look to spend quality time on it at least quarterly.


Picking on the findings above, there could be benefits from bringing in ideas, thought and input from wider areas within the business to help the CEO in strategy setting. Facilitated away days and think-tanks are useful to help people within the business feel involved in setting direction (a major driver in engagement) and defining the vision.


This also helps with possibly the most important part of strategy setting  – communicating and embedding the strategy into the business. Ensuring that people understand ‘what and how’ they should be doing / behaving to drive the plan, aligning processes, reward and systems with the strategy. If strategy setting is top-down, then a robust ‘down-up and across’ consistent communication plan needs to be developed and rolled-out.


Our book ‘Firm Principles’ includes toolkits to help businesses define the vision and purpose, narrow down the ‘how to’ into executable, strategic goals and embed the new direction into the business operations.



The report acknowledges the vital role that leadership plays in creating and maintaining all of the critical drivers. Although “most of those taking part in the survey said their own leadership team had a process in place to make sure that its members had a broad range of skills to meet these challenges” the report recommended that “‘a regular review of leadership skills and performance should not be confined to larger companies and would be beneficial to businesses of any size”.


We know there are thousands of books about leadership and it is a concept that many struggle to define. Leadership is specific to each organisation, so a regular review of what skills, behaviours and mind-sets the leaders in your client organisations need to be developing is important. theGrogroup Leadership framework and Board development process could be useful aide-memoirs to help your clients focus on development needs and identify possible areas for support.


In summary

We believe that your SME clients will greatly value discussion around these issues; if nothing else, asking them wider business questions will help them to think and focus whilst enabling you to be better positioned as a Business Adviser, instead of a specialist provider of a narrow service. It will help to strengthen relationships and build your brand.


And it may just lead to opportunities to help your clients.


Please get in touch with Kate at to learn more about how we can help you to help your SME clients with strategic planning, communicating and embedding strategic goals, developing Leadership capability and building effective teams.


theGrogroup are experts in advising organisations on how best to improve performance by effectively executing and embedding required change. We do this through our proven framework; clarifying strategy and change needs, enabling people through skills, behaviours and mind-set development and creating the systems, processes and infrastructure to lock in change as the new normal.