Becoming A Firm of the Future
Most CPAs I know agree with me that the shift in our role from quarterly tax professional to ongoing partner and advisor is both vital and inevitable when it comes to serving our small business clients. Yet, while there’s been much belabored discussion on the topic in our industry, very few accountants are working to make it happen in their own practice.
As a millennial accountant myself, who started my own practice from scratch as an outsider of sorts, I have always embraced the role of partner, and have seen many pain points and roadblocks that we accountants need to tackle in order to step into that role – and into the 21st century – if we, ourselves, want our practices to stay relevant.
Start by offering a few more services. It’s important to be an advisor to small businesses because they often don’t know what they need, or even where to start learning as much. So the more services you can offer them, the more you can guide and empower them. In my experience, small businesses often call to “inquire about our services” but really need guidance on what services to use. They know they need tax prep and advice, but what they’re actually looking for is a strategic partner. They simply don’t know to ask for one. I’ve also found it’s easier to sell my own services as a CPA when I offer comprehensive services that differentiate my practice.
To step into that role, CPAs can start by offering services like financial planning, forecasting, and performance tracking to their small business customers. I first realized the importance of these features when I learned about such tools at the Scaling New Heights conference in 2014. I immediately knew I needed to offer those services, and there are plenty of tools available now for CPAs to help better serve their clients.
The Next Barrier to Conquer
It’s now 2016; time to finally embrace empowering technology. When I was first trying to break into accounting and have larger accountancies buy into my practice, I spent a great deal of time inside multimillion-dollar firms stuck using yesterday’s technologies. From owners still using Hotmail accounts to paper and people piled everywhere (well, figuratively), everything was manual and old school.
And although many of them saw it as “tried-and-true,” that mindset has actually set them back quite a bit when it comes to shifting to this full-service advisory role – they aren’t able to be nimble and adaptive. I decided at that moment that my practice would follow the cutting edge of technology. It sets us free and multiplies what a small group of people can accomplish.
I simply can’t overstate how integral technology has been in setting my practice apart as an advisor. It has allowed us to grow a business with clients all over the country, able to work with them virtually, without any hiccups. It’s amazing, and clients love it, too.
Stare down resistance and the status quo. The final, most difficult thing that we need to change is internal resistance to the idea of change, which draws its power from our collective inability to rise above the stresses of the day-to-day to take a look at the way we’re doing things.
There are a lot of growing pains in evolving into a competitive advisory practice, and many people react against the idea because of this resistance. It involves evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your current team, drastic changes in client acquisition, outsourcing basic services like payroll and expenses, and even later on letting go of legacy clients who don’t want to change with you. Tackling that and creating proactive progress is difficult when you can’t rise above daily crisis mode.
Although I can’t say I’ve gone through these growing pains myself, having been fortunate enough to establish this identity for myself from the beginning, I’ll still say with confidence that it’s worth it.
Aside from giving my practice a competitive edge and staying power, I find my work these days so much more engaging and fulfilling offering a comprehensive breadth of services that allow me to be a partner to my clients. I’m proud to talk about my firm and how I’ve set myself apart by helping small businesses that need it, and would be happy to speak with others about how they, too, can rise to the next level in their practice.
Written by Luke Gheen, CPA in Colorado. Originally published in AccountingWEB on February 4, 2016.