Accountants and bookkeepers are shifting their businesses to advisory-level practices, and those that aren’t should recognize “it’s an absolute that is going to happen to us,” Sandra Wiley, president and shareholder of CPA consultancy Boomer Consulting, told attendees of the QuickBooks ProAdvisor conference Scaling New Heights 2016.
Wiley offered advice on moving to that next level during her session on “Epic Firm Strategy,” explaining that it could not be done alone, but by finding “the right people that fit the organization and the clientele.”
That, of course, is a challenge in its own right, Wiley continued, citing newer challengers to CPA firms in the war for talent, including a beckoning Silicon Valley. Still, firms should be looking to nontraditional sources for recruiting. “As you develop your niches, you might have to hire people who,” Wiley paused for a stage gasp, “aren’t accountants!”
There are also currently five generations in today’s workforce—including the newly viable Generation Z—which necessitates finding new ways to engage and retain this talent.
Armed with the right staff to upgrade their practice, accountants can follow Wiley’s four steps to attaining an “epic firm”:
1. Developing the vision
2. Choosing to have an advisory versus compliance firm
3. Getting the buy-in
4. Cultivating a culture of innovation
In forming their vision, firms should look to the philosophy of author and consultant Simon Sinek and his oft-quoted “Start with why” philosophy. As Sinek said, “people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” Thus, Wiley advised, firms should use their “why” as a starting point in crafting their vision statement.
With that in place, firms and practitioners can make the conscious choice to move from compliance to advisory services. Wiley refreshed attendees on the differences between the two.
Namely, a compliance-based practice features rugged individual leadership and operates under a business model that is seasonal, hourly and reactive based on hindsight and postmortems, and focuses on details and product delivery. On the other hand, Wiley explained, advisory businesses operate as a team sport, providing non-seasonal services with insight and foresight that focus on value, proactivity, anticipation and the big picture, with the processes and leadership to support it all.
That last key of support dovetailed into Wiley’s next emphasis on buy-in, which firms can achieve with the right communication of these firm-wide changes. Communication should be in “word, deed and action,” she explained, with leadership forming the right team to get it done.
The right team will be part of a flat organization structure, she explained, which is also essential to her last step of building an innovative culture.
“Stop thinking like a Baby Boomer,” she said, with a tongue-in-cheek admonishment of the many in the audience, “in terms of a hierarchy.” Instead, Wiley elaborated, today’s organization is flat, with the goal of making everyone equal, so that everyone has the voice to be innovative.
And just like accounting leaders cannot underestimate their talent, they should not underrate themselves—critically, in terms of pricing.
“We undervalue what we do,” Wiley said. “You are better than you think you are, and you deserve more than you are getting right now. The only person in your way is you.”
While none of the attendees could object to that sentiment, a few had reservations about just how exactly they could transition clients away from compliance work and raise prices, or how they would ween some clients off their more outdated operations in other areas like payroll or HR.
Wiley’s solution? Take a hard look at the practice’s clientele and segment them according to their needs and niche. Those that don’t fit the firm’s strategy should, in time, be let go.
“You have to get yourself to a point, if [compliance services] is all they want, there will come a day you have to let them go, to get higher-level clients,” Wiley explained. “You’re going to have to let them go now, or will they go on their own” to compliance-only companies like H&R Block.
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