In the past, it's been fairly common for us to dedicate this space in our December issue to looking back at the past year in accounting, and looking ahead to the next. And while I certainly want to touch on some high (and low) points of 2013, I'm a little more interested in looking ahead.

So, a quick look back: Tax season was terrible, one of the worst ever. After it was done, the Internal Revenue Service embarrassed itself twice -- first farcically, with a never-ending series of video parodies, and then more seriously, with revelations of policies that looked a lot like bias against conservative groups. So as not to make the IRS feel bad, the rest of our government decided to embarrass itself by shutting down in early October, which set us up to face yet another terrible tax season in 2014. The Private Company Council worked hard in its first full year of trying to make accounting standards better for small businesses; new leaders took over at the major U.S. standard-setters; and the Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board eased toward a new relationship.

Meanwhile, qualified staff remained hard to find, firms continued to merge like crazy, too few older CPAs had set up succession plans, the cloud was still the next big thing, and the Affordable Care Act looked like a great short-term consulting opportunity for everyone's most trusted advisors.

So much for 2013.

I'm much more interested in 2014, and a piece of advice I heard at our Growth & Profitability Summit in October. One of our keynote speakers, well-known consultant Jay Nisberg, urged our audience to be bold. Actually, he demanded it. Accountants are so respected and so valued by their clients, he explained, that you can afford to be much bolder than you are. You don't have to put up with second-rate clients, he said - you can pick your own clients, and charge them much more than you do now.

But that isn't the only area you should be bold in -- or the only area you'll need to be bold in, as competition gets fiercer and many of your core services become commoditized. With that in mind, here are some areas where a little boldness could pay off in 2014, and a couple of ideas for each:

  • With your staff. Create a committee of young staff to develop ideas, then listen to them. Or make a point of introducing one junior staff member to one senior client every week. Or start creating a knowledge base of who knows what in your firm.
  • With your partners. Make a list of all the confrontations you haven't had with your problem partners, then go and have a confrontation with one of them. Or have all of your partners create a succession plan for themselves.
  • With your service offerings. Survey your clients to uncover a common pain point. Create a solution for it. Give the solution a name. Make a fortune. Retire.
  • With technology. If you're not using any cloud-based software, start. If your clients don't use portals, make them. If your staff use smartphones or tablets for work, make sure they can be remote-wiped.
  • With the way you run your firm. Have you ever value-priced anything? Give it a try -- maybe with that new solution you just created. Or make a list of the most common pieces of business advice you offer your clients, then see how many of them actually apply to your firm.

Few of these are earth-shattering; most require only a little boldness. And that's fine, since caution and prudence are among the profession's strengths. But caution and prudence are not the same things as inertia and complacency, and 2014 will go much better for you and your firm if you step just a little bit outside your comfort zone.
In the meantime, good luck, and the best wishes for the holiday season to you and yours from all of us here at Accounting Today!

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