Innovation is the key term in today's fast-paced profession. Conducting business "Same as last year" (SALY) no longer works. There are simply too many cool new technologies and better ways of managing your practice.

More than ever, firms must keep up, dig in and apply the changes required to do business in a world where clients want to stay connected and in communication with their trusted business advisors. SALY no longer lives here. There's a new sheriff in town and her name is innovation!

The big question is: Do you innovate or stagnate? Stagnating means that you are satisfied with business as usual and probably have the mindset of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That's a dangerous mode of thinking, especially when there are other firm leaders who have harnessed the power of innovation and are transforming their firms into highly efficient, streamlined operations. These firms have opened up new channels of communication via social media, updated to a customer-centric pricing structure, and are consistently exploring new solutions to improve firm operations and more efficiently deliver information to clients.

These firms are also realizing the potential for value-added consulting services that go along with running an innovatively charged firm. Ask yourself a few questions: Do you check in with your clients all year long? Do you proactively offer suggestions to enhance the client's business and then step up to the plate to support them through the process? Do you think outside the box and become the client's most trusted business advisor beyond accounting and tax services? This is what New Firm owners do, and how new consulting opportunities are made.

You should be doing all these things in your own firm. If not, you will soon be left behind -- far, far behind, I'm afraid.

 

AREAS OF CHANGE

Over the past few years, I've preached about keeping up with change, specifically in relation to technology, social media and value pricing. These are all items that reflect the New Firm attitude - that is, those firms that are willing to change, stay ahead of trends, and streamline operations for ultimate efficiency. My firm is certainly changing - sometimes it seems like on a daily basis. But the effort we've put into enhancing operations and innovating in practice management has helped us grow exponentially.

Let me expound on some areas where my firm has grown and how we made it happen.

Exhibit 1 - Social media. Many leads come from social media. For my firm, it's Facebook that drives potential clients to my door. Our presence is professional, and we maintain ongoing, consistent communications via our social media channels. A sound social media program is bringing prospects in. For example, we recently took on a large client who was formerly with Big Four firm KPMG. Fees for this client will approach six figures. Based on wins like this, I am always confused as to why so many firms are resistant to change.

Exhibit 2 - Value pricing. Our fixed-pricing model allows us to compete on value, service and intellectual capital with the big firms. Not restrained by billable hours, we can go the extra mile and be creative in tax planning for our high-net-worth clients. Complex partnership returns were once the exclusive territory of Top 100 Firms, but with advanced technology and streamlined workflow practices in place, we can provide the same level of service as the big guys -- at a fixed monthly cost. This drives a lot of big clients to our small firm doors! Clients love this model. It is also profitable because it is based on what the client perceives as value. Clients don't care how long it took you to complete the work, just that you solved their problem.

Exhibit 3 - Technology. Technology is the linchpin in any successful firm. You have to have a streamlined system in place to efficiently handle client work. This allows you to put a fixed-pricing model in place and take on the six-figure clients. Firms must be willing to get out of their comfort zone and move to the cloud and implement other advanced applications if they are to compete with the big firms. It's technology that levels the playing field. It certainly has for us. I find it amazing that because of Software-as-a-Service technologies, we actually surpass larger firms in service and value because those firms are not investing in these types of solutions.

The final word: It's all about changing with the times. SALY is long gone! I operate a small firm, but we are competing with the big firms because we were willing to implement the right changes (and I have the case studies from tax season to prove it). Such changes include adopting social media, cloud technologies, and value pricing. All of these items combined give small firms a competitive advantage. They've definitely given my firm the advantage over my competitors and allow us to compete head to head with large firms. That's true innovation (with absolutely no stagnation).

Our firm has adopted an innovation mindset -- across the board. It allows us to compete with the big firms on offerings, value and profitability. And you can do the same if you are willing. The best part is that there are firm owners that are willing to share how to go about it. And I'm one of them. If you are open, I'm here to help.

Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is chief executive officer and principal of New Vision CPA Group (www.newvisioncpagroup.com), and an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College, as well as part of the Intuit Trainer Writer Network.

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