It's been a year since practitioners who celebrate a new way of doing business engaged the profession. This cadre is calling for others to redefine their firms (and lives) by moving away from the traditional model. We are pushing a collaborative, holistic approach, helping fellow practitioners create the "new" firm.

Last year, the focus of my columns was on the cloud, value pricing and social media. My mission was to illustrate how interaction with each of these tools created change within a firm. In 2014, I will be discussing how these new ways of doing business fundamentally change a firm from the inside out -- and as a result, call for its people to respond accordingly, transitioning into this new model.

The tools of the cloud, value pricing and social media are quite disruptive to a firm business model. This we know. However, shaking everything up like a giant smoothie actually creates a new concoction that can be a pleasant experience.

 

THE NEW DISRUPTION

Employees, customers, prospects and, yes, even management will all be learning new ways of doing business in the new firm model. It's no longer a fee for a tax return or financial statement; it's a collaborative partnership where a trusted advisor leads a small-business chief executive through accounting, tax and consulting services. Prospects no longer come only via referral from your town or city; they come to you through social channels as well -- meaning you may be working with new customers from around the world.

Many customers embrace video to communicate, and we already know every document can now move digitally. Management has to take a more active and instructive teaching role, and must learn to do this remotely with both employees and customers. It's these new ways of collaborating with employees, customers, prospects and management that create the change in how the new firm operates.

Those practitioners who have been preaching a new way are only just starting to understand exactly how today's new firm should operate. There is not yet a perfect model. We are much further along, however, than we were just a few years ago.

The firms with "no baggage" are rocking it. They are new, emerging firms with no legacy clients, aging technologies, or old-time partners. Some leaders are under the age of 25. You may look at them and say, "What do they know?" But it's what they don't know that is allowing them to be successful and take game-changing risks. They collaborate effortlessly online and expect the same from their older counterparts.

 

COLLABORATE AND COMMUNICATE

Let's look at the players who make a firm successful: employees, customers, prospects and partners. While everyone has a role in the new firm, what's different is new virtual ways of collaboration. And, of course, the pace of information-sharing required in this collaboration can make your head spin.

The old way of firm communication doesn't meet the needs of today's customer, or even the accounting professional. The firm model is broken and requires a rebuild. It's about collaboration - with your clients, employees, vendors or solution providers. All social, cloud and value-pricing tools enhance connections.

Communication has always been one of the biggest challenges that traditional firms faced in the pre-cloud and pre-social world. Now add the fast turnaround that today's clients and the Internet demand of firms. Communication and transparency are now critical in today's business environment and most firms are failing miserably.

For some firms, there is the fear of being too transparent. It is true that a lot of what you are doing becomes more public - to both your customers and your employees. To remain competitive, you have to be comfortable with this. Holding back will ultimately hurt your firm as others move forward faster with greater transparency and ease.

Firms also have to understand that it's not a business-to-business world anymore. More companies are sharing information with clients and prospects to appeal to them on a "friend" level. This builds rapport, trust and loyalty. Transparency is a good thing, but it will make you more vulnerable. My advice to you is this: Make peace with your vulnerability and you can win in this communication game.

The accounting profession now has technology to support new communication and collaboration processes, allowing firms to perform more work in less time with fewer resources than ever before.

We have created an environment where information-sharing has increased exponentially, thereby allowing us to output deliverables markedly faster. This is a good thing. Embrace it. It's key to you surviving and thriving in today's new world.

The question remains: Are you ready to communicate and collaborate differently?

We need to master this new collaboration in order to build the new firm that will meet the needs of clients now and for generations to come.

Jody Padar, CPA, MST, is CEO and principal of New Vision CPA Group, as well as an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College. She speaks nationally on various technologies and taxation.

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