It's been almost 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 holistic approach, helping fellow practitioners create the "new" firm.
Social media and cloud technology are becoming more popular. Fixed-pricing agreements are on the rise, and there's a move toward value-pricing clients. It seems worlds are finally starting to collide.
But there is still a long way to go.
Those 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 farther 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 much-needed risks.
TOOLS FOR NOW (AND THE FUTURE)
Let's look at the most popular topics in the profession: the cloud, value pricing and social media. While all these tools are part of the transformation, it's really about the pace of information sharing.
The old way 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. Social, cloud and value-pricing tools enhance connections.
Head in the cloud? The cloud demands that you redefine what you are selling. Are you selling a tax return or a financial statement? Or are you selling knowledge? Are those deliverables even necessary, or is another metric or financial interpretation of real-time data more important to your customer?
When data sharing moves to the cloud, you will find that your clients ask more questions and rely on you not just as their number-cruncher but as their trusted advisor. Does this mean that you should be offering higher-priced consultative services? You will need to resolve these questions to appropriately price your services.
Getting social. Since social media is an "always-on" platform, firm leaders must understand how it works and have a clear set of objectives. Assign guidelines for communicating via social media to ensure proper messaging. If clients and prospects can "see" you 24/7, your communications must be on target, professional, and engage your audience appropriately. It's also necessary to assign staff to oversee your efforts and compensate them for handling this "always-on" communication task.
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. You have to be comfortable with this. You 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.
The cost of value. For firms that are still in the time-keeping mindset: How do you bill for two minutes? Do you overlook these tasks and not bill for them? Of course not. Instead, you sell your resources and your expertise under a fixed fee, charging for that expertise.
The accounting profession now has technology to support highly efficient digital workflow processes that allow firms to perform more work in less time with fewer resources. We have created an environment where information-sharing has increased exponentially, allowing us to output deliverables markedly faster.
Does that mean we charge less? No way. It simply changes the focus on value from the delivered product to the expertise. Under this model, we can focus on offering the service level the client desires from their trusted advisor, not just the data. We can help clients with critical business decisions and judgement calls, which have a higher perceived value. This means we need to value-price.
The time-clock mentality works against a culture of learning. When staff members measure time, "competency" becomes associated with the amount of time spent in the office or on a particular project. This also perpetuates micro-management. Time tracking deters staff from innovative thinking and team work, while detracting from the most important aspect of the client experience -- interaction with their accounting expert. This is detrimental because a learning culture is a key differentiator in recruiting progressive professionals.
THE TIME IS NOW
The sheer quantity of work and a compressed tax season are key reasons why this broken model has yet to be fixed. Yet with all the new mandates and workload issues, the time couldn't be more perfect for change.
We now have the level of technology that is required to do better. We have access to online forums that make it easy to collaborate with other professionals and access their experience and knowledge. The questions now are: Why do we want to change? Why do we need to change? Why do we need to do this now?
We need to build the new firm that will meet the needs of clients now and into the future. There are ways to bring kicking-and-screaming partners and clients along, but the key is you.
Be your firm's change-maker. Now is the time.
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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