[IMGCAP(1)]Golf is a wonderful game. Whether you play casually with family or friends or play golf for business, you don’t have to be a great player to enjoy the game. And there are some lessons to be learned from the game in the world of accounting.

Golf has come a long way from the hickory stick shafts used in olden days to the various materials in the golf shafts of today with their carbon-fiber rib systems, micro laminate technology or carbon nanotubes. When selecting hickory staffs in the past, you had your choice of dark hickory or light hickory shafts. Some of today’s equipment makes Star Wars look like the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. However, you could still use the same old hickory shafts today, as they will still strike the ball, albeit not as far as today’s wonder sticks.

I guess it’s the same concept for business. You can do things the old way or you can try to keep up with the times to do things differently to move your business and profits forward. Or maybe you do a little of both.

You can innovate and use those little carbon nanotubes to enhance your performance on the golf course or use a dark hickory shaft golf club and basically evaporate and not be in the game. In today’s world, we all have to be in the game and we all have to innovate, not only to keep up with our competition today, but to stay ahead of them tomorrow.

Granted, the word “innovate” sounds intimidating. Why? Innovate equates to changing and most people are not big fans of change, at least initially. And “evaporate”? Well, we might as well use the word “death.” So how do you like change and death together as you roll out a new initiative at your firm on a Monday that is supposed to boost profits? Sounds like us marketing guys are working overtime again!!!

Let’s complicate things a bit further. Most professional service firms as a whole historically are not known for leading advances of innovation compared to other industries, but that’s fine. Having a creative accountant doesn’t convey the same warm and fuzzy feeling as having a creative marketer on staff. Accounting firms and accountants shouldn’t be on the cutting edge, but they should be close enough to at least get a look at the edge and what’s out there. Notice I didn’t say below. Don’t look down, but look forward.

Innovation: Take small steps of change, but not the huge steps that could trip you up or, worse, never take you out of the starting gate. Speaking of innovation, research what others are doing in other industries and see if those applications can be applied to your business. Yes, I am saying research, or in other words take ideas from others, a.k.a., steal, and see if that concept will fit into your firm. When I say research, I’m not suggesting adding a staff of 10 Harvard PhD’s, but look at trade publications or Google “business development of manufacturing” as an example and see what pops up. Or maybe talk to a client that is a manufacturer and see what they are doing as a business and in their own industry to move forward in growing their business. All you want is an idea or concept. Then mix in your firm’s DNA and apply it to the development efforts.

There are not that many original ideas left out there, so don’t over-think this too much. The important thing is to try something. And guess what? If it doesn’t work, adjust and change and try again. A small step is far less damaging than a huge initiative that, if it does fail, may permanently seal the deal for any future attempts to innovate.

Evaporate: That’s what’s facing firms that are not changing. While they may not turn into a pile of shredded 1040’s on April 16th, they may not be around long enough to file an extension that will save their firm. They will merge with a firm that will be more forward-thinking.

The action to innovate should be less threatening than the end results if you evaporate.

Some of this innovation stuff happens in the space between the ears, also known as our brain. We change with industry standards and with changes in tax laws, both locally and nationally. It shouldn’t be so daunting to change how we deliver our services or how we build both current and future relationships with clients, prospects and centers of influence. Small changes or small innovations can produce large positive results, and all accountants and firms are very capable of doing them.

I have the privilege of calling Dr. Gary Wiren a friend. Gary is a Master member of the Professional Golfers Association of America, he is in the PGA Hall of Fame and the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame, and he has authored many books and countless articles that have appeared worldwide. Plus, he is a card-carrying member of the Nicest People You’ll Ever Want to Meet Club.

When Gary conducts presentations or clinics or plays golf, he wears his trademark clothing from decades earlier: long-sleeve shirt with a tie and knickers. However, he does not use a hickory shaft. 

I think the message Gary is conveying is that you respect the past (clothing) that got you to the future (today’s equipment, including modern shafts).

We can do the same and respect the past by continuing to deliver professional and personalized quality service to our clients that got us to where we are today, while realizing the advances and advantages in how we deliver those same professional and personalized quality services to the same and new clients tomorrow.

Keep it in the fairway.

Nicholas D. Keseric Jr. is the director of practice growth with Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co, a Chicago-area middle-market CPA firm, and a partner with MPS Capital Advisors-Mergers & Acquisitions.

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