Most everyone is intrigued by the future, including me. Yet firm leaders need to also focus on the present. It is easy to get distracted by the past or the future as both are interesting and enlightening. Many firm leaders’ biggest challenge is to overcome procrastination and focus on the positive behaviors today that will sustain success and keep the firm relevant and future-ready.

Here are six action steps that will transform your firm and position it for the future. They require changes in mindsets, skillsets and toolsets. You can get a quick start through a day of visioning and then developing a one-page strategic plan outlining your top five priorities, measurements of success, key strategies, due dates and responsible parties. Focus and accountability are the keys to success.

From personal experience, you will be wise to go with an experienced facilitator who knows the profession and has an in-depth knowledge of technology. It saves time and is much easier to build consensus and strategy.

1. Leverage internal as well as external resources. Too often firms only think about hiring more accounting graduates. This strategy is getting more difficult to execute while service lines call for skills other than accounting (e.g., finance, data analytics, technology, HR, marketing and sales). This is often referred to as meshing or leasing versus owning the resource. The same holds for other firm resources such as the accounting, HR, operations, tax, marketing, sales, technology, legal and customer experience platforms.

This is a new way of doing business and can be implemented today with a different mindset. Simply stated, you must not only focus on service delivery, but also on marketing and sales, and administration to grow. Many firms are limiting their own growth due to lack of professional resources in the administrative, marketing and sales areas. Meshing makes it easier for firms of all sizes to grow.

2. Engage and develop your talent. Talent has always been key to a professional service business. It will remain important in the future, but the need for collaboration and multiple skills to deliver clients’ wants and needs calls for different mindsets and skillsets.

Why can’t employees have more balance and a better work experience? Peer firms are already implementing projects that reduce hours to 40 during busy season. How do they do this, you might ask? By thinking differently and focusing on planning, people and processes. Others are automating the aggregation of data and the delivery process for tax returns to reduce cycle times and improve profitability. There are applications available to automate and streamline these processes. They work. Don’t resist, and focus on an improved client experience requiring a different mindset and toolsets.

3. Align the firm’s vision and one-page strategic plan. Clarify and communicate the firm’s three- to five-year vision. Your firm must share a vision and be able to consistently communicate the vision to clients and staff. What will your firm be, do, create, have and experience over the next five years? If you can’t answer these questions, it is going to be difficult to retain and attract quality clients and staff. In the past, clients came to your firm primarily for transactional and compliance services. Today, clients are concerned about the experience and consultative services in addition to compliance. Don’t get caught in the following traps:

  • I’m too busy with compliance work to offer more consultative services.
  • Clients are not asking for more services.
  • Our people don’t want to provide consulting services. They like compliance work.

Clients typically don’t know what services to ask for because they don’t understand what is possible, but they would want the services that you can offer, if they only knew they were possible.

4. Define your menu of services, pricing and processes. Restaurants and salons do a much better job with a menu of services than CPA firms. Restaurants and salons also package and price to increase efficiency and margins. Selling hours is not the business model of the future, and it promotes bad behavior. Value is created through relationship, leadership and creativity. Relationships build confidence, leadership provides direction, and creativity provides new capabilities. Digitizing your processes will also allow you to improve the client experience and perception of value. Eliminate paper. There is still too much paper in most accounting firms. Paper slows processes and impedes automation. Don’t let the resistors hold you back.

It is also important to identify target clients who will purchase more than one service. We define strategic accounts as those that meet our “3x3x3” criteria (utilize at least three services, utilize three or more consultants, and engage three or more of their people in the process). We also set revenue targets that are high (top 5 to 10 percent of clients).

5. Experience. Improve the client’s as well as your staff’s experience. Automation improves the experience for both clients and staff. Think mobile and your phone when looking at applications to improve the client experience. Great examples of cloud-based apps that integrate with popular accounting software are Bill.com, Receipt Bank, Expensify, XCM and Tax Caddy. Portals are no longer perceived by clients as enhancing their experience as they did before cloud-based technology. Cell phones can capture data in real time, rather than after the fact.

Accountants should strive for reduced or no data entry while improving the coding process with machine learning. The benefits to the firm are huge by spreading the work throughout the month or year rather than compressing the work into short periods. This allows firms to profit from both the transaction and compliance business while adding advisory services. Accurate, real-time data provides predictive value in addition to historical accuracy.

6. Replicate and scale. Standardized processes and platforms lead to efficiency, reduced labor, increased profits and scalability. It also allows firms to leverage resources among offices. This will result in growth, differentiation and the capability to remain future-ready. You must focus on both your processes and technology platform to remain competitive. Do you have people with the right mindset, toolsets and skillsets?

In case you didn’t notice, the above provides a memorable acronym — LEADER. While relatively simple, the strategy isn’t easy to execute because the gravity of the past is often perceived as greater than the opportunity in the future. The good news is that firms can leverage the past, the present and the future, but it does require a period of transformation. Transformation is a journey. The following five steps will provide a quick start and accelerate your journey:

1. Develop your one-page plan by thinking 10x.

2. Develop a menu of services, focusing on the client experience. Package and price for value, not effort.

3. Hire and develop talent that wants to be led and share the vision. Accountability is the game-changer. This game isn’t for everyone.

4. Digitize and standardize your processes.

5. Select and implement your cloud-based IT platform (for the firm and your clients).

Breaking through the ceiling of complexity requires simplification. Schedule a visioning session today. Think, plan, grow.