Create time and capacity for advisory services

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Reprinted with permission from Next-Level Accountants: Your guide to growing a firm of trusted advisors.

Every time Tom Hood, who is executive director and CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs, gives a speech (and he gives a lot of speeches), he asks his audiences of accountants about the top challenges they face.

Invariably, Hood says, the top challenges boil down to:

• Not having enough time,

• Doing more with less,

• Information overload, and

• Keeping up with change.

Accountants “are basically just heads down, trying to keep up with the day to day,” says Hood, one of Accounting Today’s 100 Most Influential People in Accounting and one of LinkedIn’s Top 150 Influencers. They don’t have any time to think, much less take on a new project.

But the more Hood talked with accountants who made a shift to being proactive and offering innovative services, the more he realized that these individuals had something in common: “They were actually creating time in their very busy lives to figure out some of the new things,” he says. These accountants understand that “time is never going to come to you; no one’s going to give it to you. You’re going to have to create it.”

How do you do that, though? Here are Hood’s six suggestions:

1. Use the latest and most efficient technologies. Accountants who are making time are doing so using technology to solve their business problems, Hood says. “That goes for everything from workflow, business process re-engineering—all of those kinds of things—to implementing cloud technologies to make things more efficient.”

2. Make your workflow and processes efficient. Hood recommends examining what is being done, why and whether it’s essential. If someone is producing a report, figure out who it goes to and determine how they use it. “Is this business process accomplishing what we intend it to at the costs we intend? Oftentimes in a period of fast change, people change, roles change, and we don’t have time to look out for that,” he notes. “If you can make a little time to do that and cut out the things that are unnecessary, you can reinvest that time you just created into looking at new technology that might save you even more time.”

3. Engage your people. Despite recent talk about how workers from the millennial generation crave work that matters, Hood stresses that all workers want this, not just young professionals. “Our profession, left to its own devices, can put [workers] through the rigors of ‘paying your dues,’ which is often mind-numbing work that doesn’t feel like it has a purpose,” he says. Involve staff in the strategy of the firm and in projects that might impact them. Connect them with work that matters. You will find workers more engaged and more willing to put in discretionary effort, Hood predicts. “That means they’re the people that will walk through walls for you,” he says. “How much more would they get done because they care? You just created a ton of capacity that you can reinvest in learning the new skills that are needed to become a proactive business advisor.”

4. Maximize the software and tools you have. A lot of firms aren’t really training their staff on the core technology they already have, so existing technology and workflow processes aren’t maximized. “If you’re not training people on what you have, it’s like giving someone a Ferrari and then they drive it around like it’s a go cart,” Hood says. Look for ways to get the most out of your current technology and tools. For example, a 20-minute training session on how to create tables in Excel may result in better, faster analysis.

5. Focus on your best “A” clients. Agree on what being one of the firm’s best clients means, then rank clients as A or B clients. Look at size and profit, but also consider whether the client generates the kind of work that fits the firm’s values and that challenges staff and helps them grow. Consider whether the client is difficult to deal with because they cause delays or extra costs. Then, Hood suggests, consider raising your prices on the B clients by a minimum of 30 percent. “Say, ‘You’re tough to deal with; we love you but you’re never ready when we are’ or whatever the issues are, then say you’re going to have to raise the price 30 percent or more,” Hood recommends. “Half of those clients with say, “See you,” and the other half will take it. “Not only will you create more time for proactive services for the A clients, but more money comes in and people feel better.”

6. Communicate your services/cross-sell. If staff understand they are not just generating fees from clients but they are actually making an impact on that customer, they will look for opportunities to communicate how they can save the client money or help the client make improvements in their business. This opens doors for cross-selling, making each client more valuable.

Hood says even the busiest of firms can take steps to create time, which they can then use on proactive, future-focused activities. “It’s all about the little things,” he says. “Just make little pieces of time and then make sure you’re reinvesting that time savings into the next thing that will save even more time. You have to be disciplined so you don’t squander that time.”

To learn more about growing your firm by providing advisory services, download the complimentary eBook, Next-Level Accountants: Your guide to growing a firm of trusted advisors.

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Consulting Business services Tom Hood Mary Ellen Biery MACPA