How to get hydrated without choking on the fire hose

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Seth Godin, the prolific blogger and marketing guru, likes to say,“Drinking from a fire hose is a really bad way to get hydration.” We’re all humans. We need water to survive. But no matter how thirsty you are, if you are getting deluged from all sides, the normal response is to walk away and say, “I’m better off thirsty.”

Obviously, that’s not sustainable for your personal health or your practice. With things changing so fast in the accounting world, many CPAs feel it’s like drinking from a fire hose just trying to keep up. Ask anyone who’s tried to drink out of an industrial strength fire hose: It’s painful and inefficient. Too much change can feel overwhelming, but doing without water is not an option. You need it to survive.

Start by breaking things down into more manageable gulps. Most CPAs see a tidal wave of change looming over them. As I’ll get to in a minute, these changes didn’t just start yesterday, but now they seem on the verge of crashing down on you. When you feel overwhelmed, the natural tendency is to hunker down and go back to your tried and true way of doing things — back to your comfort zone.

Unfortunately, your clients are not going to wait around for you to catch up. The key is to remember you’re running a marathon, not a sprint. You have to make small, incremental gains that won’t burn you out trying to make up a huge gap all at once. Try breaking things down into small digestible steps that will help you get just 1 percent better every day. The Japanese call that kaizen, which literally means, “change for the better.” One percent might not seem like much, but thanks to the power of compounding, it quickly adds up to a huge improvement.

One step at a time
No one’s expecting you to reinvent yourself and your practice overnight. Think about what’s coming down the pike. What tools do you and your team need to leverage? What’s going to have the biggest impact on your firm and to whom do you provide the most value?

Still feeling stuck? Go back to your core values. Ask yourself these questions:

• Who are the clients we serve best?

• What do they want?

• What do they really need from us?

• How do we deliver it in light of everything that is happening in our world?

Again, block out some time every day — even if it’s only 10 minutes — to make small improvements in your practice. Don’t succumb to analysis paralysis, decision fatigue or information overload. Pick just one thing that you’re committed to working on and keep moving every day.

It all goes back to crystallizing in your mind which clients you are uniquely qualified to serve and what’s the greatest value you can provide to those clients. Keep applying that logic to every challenge you face.

There’s never a perfect time. Do it now!

Some would say this time of year — holidays, year-end deadlines, work and family obligations, wintry weather, etc. — can be more stressful than busy season. We know there really never is a time when we aren’t stressed about something. So when’s a good time to start doing a little self-improvement? ASAP!

Something’s always going to be happening that could give you a reason to procrastinate about learning a positive new habit. Clients will always have questions. There’s always year-end planning to be done. There’s always going to be something going on with your family, your children, your partners or your health.

I know the kaizen approach may not be applicable in March. But, right now, why not ask yourself, “How can I start laying a foundation for continuous learning and incremental improvement so it becomes a habit for each us here and part of our firm’s culture?” When you really narrow down your choices, moving forward and sticking to your plan is so much easier.

Look at things as they are, not as you wish they were

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just put our head downs, do our work — the same work we’ve always done for the same clients — and then go home at night? Wouldn’t it be nice if clients would continue to pay on time and we could keep raising fees a little every year and have a nice gradual upward trend in revenue? Clients would be happy, we’d be happy and we wouldn’t have to adjust our retirement projections.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happens in the real world.

You cannot just sit back and bill your clients the same thing for the same kind of work, because everything around you is changing and clients are always demanding more. As Jack Welch liked to say, “If the rate of change outside your organization is greater than the rate of change inside your organization, then soon you will not have an organization.”

Don’t be the frog in the pot

You may not hear an alarm going off every day, but does the water around you seem to be getting warmer? It may not be hot enough to force you out of the pot, but eventually it’s going to boil over and scald you if you don’t take action.

Are clients making big financial decisions without consulting you first? Are referrals from long-time clients starting to wane? Are you losing more and more talented candidates to rival firms? Are clients going elsewhere for services they didn’t realize you could deliver? It’s that slow boil that can end up being the most painful.

Making habits stick 

This is the time of year when people start making resolutions or setting BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) which inevitably go unfulfilled. Start reading about developing positive habits. Become more aware of your behavioral patterns. Start really small. For instance, if you want to get in better shape, don’t sign up for the marathon or cross-fit competition in your town. Commit to doing just one push-up every morning — just one. Then commit to doing one push-up three times a day. Before you know it, you’ll be telling yourself, “I’m already down on the floor; I might as well do five push-ups.” And as it starts getting easier to do five push ups, it will begin to feel weird if you don’t do your five push ups every day. That exercise habit will become ingrained in your psyche. Same goes for your business.

When you first sit down at your desk, block out 10 minutes a day to learn all you can about that service or technique you’ve been trying to bring in. Write something about it, read something about it or watch something about it every day. Pretty soon you’ll realize: “I’m already sitting down and working on this, I might as well spend 15 minutes instead of 10.” Then that 15 minutes becomes 20. But if you start with an unrealistic goal, say committing one full hour a day, then it’s not going to happen. It’ll be like drinking from a fire hose again.

Everybody’s got 10 minutes. Everyone can do one push-up a day. Once you’ve developed the habit of improvement, it will permeate all the other things that you do.

You can’t avoid exercise or self-improvement just because you don’t like it. You have to stick with it. But, before long, you will start liking what you see in the mirror. Now go get a drink of water. You’ve earned it. Just be sure to use the water fountain or a squeeze bottle. Don’t drink from the fire hose!

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