Let freedom ring

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If you’re like most Americans, this is a short work week as thoughts shift to barbecues, fireworks and time spent outdoors with friends and families. But it’s also a time when many CPAs are using some downtime to do a mid-year review of their practice and work-life balance. If you’re not absolutely excited about the years and months ahead, you’re not alone.

As the chart below in an Accounting Today article last year noted, accounting and auditing are among the most likely occupations to be replaced by robotics and artificial intelligence by 2020. “Robotics is expected to eliminate 40 percent of basic accounting work by 2020,” Accounting Today reported.

OK, I realize this isn’t news for many of you, but I don’t look at it as doom and gloom. I look at it as freedom! That’s right. Thanks to disruption and automation, you now have the freedom to reinvent yourself and your firm. Machines are taking over the repetitive, routine work that takes up all of your team’s time — machines do it better anyway — and free you up to spend time providing high-value advice for your clients.

Doing time-sensitive compliance work and filling in the boxes on a tax return are not much fun. They’re not high-value activities and not very stimulating for your brain. Let machines do that grunt work.

As I explained in my Accounting Today article, Becoming an anti-fragile CPA, change is constant. The key is to go from being resilient (“I’m less impacted by change”) to being anti-fragile (“I’m now stronger because of the change.”) Your clients are constantly growing and evolving. They’re adapting to new technologies and trying to stay ahead of their competitors, so you have to grow with them if you want to remain relevant (and profitable).

Now that machines and AI are taking over the things you don’t want to do, you now have the freedom to focus on what you really want to do and what you’re best at doing. What are those things? Ask yourself, “What kind of clients do I like working with the most? What do they need? How should I serve them? How do I become the most trusted advisor to those select clients?”

Now is a great time of year to block out some undistracted thinking time to ponder these simple, but important questions. How do we take advantage of our newfound freedom, so it becomes an empowering tool, not a rabbit hole of “analysis paralysis?”

As I wrote in Four quadrants to master, when you sit down to map out your firm’s future, it’s tempting to think in terms of revenue or number of clients. But instead, you should be contemplating where you really want to be three years from now. You also want to be honest with yourself about what an ideal day at the office looks like and how you’re going to get there.

I know these might sound like deep existential questions, but start by addressing four simple questions: why, who, what and how:

1. Why we do it? (i.e., what are our core values, what gets us out of bed every morning?)

2. Who do we do work with? (i.e., who are our ideal clients?)

3. What do we do for those ideal clients better than anyone else?

4. How do we do it? (what is our unique process?)

By following this approach, you are freed up to create the business you’ve always wanted. It will be more profitable than before because your income will be based on value created for your best clients, not on hours billed for average clients.

Remember the chart at the top of this article? What it’s telling us is that the things to be automated are primarily numbers and mechanics. What can’t be automated by machines and AI? The So What and the Now What. In other words, machines can’t tell clients what these numbers really mean for them based on what you know about them and what they’re trying to accomplish. Computers can’t do that because they don’t know your clients. They don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish because they don’t have that lens. That’s your advantage!

As I explained in 50 shades of (CPA) gray, the future is not black and white when we talk about advice. Most of the time it’s gray. As a high-value advisor, you’re talking with clients about probabilities and advice; it’s not about making sure your numbers are right. Computers will do a much better job with numbers than we ever will. Where humans excel is in the ability to take all of a client’s information — both quantitative and qualitative — and synthesize it so our client can make better decisions that positively impact their future.

I realize change can be scary. But with the natural forces of creative destruction bearing down on all types of professional services firms, it’s the push we need to make those changes we know in the back of our minds we have to implement. Change your lens. Remember, when technology is used correctly, it’s a great tool that’s a facilitator for better relationships. Thanks to today’s market forces, you now have the freedom to decide who you want to serve in the new economy and how you want to serve them. That should be extremely liberating and exciting for you, not a harbinger of doom.

As our forefathers famously said, “Let freedom ring!”

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Automation Artificial intelligence Practice management