Forty years ago when I graduated with my accounting degree, we did not have personal computers, tax software, word processing or even Excel. At Deloitte, we prepared our workpapers by hand on columnar paper that we affectionally called “mellow yellow!” In other words, I’ve seen an incredible change in our profession during my career. Yet, despite all the changes and advancements, I think we will see more change in the next five years than we’ve experienced in the last 40.
Are you ready for the roller coaster ride of your life? It’s decision time: get on the lightning-fast coaster, or crash and burn. What do you need to do now?
Refresh your client base. We defined the type of client we want – and we’ve turned away more potential new clients this year than I can ever remember. If they are not willing to do business our way, they cannot be our client.
- We’re now fine-tuning this process to be even more particular. For example, clients will have to use one of two banks we designate. We use Hubdoc to gather bank and credit card statements, and some banks are constantly changing their settings in a way that Hubdoc cannot pull the statements. We’ve found that Wells Fargo and Chase, both of which have branches near our office, do not give us any problems.
- We want to work with clients who want to work with us and listen to our advice. When they call, I want my team to be happy and excited to talk to them. If team members grimace when a call comes in, I’ve told the team we want to know this is happening; either the client needs to get on our roller coaster or get off altogether.
Grow your team’s skill set and opportunities. About 15 months ago, we began holding weekly meetings on Thursdays at noon. The firm pays for lunch, and we spend 60 to 90 minutes doing various kinds of training. We thought that we would suspend these meetings during tax season, but found that they were so important and valuable that we kept going. Improving our team’s skills opens more opportunities for individuals to grow and take on more responsibility.
Quote fees in advance and collect in advance. We have spent too much effort in the past collecting fees for work performed. About 18 months ago, we began giving all new clients a proposal that gave them three choices of fixed monthly fees, letting them choose the package that best suited their needs. As part of the onboarding process, they sign an agreement where we charge their credit card the first of each month for the work to be performed. Our agreements typically include bookkeeping, payroll, reports, sales tax returns, unlimited phone calls and emails for questions, and income tax returns for the business and owners. Meetings with us for tax planning, budgeting and specialized reporting are variables that can be included. We are also converting our older clients to this new paradigm.
Keep up with technology. There is so much happening with technology that it can be overwhelming trying to stay on top of changes.
- We’ve used conferences such as Scaling New Heights and QuickBooks® Connect to help stay abreast of changes. Membership in the Woodard Network and QBExpress provides monthly webinars where the latest advancements are shared to help us know what’s new. QB Power Hour is also another good source for new technology.
- Contracting out SEO optimization of our website has helped us attract new clients and has become our main source of new business. This is ever changing and needs to be monitored and updated constantly.
Keep up with the competition. If we embrace each of the ideas previously suggested, we don’t worry about our competition. When we explain our approach to prospective clients, we invariably are told that we appear to be “cutting edge” and ahead of our competitors they have talked to. By staying on top of technology, training our team and being picky about the clients we will work with, we rarely find ourselves in a competitive situation.
We have found that other firms that have fallen behind are contacting us and interested in merging into our way of doing business. One that we are currently investigating does not have a website and they do not market other services, such as bookkeeping, payroll and advisory services to their current clients. They are paying about three times as much as they should for their tax software, and they are not using practice management software that would provide staff utilization reports and client profitability reporting. They have always provided great customer service, which has sustained them, but they are not prepared for the changes that the next five years will bring.
In other words, very soon, coasting as they have won’t be an option for them. The direction our profession is taking toward being more automated is forcing changes, even for the firms who aren’t ready. We know more changes are coming, but as we continue helping our clients achieve their financial goals, we have core values and a game plan in place to stay at the forefront of what’s coming down the pipeline.