We all know innovation is important to business, and because technology enables industries and companies to move faster than ever, businesses will innovate and thrive, or be left behind. Innovation may enable tax and accounting firms to provide more value to their clients with easier processes or more insightful advice, find efficiency gains internally, and grow their bottom lines. The challenge isn’t whether to innovate; it’s how to accomplish that innovation while keeping up with your day-to-day practice. I spoke with four innovative accountants to find out how they are meeting this challenge:
Karen Collom, CPA, MSA, has a tax and accounting services firm located in Plano, Texas. Karen’s firm provides individual and small business tax preparation and consulting, with a specialization in coaching entrepreneurs as they journey through the first two years of their company’s evolution. The firm supports business clients with consulting, payroll, QuickBooks® training and contract CFO Services. Clients are located throughout the U.S., Mexico and Europe, which complements Karen’s other passion, which is traveling.
Mariette Martinez, EA, is a virtual small business accounting consultant and tax professional. Her mission is to empower solo-entrepreneurs to seamlessly manage financial performance and meet year-round tax obligations by using accounting, tax and workflow technologies.
Jackie Meyer, CPA, CTC, is president and founder of Meyer Tax Consulting, LLC, in Southlake, Texas. Her team provides concierge tax planning packages to a select number of executives, investors and entrepreneurs. The firm also consults on industry best practices via theconciergecpa.com.
Scott Sloan is president of SKYsmb, a family-owned accounting and business management firm focused on leveraging technology to provide proactive business management and growth solutions. Scott enjoys poetry and comedy.
Resources for Innovation
Our tax pros use a variety of resources to help them stay up to date on the latest innovations. Jackie listens to several podcasts, including JetPack Workflow’s “Growing Your Firm” podcast with David Cristello, the Tim Ferriss Show and Smart Women Talk Radio, that talk about ideas for improving your firm to help her spark ideas. Jackie also relies on in-person events for learning and networking. “I love going to QuickBooks Connect and rubbing elbows with technology leaders.”
Mariette relies on webinars to stay updated. She uses CPA Academy and Intuit® webinars, among others, to help stay up to date on the latest and greatest. She also recommends following thought leaders and industry influencers on social media because they often share opportunities and events for learning and inspiration.
Karen added that there may be local industry groups that can serve as sounding boards for innovative pros. “I’m part of a study group that gets together every month to help each other with tax-related questions and technology-related issues.”
Scott’s firm uses technology to stay current. He receives daily Google Alerts on the latest trends, including chatbots and artificial intelligence, to stay up to date on the news and how he can apply it to his firm.
Challenges to Innovation
Even with great resources at their fingertips, our panel made it clear that innovating is not easy. Scott said that the speed of change in the industry is his firm’s biggest challenge. “Change is accelerating rapidly, and trying to stay ahead of that curve is becoming more and more of a challenge. We’re experiencing disruption now, but we see it being magnified in the future; in five years, I think our field is going to look so different that we may not recognize it.”
To mitigate this challenge, his firm tries to make innovation as simple as possible. “What it really boils down to is listening and focusing. We keep our ear to the ground to hear the latest from the industry and our clients on certain technical issues. Then, we focus on what will work for our firm and our clients, and what we can monetize. We need to narrow our scope of innovation because we cannot stay ahead of everything, but we can laser in on the innovation that will be most relevant to our client base.”
Jackie added that her growing firm makes it difficult to innovate. “When my firm was smaller, it was easier to jump in and test new products. We’re now a team of eight, and it’s more difficult to dive into the latest technology – we need to test new products and ensure it works for the entire team.” A lot of innovation in her firm stems from thinking “this could be better” while working day to day in her firm, which helps her prioritize the innovations to bring to her firm and her clients.
Mariette noted that time is also a big barrier to innovation. “From research and testing to implementation, innovating takes time. This is especially a challenge because I like to implement during my busy season. It can mean longer hours and more work on my end, but I get more out of it than I would if I implemented during the off season.” As a solution, she blocks time on her calendar every Monday dedicated to finding resources on innovation.
Karen pointed out that she can sometimes be her own barrier to innovation. “I am not very strong in technology integration, so I have to find the people on the outside who are best able to help me integrate the things I identify as a good fit for my firm and my clients. That’s how I ended up using Intuit® ProConnect™ Tax Online; I was a one-person office and didn’t have time to manage version updates, backups and more, so I early-adopted ProConnect Tax Online.”
Karen left me with a few wise words regarding how she narrows which innovations to implement in her firm: “I don’t want to complicate life as a result of innovation, or take the human element out of the process. People mistake innovation and technology with redoing everything. What it should be trying to do is make our clients’ lives, and our lives, easier!”
Editor’s note: For more guidance from innovative tax pros on how to stay on the cutting edge, check out the Intuit ProConnect Tax Pro Center article “Tax Pro Forum: How to Innovate in an Ever-Changing Environment.”