Over the years, Jetpack Workflow has interviewed hundreds of accountants and CPA firms owners. During these interviews, we have dug deep into what is working in the industry and what are some things to avoid.
To cut right to the chase, here are the top 7 new age tactics highly successful CPA firm owners are implementing, as discussed on our Growing Your Firm Podcast series.
1. The Billable Hour is Reexamined – Ron Baker, Founder of VeraSage Institute
“Ever since the billable hour business model came in, we lost site of the value. We tend to think in terms of time and hours and that’s not how the customer thinks as they want to see the value (or the results).” – Ron Baker.
As discussed in the interview, the ‘creating value’ section of the business model aims to describe how your customer feels and experiences your services.
This change goes beyond technical expertise and more into how your customer feels about your listening skills, communication skills, ability to empathize with you, and ultimately, talk in the same language as you.
Here are three examples of how accounting firms can create more value for their customers, per Ron Baker:
• Structure payment terms around the customer’s cyclical cash flow rather than your firm’s workflow.
• Offer various ‘Value Guarantee Options’
• Bundle in Unlimited Access
Note: Jetpack Workflow’s workflow software supports both billable based and velocity based tracking.
2. Create A One Page Only, Strategic Plan For Your Firm – Dan Griffiths, Director of Strategic Planning at Tanner LLC
The goal in creating a strategic plan is to make it simple to understand and tangible for your team members to rally behind.
Dan calls it the “One Page Plan” rule.
Dan Griffiths states that if you cannot fit the strategic items on a single page, then you need to go back to the drawing board and begin to trim it down.
“The key is simplicity when building a strategic plan” -Dan Griffiths
As an example, with Tanner LLC, they have four key areas of their plan. They call these areas, “buckets”, and are outlined as follows:
1. Top Talent Bucket
2. Business Development Bucket
3. Client Relationships Bucket
4. Internal Process Excellence Bucket
Every 90 Days, Tanner LLC asks an important question:
What can we do to move the needle forward in each of these four areas?
As Dan goes on to mention, “we’re not trying to change the world with things. We are just keeping it short and focused.”
3. Shrink The Services Offerings = An Increase In Profits – Darren Root, Founder of RootWorks
Originally, Darren’s old firm offered roughly 40 to 50 different services. Any time a client asked for something, the firm said: “Sure, we can do that.”
This mindset had to go. Darren had a skill set in US tax, so he wanted to limit the amount of services to offer and train his staff to be experts in those core areas.
From 40 to 50 services, Darren knocked down their offerings to just 4 to 5 services. A few of them included:
• Bookkeeping for service based businesses
• Client accounting for service based businesses (not manufacturing, etc)
• US-based residence Tax Work
Darren believes the key is to understand the product that you are going to deliver.
Then, create a system around the product being offered and train your people to learn how to implement and deliver product.
The outcome provides a great consistency throughout the firm, and less and less stress (as he is no longer trying to offer auditing services as a tax professional).
4. Recruit the Right Client and the Right Talent, Simultaneously – Paula Allgood of Beaird Harris
In meeting client needs, Paula says it is important “to be able to have different folks on your team service all the different elements of [clients’] growth.”
Paula says when hiring, focus on skill sets that are client-centered. While the firm cannot be everything to everyone, find those common denominators and build your services around them.
Refer the rest of what you cannot meet to outside partners and resources you trust.
We “want to say to clients – here’s what we do; here’s what we are like; here’s the way we do it; here’s our approach our business; here’s our team,” says Paula.
She suggests having prospective clients come into the office to meet the staff so they can “gel”.
The same goes for recruiting for the firm. When meeting with candidates, explain what your firm stands for, what are its core tenants, and what makes the firm tick.
In providing a clear picture of who you are you and your hires will forge a better and longer-term relationships, according to Paula.
Their end result is creating a team that is:
• diverse in expertise
• works well together
• builds alignments
• and communicates openly
5. Create a plan to sell your firm, Today! – Joel Sinkin, President of Transition Advisors
Ask yourself how many more tax seasons do you want to work full time before starting to slow down.
If your answer is 5 years or less, then Joel suggests it is time to start your succession plan.
“It is best to start this process 3 to 5 years ahead of time before you actually transition.” – Joel Sinkin
Clients of small and medium-sized CPA firms are loyal to the partner of the firm.
These clients do not have a good understanding of tax intricacies.
Otherwise they may have chosen to do their tax work themselves. You are their trusted and valued advisor.
Joel reminds you that the clients have a choice of accounting firms and they have chosen you.
Take advantage of this loyalty.
Typically, you are meeting with your clients at least once a year.
Joel says it is very important to give yourself a 3- to 5-year head start for selling your practice or slowing down your services because with each meeting, you are properly and gradually preparing your clients for this inevitable change.
Be upfront and transparent with your clients in advance of your succession and you will be thankful you did, 5 years down the road.
6. When trying to implement change within your firm you must start with baby steps – Tim Shortsleeve, Partner at TYS LLP
Tim found that within the CPA world, in general, most accountants do not like to embrace change. Period.
“These professionals are successful, well respected, and trusted advisors,” Tim believes.
There is a degree of pushback and resentment to new methods since the typical way of doing things for them has always worked well.
For those resistant to change, “Anchors” as Tim calls them, he engages with them to understand their viewpoints for not wanting to do something.
Tim tries to get them comfortable with what he is trying to do and tries to provide solutions to mitigate what is holding them back.
If he identifies too many challenges to overcome, he would make the decision to step away. To start the conversation, it is “people first” for Tim.
He identifies the people he believes would be receptive of change and then champions the initiative internally.
According to Tim, CPAs fix problems for people – they provide the “whats” and the “hows” in their services to clients. Tim provides the “whys” to the CPAs.
Here is Tim’s Blueprint to Grow a Successful Accounting Practice:
• Identify early on what success looks like
• Be prepared.
• Create a sense of awareness
• Respect the business
• Rework plan as things happen along the way
• Keep head up
• Make it happen
• Lastly, setting good examples for your team is highly important. Management must keep good composure around their team, at all times, or else, the change will not work.
The goal is to create a business environment that is collaborative where people feel safe and welcomed to perform their very best.
When this environment has been created, nothing will hold you back from success!
7. Implement A USP (Unique Selling Proposition) – Nate Hagerty, Owner of Tax Pro Marketer
According to Nate, the basic take away for CPA firm owners is to understand, establish, and execute their USP.
Here are the 4 steps in implementing a USP in your firm:
1. Start by understanding different business demographics and markets
2. Next, zero in on a selected niche: Do not be a jack-of-all- trades, master of none.
3. Of the niche group, focus on the clients that are great to work with and are profitable
4. Finally, speak the language of these targeted clients when providing them what they need