06 Jul July 2017
If you’ve been to a Partner Retreat in Indianapolis this summer, you’ve heard me talk about the concept of The Modern Firm. If you haven’t made it yet, this article will give you some insight into the thinking behind the concept. I’m the type of person that needs a sense of order in my life and a clear direction. This is probably just my nature (not unlike a lot of you), and it was cemented into my thinking almost 20 years ago by the teachings of Stephen Covey, in his bestselling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The habit of “Begin With the End in Mind” actually sets my mind at ease.
It’s this habit that has me working feverishly this year on the three core tenets of The Modern Firm, illustrated here:
What I know for sure is the tax and accounting business is on the precipice of significant changes. I see it in everything I read: The Journal of Accountancy, Accounting Today and CPA Practice Advisor, just to name a few in our vertical space. Outside our industry, everything I read, including Harvard Business Review and Wired, talks about the sea change that is taking place across the horizontal landscape, as well.
You know as well as I, this major shift is happening. Customer expectations are shifting; they expect to work with businesses in simpler, more connected ways. Employees are changing; they no longer want to be tethered to their desks for long hours to crank out work. And vendors are shifting; they’re developing cloud-based technologies that will replace their legacy on-premise systems.
Paying attention to industries that move more rapidly than ours, evaluating the shifts and the technologies that are emerging and becoming mainstream, and applying that learning to my own firm has always been a strength of mine. It’s that strength that led to the creation of Rootworks. It’s also that strength that led to The Next Generation Accounting Firm a decade ago, when we knew firm owners had created businesses that were consuming them—businesses for which the next generation would not be interested in working.
Today, we see even bigger change on the horizon. We must continue to evolve, supported by a foundation of vision, core values, product offerings and business model. To meet the change and stay relevant, we need to focus on “being a modern business.” Becoming an NGAF, albeit very important, was an optional choice (remember our Choices video), but being “Modern” will not be a choice. If you don’t make the shift, you will be disrupted.
Going back to “Beginning With the End in Mind,” the end-in-mind for me is being a Modern Firm. The reason for this is so we can remain relevant in a modern economy and not be disrupted. A Modern Firm is a firm that works ON their business, bringing clarity to their vision, core values, product strategy and business model, building a culture that’s attractive to your staff and the next generation. It’s a firm that works IN their business, deploying cloud-based, collaborative technologies in modern environments, educating clients, and leading them with value-added solutions. And lastly, it’s a firm that works WITH their customers, making every touchpoint with them a frictionless experience.
This is a big end-in-mind that represents a significant shift from where the majority of firms are today. What makes this shift even more challenging is the lack of clarity. Firms are unclear as to what their clients really want from them. They lack insight about the direction of powerful technologies that are still in development. And there’s a lack of clarity on how to shape the kind of culture that supports these significant shifts.
In a time of great change, there is even greater opportunity. What I can assure you is, we here at Rootworks are working on clarity in business model, client products, technologies and culture, each and every day. We are working on the path that will help you to thrive and take advantage of this greater opportunity. One of the biggest challenges for you and for Rootworks is supporting the here-and-now, while evolving as quickly as possible to stay relevant in the world we know is coming. The best advice I can give you today is to be even more engaged than you’ve ever been, because I believe a Modern Firm is within reach.
How are your summer goals coming along for your firm? A theme for us this summer is working with Rootworks members to reduce friction in their firm. Friction can exist in many forms, and ultimately creates chaos and inefficiencies. Getting rid of the friction will lead to a better overall customer experience for your clients and a better work environment for your staff. A great place to start is to identify opportunities for improving consistency in your client data.
What are the common scenarios that cause inconsistencies in client data?
- Clients exist in different programs under different IDs or naming conventions
- Clients exist in different programs with different addresses
- Portals have a lot of old documents left over from tax season in file exchange
- Inactive clients are in the client list(s)
You can see in the list above that each of these items create friction in the firm, which will lead to more time being spent on a process that isn’t efficient. Are any of these scenarios pain points for your firm? If so, here are our recommendations on how to address each item.
- Have one person designated as the staff member to setup all internal applications and have a standard naming convention to follow. This will ensure that the client ID will be the same across all applications, and if you are using a suite of products like Thomson Reuters, it will ensure that information will be shared correctly across all the applications.
- When an address changes for a client, that information should be given to the person designated to make the updates. For example, we recommend updating the address in Practice CS first and training staff to always accept changes if they are coming from Practice CS.
- Assign a portal master who oversees all things portal. This includes downloading the files, putting them in the right place and deleting them out of the original location to keep things clean. It is best to follow this process year-round, otherwise it can make for a lengthy summer project.
- When a client leaves the firm, we recommend following the Client Exit Form instructions, which includes marking the clients inactive in all the appropriate apps.
By making small changes in your firm to maintain consistency in your client data, you are on your way to reducing the friction in your firm!
How to Compose Effective Marketing Emails
In last month’s edition, we discussed the basic overview of email marketing communications, including the legal and compliance issues. Next month, we’ll talk about the importance of your mailing list and how to go about assembling or procuring one. For now, let’s assume that you’ve got a good list, and we’ll look at what goes into creating email messages that are effective at connecting with recipients.
Like any good advertising message, your email should be designed to lead readers on a journey. Specifically, a journey based on the way humans are wired to process persuasive messages. It has a very specific beginning, middle and end, based on the acronym “AIDA.” It represents this reader progression:
This progression represents doing the right things in the right order. Nothing in the progression can happen without the preceding item happening first—keep that in mind when you lay out a pathway for your email readers. Here are some tips on how to do it:
- Your subject line is the attention-getter. But wait—before you think you can use gimmicks to game readers into opening your message, consider this: It’s not only about the ability of the subject line to grab attention; it’s about how well the content of the message delivers. The subject promises the reader something worth reading; the content must deliver, or readers will reject your message (and, possibly, any future credibility they may have been willing to give your brand).
- Be personal. In days gone by, personalized greetings were a novel and powerful way to engage readers, especially in snail mail. In the digital era, basic personalization is table stakes. Innovative email marketers are now exploring dynamic, personalized message content, based on readers’ geographic locations, ages, purchase histories, and many other factors.
- Stimulate interest by getting to the point. Everyone in the known universe is motivated by the eternal question, “What’s in it for me?” If you’re going to get readers interested in your message, don’t beat around the bush; be direct and engaging, and reward readers by getting to the point briskly, lest they lose patience.
- Summarize key points with numbered lists or bullets. Borrow a page from expert direct mail writers, and make good use of numbered or bulleted lists to summarize key features and benefits you’re offering to the reader. This technique will help you write concisely and persuasively.
- Give readers a response mechanism. Once you’ve set the hook with a persuasive message, give interested readers a way to respond. Eliminate the friction of switching to a different medium (i.e. phone) for response; prominently feature a link or button in your message to take readers to your website, open a pre-populated email response, or give them another means to respond seamlessly to your offer.
- Don’t make ’em scroll. Long, verbose messages that require readers to scroll down the screen are tedious, especially for business people who don’t have a lot of time to give you. Reward readers with messages that are focused, persuasive and delightful.
- Make use of the multimedia experience. Email is a digital medium, so make good use of digital capabilities. You might try supplementing your text with visuals, such as downloadable infographics or captioned keyframe images that link to video clips, such as the one in this email:
When to Send
After you have a good, solid message composed and designed, the next big question is, “When should I send it?” As you might guess, there’s more than one right answer, depending on your audience.
Business clients open and view email messages during the workday, but often act on those messages in the evening hours, once the regular demands of the day have subsided. Studies have shown that business owners often engage on weekends for the same reason.
Take a look at this extensive infographic from Propeller CRM, and you’ll get some direction on when to send your messages for optimal engagement. In addition, some email marketing platforms, such as MailChimp, have algorithms that will evaluate the makeup and historical performance of your mailing lists to calculate optimal send times for maximum engagement.
As always, your mileage may vary. Test a number of send times and monitor your open and click rates. Observe how your unique lists perform when tested in action to get a sense of where your sweet spot is.
Next issue: “Your List: Compiling, Slicing and Dicing.”
The summer is flying by!
- Are there any accomplishments, big or small, that you need to recognize at the firm, personal or professional? Take time to do that if there are.
- What are you doing to work on your business?
- What projects do you have going right now? Who is tasked with completing those projects? Do you need to follow-up with anyone to check in on progress?
On the last Planning Webinar, we recapped tax season. If you missed it, you can find the recording at Grow.Rootworks.com. Pull down the Learn tab and navigate to
Online Learning Resources→Educational Resources→Educational Webinars.
Our next Planning Webinar is July 27th. Register in Grow.
Advantage and Academy Members
Announcing three new courses
We’ve created three new courses in the Online Learning System. Courses are self-paced and self-study. Use them to help get everyone at the firm on the same page. Empower your firm!
- Firm Management Strategy — Firm owners: This course covers day-to-day management principles.
- Bookkeeping Process — This course accompanies the Bookkeeping Strategy course by digging into the details of the technologies we recommend.
- Tax Strategy — This course accompanies the Paperless 1040 Tax Process course by focusing on the higher level strategies that help define your process.
Three new staff trainings
We’ve added three new staff trainings for July to help you systematically organize and grow your business. All event details and registration are in Grow.
July 12th: Take stock of your current clients and design your firm for long-term success
July 19th: Turning Your Services into Products
July 26th: Analyzing firm, staff and clients; What reports to run and how to read them