06 Oct October ’20
There’s an African proverb that I’ve learned to live by in both my personal and professional lives: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
As firm owners, many of us have experienced that feeling of isolation over the years. We put our heads down and dig into the work—rarely taking the time to look around us at what others are doing or asking for input on how to do things better…to do things differently. And while this tactic allows us to build a book of business fairly quickly in the short-term, it most often comes back to bite us—distancing from true entrepreneurship and turning us into hourly technicians.
I know many practitioners who still run their firms in this manner—on an island, to a great degree. It’s not an intentional decision, but rather represents the way it’s always been done…the traditional way of operating.
This is how I started out. Head down, taking on any client who walked through the door, and doing most of the technician work myself. At one point, I had to ask myself: “Is there a better way? Is there an easier way?” The answer was a clear “yes.” I needed to change the way I operated my business. I needed to move away from being a mere technician in my own enterprise to serving as the visionary—the one who would take the firm to an elevated level of efficiency, culture and profitability.
At the heart of this big transition was community. It’s what we offer in Rootworks, certainly—an established group of professionals dedicated to supporting one another…to sharing expertise and experiences. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the strong community we’ve built within Rootworks, but to also look around for other ways to connect—whether it’s through larger-scale industry events, smaller peer-to-peer think tanks (we’ve even launched our own version of this: Mastermind Groups) or your state associations.
Go far…go together
The accounting profession is huge—made up of thousands of firms and hundreds of thousands of professionals. The accounting community represents an expansive pool of shared expertise that goes well beyond technical knowledge.
Many firm owners are on the same path as you, having set the same goals in terms of technology, client experience, staff satisfaction, culture, brand and growth. But no one firm owner can possess all the experience and creativity required to meet their goals in all areas of operation. This is where leaning in to community is so important.
If you aren’t taking advantage of all the collective expertise and innovation available within the accounting profession, you are really missing out. Take a few minutes to consider just three key advantages of harnessing the power of a bigger community:
- Get some perspective—If you never look outside the four walls of your firm, it’s tough to see the changes required to elevate your business. Most often, inspiration comes from an external source because it allows us to see things outside the confines of our own business. It removes the trees of sameness so we can see the bigger forest. By continuing to simply work the way it’s always been done, means that you are at higher risk of overlooking when your business model becomes rusty, the customer experience grows stale, or your technology stack fails to support modern and highly efficient operations. Looking to other firm owners to ensure you make the changes required to maintain a sustainable and profitable business is imperative. Getting a little perspective is always a good thing.
- Experience the energy—You would be amazed at how one new idea can spark a high-powered current of energy and inspiration. There’s something about being part of a group…a think tank of professionals…that can really get the creative motor running. For firm owners who “live on an island,” it’s often hard to summon the energy required to take on big, firm-altering changes because, in the end, they know they have to do it alone. When you’re part of a larger group (or groups), the energy generated around big ideas is longer lasting because you can rely on a collective as you move through the process of change—asking questions and calling for support along the way.
- Feel the fulfillment—There is great fulfillment when you find others who share your vision and passion for the profession. Working within a dedicated community, big or small, enables partners and their staff to collaborate with those who hold similar business interests and goals. This means that not only are you getting the support you need to grow and prosper, but that you are helping others do the same. One of the best ways to experience great fulfillment is to add to the common good of the profession we all love.
The core goal here is to help firm leaders understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Take the first step toward making positive change in your firm by, first, leaning further into the Rootworks community. And, second, exploring other industry events and/or local associations to connect with a passionate base of practitioners.
October traditionally signals the moment when we shift our focus to reflecting on our business model and preparing for a new year. This year is no different in the timing of those evaluations, but due to the inevitable changes in our workday and work environment, there is an additional focus…how our remote teams are fairing.
At this time last year, many firms were still spending the majority of their days in the office. Face-to-face interactions were a part of the everyday routine, making it easier to assess how teams and individuals were feeling as deadlines and extensions were completed. This year, without face-to-face, daily interactions, how can we gauge the energy and motivation of our coworkers and team members? How do we help each other refresh and revitalize to finish out the year on a positive note?
Team building virtually has been a focus for our teams at Rootworks. We have replaced in-person interactions with holistic ways to connect remotely, maintain energy and motivate one another. Below are a few ways we’ve found success in revitalizing and refreshing our teams in a virtual environment.
- Health and wellness challenges. Many studies have shown that office fitness challenges can build a culture of health and form strong team bonding. Lead a movement challenge by encouraging short, physical breaks. Dedicate a virtual group where people can share their experiences with pictures or written check-ins.
- Roadshows. Whether your firm has two teams or 10, separate workday experiences will inevitably create divisions. Though that is not necessarily a bad thing, it is inspiring when teams experience the knowledge of their coworkers. Schedule virtual roadshows where teams “visit” and experience a project being executed by another team.
- “Off work topics” group. Inspired by our employee newsletter, our Rootworks team created a Basecamp group dedicated to sharing fun things from our daily lives. With pictures and check-ins, we get to see the beauty of team members’ physical surroundings, weekend adventures, and suggestions for podcasts, books, and recipes.
- Ask for feedback. Implementing anything new will no doubt result in opinions and growth of new ideas. Ask team members for feedback and suggestions about what they would like to see with virtual team building, and act on those suggestions. When people are heard, they feel connected.
Creating impactful opportunities for connection is imperative to refreshing and revitalizing one another, especially at a time when disconnection can so easily happen. Remember that success arises from energy, motivation, connections and positive communication; set aside crucial time to create a space for those to flourish.
It’s October again, in a year that is flying by and dragging on both at the same time. October is the month that brings fall weather, pumpkins, Halloween and, of course, national cybersecurity awareness month. This is timely given DitDefender’s mid-year report, which shows that ransomware attacks are up 715% over last year, and average ransoms have increased 60% this year. It’s a great year to be a cybercriminal.
The good news is that accounting firms are holding their own against this threat. We have not had incidents reported to us near to what was being reported in 2017, which was the height of the breaches within our member community.
For accounting firms, there is no greater opportunity to reduce cyber risk than through user awareness and training. Therefore, let’s take a moment—after October 15 ?—to review our cybersecurity awareness strategy.
Follow these three steps:
- Enroll in our Building a Robust Culture of Security Lesson in our Online Resource Center.
- Subscribe to a cybersecurity training program.
- Maintain a routine pace of training and awareness year round.
Your staff is your last line of defense. Make sure they have the knowledge and resources to keep your clients’ data safe.
Marketing begins with goal setting; goal setting begins with gathering knowledge
It’s that time again. Q4 is when we start looking toward the year ahead and formulating goals and plans to reach them. To do this effectively, you need to begin with a base of knowledge—facts and observations that inform your strategic thinking. Back in my ad agency days, I worked with a veteran account planner who actuated this principle by beginning each strategy meeting with the question, “What have we learned?”
Let’s back out of that question and into another: “How do you learn?” Just like back in primary school, good learning comes from good listening. With that in mind, here are some tools that you can use to listen, gather facts and organize them into strategic goal setting that will give shape to your marketing plan in 2021:
- Client Listening—What are your clients telling you? You need to consider not just what you’ve heard said, but also what things have possibly been left unsaid, as well. One of your most powerful tools for client listening is ClientView™ on the Rootworks member platform. Client view gives you the ability to readily identify what products and technologies are being used to serve your clients, as well as what opportunities exist to deepen your existing engagements and sell more. If you haven’t adopted ClientView yet, Q4 would be an ideal time to get started and set yourself up for more robust selling in the coming year. There are other client listening mechanisms as well, including survey research. A Q4 survey to your clientele could be an ideal means to gather knowledge about their needs and concerns and how well your firm is doing at helping them. There are readily available and affordable platforms such as Google Forms, Microsoft Forms, SurveyMonkey, et. al., that will help you with the technical setup, data gathering and analysis. However, you must be aware that structuring survey questions is a highly specialized art and science, and poorly executed surveys can yield data that’s unusable at best, misleading at worst. Proceed with care if you decide to survey your clients, and refer to this Rootworks Staff Training for more guidance.
- Staff Listening—What are your staff accountants, bookkeepers, payroll managers, etc. telling you? Q4 is an excellent time to gather staff for a day or half-day retreat to discuss operational issues and obstacles to delivering an exceptional client experience. Be sure to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts candidly and honestly. Nothing of importance should be left unsaid. This is a real test of your leadership and moderator skills, so don’t take this activity lightly or go into it underprepared. Above all, remember your primary function is to hear, not to be heard.
- Organizing Your Intelligence—Once you’ve gathered your listening data, you’ll need to put it into a framework for strategic planning. For my money, nothing beats the time-honored SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. For a detailed overview, see the Marketing 411 column from our April 2017 edition of ThoughtLeader. There are also a couple of very good online videos from Alanis Business Academythat are worth watching.
Remember, marketing begins with goal setting. Whatever process you have in place for setting your firm’s goals for the upcoming year, be certain that it’s informed by gathering and analyzing good information.
What we’re working on
We’re preparing for our Inspire Conference, which we’ll host virtually on November 19-20. We expect to have the detailed agenda out soon. Over 500 people are registered already. Registration is under Resources > Events in Rootworks.com: https://rootworks.com/resources/events/all/e9378750-ce5c-433b-9339-6216171af04a
Look out for the detailed agenda soon!
- October 7 – Staff Training: Mastering your firm’s online presence: How to generate killer client reviews and boost your Google ranking
- October 21 – Staff Training: Audit Protection
- October 22 – Fall Resource Update Webinar
- October 28 – Staff Training: Client Analysis Part 1 of 2 – Client Ranking and Reporting
Register in Rootworks.com under Resources > Events > Virtual Events.