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Think Different and Do the Unexpected!

By Darren Root, CEO

In 1997, Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple implored consumers to “Think Different.” At the heart of this popular ad campaign was a push to get people to view the world differently than they had before…to think creatively. The Think Different campaign aligned with the advent of technology devices—foreshadowing the impact they would have on the broad consumer market. Little did we know back then just how big of an impact these devices would have on our daily lives.

Today, we are again in an era of immense change and transition. And this time the impact will be far greater in terms of disruption to our businesses. The Think Different era represented a time of empowerment while the current shift will be more disruptive. Disruption certainly requires us to think differently about how we operate our practices, but for many firms, this is much easier said than done.  

Anyone reading this article most likely has not attended a Firm Retreat this summer and seen the Youtube video on the concept of “Unlearning.” It’s incredibly powerful, and has certainly caused me to realize just how difficult it is to think different. In the accounting profession, we tend to be creatures of habit…get comfortable with the status quo. So, triggering a different way of thinking takes time and a significant amount of effort.

I preface this article with the concepts of Think Different and Unlearning because we are at a point in our business evolution where we are reevaluating every technology  and service we deliver. And if we are not strategic and deliberate about it, we run a much higher risk of being negatively disrupted. Even if you plan to coast to the end of your career, current major shifts could significantly reduce the value of the business you’ve worked a lifetime to build.

Modern change means doing the unexpected

Many firms are still operating with desktop-based and/or hosted software that they’ve arguably been using for the past 20 years. And many are also still delivering the same services. I hesitate to generalize, but I do think the majority of accounting professionals avoid change if possible. The natural tendency is to accept incremental change, especially in the realm of technology. In other words, most firms will do the expected: Update technology according to a vendor’s release schedule…accepting incremental change. I’m urging you to consider the UNexpected! To take control of your business by being the one to choose the solutions that are the best fit for your firm, your staff and your clients.

So here are the big questions: “With the world changing at a rapid pace, does it make sense to do the expected and accept incremental change? Or should you be thinking differently and doing the unexpected?” These questions can not be taken lightly. You have to look at your firm 10 or 15 years down the road. Can you see operating in a world that is only accepting incremental change?

I’ve been aware of and thinking about the coming technology shift for years. But it’s only been in recent months that I realized the lack of creativity in my own thinking…my lack of thinking differently. In this moment of recognition, I decided that I would no longer accept technology that only offered incremental enhancements. I know the future of my firm depends on moving entirely to the cloud…on being mobile…on offering clients a frictionless experience.

I brought this realization to our summer events—creating an agenda that focused on the technologies required to build a true Modern Firm and offered a roadmap to members to build the right technology stack to support modern operations. We discussed new-age, cloud-based communications tools such as Slack and Zoom, client accounting tools like QBO, Fathom, Expensify and Bill.com. We also discussed next-generation solutions to support payroll, document management and client communications that are both frictionless and secure. The end result: We offered members a much clearer picture of the Modern Firm technology ecosystem. So powerful and on-point was our content that many members responded by telling our team that, “This was the best Rootworks event ever!” This tells me that our members are seeing the big picture and are ready for the big transition to the cloud.

As I continue to think about the technology that powers a Modern Firm, I realize that tax and practice management are next on the list to complete RootAdvisors’ transition to the cloud. This will be the hot topic in next summer’s events!

At Rootworks, our goal is to take the lead on the unexpected. We are actively vetting multiple solutions to support various areas of a firm and making recommendations that are truly Modern. We are thinking ahead…thinking differently…looking at solutions that will position firms for artificial intelligence and machine learning. Solutions that will attract new generations to our businesses—both staff and clients. Solutions that will position us well for the future.

If you are in a state of being comfortable with the status quo, it’s time to change that. I know you’re busy, but the time is now to be fully engaged. At RootAdvisors, we are currently making a transition to cloud- and mobile-based payroll and document management systems and implementing a new and secure client communication system that moves us completely away from highly insecure email. I encourage you to be planning for these changes in the near future.

I truly understand the challenges of implementing major change…of guiding staff, clients and the company as a whole down a new path. But now more than ever, you have to put in the time and effort to improve your business…to prepare for the future. My personal goal is to commit to doing just one thing better each day. One thing for myself and my business that we can do better today than we did yesterday.

As you can see, there’s a lot to unpack this summer and moving forward as it relates to the Modern Firm. Don’t sit on the sidelines. If you’ve not yet attended an event, join us at a Firm Retreat. We still have a few seats left, so register today! In addition, our Inspire Conference at year’s end is also a must attend event. During the conference, we will offer a deeper dive into cloud technologies to help you make informed decisions as you continue to build your Modern Firm digital culture and your long-term legacy. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

All my best,

Getting from “Good Enough” to Better

 By Leah Reid, Education Team

Get help from the people who matter—your clients!

A theme for this summer is “When good enough isn’t good enough anymore.”  What is your firm’s process for evaluating if what you are doing for your clients is “good enough?” Do you send surveys out for your clients to complete? Do you ask for feedback regarding the services that are being provided by the firm, or ask client’s about their overall satisfaction with your firm?

Every day, our business and personal emails are inundated with surveys. Purchase a new pair of shoes? Please take a survey of your online purchasing experience. Have you recently flown? Please take a survey on your overall flight experience. And the list goes on and on.

Getting feedback from clients is very important but developing surveys can be an overwhelming task of determining what to ask. Rootworks recommend putting someone in charge of owning the survey project for your firm. Follow these seven principles when developing a client survey to get valuable feedback from your clients that is actionable:

  1. Each survey should have a singular purpose.
  2. Survey instructions should be clear.
  3. Surveys should be short. Consider stating in the email how long the survey should be expected to take.
  4. Each question and answer choice should be unambiguous. Label number ratings so people know exactly what they mean.
  5. Follow up with people and tell them or show them how data is being used. Do not ask a question if you are not going to act on the data.
  6. Don’t ask for information in the survey that you already know.
  7. Your survey should be timely. Do not send it long after what you are asking about happened.

Consider incorporating these three questions for your client survey:

  • What do you value most about our firm’s service to you?
  • What do you wish we did differently?
  • Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the way we serve you?

A great survey resource is the book The Survey Playbook, by Mathew Champagne, Ph.D.

If you missed our Staff Training on Creating Worthwhile Client Surveys, you can watch it here.

NIST: Respond

By Chris Dickens, IT

We have been covering the five core functions of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as they apply to the modern accounting firm. This month, we will cover the fourth function called Respond. When a cyber incident occurs, firms must have the ability to address and contain the breach. There are five main categories that define the Respond function of the NIST Framework. They are:

Response Plan. Response begins with the execution of previously created response procedures. Based on the anomaly or threat, your response plan needs to be executed per general protocols or specific to defined scenario. Every firm should have a plan of action if their tax data or applications have been compromised. Also, ransomware should have a pre-defined response plan, as it is one of the more common threats. Finally, any communication that has been verified to be phishing or social engineering where staff took inappropriate action should have a response plan to mitigate any potential threat that may be propagating undetected on your network.

Communications. Your firm should have a CSO in place, as well as a team that is prepared to respond to threats. That CSO will coordinate response activities across the firm, IT, and law enforcement as required, as well as execute any external communications that may be warranted or required, given the threat.

Analysis. CSO will coordinate investigation of any detection system, logs, or other data source to determine the depth of the impact of the identified threat. CSO will also evaluate the appropriateness of the response activities to determine if any policy or procedure adjustments should be made.

Mitigation. This category is the critical steps taken in containing and eliminating a threat or incident, prevent any threat from spreading. Additionally, CSO will want to document the impact of the incident for further analysis to determine how mitigation steps can be evolved in the future.

Improvements. CSO and all stakeholders should debrief and examine lessons that can be learned from the incident to improve procedures and detection systems.

Timeliness is a critical component of the Respond function. Recently, a member had the Admin account for their Office 365 account compromised. Quick action by their stakeholders and getting their IT involved in an emergency response potentially prevented the impact of that incident from being much more costly to the organization. Cybercriminals move quickly.  Any response to a real threat needs to happen quickly, as well.

Your Marketing Culture

By Chris Rund, Marketing Team

Part 1: The Big Picture

This month, I’m launching a multi-part series designed to go beyond our usual tactical feature on marketing and examine the broader idea of creating a marketing culture in your firm.

Step one: Let’s revisit the question, “What is culture?” Remember our Rootworks definition: Culture is the collective beliefs and behaviors of your organization. So, the series of articles I’ll be sharing with you in the coming months will be a study in how you give shape to beliefs and behaviors in your firm that are related to marketing.

Step two: Let’s consider the question, “What is marketing?” Most people view the word marketing as interchangeable with advertising, but that’s not the case. Advertising is a specialized type of persuasive communication with your prospective clients to promise them benefits and motivate them to buy. But advertising—in its many forms—is only one component of marketing. Marketing, rather, is a process of satisfying consumer needs and desires by providing products, services or ideas. It’s a broader strategic activity that is central to any company’s existence. In fact, it is one leg of the classic three-legged stool on which companies are built and managed: Marketing, Operations and Finance.

Clearly, then, there’s a lot more to marketing than most people perceive. If you’re going to build a marketing culture in your firm, you need to be sure everyone on your team is aware of the true breadth and significance of marketing.

So what’s wrapped up in it? Here are the four elements of marketing:

  1. Product. You need to design and offer products that satisfy the needs and desires of your ideal clients. Bundling basic accounting services into turnkey packages is one example of a product strategy. Another might be offering product line extensions to roll business owners’ personal financial services into their monthly engagement. Products designed for a specialized niche, such as dental practices or restaurants, is another example. It starts with a vision of your ideal client—the type that fits best with the way you do business.
  2. Price. Your product offerings need to be attainable by your ideal clients while being profitable for the firm. Pricing strategy is a balance of being competitive in the marketplace, maximizing your earnings, and creating room to grow your engagements in the future.
  3. Place. In consumer products marketing, this term refers to distribution strategy. For our purposes, think of it as how your services and work product are delivered. In the Modern Firm, this includes cloud computing, your software stack, your website, and all of the other means of exchanging data and documents and doing business with clients.
  4. Promotion. Here’s where communication fits. The promotional aspect of marketing includes all forms of communication, such as advertising, email, direct mail, and even such things as educational workshops or seminars for prospective clients.

Items 1–3 above are high-level activities tackled by partners, but it’s important to remember that the specifics of each need to be clearly communicated to all team members. Everyone in the organization needs to know and fully understand your firm’s product offerings, pricing strategy and service delivery model and understand how it fits into the firm’s mission and vision to create a world-class experience for clients.

Next time: Your culture and your brand.

As most know, the new Grow system launched in May. We’ve done a couple of overview webinars on the system. You can watch the recording of our June 19 webinar here.

If you’ve not yet logged in to the new Grow platform, the easiest thing to do is to go to Rootworks.com and click the “Log In” link at the top right. Then click the “Forgot Your Password?” link to reset your password. Do not click the “Need an account?” link.

June Webinar and Staff Training schedule

Academy Members

August 3, Academy Marketing Resources Training. We will walk through the new marketing material and how it is organized in the new system.

Academy and Advantage Members

July 13, Staff Training: Staff Reviews and Evaluations. This class will cover the challenging process of staff reviews and evaluations. This includes defining goals, enabling staff to achieve those goals and how to review staff performance. Suggested audience: Firm partners, owners and managers

All Members

July 18, Vendor Hosted Webinar: Fathom—Practitioner Case Study 1 of 2

July 19, Summer Planning Workshop Webinar

July 25, Vendor Hosted Webinar: Fathom—Practitioner Case Study 2 of 2

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