Hispanic business owners discussing strategy.

Welcome! Millennial firm owners

As of 2016, the U.S. Census reports millennials have now surpassed the baby boomers as the largest generation. Between 19 and 35 years old now, millennials were born between 1982 and 1998 (some report different ranges of birth years for millennials). Often dubbed the “Me” generation, Millennials are often disparaged for their lazy attitudes and propensity for living with their parents for too long.

But, as Greg Kyte, CPA, points out, the habits attributed to Millennials are really human problems. Often, the gen xers (my generation) and the baby boomers (my father’s generation) struggle with the same propensities toward ease and comfort that we perceive in Millennials. It truly is a human issue. We’ve been talking about generational issues for a long time in our profession, but now it’s getting real. The millennials are now leading engagements, leading with ideas, leading with new technology and leading firms. That’s right – millennials are buying and starting firms now. The Thriveal Network is full of them, and they truly will try just about anything to create a new experience, unlock new value and lead their clients in new ways (note that clients are becoming more and more millennial as well). 

The influx of new ideas from the millennials is becoming hard to overlook. As they start and lead firms, they are starting to blog, speak and write from their point of view. Take Sammie Johannes, for example, of Accodex Partners out of Australia. She writes extensively on the millennials’ role in the accounting profession. I asked Sammie, "What can millennials bring to the leadership of accounting firms that other generations have overlooked?" She said the following:

"Millennials bring a deeper understanding of emerging technologies and how they can be applied to clients businesses to the leadership of accounting firms. They are more willing to embrace change and innovation than previous generations, which results in enabling industries using outdated technology to use emerging technologies to facilitate business growth."

Millennials are building processes on top of technology like other generations have never been able to do. This generation is taking risks, practicing the art of innovation and reaping the rewards that come with it. And, they have the spirit to try things more seasoned firm owners are fearful of trying. As a result, new ideas and new values are being created in firm ownership like never before. There is something there for us all to study and learn from.

But, even with these new ideas, younger generations still need focus to continue to grow as firm leaders. And, they recognize this need, too. Consistently, you will read sharp millennials state that they may not know everything, but that they can learn.

Here are three areas millennials can focus on to make their firms better:

1. Positioning. Good positioning is part of your firm’s marketing plan. Everyone needs to be doing it. But, it’s often misunderstood so most firm owners don’t do it, no matter what generation they are in. Positioning is simply making clear claims online as to your expertise, while speaking directly to whom you intend to serve. It may be simple, but it’s hard to do. Questions arise such as the following:

  • Do you have expertise in any one area?
  • How does your expertise set you apart from other firms?
  • Where are you making your claims online?
  • Who is your ideal client?
  • Is your marketing reaching your target market?

Proper positioning takes experimentation and a willingness to try different things until they work. Millennials have the ability for extensive experimentation and an undying spirit to keep at it until they figure out their positioning. 

2. Team care. Being a leader of a team takes constant development. It takes a lot of practice, patience and commitment to the team. Millennials may feel unqualified to lead teams, especially since they might be leading team members that may be their age or even older. But, team care isn’t about age; it’s about bringing out the best in others. Anyone can grow in this skill. The book, “How to Be a Great Boss,” has some excellent tools to help millennials become better leaders of people. This book can help define the standard for care for the whole firm, as well as drill down into each team member’s desires for growth in the firm.

3. Business model design. Firms can be designed in many ways now. Millennials often leave their current employers because the model of that firm is out of date or doesn’t fit their style. This is because this generation knows the traditional way is not the only way. Business model design can lead a millennial firm owner down the road of deciding to become virtual, doing away with hourly billing, hiring contractors or even implementing unlimited vacation policies. Though business model design takes a lot of tweaking and monitoring, millennials will try new things to unlock new valuable firm models. This will lead to great levels of innovation across our profession, when millennials own and lead most accounting firms. 

It’s time for the other generations to begin learning from the millennials who continue to lead and own firms in our profession. Everyone has much to learn, and everyone can contribute new knowledge. But, millennials have a special place in their professional development that can give a boost in the arm with regards to creativity, new value and new opportunities.

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