What does “future-proofing” a firm mean to you?
As a firm leader, future-proofing a firm that thrives in the coming years is one of my highest priorities. I regularly read blogs such as Firm of the Future and newsletters to ensure I’m up to date on the happenings within the accounting profession. However, one of my core beliefs as a firm leader is that we can never rely on only one perspective to interpret data. Everyone has their blind spots, and we can often overlook or misinterpret data or events due to our subconscious biases.
This is why I routinely ask my team their opinion on industry events and trends. It helps me share the current news with my team and allows me to get a unique point of view on various topics. Here are some of the highlights from a discussion I recently had with Nancy Xiong, our tax accountant, and Riccardo Vallejo, our bookkeeper.
Trends among top-performing firms
I’ve noticed that firms embracing a more modern, future-oriented approach to their services make it a priority to be agile and nimble. By properly building capacity, firms are quick to respond to the needs of their clients, and can maintain the quality of their deliverables and services at scale. These traits allow future-focused firms to prioritize building additional value for their clients.
Nancy pointed out that part of being an agile firm is embracing cloud accounting. She pointed out that having secure, online access to statements, transactions, and reports give firms the ability to collaborate with clients from anywhere.
Riccardo noticed that most firms that are emphasizing a stronger value-added relationship are leveraging process automation with tools such as Zapier. Often, firms will have a designated staff member overseeing their process automation activities. This team member will help to gradually introduce automation into the firm’s workflow system through careful collaboration with the rest of the staff.
Differentiating your firm as a leader
In the age of automation and cheap bookkeeping from VC-backed startups, it’s getting more challenging for firms to compete for our clients’ attention. One of the most effective ways to remain relevant is to build and strengthen close, personalized relationships with our clients that are based on mutual trust. Our value has to supersede our fees, so we’re seen as a trusted advisor, not an expensive “button-pusher.”
When I asked Nancy this question, she said she had noticed an overall tendency among new firms to focus on particular industries with niche-specific services. Niching allows these firms to build expertise within an industry, and specialize in addressing a specific set of problems or challenges and also allowed them to define and streamline workflows by reducing the variability that comes with serving “anyone.”
Riccardo observed that firm leaders are now placing a greater emphasis on learning about accounting and industry trends, so they’re able to anticipate and take action beforehand. He also noted the growing focus on “bundled services,” where firms will tier their services based on a few different metrics. Bundled services allow firms to build and maintain collaborative relationships with their clients over time, increasing their value as they discover more about the needs of their clients and implement appropriate solutions.
Becoming a future-proof firm
Speaking as a firm leader, I’d say that firms interested in orienting themselves for future success should prioritize establishing their core values as a firm. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider how your firm can become future-proof:
- What does your firm believe?
- What difference do you want to make in your clients’ world?
- How will you achieve this?
Having a strong foundation of core values that are developed and shared by everyone throughout your firm will set a standard that you and your team can continuously work toward upholding in all client interactions and firm decisions. It will also help your firm transform into a brand that your team and clients can rally around.
Nancy suggested implementing and maintaining procedures that are appropriate for your clients, consistently delivered, and regularly assessed for opportunities for improvement. The most successful firms have processes that are followed by all of their staff, helping them achieve higher consistency in their deliverability and better efficiency overall.
Riccardo pointed out that this year’s QuickBooks® Connect helped him realize that many larger firms are entering the chartered accounting market due to the demand and profit potential. These larger firms are selling bundled services in a tiered pricing model, with some also offering custom options as well.
Whether you are a new firm or have been in business for decades, it’s essential to realize and grasp the opportunities that are available to you. Adopting future-oriented habits and behaviors will help your firm succeed, not only in the present but well into the future.