The public accounting sector is at a crossroads. Business clients are accustomed to the rituals of tax time, but confused about tax planning and frustrated by other compliance issues. In the meantime, CPAs are running through a seasonal shift in billable work centered on tax season almost as dramatic as retail stores at the holidays. At the same time, the opportunity clearly exists for the principals of proactive, market-focused accounting firms to partner with a B2B business growth consultant and develop new growth opportunities, by focusing on these priorities:
Build Service Models for Every Season, Not Just One
Do you ever wonder why 90% of your firm’s clients only darken the doors of your offices during tax season? The answer may surprise you – it’s because you never gave them a good reason to stop in at any other time. Accounting is not a seasonal activity – it is a daily, weekly and monthly one – but the great majority of CPAs have trained their clients that, in fact, it is a seasonal activity, centered on one goal: tax compliance.
Your overwhelming goal is to change that thinking, by providing ample updates, educational insights and regular opportunities to interact with your clients. And no, that doesn’t mean doing what most of your competitors do, which is to send out email alerts announcing every minor tweak to the IRS code. Clients don’t want to become part of your CPA continuing education program – that’s what they pay you to do. What they do want is your insights, ideas and solutions to their business problems.
Expand Your Service Offering, but Keep it Integrated
Starting with the ‘big six’ (now ‘big four’) accounting firms, the industry moved dramatically to develop business consulting and technology service offerings. Thanks to myriad accounting scandals and audit problems, these functions were often firewalled (and most cases, broken off into separate companies). And yes, it is of course essential to maintain the independence of your audit and attestation services.
But most CPA firms add services by hiring people, rather than building strategies. Did we just hire a senior accountant who focuses on real estate and construction away from a leading competitor? Great, we’re now in the real estate and construction business. Did one of our partners add a management consultant with ERP experience to the team? Excellent, let’s promote that we now do management consulting. The problem with this is that every practice area lead will tend to go in his or her own direction, without consideration of how to tie the pieces together and support the full needs of every client. Make sure that your firm’s partners understand the importance of maintaining an integrated approach.
Use Technology to Deepen the Relationship
Technology changes in the last five years have opened a new avenue for CPAs that the vast majority of accounting firms are still not leveraging – access to the cloud. When a small business client is using traditional QuickBooks software, the only time you see their database is when they upload the Accountant’s Copy for your review at tax time. Midmarket clients using traditional client-server ERP systems suffer from the same issues – you have to be on-site in many cases to actually access the systems (which is why many firms spend much of their on-site time during audits sitting in front of the client’s software applications).
In the cloud environment, all of this can change. Small clients using QuickBooks Online can enable you and your team to have instant, any-time access to their system as frequently as you like, without cumbersome process for setting up and sending files. Enterprise clients who migrate to cloud-hosted ERP applications can do the same, enabling you to regularly review and respond to issues associated with their systems, processes and business decisions.
Set alerts and create checklists for regular and proactive review – not just for compliance, but for management strategy, financial considerations and more. This can serve as a powerful foundation for more services revenue, but only if you act proactively to harness the opportunity. It can also reduce stress at tax time – for both your team and the client.
Forward-thinking principals and senior partners in the public accounting sector can harness unique market opportunities by working with a B2B business growth consultant to create service lines, market targeting and internal cultural changes that can drive significant organic growth in today’s environment.
Image Credit: usdagov @ Flickr (Creative Commons)