I wrote this very first blog post for the Strategic Advisor blog back in July of 2016, right after Scaling New Heights, and a series of accounting conferences and industry meetings. It was true then, and two years later it is still true—except now I know more! With tax season just ending, it’s a good time to reintroduce this article with updates. Two years later, we are still drowning in the message!
“Become the Firm of the Future - hurry up!!”
This is what I hear at every trade show, in every accounting industry newsletter, and in every other type of messaging to accountants. “The industry is changing—be a trusted advisor! Do it right away!”
That’s great, and I believe it. But it feels as though the industry is drowning in this message.
How do we actually get there? Accountants are given advice like:
- Get rid of your bad clients
- Use value-based pricing
- Go niche!
While all of those can help, the fundamental solution involves your business processes.
Business process management (BPM) in the accounting firm
If you’re working in a firm and you’re trying to implement change—trying very hard to become a “firm of the future”—then how are you getting there? You can set goals, and you can even break those into smaller, more concrete goals, but the only efficient way to actually change your firm is through careful business process management. This involves turning your work into processes and procedures.
By turning your work into processes, three important things happen:
- You can easily communicate and train your employees on those processes.
- You will also have an easy way to analyze the ROI on those processes (your work).
- Most importantly, you’ll have a roadmap for turning the work result into products and services that you can sell to your clients at a fixed fee.
A short history of business process management
Business process management has its origins in the Industrial Age, when assembly line work led to a need for standardization. Task productivity on the factory floor led directly to cost reductions. Fast forward 150 years to the 1980s and Total Quality Management (TQM) and the International Standards Organization (ISO series) were helping businesses become more streamlined and save money by reducing waste.
This streamlining improved the work product by reducing errors. TQM also introduced cross functional teams, placing the emphasis on “how” to do a task, as opposed to “why.” Skip ahead twenty more years to the 2000s, and the Six Sigma data-driven approach was an institution. Business process improvement is here to stay, making products better and service organizations healthier.
Indeed, during high school at my first job I was given the written procedure for how to salt fries: Make an “M” across the fries with the shaker. Concrete, measurable, clear. McDonald’s knew early that making profit meant being streamlined, and that meant making our jobs efficient. I learned a ton at that job, and most of it had to do with the importance of efficiency.
Being efficient worked, and it was better—for the employees and the customer.
Business processes and your firm
If your business has a process for performing all of its functions, then those functions can be measured. ROI can be determined, new employees can be trained easily, and most importantly, the business can more easily adapt because new technologies or services can be fitted into the current structure with ease. Work functions can be assigned across teams, and disparate entities can perform as one.
But how can an accounting firm practically implement some of this wisdom while remaining flexible enough to meet the needs of their unique clients?
It’s a good question.
Any service organization must be attentive to the individual needs of their clients—and let’s be honest, an accounting firm is a service organization at heart. Recently, a new methodology has emerged, centered on service-based industries. It’s called Customer Experience Management.
The idea is that while it’s important to be efficient internally, the needs of the customer should drive the end product. It’s an interesting approach, and one that fits well for accounting firms. Our LivePlan Method for advisory services business process is designed on this principal: keeping the needs of the client and your deliverables at the forefront.
Leap ahead with productization
I would venture to bet that if you look across the landscape of your clients, the advising services they need are generally the same: ensuring their business has a workable business model with enough cash to sustain itself, translating that business model to a financial plan, establishing growth goals, tracking and measuring the goals, and always adjusting while staying on course.
This work is based on services performed, but the deliverables combine to create a product. This is what is meant by productization in a service-based industry; you control your profit on the work you do by systemizing and productizing.
Build a system for profitable advisory services
In the age of advanced technology where much of the service work that used to be done by bookkeepers and accountants can now be done by user-friendly software, the accounting firm must differentiate itself by providing something more. This “more” must come in the form of business consulting—advisory services—and to make this profitable, it must be efficient.
The way to make a new service efficient and profitable is to turn it into a process. The resultant effort of that process can then be sold as a product, and by using a customer centric approach, the product is sure to be popular.
I get more specific about how to establish these processes in this blog post. To get started right away, write down the main deliverables you want to offer your customers. In the age of the accountant as “trusted advisor,” those deliverables might not feel like traditional ones. However, adjusting your business by adding the right services and embracing the financial needs of your clients can completely change your business for the better. Offering the right advisory services, in a systemized process, will allow you to grow your practice and take it to the next level.
Remember that your customers already look to you as their trusted advisor. You are the most intimate with their financial information and that data is at the heart of their business. They want your advice! You simply have to set yourself up to provide it efficiently.