Life-work balance, a happy staff, loyal clients, increased profits — these are all obtainable goals, but require work to achieve. Those building next-generation firms have a solid grasp on niche strategies, advanced technologies, workflow and branding. The following are the components required of a next-generation-ready firm:
- A clearly defined niche strategy, enabling firms to specialize and become experts within certain niches, and ultimately serve the type(s) of client they want to serve.
- A masterfully developed internal workflow system, offering a model that supports ease of communication and a streamlined, paperless workflow for both staff and clients. This includes the following elements:
- Online client accounting to support real-time collaboration and ensure that you are always working with current data. (NO MORE BACKUPS!)
- Client portals for real-time delivery of documents, tax returns, financial statements, payroll journals, and more.
- A professionally branded, tech-advanced website that embodies the personality of the firm and offers a dedicated place to conduct business with clients. Your website should not be a static online brochure. It is the new front door to your firm.
- A sound, thoughtful branding strategy, allowing firms to always put their best foot forward. Every interaction (email, letter, outdoor signage, interior office, business card, invoice, website, etc.) should represent a strong, professional brand image. We live in a service-oriented, brand-savvy society, and if the purchasing habits of clients and prospects are anything like mine, then they are buying based on the feeling they get when they see or interact with your firm. Make sure that feeling is a positive one!
The Next Generation of Accounting Professionals
So is it possible to build a firm that encompasses all of these elements and achieves the laundry list of goals outlined? Absolutely, yes! Is it easy? Absolutely not. It takes work and perseverance … and an ongoing commitment throughout the life of your business. However, it does get easier over time. Once the machine is built, it’s simply a matter of maintaining.
There are professionals out there doing it with great success. They are building firms that operate at maximum efficiency, emit a powerful brand presence, and are attracting the younger generation of professionals. One such practitioner, Jason Blumer, CPA.CITP, has become of friend of mine and has just written his first column for this issue. Jason is younger than me by about 10 years, but we have many similarities. Jason’s father practiced before him, so he too grew up in the business. He also has a burning desire to make the profession a place where young professionals want to work — and earn the props it so deserves. Jason is quirky, cool and runs his practice on his own terms.
After getting to know Jason and maintaining a steady watch on the younger generation of accountants getting ready to enter the profession, I’ve realized that we aren’t all that different. The notion of Gen X, Y and Millennials being vastly different from the Boomer generation, in my mind, is not even close to the truth. In the end, we all want the same things: a great place to work, security, a balance between our personal and professional lives, the flexibility to work remotely, and the opportunity to build solid relationships with clients and our communities.
To prove my hypothesis, I sat down with Jason (a Gen X’er) and my 23-year-old accounting-bound daughter, Meredith Root (a Millennial), to explore their perceptions of the profession and what they are looking to achieve.
Darren: So guys, what was it like growing up in the accounting profession?
Meredith: I gained unique insight that definitely shaped the way I view the profession and my personal goals within it. I learned there is more to it than the stereotypical accountant and a daunting tax season — like becoming an advisor to clients, maintaining a brand and staying current on technology. I feel lucky to have grown up in the profession. Having this inside knowledge better prepares me for what to expect and how to resolve issues before I enter.