Jason: I thought accountants were geeks when I was growing up. My dad was an accountant, and my exposure to the profession left me thinking it was pretty boring. I was a creative guy — playing in rock bands, doing stand up in elementary school (which got me sent out in the hall), and excelling in art in high school. Then, halfway through college, I realized I had to pick a major. Because my Dad was an accountant, I picked that major by default. I figured I would be “geek boy” by day and “creative boy” by night. As it turned out, I get to be creative all the time.
Darren: What was it that enticed you to get an accounting degree and to consider the profession?
Meredith: I always said I wouldn’t go into accounting … until I started college. In my first semester at IU, I had to take an accounting course and realized two things: 1) I was good at it and 2) I actually enjoyed it. I didn’t mind studying for my accounting classes because I found them interesting, and the more interested I became the more I found myself asking questions about my dad’s firm.
Jason: It came about by default. I was getting married six days after I graduated from college, so I knew I needed something that would pay the bills. I figured I could “pretend” to be interested in accounting to meet the needs of my family. Nothing profound here. As it turned out, I didn’t have to pretend. I run my practice my way; and that’s why I love what I do.
Darren: What do you think needs to change within the profession in order to get young people excited about owning or working in a firm?
Meredith: I see two major factors that make my generation hesitant about working in a small firm. First, most have little to no exposure to the small firm. In school, we are mainly exposed to the Big 4 and regional firms. Second, work/life balance is a perceived issue. My generation grew up with busy parents, and that is something we would like to change.
Jason: They need to be informed that this profession is one of the most creative, and can offer a career that has great impact on so many people. Being part of the accounting profession has profoundly impacted me, my clients and my staff. There is now an openness to change that allows for creativity in how we operate our businesses and serve our clients. Young professionals need current thought leaders to debunk the myths that the profession is old, geeky and works in a uniform manner. They need to understand that this profession is ever changing; that technology allows us to become global knowledge workers; and that you can make your firm look the way you want.
Darren: How important is branding to you and being part of a quality brand?
Meredith: Branding is huge to me. In a world with so many choices, we tend to buy based on what we know about a brand or how a brand makes us feel. This is a topic that is pushed quite a bit in school, and one my dad takes very seriously in his firm. The fact is that most prospects don’t know what makes an accountant “good,” which is why the firm has to deliver that message through a strong brand.
Jason: Positioning and branding is everything to any profession. Ours is no exception. The “unspoken” brand in our profession of polished shoes, the white starched shirt and a purple paisley tie is slowly dying (thankfully). Small business owners are younger and are open to new service providers. The more we brand our firm as “on the edgy fringe,” the more we seem to identify with today’s SMB clients. In fact, revenue increases seem to be directly proportional to the number of tattoos and mohawks in our office. Clients want something different. Any branding strategy should include serious differentiation. Anything else is just a sea of sameness.
Darren: If you could create the firm of your dreams what would it look like?
Meredith: My ideal firm is innovative and consistently utilizing leading technology. My firm’s website would be a primary resource for clients to communicate and where transactions are exchanged in real time via portals. I would have a lean staff to keep my small firm agile, while being well positioned for growth through the use of efficient processes and technology. Ideally, the processes within my firm would be streamlined and intuitive so the firm could run without me being there, which would also enable me to spend ample time with family.