"Digital CPA.” When you hear this phrase what comes to mind? Is there inherent value you think of? Even if you do identify with the description yourself, the more pertinent question is, "Why should your clients care?”
Having a reputation of being progressive, innovative, and digital can be great for you and your firm, but only if embodying these attributes offers value to your clients. To help you ensure that your focus on being a digital CPA translates into something your clients care about, focus on these three questions:
- What is a digital CPA?
- What tools will I use to interface with clients?
- How will I communicate this differentiation?
What is a digital CPA?
The typical response to this question is that a digital CPA uses technology, operates a paperless firm, and works in the Cloud. Although these things may be true, a genuine digital CPA is one that leverages available technology to enhance their services and workflow for advanced collaboration with their clients. What this kind of elevated service looks like can vary by firm. This is because being a digital CPA requires adopting a philosophy that is tied directly to the vision and mission of your practice.
Author and visionary, Simon Sinek, says every leader and company needs to be able to articulate their "why.” It is not enough to simply use high-tech tools and workflow, but if the reason is not apparent most people won’t care to join you in your digital journey. This begs another sub-question: How does being a digital CPA support your passion for helping clients? Many practitioners today are answering "guiding clients in better decision making and growing their businesses” as opposed to a traditional answer of, "personal service.” "Growing their businesses” is a passion that holds real value for clients; the challenge is in connecting it to your digital CPA status.
To make the connection between client value and being a digital CPA, you don’t have to look further than how we work today. We expect availability of mobile options, immediate access, and 24/7 convenience. Office hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. are not the norm any longer. The phrase ‘work-life balance’ has morphed into ‘work-life blend.’ We want the ability to leave the office at 3 p.m. to make it to our kid’s game and then easily hop online after dinner to finish some work from home.
Research clearly shows this transition: Cisco’s research shows that 2014 will be the first year the majority of workload will move to the cloud vs transitional data centers. (Source: "Cisco projects data center-cloud traffic to triple by 2017”). As a digital CPA and trusted business advisor, you introduce the tools that establish effective communication, collaboration and simplification of their accounting processes. This is what your clients care about.
What tools will I use to interface with clients?
The specific software packages you choose to use in your accounting firm will vary by the vertical industries that you elect to focus on. However, let’s focus on how technology can help you build deeper client relationships and affords you the opportunity to truly develop a niche market.
A recent study by Hinge Research Institute found when people were looking for a professional services providers one of the key things they were searching for was an expert, so they followed up to find out how individuals found these experts. The results, over 30% of people seeking professional service experts look online. What is your online presence to help potential new clients find you? When looking for professional services providers, most people are looking for an expert in a particular area, so using social media to demonstrate your expertise is a smart move for a digital CPA. Depending on your niche, certain social media channels can be more effective than others. A book to help you craft your strategy on social media is Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk.
If you are not already incorporating video conferencing into your client meetings you should start. There are a multitude of tools to use. You want to see your client; body language can tell you a lot, but don’t get caught on meeting in person. Video conferencing allows more of a connection than just a phone call and a whole lot more than email. As a trusted business advisor, your personal relationship with your clients is extremely valuable. You don’t want to lose that personal touch.
How will I communicate this differentiation?
It takes words and actions to convey your value and differentiation as a digital CPA. When you tell clients you will make their accounting process easier, you need to ensure that your actions reinforce your words.
Start with how to communicate the significance of being a digital CPA. One way is drafting an elevator statement, a 30 second explanation. When someone asks what you do, or about your business, how long does it take to answer? And when completed how interested is the listener? Tip: Your elevator statement should address these questions:
- Who are you?
- What benefit will the listener derive from working with you?
- What need can you fulfill?
- What problem can you solve?
This type of speech is very difficult to draft on the fly. Write it out. Practice saying it. Get everyone on your staff familiar with it so if you are asked about your firm—or one of your staff members is—everyone is prepared to consistently describe your practice.
Next, you should take note of the tools you use and those that you ask your clients to use to work with your practice. If you have clients bring everything via paper, have them meet you in person, and don’t offer tools that interface with their mobile devices—then you cannot differentiate on the basis of being a digital CPA.
The bottom line here is that your clients don’t really care about what technology you use. What they do care about is that you use it to make their accounting work easier and that you offer your expertise to keep their businesses growing. Your digital CPA tools accomplish both of these needs.
Being a digital CPA is not really about you—it is about your clients
Your clients won’t care if you are a digital CPA if you don’t let it transform your service and business model. Focus on your vision for your firm and implement the principles of being a digital CPA to take your service to an expert, advisory level. This is what clients are looking for today.