This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of Accounting Today
There are multiple ways to grow your firm, from expanding service lines to mergers and acquisitions. While these are both viable strategies, it is often easy to overlook opportunities associated with existing services and clients. Tax planning and compliance is a great example and an area that almost all firms currently provide services. However, due to the increasing complexity of ever changing legislation at the Federal and State levels plus the importance of international tax, I believe firms often discount the opportunities. Granted, there is a high degree of complexity and some firms may not have the internal resources or a large enough client base to justify acquiring the capabilities required to offer some of the more sophisticated services related to tax credits (jobs, energy, enterprise zones, etc.) as well as cost segregation.
There is a simple management strategy that is often overlooked when it comes to complexity and many accounting firms get caught in the trap. In order to break through the ceiling of complexity you must first step back and simplify the approach. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate a proven process to simplification and allow CPAs and firms to think differently about matching opportunities with capabilities. By thinking differently, you will probably challenge some of the existing strategies and perhaps even some of the processes that have made you successful. The old saying that what got you to this level of success won’t get you to the next level is often true when dealing with increased complexity.
We are talking about the development or access to the required capabilities necessary to leverage current and future opportunities. If you don’t have those capabilities or access to them, your firm will miss opportunities. If you do have the capabilities, but not the opportunities, you will generally underperform and have trouble retaining and attracting quality talent due to the lack of growth opportunities. Internal discussions often evolve into the chicken or the egg arguments.
Let’s take one step back from what most firms are doing today and assess how to develop talent and capabilities based upon today’s opportunities. Most firm’s think in terms of internal resources, especially larger firms, but this may not make the most sense economically. Think big (10 times bigger) and how you can leverage this opportunity with little or no additional investment in labor or technology!
In our profession, talent provides capabilities and the market provides the opportunities. Talent is developed primarily with three key components:
- Self motivation and life-long learning
- Access to experts and experience
- Relationships with peers
This approach may be different than the rugged individual approach many seasoned professionals are accustomed to. Today, the complexity and breadth of knowledge requires a team approach in order to scale.
Here are some basic questions CPAs and firms should ask when evaluating new or expanded services.
- Will this service provide value to the client?
- Who is going to champion this service?
- Does the champion have the passion, time, team and budget to be successful?
- Does the firm have the necessary capabilities or should we source with an external expert?
- Does the firm know how to name, package, brand and price this service?
- Is there a community of peers we can join in order to accelerate our ability to balance capabilities with opportunities?
The tendency is to short-cut the planning and start charging hours to a project. This often results in large write-offs and poor client service. Taking the time to think, plan and grow will increase the probability and level of success.
From extensive experience, I can say the CPAs and firms that get the most value from communities are those who contribute and provide confidence to their peers. Learning is a two-way street. You must be vulnerable to learn and willing to teach. The communities raise the level of success for all participants. Also having access to expertise outside of their firm provides great value, even for internal experts. The exchange among expert peers results in learning, increased confidence and improved clarity. This expertise ranges from technical tax and accounting knowledge to:
- Marketing and sales
- Leadership & management
- HR and team building
In the end, it is about you. You have to be motivated and have the passion to succeed. The participation in a community provides access to experts and peer relationships, accelerates the process and increases the probability of success. Those with passion succeed while those without passion try.