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The Boomer Bulletin - 2012
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Fire Yourself In 2013

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Wednesday, January 2, 2013

As we approach the end of 2012, I hope you are taking time to think about the strategies that will improve your firm as well as your own professional growth in the year ahead.  One of the most effective strategies for growth is to delegate tasks that you have outgrown and give up full control of those tasks to others.

After reading an eye-opening book–E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber, I began to work hard to give up tasks that others could do as well, and in many cases, better than I did them.  I fired myself. The decision was a spectacular one because it allowed me to move on to other projects that were better for Boomer Consulting and more fulfilling for me personally.  

The main message of E-Myth Revisited is that you should turn your company into a franchise–not literally, but in the sense that you make sure each and every job function is documented well enough that you can turn it over to someone else if you need to.  The key here is to teach, push work out and let go!   

You should fire yourself from tasks that don’t fit you any longer, especially from the jobs that, with your handling them, stand in the way of your company's growth. Because of E-Myth Revisited’s teachings, I believe this is an ongoing process that everyone in the firm should take part in each year. 

Before I read the book, I believed that if I delegated I was failing to do my job and I was unable to handle all of my responsibilities.  I closed deals, created intellectual capital, presented and did the majority of the follow up for all of my client engagements.  This practice was, quite frankly, crazy and unnecessary because I am surrounded by an amazing and very capable team. All of them are highly educated and experienced and they possess a strong sense of the work that needs to be accomplished. Still, I felt that I was the only one who could properly divvy out the projects. What's more, I was somehow afraid that handing over many of these important functions would cause our company to lose two of our strongest competitive advantages–speed and agility. The truth was, I realize now: I didn't want to give up control.

By being unwilling to give up control, I was spending most of my time working in my business, not on my business. In other words, I was in the weeds every day and I had no time left to think strategically. I was also keeping others on my team from using their unique abilities and in essence I was holding them back.  This was creating a vacuum of lost information as projects were passed one desk to another and everyone was waiting for direction from me.  On top of that, I found my time consumed in unfortunate ways that did not fit my instinctive capabilities.  I also found that I was spending personal time working on firm projects instead of time where I wanted to be with my family.  

Today, I'm proud to say that I have turned over many tasks and projects to other leaders at Boomer Consulting.  I believe the act of delegating and letting go of both the responsibility for the task and the authority to make decisions was a real gift to me.  I am more focused, I produce more and in the end I am far more satisfied today then I was "B.D.” (before delegation).  One more important note is that it has only affected our client relationships for the better.  

Of course, I still know what's happening at the company. I can easily find answers if I need an update on a specific project. I gave up control, not knowledge.

So what about you? Are you working in your business, or on your business?

Review your task list today and fire yourself before the end of the year!  Select, train and then give away both the responsibility and authority for tasks that could be done better by someone else.  Enjoy greater efficiency and effectiveness.  Focus on what your firm needs you to focus on: strategic direction and vision.

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Become Irreplaceable In Your Firm Today!

Posted By Sue Thiemann, Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How are you feeling about your job today?  Are you burned out?  Do you do an incredible amount of work just to keep your company competitive?  What frustrates you most?  Are you underappreciated or undervalued?  Respect, do you get the respect you feel you deserve?  How can you get more respect? What else can you do?

I really love my job.  I believe in our company and the services and products we provide. It’s a great company but maybe there is another opportunity somewhere else? Wait, if I love what I am doing and the company I work for, why would I consider looking anywhere else?

We all like to feel that we are of value and productive within our company and among our co-workers.  So what can I do to get the respect I desire?  The answer is, make myself invaluable to the company, even irreplaceable.  So, you don’t like everything about your job? If you make yourself invaluable, your boss may eventually take notice and a new opportunity will come.  Be the person your company can’t live without. Be a top producer. Be different. Be the "go-to” person.  Make yourself irreplaceable!

In the book Invaluable: The Secret to Becoming Irreplaceable by Dave Crenshaw, he follows a fictional character who is unhappy with his new job but finds wisdom from his visits with his mentor who challenges him to become invaluable, even irreplaceable to his company.

What are two things that would need to change for you to love your job?  More money?  More respect? More authority?  More responsibility? What have you done to merit any of those changes?  First learn all you can about your current job.  You went to college to learn your industry and field, however, you did not learn how to work in your position in your firm. Learn all you can about your current position and about how to become more valuable within that role. 

It’s important to understand that the amount of respect, money or responsibility you want will be in direct proportion to: 1) the demand for what you do; 2) your ability to do it; and 3) the difficulty of replacing you. You can only control the job you do and the quality at which you do it. So do your job better than anyone else.

How do you become invaluable or irreplaceable?  Reduce the less valuable activities you perform and focus on the most valuable activities. Your most valuable activities are the things you do that provide the most value to your company.  When you focus on your most valuable activities, both your ability and the difficulty of replacing you are increased. 

Which activities are you doing now that are wasting time? Which activities are just busywork and aren’t really contributing to the overall success of the company? You may need to discuss this with your manager/boss. Get their opinion.  What is it that you do that makes you of most value to your boss? What separates you from all the other employees?   Dave Crenshaw referred to these as:  

  • MVA’s: Most Valuable Activities
  • LVA’s: Less Valuable Activities

An example of MVA’s and LVA’s are expense reports. Expense reports for my boss, Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder at Boomer Consulting are LVA’s.  For Sandra, time spent on expense reports is a non-revenue generating activity, a low priority activity and not in line with her best abilities.  For me, as the accounting administrator, they are a MVA.  In order to invoice clients in a timely manner, I need to receive the expense reports.  Solution: I create and maintain the expense reports for Sandra; submit them to her for additions and approval.  We both get what we need in a timely manner and we both become more efficient by focusing on our unique abilities.  Now that makes both of us more valuable.

Again, the 3 things that determine how valuable we are: 

  1. Demand for what you do 
  2. Ability to do it
  3. Irreplaceability or difficulty of replacing you

You have little control over demand, so you need to focus on your ability to do something (_____ you fill in the blank) and the difficulty of replacing you.  When you focus on your MVA’s, both your ability to do whatever it is and the difficulty of replacing you are increased.

Have you considered how your firm is replaceable?  How can you make your firm irreplaceable to your clients? What are you doing to make your firm the accounting firm of choice? What can you do today to make your client’s view your firm as irreplaceable?

Traps you may encounter are anything that causes you to spend more time than you should in an LVA. Things like interruptions, random assignments, getting caught up in minor details and just not knowing how to delegate properly.  You’re naturally drawn toward them because they are usually simple and easy to replace and take less effort.  MVA’s take more effort to get going, more practice, more skill and more inertia.  The LVA’s are like a sand bag pulling your balloon down vs. the MVA’s which are lifting you up as you focus on your unique abilities and activities. So when you have more activities, it’s harder to focus on the most valuable ones.  How do you get out of this spiral? You may need to offload some sandbags.  

Offloading activities to consider:

  • Personal systems: Review your daily mode of operation.  Arrive at work; login to your computer; check with a co-worker (chit chat); make coffee; check with another co-worker, etc. Early in my career with Boomer Consulting, I started the habit of chit-chatting with Sandra first thing in the morning until finally she said, "Sue, I am into my work day and this chit-chatting takes away from my productivity.”  What a slap in the face and I thank her for doing so. I realize I was doing one of those "just wasting time” activities mentioned above that is not adding to my value with the company and certainly not making me irreplaceable. 
  • What about busywork activities?  Many are a necessity but prioritizing and combining several busywork activities into a set time period increases your productivity.  An example is email.  Everyone receives notices daily, hourly, etc.; I could stop every time I receive an email but this would be an interruption.  Interruptions reduce efficiencies in work produced. Schedule a time once an hour to review and respond to emails. When you focus on your MVA, both your ability to do whatever it is and the difficulty of replacing you are increased. 

What are some of your busy work activities that could be more efficiently managed? Other activities to review for offloading would be business processes, time management and delegating specific jobs. The last and most costly would be to hire additional staff.

Striving to be irreplaceable is about taking control of your own destiny. It’s up to you to evaluate your position within your firm and determine what needs to be done to increase your value.  Take charge and start becoming irreplaceable today!

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Client Service Ambiance – How to Rejuvenate Yours in 2013

Posted By Tina Greim, Wednesday, January 2, 2013

When thinking about what ambiance means, you might refer to a local coffee shop with a quaint atmosphere that serves you your favorite coffee.  When I think of ambiance, it’s deeper than just your surroundings; it ties directly into every aspect of your business.  However, your ambiance can change quickly with poor client service. defines ambiance as "The mood, character, quality, tone, atmosphere, etc.., particularly of an environment or milieu.”  When you think about your client service ambiance what atmosphere is it creating for your clients?

When visiting a local business recently, I realized then that ambiance is more than just an atmosphere.  It’s about all the pieces that complete any business from client service, innovative ideas to a great product.   You can have innovative ideas and a great product, but without excellent client service and experience, all the other aspects of your business may continue to fall short.  

Your client service ambiance reflects who you are as a company internally and externally.   With that being said, your clients have options to do their business elsewhere.  As your company moves forward in 2013, what can you do to have an overall client service ambiance that keeps clients coming back?

Client Service or Customer Experience

Client service is so important and can easily set you apart from your competitors.  Did you know that your clients will pay more for a product or service just to have a better customer experience?   Client service has to be consistent from the first person who answers the phone or greets your clients all the way to service delivery.  Each person who has client contact creates an everlasting impression, and you want to ensure that each person is leaving a positive one.   How to rejuvenate your client service for 2013:

  1. If you do not have a customer service vision for your company in place – create one that stands behind the client service you want to represent.    Think about how you want your company and services to be represented.
  2. Think innovation – how can your company continue to excel in customer service or to improve customer experience?  Allow your employees to make decisions and to generate value to your customers.   
  3. Throw out the rule book – too many rules and restrictions are like a deflated balloon.  Allow your employees to provide true client service vs. what’s written in the rule book.  Zappos is a great example, not only the culture they have created but their first core value is "Deliver Wow Through Service.”  Zappos believes in doing things in an unconventional and innovative way to go above and beyond just "average” service but to create an emotional impact and to leave them with a positive story.   Think about what kind of story you want to leave with your clients.
  4. Do your homework – What kind of client service are your competitors offering? How can your firm’s be better different or better?  
  5. Think small – If one person in your firm made the commitment to improving 1% per day, the firm would be 37x better, not 365% (3.65x) better at the end of the year. What incremental changes can your firm make to improve client service? 
  6. What client service do you expect?  Treat your clients the way you want to be treated.  Most importantly, be proactive and listen to their needs.   
Client service and customer experience are so important and might be the determining factor whether a client stays or moves on to another competitor.    Continue to allow client service to be a part of your overall business growth and make it a priority.  Allow innovation, always room for client service growth and learn from mistakes.   Make yourself the envy of your competitors by going above and beyond in creating the overall client service ambiance that keep your clients coming back for more. 

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Invest Time In Developing A Plan

Posted By Scott Morrill, Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” said President Dwight Eisenhower.  Having served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during the invasion of Normandy, the largest amphibious invasion in world history, he should be considered an expert on planning.  Eisenhower explained that a plan’s weakness was that it couldn’t account for the unexpected.  In contrast, the ability to plan was indispensable because it prepared you for dealing with change as it occurred over time.

Eisenhower’s point was obviously not that plans were worthless but rather that the bigger value exists in the process, not the outcome.  The outcome (the plan) is usually a list of assigned tasks with schedules and a ration of resources.  It’s like a map and if it’s perfectly constructed and completed, then perhaps you at arrive where you want to be.  But what if the world changes as you execute your plan?  A map can’t anticipate road closures due to emergencies nor can it guarantee that your destination will still offer what it promised when you set out.

In this article I hope to resell you on the value of investing time in developing a plan for your company and also give you three tips which will make your plans more effective.  As a first step, let’s consider some of the features a plan.

A plan is a tool for communication.  It communicates goals and priorities.  It can be used for marketing and to attract resources such as talent and investors.  At the end of its life it can be used to measure accountability and serve as a historical record.

Now think about some of the benefits that the planning process delivers regardless of whether or not you accomplish all the goals of the plan:

  1. Since it is a proactive process rather than a reactive process, it helps you to identify and achieve what you really want – in part by prioritizing goals so you aren’t wasting resources on, or being distracted by, less important tasks.
  2. It gives you an opportunity to address and solve issues that otherwise would be too easy to ignore – at least until they festered into bigger issues.
  3. It provides an opportunity to brainstorm new innovations and discover new opportunities.
  4. Participation in the process develops ownership – the more inclusive your process, the more buy-in you develop.  When your team feels ownership they are inspired and motivated to be more productive.

There are many techniques that can be used in the planning process in order to increase the return on your investment.  I want to remind you of three that are sometimes undervalued.

If your plan involves other people then its main purpose is to serve as a tool for communication – and the easier it is to understand, the more people you will be able to attract as an audience.  In math it’s called solving to the lowest common denominator.  In pop music it’s called finding a hook.  In sales it’s called giving an elevator speech.

It is our practice to simplify any plan into something that can be printed on just one page.  Since you really can only effectively work on one thing at a time, the one page plan serves as a constant reminder as to which tasks should be prioritized the highest – especially if it is displayed in a prominent location on your desk!

How much detail should it contain?  While multi-year planning is conducted by our owners with the input of key staff members, our entire company works together to develop an annual company plan.  We allow one level of "nesting” initiatives within the annual plan but each team member must develop and execute a personal 90-day plan that relates to the initiatives of the annual plan.  Each plan keeps the detail level to about one page – any more detail than that and you’re just boring each other.

"Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly,” attributed to Plato.

Another related quote is easier to document:

"The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective," attributed to Warren Buffett.

An important benefit of this process is that your plan becomes a protective shield to keep you from being assigned "pet projects” that don’t benefit the entire company.

"A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals,” attributed to Larry Bird.

We live in a society that expects immediate and perfect results.  It would be disingenuous if this article led you believe that there are simple steps which guarantee success at developing or executing your plan.  The process of planning and the execution of the plan are both skills that can be improved.  The value of practice is often overlooked.

The process of planning is an exercise in change management and conflict resolution.  To thoroughly capitalize on the strengths of a team, participants must be willing to consider thoughts that are different from their own and be able to build a consensus that first serves the group – which often requires concessions from the individuals involved.  A skilled, independent facilitator will maximize participation – and thereby buy-in – so don’t miscalculate the value of a practiced, professional facilitator.

There’s also a tendency to be optimistic during planning sessions – in part because it’s an opportunity to express innovation and in part because it’s easier to quantify tangible rather than intangible costs.  It’s easy to build a plan without remembering that many new ideas require training and practice in order to become efficient.  If you neglect the need for practice, your resulting plan may exceed your capabilities and better ideas may be abandoned because of faulty comparisons.

"I had to spend countless hours, above and beyond the basic time, to try and perfect the fundamentals,” attributed to Julius Erving.

"There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”  Colin Powells quoted in The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (2003) by Oren Harari.

Repetition alone does not guarantee improved results.  If you practice something badly you will just become good at doing that thing poorly.  Frequent review and evaluation helps you to stay on the course you desire.  Reviews and evaluations are inevitable but it is our experience that frequency and attitude affect effectiveness. 

An evaluation should be a positive experience.  If you take the time to review completed tasks you will normally have more accomplishments than failures – and even a failure in the short-term may actually be an important step in a long-term success.

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work,” attributed to Thomas Edison.

At the end of its lifetime a plan serves as a template for accountability – which is good – but evaluations during the plan serve as opportunities for coaching and accurate improvement.  The more frequent the evaluations, the less the likelihood of major errors.

"My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure,” attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

Plan to Grow
Simplify, practice and evaluate.  Add these tools to your planning process and continue to grow. 

"Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you'll be surprised how successful you can be.  Most people don't have a plan.  That's why it's is easy to beat most folks,” attributed to Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Tags:  strategic planning 

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7 Tips to Increasing Your Value At Work

Posted By Arianna Campbell, Thursday, November 15, 2012

As firms are slowly recovering from the recession that we experienced in 2008, some employees may be tempted to become comfortable and complacent in their positions. The layoffs have subsided, the sense of urgency has dissipated, and old habits have returned. However, as the economic uncertainty continues, there is even more of a need for talented employees who can demonstrate their value to the firm. Firm leadership is looking for people who are committed to the firm and prepared for whatever the future may bring. Here are several changes that you can make right now to showcase and increase your value to your firm. 

  1. Get back to the basics: Showing your value as an employee takes more than just completing your tasks. It starts with reinstating a few simple practices that are centered on making professionalism a priority. Show up on time and keep a positive attitude. Take pride in your work. Be a team player. Treat your coworkers with respect. Go above and beyond in every project and task. Be dependable, consistent and trustworthy. Making small changes to improve your character, behavior and attitude can have a large impact on your value to the firm. 
  2. Identify your professional Dangers, Opportunities and Strengths (DOS): Taking the initiative to evaluate dangers, opportunities and strengths (DOS) is an excellent way to define areas where you can be proactive in your professional growth. This will make you aware of your dangers, ready for your opportunities and confident in your strengths. You can identify your DOS by completing the DOS Evaluator. This tool will assist you in making a plan to address challenges and opportunities as they arise while maximizing your strong points.  This in turn will make you more effective in your role at the firm.  
  3. Define your goals: Professional stability and progress rarely happens by accident. It is usually the result of intentional planning which creates a path to achieve your goals. Having 90-day, one-year and five-year professional development plans will help to keep your focus on your priorities. A 90-day Game Plan is an effective way to track short term goals and accomplishments. The one-year and five-year plans are necessary to keep the bigger picture in sight while also creating boundaries for future plans. It is important to share these goals with your supervisor so you can ensure that you are in alignment with the firm goals. Once goals are defined, they can still be refined as needed. 
  4. Be accountable: Once you have defined your goals it is important to hold yourself accountable and follow through. Be committed to completing your tasks and meeting your deadlines. Encourage feedback from your peers and supervisors. Ask what you can do to improve and solicit constructive criticism. Review your progress quarterly to document your accomplishments and areas for improvement. The Accountability Review is a tool that can be used with the 90-day game plan to guide the discussion about your progress. The combination of setting goals and holding yourself accountable will help you avoid becoming stagnant in your position.
  5. Training: A willingness to learn new things is a prerequisite for growth. It is difficult to advance or increase your value without increasing your knowledge. Training and learning goals should also be included in your short and long term professional development plans. Work with your supervisor to identify the appropriate learning opportunities that will benefit you and the firm. There are multiple training options to explore including online courses, books, seminars or finding a mentor or other resources in your firm. 
  6. Expand Your Network: It is not just about what you know; it is also about who you know. Social networks, mobile devices and other technology make it much easier to connect with contacts and stay in touch. Create a profile on professional social network sites such as LinkedIn and keep your profile up to date. Also reach out in person by attending professional events or joining associations or groups. Building your professional network is a way to increase the visibility for you and your firm. This can also be a potential way to discover new business opportunities for the firm. 
  7. Be open to change:  As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted hundreds of years ago, nothing is constant except change. Technology is causing change to happen at an even faster pace and the ability to adapt to new challenges and situations in a key factor for success in any position. Stay open to new ideas; be willing to try new systems and processes. Do not get stuck in the past as the firm moves forward into the future.  
Now is the time to make steps to increase your value and showcase your talent. Make a commitment to evaluate the areas where you can make changes, then set your goals and follow through. The end result will put you in a position for professional growth and future success.  

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Firm Focal Points for The New Economy

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are you feeling more confident in the economy?  Many are saying they are cautiously optimistic and the overall barometer is edging up, albeit slowly.  Are you starting to have visions of the "old days” when you were so swamped with new clients that you could not keep up with the demand?  Remember also your desire to hire new staff and your inability to find anyone at any level.  We were hanging on to our staff by paying signing bonuses, increasing our benefit packages, insuring they had valuable training and even offering on-site massages during tax season. 

The climate changed and many of those benefits and good feelings went away.  Firms began to get more conservative.  We managed expenses more closely, laid off staff, the massages went away and we became more focused on solid firm management principles. Now that we are starting to feel a little relief, will you be tempted to let go of those solid management principles?  I would encourage you to relax, but not let go.  Keep your eye on the strategies that will become a part of your long-term culture, not just a part of a temporary strategy.  

Let’s look at the foundational strategies that might have become a habit over the past few years that you should hold tight to as the recovery continues:

  1. Focus on strategic firm initiatives:  Firms have worked hard to look at specific strategies that will drive firm growth, increase top talent, and improve processes as well as develop technology initiatives that support the overall firm strategies.  The plan was the roadmap that was used to maneuver through the tough times and now will guide you through the more prosperous ones.  
  2. Focus on internal and external relationships:  Leadership in firms have always known that the firm is built on strong client relationships and most have subscribed to the idea that strong internal relationships are necessary also.  That formula is certainly not retreating now that the economy is beginning to recover.  Emphasis on internal and external relationship building is essential to the continued growth of the firm.  
  3. Focus on creating value not just selling the next deal:  Growth is always a part of the public accounting practice, and during economic stress, the firms natural tendency is to have a laser focus on growth strategies.  The growth strategies must continue with the same intensity and commitment by the leadership group.  
  4. Focus on new opportunities:  When stressful times are in our midst, we search outside the box for new opportunities out of desperation to find new services and new streams of revenue.  Don’t let that intensity stop simply because the pressure is off.  Keep encouraging your partners and team to look for new opportunities that will give your firm a vision to pursue.  
  5. Focus on progress, not perfection:  When the whole world is spinning out of control and the firms stays flat everyone pats you on the back and says you are doing ok.  Now that the world is slowing down, some will have a tendency to move into the "we have to get back to 20% per year growth – NOW!”.  Slow down and remember that progress is good and some growth is far better than flat.  Perfection is a dream that can soon turn into a nightmare, so continued improvement is your goal.  
  6. Focus on your talents and your ability to collaborate:  We are a profession that started out as a group of rough individualists and have learned that teams, collaboration and groups are far more efficient and effective to complete projects.  The momentum exists, so continue the path and expand the groupthink that is working so well in your firm already.  
  7. Focus on being grateful:  Gratitude for team members, clients, projects, peers and partner group becomes much clearer when times are tough.  Work hard to continue to see the amazing resources around you and make a special effort to tell them how grateful you are to have them in your circle of influence.  
  8. Focus on creativity:  Creativity within the firm often comes from a position of stress, and the firm may have developed some creative new processes, services, task forces and projects over the last few years. Don’t let the creativity stop.  Encourage your entire workforce to look for ways to improve the firm creatively by finding ways to do things faster, cheaper, easier and better.  
  9. Focus on leadership:  Firm leaders have been forced to give up some control, responsibility and authority to other talented individuals in the firm with the reduction in workforce and the emergence of top talent at the manager level.  Leadership exists throughout the firm so don’t back off of that emerging trend now.  Continue the strategy of developing your top talent into the future leadership group in your firm.  
  10. Focus on technology solutions:  We all realize that technology is an accelerator for almost every initiative in the firm.  Technology sometimes will ebb and flow in the firm if the leadership group does not see it as an asset. Don’t let technology become a simple expense line on the P&L statement.  Insure that it stays on the asset column on the spreadsheet.  
The time for strategic thinking is now.  Take the focus challenge and continue to build on the habits that you have developed over the last few years. This continued focus will serve your firm well for the long-term.  

Tags:  Focus  Strategic Planning 

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Align Marketing And Technology To Improve Your Firm

Posted By Eric Benson, Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Marketing and internal technology have, in the past, been two departments that were adversarial in many companies.  The gap was easy to define.  Marketing was full of art professionals who used feel to improve the image of the firm.  Technology was full of logic minded, security and data focused professionals that were concerned about keeping compliance high.  Many times, the marketing professional would make choices with company data that compromised that data’s integrity.  The marketing department wouldn’t see it this way, though – they were trying to build niches and increase prospects.

While these stereotypes do have a grain of truth (don’t all stereotypes?), it is increasingly necessary that the two areas work closely together.  Marketing has transitioned into a highly sophisticated business intelligence endeavor with a technology profile that is complex.  In fact, Gartner’s Laura McClellan suggested that marketing may spend more on technology than IT by the year 2017.

Technology professionals are in the midst of a transition from hardware maintenance to service delivery.  This requires more interpersonal communication and targeted messaging to key stakeholders in the firm.

Why marketing should look to technology for help

The marketing industry has experienced a considerable shift in the past ten years.  Social media, blogs, collaboration and other methods are used to engage prospects in a conversation.  With this shift, marketing has increasingly taken over the selection and purchasing of the software to accomplish these tasks.   

Many of these products were the first introduction of cloud, or hosted, products into the firm.  This was often driven by two factors: speed and requirements.  The speed to implement a solution if a campaign needed large scale email or social management skills is much faster with a hosted solution.  In addition, sending out high volume email campaigns needs special care and maintenance that many IT departments were ill equipped to support.

However, as this portfolio of products increased, two things happened:

  1. The technology portfolio was not managed well. 
    Marketing professionals often select products to do the job, but don’t regularly evaluate the solutions used to see if the licensing is correct, or if others products may do the job that are already owned.  In many cases, costs are high because they are not evaluated by someone who is trained to make sure that technology costs are in line.
  2. The amount of data generated exceeds marketing’s ability to manage.
    Many marketing solutions are excellent at generating data.  They even provide proper funnels for this data to be used to increase the number of opportunities a firm has for new business.  However, there are two areas where it may not be managed effectively.  The first relates to the client and prospect lists.  The solutions implemented may have been put in place without proper integration to other systems, creating a silo of valuable information to the firm.  Also, moving opportunities from marketing to sales (or production) may be difficult because of this silo.  In addition, much of the information that is generated may be useful in business intelligence platforms to evaluate performance of the entire sales cycle.

In both instances, IT has a central role for the firm.  The alignment of business analysts or technology professionals in both areas could help marketing manage two areas they were not trained for.

Why technology should look to marketing for help

IT professionals are in the midst of a shift from hardware to services.  This does not mean that hard technology skills will go away in every firm.  However, over time many of the break and fix jobs will be outsourced for the same reasons that marketing shifted to the cloud; speed of implementation and requirements that exceed the current capacity.

As this shift happens, the value of IT must transition from the hardware used to managing the data that is produced.  Although the common practice in this area is to look at security and compliance, the shift beyond these to value added services will keep technology skills in demand in the firm.

One of the best ways to communicate this shift in services and the value to the firm is a positive, educational campaign.  If done correctly, this can open IT’s doors to working with all departments to improve processes, help with effective project management and use the evaluation methods honed by software & hardware selection to evaluate many business aspects.  These are valuable skills that are underutilized in many firms.  

Most IT professionals only communicate when the status quo is restored.  This is a net zero communication approach and marketing can help.  In fact, it would be a pretty simple project for a department that often conducts multiple campaigns to thousands of potential prospects.   

Marketing can help IT:

  1. Define the value of IT to the firm
  2. Use key marketing concepts to develop a campaign of education
  3. Segment the firm for maximum impact
  4. Use the very tools used to communicate outside the firm to maximize the value of IT within the firm
  5. Raise the perception of IT from hardware to high value service provider
In closing, this alliance may take some time to hammer out.  Each department will need to understand what the other side can provide, and this means laying your cards on the table.  What do you need help with?  What can you help the other side with?  The continuation of this relationship in the firm will benefit both sides.  However, it does come with sacrifice.  There is a reason tensions have existed between technology and marketing.  Make sure to acknowledge this, and work on the next steps together.  Keep diligent in future decisions to involve the other side.  It may have rough bumps but you can’t build alliances with practice and trust.  The results will benefit both sides, and most importantly, the firm.

Tags:  marketing  strategic planning  technology 

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The Next Generation of Leadership

Posted By Jim Boomer, Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012

This article was originally published in the August 2012 issue of CPA Practice Advisor. 

We are headed toward a massive transition in leadership at firms across the country as the current leadership gets closer to retirement.  Some firms have already successfully transitioned, others are preparing, and then, there are those that don’t yet have any plans in place.  The transition discussion is abuzz at the conferences I’ve recently attended – both among attendees and speakers.  And, tensions are high between the very generations whose roles are about to shift, which is extremely concerning.  

The State of the State
Current leadership often complains they can’t find quality candidates to fill the pipeline.  Pointing to a generation that doesn’t want to put in the hours or work for it.  They use words like lazy and entitled to describe them and say they waste time using technologies like mobile and social media.  The younger generation uses terms like out-of-touch and archaic to describe the people they will succeed.  They point to a need to do things differently to succeed in the future and some suggest throwing out the old model completely.

So who’s right?  I’ll show you here how the correct answer lies somewhere in the middle.   

Listen Up Emerging Leaders
I’ve been hearing an increasing number of people from my generation (the emerging partner group) spreading a message that the old model is antiquated and needs to be replaced by completely new thinking.  I agree that we need to do things differently but a complete reboot isn’t necessary.  Emerging leaders needs to step back and understand a few things about those that have come before us.  

  • First, they have years of wisdom and professional experience that we can and should tap into if we are smart business people.  
  • We also need to appreciate everything they’ve done to set up the opportunity that is currently ahead.  It would not exist if not for the hard work they put in throughout their careers.  
  • We need to realize it’s hard to let go of something you’ve been doing your whole life.  We may have to temper our expectations of how quickly we are going to ascend in the firm.  
  • We also need to present our new ideas with respect and ask how they fit in with current leadership’s view of the environment.  
  • Finally, don’t push too hard.  This is an emotional transition that takes time.  They need to work through it personally before they can work share the plan or roadmap with anyone else.

Tips for Current Leaders
Seasoned professionals must think back to earlier in their own careers so they can better empathize with what the emerging professionals are thinking, feeling and doing.  A few years ago I listened to Bill Reeb speak on generations – he read an article to the audience that listed all the gripes current management had with the next generation.  Only after the audience (made up mostly of seasoned professionals) had finished their wave of head nods in agreement did he reveal that the article was from many years ago and was actually written about the Baby Boomer generation.  Truth be told, you’ve been in their shoes and, likely, someone judged your perceived intentions (or lack thereof) at some point in your career.  So let’s look for the positives that we can leverage to move forward toward a successful transition.

  • First and foremost, the up-and-coming leaders bring a fresh perspective that is important to the future of the firm.  They also bring new ideas and skills to the table as well; especially in the area of technology.  Leverage these to the firm’s advantage.
  • Open your mind to new ways of thinking and doing things.  Considering how these ideas might fit into how you’ve traditionally done things.
  • Coach & mentor young professionals but also challenge them.  This involves stepping back, which can be emotional and difficult to do but is necessary to the transition.  

Finding a Middle Ground…TOGETHER
Although Thoreau wasn’t referring to the accounting industry when he said "things don’t change, we change,” I think this quote is a great way to approach the coming of ages.  The sooner we stop throwing daggers at each other based on what the other perceives to be wrong and start focusing on the positive aspects we all bring to the table, the quicker we can start blending our perspectives and planning the transition – together.  This building tension and divide must stop.  It will derail, delay and even destruct the impending and important shift in leadership, and we must all come together now to ensure a successful transition. 

Put an action plan in writing that spells out the transition timeline, what/when activities will be transitioned and how approaches can be melded.  This will probably require many emerging leaders to ‘tap the brakes’ and current leaders to ‘hit the gas,’ but working together you can figure it out.

Tags:  generational differences  leadership  succession planning 

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Increase Firm Revenue Organically

Posted By Eric Hunt, Monday, October 15, 2012

According to Accounting Today’s annual "Top 100 Report”, the Top 100 largest firms grew by a total of 7.89% in 2011.  This comes after 2 years of declining revenues.  How did your firm perform in 2011?  How is trending in 2012?  Some of those numbers can be attributed to mergers and acquisitions, but many firms were able to grow organically as well.  Growing the firm without the use of M&A is an important component to firm health.  Here are ways your firm can increase revenue organically.

Build a Business Development Plan
The very first thing your firm needs to do to increase revenue is to build a one-page plan of action.  Your firm needs a business development plan for the same reasons it needs an overall strategic plan…organization and accountability.  You can’t expect to grow revenues if you don’t have a plan to support your growth goals.  My tips for a successful plan are: 

  • Make sure you address new client acquisition, current client retention, selling strategies for current services and ideas for new services.  
  • Work diligently to keep the plan simple and to have someone responsible for each item on the plan. This increases accountability and improves the likelihood of goals being met.
  • Follow-up regularly to ensure items are on track to being completed.  Flexibility and being open to adjustments are important for firms during these follow-up sessions as you will need to address issues and changes as the year goes on.

The business development plan represents the foundation for the firm’s revenue growth.Ensure that enough time is dedicated to the process.  

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
One of the best ways to increase revenues is by utilizing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.  Many firms still use excel spreadsheets with contact info and many others have separate contact lists for each partner or department.  Utilizing a CRM system allows firms to better organize and focus on revenue opportunities due to efficiencies gained.  

If your firm already has a CRM system in place, continue to keep the data clean, train your team to use it properly and track your important interactions with clients and prospects.  If your firm is looking to implement a CRM system, or if you are new to the idea of it, feel free to download a free copy of The e-Guide to Implementing CRM in Your Firm.  Keep in mind that choosing, implementing and utilizing a CRM system properly is not an easy task.  As with any new software, growing pains, culture change and push-back can be experienced.  Used properly, a CRM system is one of the best ways to increase revenue and decrease lost opportunities!

Train Your Team 
Training in all areas of the firm is important and in business development it is no different.  Many people have trouble "selling” and hope that the firm’s rainmakers will bring in the business.  Help your team understand they don’t have to be rainmakers to increase revenues.  Some areas where training can make a difference to the entire team are:  

  • CRM - Train your team on how to properly track conversations with clients and prospects so that action can be taken if needed.  
  • Your services - Every team member should be well-versed in your firm’s services so they have the ability to talk about them with confidence when the opportunity arises.  
  • Referrals - Do your team members know how to ask for referrals and listen for referral opportunities?  Don’t take this for granted.  Teach them to identify opportunities for referrals and how to take that referral to the next stage.  
  • Sales basics - Develop a basic sales training session in house or go to an outside source if needed.  Providing even basic sales training to your team members will help to build confidence as they interact with clients and prospects.

The value of training is rarely in question, but too many firms focus on the CPE and technical side of it.  Taking the time to work on some basic sales training can pay huge dividends in the long run.

Look at Outside Assistance
Great firms often look to the outside for assistance in areas they aren’t experts in.  Sales, marketing and niche development are three areas firms can find exceptional companies right in our own industry.  Some of the top companies assisting our industry in these areas and ones that I regularly recommend are: 

Even if you have in-house experts, these outside sources specialize in helping top firms become even better in their business development areas.  Don’t be afraid to take a look at how they can assist.    

In Closing
The best firms in our industry utilize some if not all of these items.  This is not a complete list, by any means, but they are four areas I have seen that have the best long-term impact on organic revenue growth.  Start with the overall business development plan as the foundation and integrate the other areas to create a positive effect on revenue! 

Tags:  business development  revenue generation 

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The Search for Sustainable Employee Engagement

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012

As firm leaders throughout the country look for ways to increase employee engagement and motivation, they are frustrated when they hear reports that the only answer is increasing their employee’s compensation.  While compensation is certainly important, I believe if we focus strictly on compensation we will miss some of the most important drivers of engagement and motivation. 

Compensation is certainly a short term motivator, but ultimately, employees look for a firm and a position where their values are met, core skills are utilized and work tasks align with personal interests.  Compensation does help attract and retain employees but "sustainable engagement” requires much more than money. Sustainable engagement is a combination of:

  • Traditional engagement—employees’ willingness to expend discretionary effort. 
  • Enablement—the tools, resources and support employees need to do their jobs effectively. 
  • Energy—a work environment that supports employee well-being.

As discovered in a recent survey of top talent by the PCPS, the top retention factors for 2011 were:

  • Salary - 95%
  • Career Growth Opportunities - 93%
  • Paid Personal/Vacation Time - 90%
  • Open-door/accessible management - 89%
  • Interesting, challenging client projects - 88%

While salary is the first item on the list, the next 4 are strong contenders for retaining your top talent and certainly should not be ignored.   Often firms spend enormous amounts of time, energy and resources working on the compensation increases and bonuses and no time on other retention factors.  If you want to make engagement truly sustainable, a substantial amount of time and energy should also be spent on the remaining 4 addition factors.  

Making Engagement Sustainable

Sustainable engagement is an important evolution in the science of workforce behavior.  It recognizes that employees need support from their employer to continue to give discretionary effort on the job.  Unfortunately, employees are not getting the level of support they need.  Enablement and energy are critical factors in this equation.  Engagement will only hold over time with these elements in place.  Think about your firm.  How much time are you spending as a leadership group working on the full list above?  If you think you have the answer, you might be surprised if you ask you team what they think.  

Understanding Engagement Gaps

It is important for leadership to understand the gap between what they are thinking and what the team is thinking in regards to engagement.  There are several ways to accomplish an effective engagement evaluation in your firm, including focus groups and surveys.  The more anonymous the group or survey is the better results you will receive.  Identifying the gaps that exist between what leadership is thinking and what the staff is thinking and then building goals that will narrow the gap will increase the trust in your firm.  And when trust increases, so does engagement!

It is everyone’s role in the firm to help close the gaps in employee’s feelings of enablement and energy – from partners to managers, to administration – they should all be included.  

Money is Important, But So Are Other Factors

Outside of the PCPS Study, there are many other studies and experts who agree that money matters, but they are not the end of the story.  In March 2012,, an online personality, career and IQ assessment company, released research on the top motivators for employees. The data collected between August 2011 and February 2012 revealed that out of a list of 23 work motivators, "financial reward” was ranked 12th. For men, financial reward was eighth on the list; for women, 15th. Seventy percent of the 1,194 employees surveyed were from North America. Sixty-four percent of respondents were under the age of 30.

The top five motivators reported were:

  • Customer orientation—the desire to make customers happy. 
  • Achievement—the desire to work in a goal-oriented and challenging work environment. 
  • Inspiration—the desire to inspire others through one's work. 
  • Identity and Purpose—the desire to work in a company/field that is in line with one's values and ethics. 
  • Fun & Enjoyment—the desire to work in a position/corporate culture that is inherently entertaining.
Think about how this survey intersects with the PCPS findings.  PCPS said career growth opportunities, paid personal/vacation time, open door accessible management and interesting challenging client projects are highly important to our top talent.  They are very similar to the study that you see above.  It proves that what we are hearing has merit, and the great firms seeking their vision for future leaders don’t have much further to look than right here.  

Tags:  employee engagement 

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