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The Boomer Bulletin - 2013
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Time To Take Another Look At Payroll!

Posted By Louie Calvin, Product Manager, Accounting CS at Thomson Tax & Accounting, Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Many years ago, a seasoned CPA told me that providing payroll is like running a dairy farm. They both require a great deal of repetitive, day-in, day-out chores. And if you can’t keep up, you will have a bunch of sick cows, and won’t be in business for long. A few of the tax and accounting professionals I talk to still feel this way and it explains why some are resistant to getting involved. They see payroll as a complex business that’s long on labor and short on profit potential.  But more and more firms realize that new technology and a changing environment are rewriting the rules, making payroll one of the fastest-growing areas in the profession.

If you’re reading this, you already know that industry publications, blogs, and webinars are flooded with payroll related topics and discussion. Here at Thomson Reuters, we’ve seen increased demand for both our Accounting CS Payroll software and our myPay Solutions payroll processing service.  For example:

  • The myPay Solutions business has grown 16% YTD compared to 2012. 
  • New sales of payroll software have grown 35% in 2013 compared to 2012. 
  • Over 89% of participants in our 2013 customer survey reported offering payroll services, significantly greater than in past surveys.  In addition, the average number of payroll clients per firm is trending up.

It’s clear that firms are investing in payroll. So what’s the driving force behind this trend? For many firms, it’s a combination of two main factors. The first is a new level of flexibility in how payroll services are provided. This enables firms to build a business model that’s tailor made for their capabilities and goals. The second factor is new technology that’s lowering the cost of entry to payroll and making it easier to turn a profit.

New flexibility

Today, there are far more ways to offer payroll than in the past. You can choose to process every payroll in-house, outsource every payroll to an outside service, or anything in between. You can even vary your level of involvement from one client to the next.  Many firms are now enjoying hybrid strategies that make it possible to meter the firm’s workload and leverage payroll processing services with a strategic partner for some or all of your clients.   This puts your firm in a position to aggressively market your payroll services and then strategically decide which payrolls you process in-house and which you pass on to a payroll processing service. 

New Technology

New technology is dramatically changing the face of payroll by reducing the cost of entry which enables firms to wow their clients with sophisticated online and mobile options. Today’s tools make collecting customer payroll more timely, more accurate, and far more convenient than ever before.

It’s surprisingly simple to offer a completely paperless payroll process that enables clients to enter data remotely and handle many other parts of the process themselves. Clients can even print their own checks while client employees can update W-4 information, view W-2 and other information online. 

These technologies are a great way to impress clients particularly those with off-site employees or multiple offices. Another nice perk is the ability for the client’s employees to enter time remotely, increasing convenience.   Best of all, these new tools make payroll more profitable for the firm, and providing firms more opportunities to create stickier and more strategic relationships with their business clients. 

New technology is also making it easier for firms to find and manage the staff required to process payroll. Cloud-based software makes it easier for staff to work remotely and we’re seeing that happen at more and more firms. 

Many firms have also found that customers who come on board for payroll are likely to buy additional services in the future as trust is earned. The convenience of a one-stop shop simplifies your clients’ lives and makes it less likely that they’ll take their business elsewhere.    

Where do you go from here?

It’s true that technology is the great equalizer in the payroll business. It’s the game changer that enables mid-size firms to compete successfully with the big service bureaus. But it takes more than technology to build a successful payroll business. 

The first step is to identify and adopt a sound business model—one that considers all aspects of supporting payroll. This includes building the proper staff and client base, marketing, branding, and pricing. Only when all of these areas are considered can firms expect to make payroll a successful service offering.  Even if payroll no longer has much in common with dairy farming, it’s fertile ground for growth.

What payroll strategy is right for your firm?

In September 2013, we asked firms about their payroll strategies. Here’s what they reported:

  • 25% process all payrolls in-house
  • 10%  refer all payroll to a service bureau
  • 5% perform after-the-fact tax compliance for clients who process payroll themselves
  • 51% provide some combination of the above services 
  • 9% do not offer payroll services

These stats show that the question isn’t whether to provide payroll; it’s how to provide payroll. You can begin to answer that question right now by taking advantage of resources available to define your strategy.

For more information about our payroll software and services, visit CS.ThomsonReuters.com/Payroll-Solutions.  

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Job Seeking

Posted By Tina Greim, Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In a job market that is very competitive, at any level, it is important to have your "A” game on at all times.  This starts from the time you apply for a position, to follow up phone conversations that may lead to a face-to-face interview.  Most importantly, you are selling your brand.  Your brand isn’t just communicated by what you put in your resume, but it ties directly to any personal communication you have during the hiring process whether by phone, email or face-to-face. 

When you are searching for a new job with a new employer, you are seeking a new position for a reason.  You are out to offer that potential new employer something great.  Focus on communicating appropriately how you will add value to the company and what makes you the best candidate.  Here are some tips to think about during your job seeking process.  

Pay attention to details

When looking at an ad for a job, it’s important to submit what is specifically asked, even if you feel it is irrelevant.  If asked for a cover letter, resume and references, submit all three items.  It could cost you to be overlooked by those who submitted what was requested.  It shows lack of following directions and follow-through. As you continue to move forward into the hiring process, it’s extremely important to pay attention to details regarding timeframe for interviews and decision dates.  Most importantly, keep track of your scheduled interview times and who you will be meeting with throughout the process.  

Learn about the company, and be prepared

The web provides so much information at your fingertips.  With that being said, you should never show up to a phone or face-to-face interview unprepared regarding knowledge about the company you are interviewing with. Taking the time to research and prepare yourself will set you apart from the rest of the candidates. Doing so will allow you to ask more of the "right” questions and appear more engaged.   Just remember, you might be the most qualified, but you will most likely strikeout if you are the least prepared. 

Treat everyone with respect

Be respectful to whomever you may come in contact with during the hiring process.  This is tied directly to any individual who may contact you to schedule a phone interview to the individuals who are making the hiring decision.  Every company, depending on its size, has a different hiring process.  First impressions are first impressions and could be your last impression.  Levitt.swlearing.com states that job candidates strike out because of professional etiquette errors.  Employers believe the way you treat them reflects on how you will interact and treat their clients and other employees.  Culture is important, each person you come in contact with may be critiquing you throughout the process by the way you communicate and interact and determining if the company’s culture is right for you.  Also keep in mind, you may never know who might be a part of the interview/hiring process.  

Never come across inconvenienced

Applying for a new job takes time and there is time commitment involved.  The New York Times states that the duration of the interview process for companies like Starbucks, General Mills and Southwest Airlines have doubled since 2010.   About.com states that the one or two interviews prior to getting a job offer no longer exists and now job seekers can see up to 3 to 4 interviews or possibly 6.  This may not always work around your schedule, but you must come in with the attitude of expecting to be inconvenienced.  Companies are busy, and most likely internally, there are specific dates and times that work best to schedule phone interviews and face-to-face interviews.   It is important to appear available and never inconvenienced, even if you are.  

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Appreciative Inquiry

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Most firms are in the process of reflecting on their progress during this time of year.  Often, that reflection leads to negative feelings of what did not happen, goals that were not met, numbers that were not obtained and people who left.  A more effective process is one called Appreciative Inquiry.  

Appreciative Inquiry is a philosophy and an organizational development process that is used to produce positive change.  It is a process of asking questions that will help everyone reflect not on the negative, but the positive things that have happened in the firm during the past 12 months.  Think about questions like "What went right this year?”, "What happened that we are proud of?, "What gives life to our firm?”.  These types of questions will turn attention to the strategies we can celebrate and ultimately build on.

As many of you know, we start all of our meetings with the positive focus that we learned from The Strategic Coach program.  Eighteen years later, we still use the tool faithfully and feel that it puts our clients and us in a positive frame of mind before we tackle tough issues.  The next step after the act of thinking and talking more positively is to develop a process in your firm for true Appreciative Inquiry. 

The process is:

  • Discovery – What are the firm’s strengths?
  • Dream – What are the possibilities for change in the future? 
  • Design – How can you make these ideas happen?
  • Destiny – How do you implement and sustain the change?  

This process should take place in a full group meeting where strategic collaborative thinking is necessary.  This means that everyone invited to the table has an equal voice.  Titles should be thrown out and everyone should feel a strong sense of trust.  While everyone in the group should openly participate, don’t forget to have a facilitator to insure you don’t fall into group think where there is lots of talking and no decision making. 

Choose your team carefully.  Since this group will be responsible for thinking in an "upward motion” – positive and uplifting – you need to insure you do not put anyone that is a negative personality into the mix.  This could be like a bad illness that spreads fast.  

Many firms struggle with change management, and Appreciative Inquiry is the key to true change.  When you stay the course of the process above, and you truly act on allowing each person to contribute their best ideas, the outcome is a change in culture and strategy.   

If your firm has gone through a particularly tough year, this process is even more important to you.  You must change the direction of the feelings in your team.  This is not an easy change, but it is critical to the future stability and success of the firm.  Appreciative inquiry can energize a firm even in tough times because it begins the conversation with possibilities instead of problems.  

The initial meetings you hold should then turn into a yearly campaign.  In other words, don’t let the ideas and strategies that come out of these brain trusts turn into "those ideas we came up with a year ago and did nothing with them”.  The excitement that is created in the meetings should be acted upon.  Don’t think that this should be initiatives by the ownership group alone.  A group of people – often led by an emerging leader – should be given the responsibility and authority to take action and keep the changes going.  

The outcome you should expect is a highly collaborative and highly engaged team throughout the firm that is sustainable over time as long as the firm remains committed to the goal of appreciative inquiry.  Ultimately, this becomes a part of your overall firm culture.  It is not simply a "feel good” meeting, it becomes a way of life and a day to day habit.  

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What is the Most Important Component of a Digital Tax Practice?

Posted By Greg Pope, Marketing Director, SurePrep, Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tax preparation has come a long way since the days of service bureaus, couriers and paper forms. PC-based tax software allowed tax returns to be prepared entirely in-house. Now, some tax document automation solutions are allowing firms to embrace a completely digital tax practice. Through Optical Character Recognition (OCR), source documents like W-2s, K1s and brokerage statements can be scanned and automatically bookmarked and organized. Then, the relevant tax data from those source documents can be exported to tax software.

If your goal is increased efficiency, the time you save by not having to organize your files and key punch data into tax software is important, very important, but it isn’t the most important component of a truly automated and digital tax practice. To understand what the most important component is, think about how and when a 1040 tax return flows through your office.

File Types and Workflow

With most tax document automation solutions the process works like this: You scan the paper documents that were provided by your client then you run the scanned documents through OCR. What you receive as a result is an organized PDF file that can be opened in a PDF editor like Adobe Acrobat. This process would be sufficient if you received all of your client’s source documents at the same time and those documents were the only files that you used to prepare the tax return. Unfortunately, that’s not a real world scenario. In the real world clients deliver documents piecemeal. Late K1s and amended 1099s might come weeks after the initial shoebox is delivered. With Adobe Acrobat, incorporating those late documents into the original bookmarked PDF is cumbersome and time consuming so instead you create a new, separate PDF. If you receive a third set of late documents from the client you create a third, separate PDF. Think about the inefficiency of this process. Would you ever create separate paper files for the same tax return?

And what about workpapers that don’t get scanned at all? An IRA deduction computation worksheet in Microsoft Excel. Maybe you have some tax research in Microsoft Word. What about an email from the client? A PDF editor will not support those different file types. In order to maximize the benefits of tax document automation technology you need a workpaper tool that allows you to build a comprehensive tax binder containing many different file types. Adding late documents to your workpaper file should be quick and easy. Annotation tools and signoffs that work across scanned documents plus Excel spreadsheets, Word documents and emails should be standardized and easy to use. Adobe Acrobat does not fill these important requirements.

Therein lies the problem with what many vendors offer. The time you save in automating the organization of source documents and the extraction of relevant tax data is lost when you’re left to navigate clumsy workpaper tools that were not designed with accountants in mind. That’s why we created SPbinder, the workpaper tool that is included with all three versions of 1040SCAN.

What to Look For 

There are two key questions to ask when evaluating tax document automation solutions. First, how complete is the vendor’s document coverage list? Second, and most importantly, what workpaper tool will I use when preparing and reviewing the tax return?

Evaluating a vendor’s document coverage list is fairly straightforward. Document coverage lists show you which source documents can be automated. Some solutions automate just a few document types like W-2s and 1099s while others recognize an exhaustive list of government forms. Each additional document type equals incremental time savings so pay close attention to how many documents the OCR solution can recognize. The longer the list, the greater the time savings.

The second and most important component to evaluate is the workpaper tool that you will use while preparing and reviewing the tax return. After the client provided source documents are scanned you will need an electronic binder tool that integrates traditional tax preparation processes with the paperless technology that allows for a completely digital workflow. The binder should support workpapers of different file types, and it should include features like common annotation tools and sign-offs. A PDF editor like Adobe Acrobat will not suffice. Lori Shrout, an accountant in southern California, summed up the importance of a binder this way: "Without this [binder] technology, there is no way we could have taken our tax practice completely digital.”

To learn more, download a complimentary whitepaper titled The Flexibility of Paper in a Paperless Environment.

Author bio: Greg Pope is the Marketing Director at SurePrep, a leading provider of productivity solutions to the tax and accounting profession. He is responsible for the planning, development and implementation of the company’s marketing strategy and communications. Greg has worked in the tax and accounting industry since 1999.

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The Advantages of a Pricing Matrix

Posted By Gary Boomer, Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of Accounting Today (http://www.accountingtoday.com/ato_issues/27_8/The-advantages-of-a-pricing-matrix-67576-1.html).

Pricing of accounting services is an important component of the growth and success of any firm. The pricing strategies and clients that brought your firm to where it is today may not be appropriate to grow to the next level, especially in today's collaborative marketplace where technology is changing the entire game -- faster, better, cheaper and easier.

Is your firm taking advantage of these new tools and providing the services that clients are willing to pay for, or are you stuck in the traditional rut of only offering commoditized services such as tax and accounting?

Let's start with a few questions to get you thinking:

  1. Have you changed your pricing model other than increasing hourly rates in the last three years?
  2. Do you have a menu of services broken into three levels:
    • Level 1 -- Transactional.
    • Level 2 -- CFO.
    • Level 3 -- Planning.
  3. Does your firm have service teams capable of delivering services at all three levels? Or relationships with third-party resources that can?
  4. Have you thought about firm growth and how to increase margins?

These are very important questions that should be addressed by any firm, regardless of size, that wishes to grow and become more profitable. Joseph Schumpeter, an economist and political scientist who taught at Harvard until his death in 1950, defined the term "creative destruction," which is caused by new technology and more efficient processes.

Industry transformers design ways with intellectual capital (technology and unique processes) to bypass the depleted industry, differentiate themselves and create an emerging industry. From the emerging industry comes a growth industry and from a growth industry comes a status industry. The life cycle used to last decades, but with technology and globalization the industry life cycle is substantially shortened.

Jim Collins, in Great by Choice, speaks to the fact that leaders who develop a 10 X approach, along with discipline, creativity and controlled paranoia, are those who create an exciting culture of growth and remain relevant over a long period of time. A 10 X culture is scary to some, but exciting to the best talent who are looking for opportunities, and not just multiple years of experience.

Fortunately, accounting firms are currently profitable and therefore many do not want to change; but the scarcity of talent, new technology and the trend toward meshing (sourcing of financial and technology services) is requiring change.

These trends will either commoditize your existing client base or provide you with opportunities for growth. Cultural attitude will determine success or failure. Most of the growth will come in advisory services and is already occurring in the largest firms. Advisory services require a different cultural attitude than attestation (advocacy versus independence).

Given the fact that the trend toward advisory services is already occurring, how does a firm take advantage of these opportunities? The biggest challenges that we see in most firms are:

  • Packaging and developing a menu of services (Level 1-2-3).
  • Identifying champions within the firm and resources to deliver the services.
  • Pricing.

TAKE THE RED PILL

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how a pricing matrix will help your identify targets (ideal clients), provide pricing guidance, and increase upfront communication between the client/prospect and the firm. For years, I have watched accountants talk about value billing, but remain in the effort-based economy trap.

A pricing matrix will at least move the firm out of the trap and focus on expanding multiple services to existing clients and prospects. Most clients are unaware of or have forgotten the breadth of your firm's services. New technology allows for a collaborative relationship that increases the value from the client's perspective -- the true determiner of value.

Here are the basic questions you must answer in order to develop your initial pricing matrix, knowing full well that it will change as the market changes and your firm grows. Pricing is a complex issue and firms spend way too little time on pricing strategy compared to successful companies.

  1. What is the profile (criteria) of the ideal client and the minimal monthly fee? Yes, I said monthly; now is the time to correct cash flow, work in process and accounts receivable problems.

  2. What are two criteria that determine the value or complexity of your target clients (e.g., annual revenues and number of employees -- other options are locations, business units, etc.)? This may vary by industry and type of client, but it forces the firm to establish parameters and is the starting point in defining scope.

  3. What is the incremental value based upon these criteria?

  4. What is an acceptable range of fees based upon multiple levels of service? (See "Enter the matrix.") You must determine these amounts for your firm based upon your clients and prospects.

The accompanying example of a pricing matrix is based upon the firm Jones & Co. determining that their minimum target client would start at $1,500 per month and increase based upon company revenue and number of employees. The other primary determining factor would be the scope of services the client selects from a menu of Level 1-2-3 services (for an example of a service menu, see "Today's specials").

These examples are limited in the number of services, but illustrate how firms can use a menu and pricing matrix to grow the firm and improve profitability. Most firms, I know, would accept clients at the Bronze through Platinum levels if the scope is properly defined and the client pays timely on a monthly basis.

This is about progress and not perfection. I can assure you it will create positive conversations within the firm and with clients if you develop this approach.

In summary, the advantages of a pricing matrix and menu of services are that they:

  • Focus on value, rather than effort (hours times dollars);
  • Identify target or ideal clients;
  • Require a conversation upfront regarding scope, pricing and terms;
  • Provide a guideline for partners and managers who struggle with selling value; and,
  • Allow the firm to filter based upon criteria such as utilizes multiple services, rewards (timely payment of fees), appreciates, enhances capabilities and refers others.

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Important Words to Use in the Workplace!

Posted By Sue Thiemann, Monday, November 18, 2013

Effective communication in the workplace plays a prominent role in developing profitability in your firm and long-lasting motivated employees. Praise plays a large part in promoting both. According to a 2003 Gallup survey outlined in the book, "How Full is Your Bucket?” by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, 61% of American workers received no praise at work. And the biggest reason people leave their jobs is because they feel unappreciated.  It turns out that giving genuine praise often goes a lot further than even monetary rewards, and that makes good business sense. 

Through their research of some four million employees in 10,000 business units and 30 industries worldwide, they found that workers who receive regular recognition and praise: 

  • Increase their collaboration among co-workers
  • Increase their individual productivity with effective time management
  • Receive high loyalty and satisfaction approval from customers and co-workers 
  • Are more likely to stay with their organization.

All of us need recognition and reassurance in our work lives just as we do in our personal lives. Praise increases the pride we take in our work and that improves job satisfaction as well as the quality of our services. Praise reinforces our relationships with co-workers and management. Praise also keeps us from feeling that we are taken for granted and it builds company loyalty, which is all too rare these days.

So if praise is so vital to collaboration, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee retention, why aren’t more organizations dishing it out more liberally? There could be many reasons. For instance, some managers, directors and executives simply are not comfortable with giving praise. This could be due to their family or educational backgrounds, or because the corporate culture doesn’t encourage it. Some may believe that a paycheck and standard benefits package is sufficient and if you want a pat on the back, you should get it in your personal life. There are many more…

Here at Boomer Consulting, our management team promotes praise and kudos throughout the company. On a daily basis, anyone in the firm may recognize a co-worker by sending a "Shout Out/Thank You.” 

Details for BCI's "Shout Out/Thank You” Program:

This is a way for us to shout out and say thank you to each other. If someone helps you out with an assignment, or they go out of their way to do something for you, this is when you can recognize them to the entire staff. Also, keep our core values in mind -Trusted Relationships, Integrity, Innovation, Development & Growth, Respect & Teamwork and Accountability.  When someone really exhibits our core values, make sure to tell them that in your shout out/thank you!

Shout Outs are sent and logged from our database. All members receive notice of each posting submitted (Public appreciation – what a novel idea.). These are tracked within the database and may be viewed anytime by any BCI member. Staff meetings are a good time to view the "Shout Outs” submitted within the past week. This reinforces appreciation shown by and to all members. 

Examples:

Shout Out to (name)
Thank you for lending your wisdom and experience to the planning process.  You’re comments and questions help keep us on the right path.
From (name)

Shout Out to - Boomer Team
I have been reviewing all of the notes, shout out's, presentations and just flat out hard work that everyone has been doing as we prep for an amazing summit next week.  We are SO incredibly proud of each and every one of you.  Jim and I were talking today about how awesome our event will be next week - because of each of you.  So... here is our shout out to EACH OF YOU!!!!  Woot Woot.  
From Sandra & Jim

Shout Out to - (name)
Thanks for your quick responses to all my last minute requests this week. Your quick turnaround has helped to keep the process moving forward!
From (name)

Whatever the reason firms skimp on this simple strategy, it is time to reverse the impulse to hold back praise and instead let it flow.  Praise should not come only from those on the top, praise should emanate in all directions throughout the organization. And it is likely to be contagious. 


Give it a try in your organization.

Catch someone doing something especially well and tell them why you personally think that is so great. You may find in this little act that you end up appreciating your own job a little more.

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Nine Steps Toward Positive Change

Posted By Sandra Wiley, Monday, November 18, 2013

This article was originally published in Career Insider (http://www.cpa2biz.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2013/Career/PositiveChange.jsp).

Many people would like to break bad habits or pick up good ones in and out of the workplace. These steps will help get you going.

Smoking, eating too much, being sedentary, working until all hours, not getting started on work earlier, not getting enough sleep, or not connecting with your team in a deep and meaningful way—they’re all habits that many people would like to break and replace with positive habits.  So pick the habit that you would like to work on and think about it as you follow these steps toward positive change: 

Step 1:  Pick one habit at a time. Many in our profession are driven to do multiple tasks and projects at one time, and we are proud of ourselves for being able to juggle all of those things. I encourage you to step outside of this natural tendency and pick only one habit that you really have an appetite to change. Common sense would tell you that if your focus is on one thing your chances for success increase.

Step 2:  Develop the written plan. Putting thoughts to paper will help you make a stronger personal commitment. Consider starting a journal or a blog where you will begin by documenting the habit that you want to change and then consistently update your progress. Journaling is positive in your journey, but starting a blog will help in building a community that will support you on your journey. The community will help create a sense of accountability that is essential to your success.

Step 3:  Go all in. The important thing to remember when you are establishing a habit is that you have to go all in if you really want to make a long-term change. That means that the stronger your internal commitment is to the habit change, the more likely you will be to win.

Step 4:  Connect with a friend. Peer interaction, in which you have others who will hold you up, encourage you, and help when you are struggling, is terribly important. Establishing a new habit is no different. Find a friend or two to help you as you make the change. Again, this kind of accountability is another important strategy to your ongoing change. 

Step 5:  Determine your "why.” The clearer you are on the reasons you want to make a change, the more motivated you will be to stay on the path to change. If, let’s say, the goal is to be on time to work every day, the "why” could be to show your loyalty to the firm or show your commitment to your team. If your goal is to stop smoking, the "why” most likely is to live longer or set a good example for your children and grandchildren.

Step 6:  Face your obstacles eye to eye. The more realistic you are about what the obstacles are and how you can navigate them, the more positive your journey will be. Someone who is trying to break the habit of eating too many fatty foods may have an obstacle in dining out with clients.  Understanding the obstacle and identifying a strategy—reading the menu ahead of time and identifying the lowest-fat option, for example—for overcoming it are essential.

Step 7:  Educate yourself. Absorbing information about the habit you are establishing is a strong mental incentive to your overall commitment. Along with increasing your wisdom in the area you are working on improving, you keep your eye on the commitment you made and motivation will remain at a high level. Read and attend webinars or support groups. The wisdom is there; it is up to you to tap into it. 

Step 8:  Aim to reach the 90-days mark. A bad habit did not develop overnight, and a good habit will not take hold in a few days. Practicing the new habit for 90 days consistently is important. If you miss a day, start over again. After 90 days you will have to keep up the good work, but the amount of mental energy you put into "work” will be far less. You will find that after the 90 days the habit will just be a part of your life.

Step 9: Never quit. Habit changing is not easy. Start the process with one overriding rule: never quit. We are human and we all slip, but those who have that deep commitment to make a change will simply recommit and keep going.

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Productivity Improvements Do Not Just Come with New Technology

Posted By Samantha Mansfield, Senior Marketing Manager, CPA2Biz, Tuesday, October 15, 2013

After a decade of working in the accounting software industry one thing I have observed in firms regarding implementation of new software: If you try to plug a new system into an old process without adjustments to the workflow you will see little to no significant productivity gains.

The effects are wasted time and money on a new system without achieving the productivity gains you had envisioned, frustrated staff by going through the implementation and discomfort of learning something new and potentially creating more resistance for future initiatives you want to put in place.  But it doesn’t have to go this way.  There are key steps you can take to ensure your new technology has the intended purpose, which is: makes your job easier, keeps you in compliance, enhances productivity, and generates more revenue.

After being a consultant to accounting firms for many years here are some keys steps to help you successfully implement new technology:

  1. Create the Vision:  The decision maker had the opportunity to ask all the questions and see what the new system is capable of. But many times, choosing and implementing a new technology solutions are assigned to a "champion”, or team of people, who may not have that same vision or perspective as the decision maker.  It is critical when rolling out new technology that everyone shares and understands the vision and purpose of the new technology.  If possible, you should ask the vendor you partnered with to do a demonstration for your staff. Or, if you can, do the demonstration yourself, so that your staff can better understand how the new software will change and improve their workflow. Don’t get too detailed at this point.  You want to get your staff excited, so they understand why you are making these improvements and why they will have to go through a transition process.

  2. Get your staff’s Input: If you are like most firms everyone has their own way of working and completing tasks.   Before making the assumptions that everyone does it the same way, or the way outlined in your staff manuals, get everyone to map out their current workflow.  Encourage honesty, not what they think you want to see, so you really know what steps are being done now.   Perhaps have them submit anonymously if you are concerned they won’t truly share their process; you may discover more efficient methods and techniques that you can now implement firm wide. 

  3. Design a New Process:  Discuss the various workflows submitted by everyone and then design the new process, eliminating steps the new technology will replace and adding steps that may be required.
    • Don’t forget to analyze the hardware that will be instrumental in the process.  An example is a firm that wanted to make the process paperless because they were sharing information across two offices, but they were finding many staff were subverting that effort and printing to paper, taking extra time and raising costs.   Upon examination, some staff were doing this because their monitors were too small and they could not see the data on the source documents, so they were printing out the work.   By providing larger displays, they were able to participate in the new process.
    • Also be open to some staff member’s roles changing.  With an adjustment in procedures, some staff may now be better suited to serve in a different capacity.
    • You may need to have a third party assist you with this analysis.  When you are especially close to the project, it can be difficult to objectively reorganize and redesign.  A consultant can often times bring new insight and perspective to expedite the transition.

  4. Hold Everyone Accountable: Acknowledge that people are creatures of habit and can easily go back to old ways of doing things, especially when old clients are pressuring staff to do things the old way. Some tips on rolling out the new process: document everything; meet regularly to allow for question and answer time; and make adjustments as needed.

  5. Communicate the Value:  Ensure everyone knows the value this new technology brings to them, the clients and the firm.  This way people understand why these changes are taking place.

Technology is continually improving and changing.   This does not mean you should be overhauling your firm every time there’s a change. But tweaking the process to continually improve is important.  Monitor product updates to determine what works for your services and implement those.  Attend events outside your firm to learn about relevant, new technologies in the profession and how others have successfully implemented those new solutions.

Samantha Mansfield is a Senior Marketing Manager for CPA2Biz, which includes teaching classes and facilitating webinars on topics pertinent to the accounting profession.   Prior to joining CPA2Biz, Samantha was a consultant at Thomson Reuters, assisting firms on workflow design, web service and practice management implementations.  She has a passion for helping firms grow and become more profitable, which is why she joined the CPA2Biz team, a technology subsidiary of the AICPA. 

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What To Look For In A Cloud Vendor

Posted By Grady Slane, Associate Product Marketing Manager, Citrix, Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The past several years have ushered in a host of changes for accounting firms nationwide, particularly regarding how firms communicate internally and with clients. The passing of privacy legislation designed to protect client information ushered in a radical shift from standard email to client portals and encrypted attachments. This shift has brought unexpected workflow and efficiency improvements to accounting firms, including easier transfers of bookkeeping files and less password management.  

The way CPAs communicate is changing again due to the growing adoption of tablets and smartphone by both CPAs and their clients. Unlike several years ago when there were only a few available portal solutions, there are now over a dozen secure product offerings for communicating with clients. Accountants now have more flexibility and selection than ever before.

The software as a service (SaaS) market for secure communication tools for CPAs has become commoditized in recent years and most product offerings have improved to better meet the needs of accountants. Although these offerings have evolved, it can still be difficult to determine the right solution for your firm.  

Having helped provide cloud offerings to accountants for over three years now, I can offer advice on what to consider when evaluating a product. These suggested items will help you to identify and clarify the features of a secure product that will be the best fit for your firm’s needs.

  1. Communication

    This is the most important thing to consider when evaluating a secure portal. Think about how you communicate with your clients—is it effective? Do your clients use your system and does it reduce unsecure communication? If you’ve been using a portal for years but a significant portion of your clients still refuse to move away from email, it may be time to explore another solution. Consider a solution that will combine file sharing through a portal and email so you can benefit from both.  

  2. Service

    In a commoditized market, high-quality service and exceptional customer support are the best hedges against growing competition because clients, particularly accountants, value good service that’s often so hard to come by. Is your software provider reliable, good to work with and easy to reach? Do they increase their prices every year without improving the product or charge additional fees for support? If there is a problem with reliability or if you’ve been unable to get help when you really need it, it’s likely time to switch. There are plenty of solutions that invest in support teams so you don’t have to waste time struggling with problems. Vendors with 24/7 support are best because work doesn’t only happen during standard business hours, especially during tax season.

  3. Technology

    Does your system work easily on a tablet or smartphone? Take time to consider if your current product works the way you need it to. Some solutions may only work from a desktop, but you will want to invest in a product that will be able to adapt with the ever-changing landscape of technology. 

  4. Security and Efficiency

    Does your current software provider offer improvements unrelated to security? Although security should be the most important consideration when looking at a SaaS provider, it’s also important to look for a tool that works in a number of different scenarios. In this very competitive market, you can afford to be selective. Look for features like file sync, which can be helpful when working remotely or at a client’s office; large file transfer, that can help with bookkeeping efforts; or e-signature adoption, which can save huge amounts of time and expense when sending out engagement letters and other documents. The more you can get out of a product, the better.

  5. Contracts

    In our commoditized market, there is no reason a company should require you to commit to a contract or annual payment. These protectionist requirements are designed solely to benefit the vendor, not the customer. What if the product doesn’t work or clients don’t use it? Look for solutions that don’t require contracts or annual/multi-year commitments. It will help your bottom line and avert a potential crisis if the solution you try is poorly received by staff or clients.  

The cloud and the growth of SaaS offerings will only continue to benefit accountants going forward. It may seem overwhelming to look for a new secure solution, but keep these considerations in mind when evaluating vendors. You will be sure to find the one that best fits your firm’s unique needs. 

Grady Slane is an Associate Product Marketing Manager at Citrix. Citrix ShareFile allows firms the ability to share, store, sync, and secure data on any device, anywhere. To learn more, please visit http://www.sharefile.com/.


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Get Your Team to Increase Revenues Today!

Posted By Eric Hunt, Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Partners in CPA firms often express to me that they wish their teams would help drive revenue more.  Many firms rely on one or two rainmakers or partners to bring in the majority of clients.  A major problem for these firms is that the staff sees this as normal and expects it to always be this way.  Firm management needs to work with the staff to help change the thinking and the process of revenue generation to include everyone.  There are a number of steps that can be taken to increase staff participation, but I believe the following steps are a great way to start!

#1 - Set the Expectations

Let’s get this out of the way to start, not everyone in your firm is going to be a rainmaker!  It takes years of building relationships, the right attitude and training to become one.  With that said, EVERYONE should be expected to do their part in generating revenue.  I recommend that firms start this conversation by setting new expectations among their teams.  Simply put, firm management needs to communicate what they expect to see from their staff.  This may be a certain number of client and prospect touches (calls, emails, face-to-face meetings), a dollar amount generated, or # of new clients brought to the firm.  Set the expectations during reviews and communicate on a regular basis on those specific expectations.

#2 - Teach the Basics

Setting expectations is a great first step, but firms will see little progress if they don’t equip their teams with the basics.  Firms must build a foundation for success by teaching their teams two things.  First, every staff member must know all of the available services that the firm can provide.  This is essential; otherwise, your staff won’t be confident in communicating their value.  Provide your staff with a deep training of the firm’s service offerings and the reasons why companies should use them.  This seems simple, but often times staff members get locked into their specialty and don’t search out their clients’ needs in other areas.  For example, your tax team needs to be able to understand your audit services or client accounting services and how they tie into the total firm offering. 

Second, have your rainmakers or best business developers give your team some guidance on questions they should have ready when on engagements or talking with prospects.  These questions come naturally to rainmakers, but not to the general staff.  Some examples would be:
  • What is something giving your heartburn right now about your company?
  • What opportunities would your company like to pursue in the next year?
  • Are there things that you are doing right now that you would like to delegate to others?

These are open-ended questions that are geared at getting your clients to open up about their companies.  Train your team to listen for response and then offer firm solutions when appropriate.  The great thing about this is that it is more conversational and less "yes or no” type situations. 

#3 -  Celebrate Success

Once you set expectations and teach your team, let them go to work and hold them accountable.  Be sure to celebrate wins, big or small.  This builds the team’s confidence as well as changing the culture.  I tell firms to celebrate in front of others, so the good feelings can spread.  Another great trick is to make sure to make mention of effort even if the results don’t end in revenue.  If your team member asks the right questions and offers your service, but it ends in a no…celebrate it!  They followed through on the expectations and training.  If they continue, they will eventually hear a yes and that is how it starts!  Don’t be afraid to celebrate a big win in a big way.  If someone brought in their first big account to the firm, you should make a big deal out of it!  Give them the day off, give them a bonus, give them a night out to dinner, whatever you feel they would like…just do something and let the whole team see it!  Celebrating success is a sure-fire way to get your team motivated!

#4 - Lather, Rinse, Repeat

These steps get you moving, but I recommend continuing to raise expectations, increase training and celebrate with your team.  This isn’t something you can do once or twice and hope it sticks.  Keep working with your team and you will see the results you want.  Don’t let revenue generation fall in the hands of the few.  

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