Posted By Steve Dusablon,
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
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Electronic Signatures (E-Signatures) became
effective in the United States on October 1, 2000 when Congress passed the
Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act ("ESIGN
Act"). ESIGN was enacted
specifically to ensure that any agreement signed electronically will not be
denied legal force, effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an E-Signature
was used in its formation. As a result,
online E-signatures, in both personal and commercial transactions, have been
granted the same legal status as a written signature – so they are now the legal
equivalent of hand written signatures.
Most accounting firms have clients that have
recently purchased a home using E-Signature technology. That’s because we are seeing a rapid
acceleration of E-Signature usage in the real estate, mortgage, healthcare, insurance,
communications, recruiting and other industries through broad based E-Signature
solutions such as Adobe EchoSign and DocuSign.
These solutions were designed for mass markets and do not meet the needs,
demands and workflow requirements of the tax & accounting industry. However, with the recent release of at least
one tax & accounting specific E-Signature solution, they can now be used
across a wide range of both client facing and internal firm documents.
Using E-Signatures in the Tax & Accounting Industry
For firms that are embracing E-Signatures, they typically
start by sending annual engagement letters or §7216 consent forms to clients, or
annual independence surveys to their staff.
These documents are ideal candidates for E-Signature technology because
they are often standardized forms, need annual signatures, can be batch
processed with mail merge functionality for a higher efficiency gain and the
signers can sign remotely from any PC, laptop, tablet or smart phone. Firms are reporting that they can process these
documents at a fraction of the cost of mailing hard copies. They are receiving
E-Signed documents back from their clients and staff in less than seven minutes
and the overall workflow process is significantly improved.
As for other client facing documents, firms are also
sending management representation letters, audit representation letters, A/R
and A/P confirmations, new client acceptance forms, payroll processing forms, and
Forms W-9 and 4506-T for E-Signature. They
are also sending credit card authorization forms to accelerate cash
collections. As for other internal
documents, firms are also sending IT policy forms, partnership agreements,
internal routing sheets, and a wide variety of human resource related documents
including offers of employment, Forms W-4 and I-9, employee handbooks, medical,
dental, insurance and 401k forms for E-Signature.
The IRS and Form 8879
The biggest demand
for using E-Signatures in the tax & accounting profession is on Form
8879. The IRS currently does not accept
E-Signatures on Form 8879, even though they are rarely, if ever, submitted to
the IRS. They are simply retained on
file by the taxpayer and the ERO for a period or three years. The instructions in Form 8879 do not specifically
address the use of E-Signatures, but there is a single sentence in Publication
1345 that states "This does not alter the
requirement that taxpayers must sign Form 8879 and Form 8878 by handwritten
signature.” This is actually quite ironic since the entire premise of
e-filing tax returns is to reduce paper based tax return filings. The only step to e-filing a tax return that
requires paper is the requirement for the taxpayer to print, sign and send back
On January 23, 2013, the IRS issued Internal Revenue Bulletin
2013-4, Announcement No. 2013-8 seeking recommendations for appropriate
E-Signature standards in the tax & accounting profession. They stated "E-signature standards will promote efficiency, reduce burden and
improve identity proofing methods to confirm the identity of the signer”. Unfortunately, we do not know when the
IRS will provide formal approval or the specific requirements for using
E-Signatures on Form 8879. Many industry thought leaders feel it will be at
least two more years before we get the final approval.
So are firms using E-Signatures on Form 8879 anyways? Yes, and with tremendous success. I’m not saying that you should do it, but for
the firms that are, they are basing their decision on the following points:
- The ESIGN Act of 2000 makes E-Signatures legal
- Effective January 2013, the IRS is allowing
E-Signatures on Form 4506-T and §7216 consent.
- At least one large tax vendor is currently in an
E-Signature pilot program with the IRS on Form 8879
- The purpose of e-filing tax returns is to reduce
paper based processes and create efficiency for the taxpayer, tax preparers and
the IRS. Requiring a handwritten
signature from the taxpayer on Form 8879 is the only part of the e-filing
process that requires anyone to print a piece of paper.
- Most tax & accounting firms spend countless
hours and thousands of dollars tracking and managing manually signed Form(s)
- Form 8879 is rarely, if ever, submitted to the
IRS. It is required to be maintained on
file by the taxpayer and ERO for 3 years.
- The benefits outweigh the risks.
- IRS solicited industry feedback with Announcement
Top Considerations When Choosing an E-Signature Solution
Every industry vertical has its own set of
document types and workflow requirements surrounding the E-Signature
process. Your firm should look for a solution
that is tax & accounting specific.
For example, your staff should be able to quickly send documents for
E-Signature while classifying each document with accounting specific workflow
and reporting data such as Document Type, Engagement Type, Tax Year and
Partner. Your solution should provide
firm wide reports that are accessible by all members of your firm and provide
for centralized management of the E-Signature process. For example, firm administrators and partners
should have complete visibility over every document sent for E-Signature within
their firm. They should be able to quickly
sort, filter and search to send reminders, view documents and download final
signed documents of other users.
Accounting firms often need to mail merge and batch process documents
requiring signatures. Examples include
annual engagement letters and §7216 consent for clients, and annual
independence surveys for staff. Your
solution should provide the tools necessary to mail merge and batch process hundreds
of documents for E-Signature with the click of a button. To effectively accomplish this, your solution
should provide for text tags in documents to automate the signature placement
process. Otherwise, your staff will need
to manually drag and drop the signature location into each document.
Finally, be careful of monthly subscription fees. Most providers have "reasonable use clauses”
which restrict the number of documents that can be sent monthly per licensed user. Accounting firms tend to have seasonal
demands and can quickly surpass the reasonable use clauses, resulting in higher
monthly fees. To obtain the full
benefits of your E-Signature solution, you should license all members of your
firm so they have access to the real time reporting, tracking and management
features. As a result, we recommend
solutions that allow free licenses to all members of your firm, and then bill
based on the actual number of documents sent for E-Signature.
Steve Dusablon is the President and CEO of
cPaperless, LLC, a software company that develops paperless solutions for tax
and accounting firms. cPaperless
partnered with Adobe EchoSign to develop CPA SafeSign, the first to market
E-Signature solution, designed specifically for the tax
and accounting industry. To learn how
CPA SafeSign can help your firm leverage E-Signature technology, please send
inquiries to email@example.com,
call (800) 716-2558 Ext. 100 or attend a Free CPE Webcast
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Posted By Caralyn Stern,
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
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This month, Ziptr joined accounting leaders in Kansas City for the 2013
Boomer Technology Circles Spring Meetings. Finally on the other side of a grueling tax
season, these tax and technology leaders come together in the spirit of
collaboration to commiserate, learn and challenge each other to grow and
It is impressive to watch professionals, who have just come off of four months
of 7-day work weeks, reunite from across the country to push themselves, their
vendors and their peers to be better. It
calls into question their reputation of being analytical introverts, as the
room buzzed with stories, laughter and advice.
One thing remains clear: accountants care very deeply about their
clients. On the subject of
protecting client data, I heard it time and again, "It is not just the law, it is my job.”
It is no wonder Security,
Compliance and Privacy made the top 4 in the American Institute of CPA’s annual
list of top technology priorities for accountants.
Communication is the heart of client
As leading accounting firms evolve into trusted advisors, the need emerges for
a trusted communication channel. Firms
cannot expect clients to turn to them for strategic counsel without providing
them with a safe, easy way to freely engage in confidential dialogue. For
accountants, this means evolving beyond file sharing to open up a secure
communication channel, in which professionals and clients can openly share the
most sensitive of information without worry.
as Jim Boomer, Director of the Boomer Technology Circles, pointed
out, the increased focus on mobile device management signals a shift in the
communication culture. With 78% of baby boomers facing retirement age, the next
generation will demand a secure communication platform that travels with them
and is easy and comfortable to use.
Three C’s of Secure Communication
truth, people really want to just be
able to send and receive everything through email. However, data privacy laws and cyber security
realities tell us that is no longer an option.
Sending confidential information via email is like mailing a
postcard. What firms should demand is a
safe way to communicate that is so easy to use that clients and employees will
actually use it.
- Communication: Historically, this problem has been addressed
as a file transfer problem, but file sharing is only part of client
communication. Trusted advisors and
their clients need to be confident that they can include the most sensitive of
information in a message or file without worry.
Keeping the messages and files
exchanged together in context will eliminate the time spent wondering, "What
was I supposed to do with this file?” or "Is this the most recent version?”
foster the advisor relationship, your clients need to be able to initiate messages
to you, as well as safely reply to your messages. Providing a secure option to facilitate
this will prevent clients from sending you confidential information via email.
- Client-focused: Boomer encouraged firms to invest in tools that put the client before
the firm. If you are asking them to
maintain a user-name and password, what do your clients get in return? Technology today can provide them with the
same level of security and convenience as your firm, adding value to your clients’
that it is not if your clients forget
their passwords, but when. Make it easy on them and you. Responding to requests to reset passwords,
resend information or help clients access files is costly, inefficient, and can
impact job and client satisfaction.
- Convenience: When I asked my acupuncturist, "what is
the best solution?” his calm, Zen response was simply, "The one you’ll
use.” The same rings true of the
technology we choose. It doesn’t matter
how cool the latest, greatest software is, if your employees and clients don’t
needs to be built with the users in mind, leveraging the best of breed of
familiar applications that make adoption easy and comfortable. If your employees use Outlook, integrations
allow them to continue operation as usual, but with added security.
access is critical. Employees often
cannot or do not want to download software to communicate with their
accountant. Look for solutions that
allow your employees and clients alike to safely communicate wherever they
go. You may find some of the most
important conversations take place while your employees are on the road, and
your clients are on the sidelines at their daughter’s soccer game.
Caralyn Stern is the Senior Director of
Marketing at Ziptr. For more information about secure communication solutions,
please visit www.ziptr.com or send Ziptr a message.
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Posted By Erin Cheever,
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
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Workload shifts and moves many different directions
throughout a year. How do you handle those ups and downs that could be the
differentiator between establishing yourself to go to the next level and
drowning in your own to-dos? It you can start to envision the balance between
you and your work, it may allow you to avoid the dreaded burnout and find the
peace of mind that you have been searching for.
Plan to Prioritize
What do your methods look like for prioritizing your
assignments? How do you differentiate between the "needs to get done asap tasks”
and the "does not need to be done until the end of the year tasks?” No matter what
your process is, it is vital that you start breaking down your items in a more
realistic and specific way to get moving through your workload.When
prioritizing your items for a specific day, try to determine the single item
that needs to be the number one priority for that day. At the end of the day
this one item is an essential task. It needs to be complete or for some long-term
projects at least started. This should help you in determining the things you
know you will need to focus on and get done first. Remember, although all items
might seem important, it is necessary to realize what level of importance they
fall into. Are they important to just you and your goals? Are they important to
the goals of someone else you work with? Are they important to building
revenue? Are they based off a deadline? Try to really think about the
difference and where they should fall in your priority list for that day. With
a little planning and prioritization on a daily and weekly basis all items will
get done, but in a more efficient and effective way.
to Say No
We can all sometimes be a ‘yes man.’ We want to be able to do
everything and take on any responsibility that is thrown at us. In the past
most of us have said yes to everything when it came to our careers. We said yes
to this project and this favor and the end result was of course our growing
workload. We went about our days and eventually the workload would get under
control and you always made it out fine. Fast forward to when you said yes
again only to make the heavy workload reappear.
I have (slowly) learned that sometimes being a "no man” can help benefit
your career verse hurt it.
the project that you were just offered. Does the project help you and your career
grow in value? Did someone ask you to do that project because of the value you
would give it? Or did they ask you because they know you would say yes and do
it anyway? By saying no sometimes, it can increase the overall value of those
things we do say yes to. Think about that project and determine what type of
focus you can and want to give it. Does it move you or give you passion? Does
it make you happy to work on it? Can you give it the attention it deserves?
what the benefits are of saying no in certain situations and knowing the right
way to say it, no does have the possibility of working you towards a successful
Others Unique Abilities
Your co-workers can be a fundamental part of helping you
balance a full workload. By using their unique abilities you can come into
contact with a whole other set of experiences, expertise and knowledge that can
be applied to your projects and tasks. Not being afraid to reach out to them is
the key. For some of your to-dos, having that extra hand or resource could be
the difference between you getting the job done and coming up short on that assignment.
When you can recognize the need for help when you are extremely busy, you can
see that the expertise of other people within your firm can help you move
through and get out from underneath many of your daunting tasks.
Sometimes the simplest balance tip to take a break from a
stressful assignment or work load is to just breathe. Take five minutes and
focus on something else that won’t elevate where you are already at. Take a
moment and walk around your office and enjoy the break of a bit of exercise and
fresh air. It is important to realize that another part of balance is also
including in some of those "life things” that can calm you down and bring you
back to the center.
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Posted By Eric Hunt,
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
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I am hard pressed to find a successful individual in any
field without any examples of failures along their journey. One common theme with successful people is
that they were able to overcome their failures and grow from them. Whether it is Abraham Lincoln losing
elections, Donald Trump’s companies going bankrupt or Michael Jordan’s Chicago
Bulls losing to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA playoffs, history is full of
great examples of failures ultimately leading to success.
”Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement” - C.S. Lewis
This is one of my favorite quotes. I have made seemingly endless mistakes over
the years in life and my career. My hope
is that my mistakes are leading me to greater success and the achievement of my
Overcoming the obstacle of one’s failures can be daunting
and at times overwhelming. Deep thought
and an introspective view are necessary ingredients to moving forward. Although I continue to struggle with some of
my past failures, I work hard to turn them into positives. There are four strategies I utilize to
- Have the courage to fail – build confidence from
the understanding that failures happen, but they won’t define you unless you
- Identify failures and breakdown core causes –
prevent repeat mistakes by understanding steps that led to the failure and how
to avoid them in the future.
- Learn from the mistakes of others – increase your
wisdom by studying and understanding what your peers have failed at. You don’t need to re-create the wheel, but it
is great to see if someone else has built it wrong.
- Focus on small wins instead of large failures –
create momentum through small wins that lead to larger success. Understand why you fail when you do, but put
the energy into creating small wins that overshadow failures.
Try these four simple exercises that encompass all four
- Create a "Success through Failure”
statement. My example is, "I will not be
afraid to fail because through my failure I will succeed!”
- Look at a recent project or life event where you
have failed. Maybe it is a missed
project deadline or a financial issue.
Come up with the top 3 to 5 things that caused you to fail. Write them down and repeat them. You have identified the core causes of your
failure here, now you can work hard to not repeat them on the next project or
- Talk to your peers in your field or company
about the things you are working on or planning to do. Having a peer group is a powerful way to
prevent your own mistakes because often times, someone has already made
mistakes that you can learn from. Trust
is critical. Be ready and willing to share your own stories.
- Make a list of incremental goals for a large
project or large goal. Too often people
get bogged down concentrating on their and can’t regain focus on moving forward
with the next project. By breaking down
the project or goal, you can start working on smaller successes that can happen
more quickly. This allows you to start building wins on top of each other and
makes it easier to avoid a larger failure.
Failing isn’t a bad thing when you understand why it
happened and how it can positively move you forward. Don’t be afraid of it as it can be a powerful
tool for your success.
"Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better!” – Samuel
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Posted By Sandra Wiley,
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
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The 2013 tax
season is behind us, but that certainly does not mean that we can take a
break. It is time to refocus on other
important things in our firm, and one of those is talent. Specifically, the human resources trends that
every business should be spending time on.
The trends below represent the HR issues that should be on your radar as
you move forward in 2013.
Health Care Costs:
It comes as no surprise that health care costs are not going down in the
years ahead. If you are choosing the
passive road and simply waiting and seeing what your health care vendor tells
you the new rates will be, don't be surprised when you have a panic attack
after seeing your new premiums. Start
now and proactively talk to your health care provider about the steps your firm
can take to hold costs down or change your plan to reduce prices. Some firms are finding that developing
"health programs" in their firm and then turning in the ongoing
results to their health care providers is a positive step. The results of their proactive program being
tied to lower usage is equating to lower increases in overall premiums.
Shortage of Skilled Professionals:
This challenge does not come as a huge shock to anyone in our
profession. We have amazing talent in our
firms, but we just want more of them. At
the core of the problem is that there are simply less people in the current Gen
X and Y age groups than there are in the retiring baby boomer generation. Pair that fact with the lower number of
individuals that are choosing to stay in the public accounting arena and we
just have less people to work with today.
This challenge must be met with a stronger emphasis on moving top talent
into higher level work faster and more time spent mentoring, teaching and
motivating the best of the best.
Retiring Baby Boomers:
Given the fact that we know we will have less people to replace those
that are leaving, retiring Partners might be a bit discouraged about their ability
to leave the firm when they had planned to.
We simply must start thinking in a new way about mandatory retirement
ages, ways to attract younger team members to buy into the ownership track, the
amount of time we spend in knowledge transfer and the expectations we have of
our new leadership team. All of these
old rules and mindsets must change as we move to the next generation of
leadership and management in our firms.
Decline in Employees' Retirement Savings:
The recession hurt our country and our profession and one area that is
not recovering as fast as we had hoped it would is employee retirement savings
contributions. While some firm leaders
would say "that is their problem, we give them the opportunity and it is
up to them to take advantage of it", I contend that as leaders we need to
insure that we are educating and encouraging our team in the management and
necessity of their future retirement planning.
This is a great area to collaborate with an outside vendor to work with
your firm. Asking an outside financial
planning professional to meet with team members can be extremely valuable to
the firm and the individual.
Threat of Another Recession:
When you are clobbered once it is hard to trust that everything will be
ok in the future. The experts agree that
we are recovering slowly. The experts do
not agree as to the likelihood of another recession. The challenge is to not let your firm leaders
get into a position of being scared.
Scared says that you are in the position of retreat or standing
still. You must continue to push
forward, improve and strengthen your firm.
Greater Demand for Life and Work Balance: The conversation around life and work balance was once thought to be a passing fad. Today we know that this is not just a "next gen" issue. This is an "about everyone" issue. Everyone is searching for more balance including a career that they are passionate about as well as a personal life that is fulfilling. Firms have to continue their quest to develop accountability at work which includes setting professional goals that will help each individual accomplish the life they want, but will almost never look the same as the next person that walks through the door. That is where the challenge comes. We must have a system in place that allows for flexibility that will connect the needs of the firm with the goals of the individual.
As I stated
earlier, now is the time to act as leaders and be courageous. Use the trends above to develop strategies
that will enable your firm to navigate the talent trends of 2013 and end the
year in a positive way.
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Posted By Steven Templeton,
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
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A managing partner’s
primer for a successful CRM implementation
Accountants are not sales professionals, but they are
professionals who (must) sell. Accounting firms are getting serious about
business development and are beginning to provide their professionals the tools
and training to grow their practice. The
key tool to collaborative business development is a well-designed and properly implemented
client relationship management (CRM) system.
If you are a managing partner on the verge of making a
decision about a CRM system, here are my top 5 considerations:
the right partner. Find an implementation partner who can help you design
and implement a CRM solution that fits your firm’s needs. This firm should be
experienced in your industry. At its
best, CRM is something that helps business processes and creates efficiencies
in those processes. If a partner doesn’t understand your business it can be
very expensive or virtually impossible to get them up to speed and then
configure the system to your specific needs.
- Have the
right vision. CRM should be looked
at as a firm-wide solution, not something just for the partner team, or the
marketing personnel. The program needs
to become the digital nervous system for your firm where all information
is captured and disseminated.
- Develop a
culture of collaboration. Encourage
the benefits of sharing information to team-sell and win more business as a
result. CRM will help you develop and enforce the one firm concept and encourage
selling and cross-selling. This takes
time and patience, so manage your expectations accordingly, but it is not
- Make CRM
relevant to practice management. Often
times, CRM systems are implemented, only to
end up being ignored . Make sure that your CRM tightly integrates with
the firm’s other applications to present a unified system to the partners and
staff. Critical functions such as workflow management and new account
origination should and can be handled from within CRM. This will ensure that
people are in the CRM system as part of their day-to-day work.
it with Outlook©. Virtually everyone
keeps Microsoft Outlook© open throughout the work day. The CRM system you choose must integrate with
Outlook so the program is easily accessible and correspondence and appointments
can be easily tracked and tied to contacts.
If your staff is required to log on to another system in order to access
CRM, the likelihood that they will use the CRM system, or use it with any
consistency, significantly diminishes.
If you have growth ambitions for your CPA firm, do your
homework and deploy the right CRM to ensure that the firm thrives in the coming
decades. Make it a high priority; you
will be glad that you did!
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Posted By Drew West & Jim Boomer,
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
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by Jim Boomer, Boomer Consulting, Inc. &
Drew West, Deltek
Imagine arriving tired and
weary, late at night in a strange city. You hail a taxi for what you hope is a
quick ride to your hotel. But with no
knowledge of the area, you have no idea how long the ride will take or what the
final fare will be. Isn’t it unsettling to watch the meter tick up and up,
while you just hope you have enough cash when you finally reach your
firms may see little in common between themselves and taxi drivers, hourly
billing basically takes our clients for a faithful ride in the backseat. Just like you in that unfamiliar taxi,
clients have little idea about the path we take to deliver the end product, or
how long it will take. Wouldn’t an
agreed upon price up-front make both sides more comfortable entering into a
transaction – whether it’s a cab ride across town or business advisory
Fixed Fees | A Balancing Act. Yet many firms long
attached to hourly billing feel uneasy about the risks of fixed-fee
pricing. Even firms sold on the merits
of switching still face internal resistance, fueled by the mindset of sticking
to "how it’s always been done.” Yet with
timely access to the right information, firms can confidently turn to fixed-fee
pricing to reduce risk on both sides of the relationship, increase trust and
gain a competitive advantage.
considering fixed-fee pricing must consider both the advantages and the risks:
Project Management Required
free of hourly billing means confidence in your engagements– confidence driven
by accurate status of projects, appropriate guidance for your people, and
knowledge about what works. For this kind of project management, your practice
management system should deliver visibility into information, control over people
and their work, and insight into the results.
management systems with the following attributes provide the information you
need to price, staff, manage and deliver successful fixed-fee engagements.
Making the Leap | Some Recommendations
Visibility. Visibility is all about the past,
present and future. To scope accurately,
you want easy access into past work and results, so ensure all the firm’s
critical data is easily accessible– from either a single environment or a
tightly integrated system. Present status is key– you want to know immediately
when engagements are off schedule or budget, so look to dashboards and alerts
to provide margin, utilization, or realization KPIs to partners and all
involved staff. Looking to the future,
effective resource planning means knowing who’s currently available, and their
future capacity. Connect constantly-updated staff availability to the sales
pipeline of fixed-fee engagements, so you can effectively plan resources.
Control. Control is about guiding engagements to the
profits you expect. Don’t take on costly
inefficiency; make sure your invoicing and billing has the flexibility needed
for fixed-fee pricing– such as automatic invoicing triggered by progress
milestones. Of course doing this means progress has to be accurate, so once
again look to your practice management system to enforce prompt collection of
the hours spent on each project.
Finally, control how people are treated. Ensure your practice-management
system fairly measures each resource’s true contribution, and accurately calculates
realization or utilization targets– so staff working on early phases aren’t
penalized if revenue is realized at the end of the engagement.
Insight. Insight is
going beyond the simply visibility of facts and status, to having true
knowledge. Practice management systems
that combine information together are good at providing knowledge, because
people then have a path to connect outcomes back to the decisions behind
them. Put in a much better place for
deep analysis of past activity, the single set of historical data in a good
practice management system helps consistently determine appropriate
scope-of-work, accurately estimate costs, and even evaluate the historical
effectiveness of involved staff. As
insight gets increasingly deeper, fixed-fee engagements become easier to
accurately scope, and increasingly less risky to deliver.
weighed the benefits and challenges and you’re ready to make the leap. What are some initial steps to take as you
head out on your journey?
Buy-In. Ensure the entire team is on
board– you’re impacting culture, and that’s no small undertaking. Before diving in, conduct strategic planning
sessions to gain consensus and set a roadmap for implementing fixed-fee pricing
that includes initiatives, responsible parties and due dates.
Readiness. Assess your ability to access the information you need to
effectively manage projects. Ready your
practice management capabilities to support the firm’s fixed-fee approach.
Focus engagement letters on value creation. Move important risk-mitigation language to an
addendum to the main agreement.
Look among your top clients for those using multiple services– and with
entrepreneurial spirit. Pricing is an art not a science– so be ready to adjust
to their feedback. You’ll also gain
confidence and skill as you get more engagements under your belt.
and Price. Bundle your services and price
these packages for monthly billing. Give your clients pricing options based on
ranges– like small, medium and large bundles.
This can increase margins and monthly cash flow.
Clients. Define your target client in terms
of ideal monthly fee and your acceptable minimum monthly fee. Beyond fees, consider other criteria like:
- Are they
willing to take our advice – are they coachable?
- Will they
refer us to other clients that meet our defined criteria?
- Will the
client increase our capabilities?
- Respect –
do we respect the client and do they respect our team?
- Does the
client appreciate our services and promptly pay bills?
of sitting lost and worrisome in the back of a taxi in an unfamiliar city, you
now have a roadmap to take on fixed-fee pricing. Will you maintain the status quo and march in
step with the rest of the profession? Or
will you break out into the fixed-fee pricing model proven by innovative firms
to deepen client relationships, increase revenues and improve profitability?
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Posted By Tina Greim,
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
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Recently, Boomer Consulting, Inc. went through Five Star Client Service Training with The Rainmaker Academy. We often think about client service and how
we serve our external clients. However, what about our internal clients - our
coworkers, managers and partners? An organization’s internal client service
skills often reflect upon their external client service skills. What could your
firm accomplish if you focused on improving your internal client service?
When I speak of internal client service,
I am referring to how your team works with one another regarding communication,
collaboration and team work. What if everyone in your organization treated
their coworkers and team members as a "big money” client? Would communication
improve? Would projects run more efficiently and effectively resulting in a
higher-level of quality? When an organization focuses on client service from
the inside out, it strengthens the organization internally and increases the
level of client service they are offer to their external clients.
Southwest Airlines and Disney are
organizations recognized for their outstanding client service. They have exceptional training programs focused
on client service that every employee
must go through. Do you think Southwest
Airlines and Disney could be known for their external client service if they
were dysfunctional internally? Absolutely not!
Building a long-term brand based on Five Star client service is achieved
from the inside out.
Why Internal Client Service is Important
There are many reasons why
internal client service is important. As
it pertains to accounting firms, I believe a few reasons stand out:
- Competitive Advantage – Dr. Maya
Angelou is credited as saying, "if you
have to allocate your resources between managing your brand’s look and managing
your brand’s feel, invest in the feel”.
Excellent client service will set your firm apart from your competitors
much more than a new logo or website design.
Making excellent internal client service a priority will set your firm
up to give your external clients a memorable experience.
- Employee Retention – Your best
employees thrive in an environment that is constantly striving to improve. By focusing on internal client service, your
best team members will learn professional skills that they won’t be able to get
at most organizations. High-performing individuals are proud to work for firms
that have high expectations for client service.
- Collaboration - Henry Ford said it best
"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” An organization that strives for a
high-level on internal client service will see an increase in trust among
departments and team members. This trust will be the foundation for strong
working relationships. Work will be more enjoyable, efficient and at a
higher-level of quality.
Five Star Client Service – Internal "Branding Through Teamwork”
The Rainmaker Academy walked us
through the five steps of internal client service. The steps have been adapted
from the processes Five Star restaurants use to offer their guests excellent
client service. Throughout these five steps, you will notice that communication
is the most important factor. Using these steps, Boomer Consulting has been able
to improve communication internally. Here are the five steps:
Taking the Order
When starting a new project, it’s
important that the order is taken correctly.
Having a clear understanding of the expectations and requirements of the
project will start the project off on the right foot. Too often, conversations and meetings are
rushed and never actually define some of the most important aspects of a
project. Allow time for the order to be taken. Listen, ask questions and take
notes. Recap your understanding of the project back to the person that is
giving the order. Getting this step
right will set the entire project up for being more efficient and effective.
Delivering the Order
Deliver with style, meet
expectations, be on time and on budget.
This builds trust, and in return, keeps the working relationship in full
bloom. If appropriate, set a meeting or
phone call with the person you are delivering the order to and state what you
have done and how it will benefit them. Not all project deliveries need a
meeting, however, delivering with style will make you memorable.
After finishing a big project, be
proactive with getting feedback from your coworkers regarding your performance.
Ask two simple questions:
- What did I do that you liked?
- What could I have done better?
By asking your coworkers these
two questions, you are opening the door for them to offer feedback. Don’t be nervous about what they will say. If
you are honestly trying to improve your internal client service, constructive
feedback is valuable! Most likely, you will be surprised by what they said they
thought you did well. We often do things
well and don’t realize that others see that as a unique strength we bring to
The purpose of dessert is to
leave a good taste in the mouth of your client, whether that is internal or
external. This can be achieved many
ways. Go above and beyond on a project or exceed someone’s expectations. Did a coworker perform well on a project?
Take them out to lunch to show your appreciation. Or give them a "shout out” at
the next staff meeting. This is the fun
part so be sure to give it some thought.
Collecting the Check
When the above steps are
followed, collecting the check is easy. Collecting
the check could be becoming wealthier, improving professional skills, enhancing
the brand or advancing to the next level in your firm. Collecting the check
will look different depending on the project.
Having formal training on
internal client service is crucial to a firm’s long-term success. One of the greatest benefits we now have at
Boomer Consulting after going through the Five Star training is we all have a
common language we use when working with one another. We all understand that our team members are
trying to be Five Star. How can you firm begin to improve internal client
Posted By L. Gary Boomer,
Monday, April 15, 2013
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Growth typically requires both entrepreneurial and managerial skills. The majority of CPAs are more skilled in the management area than entrepreneurship. With both skills firms can reduce risk and grow through innovation and learning. The end result is a new kind of collaborative accounting where technology plays an important role – the accelerator. How well do you know your clients and prospects? Do you use the data to market and differentiate your firm? Marketing trumps facts when it comes to sales. Great companies and firms are using data mining and business intelligence to increase their market share. You are the trusted business advisor with relationships and have access to important and accurate data. Are you leveraging these relationships and market intelligence for the benefit of your clients and to your firm’s advantage? Or are you simply too busy charging hours to notice the less commoditized opportunities?
There are five significant traps that firm’s often fall into when trying to enter a new or expanded niche with new innovation. The traps and how to avoid them are as follows:
1. Lack of Focused Leadership
Firm leaders are often distracted with existing responsibilities and try to develop the new services on a part-time basis. If the niche is a priority, and part of the firm’s strategic plan, then adequate resources including firm leadership should be allocated accordingly.
2. The Allure of a Plan versus a Business Model and Platform
Conventional wisdom typically includes a business plan and projections. Too often these are little more than a spreadsheet estimating hourly rates and the number of hours utilized. More important is a business model and platform focusing on client dangers, opportunities and strengths. The pricing strategy should be value based rather than hourly and the business model should be collaborative. In order to be collaborative, the platform will be typically cloud or Software as a Service based rather than traditional client server architecture.
3. Lack of Knowledge
Firms too often lack knowledge or ignore important data regarding client needs other than from an accounting and tax perspective. While tax and accounting are important, they are only part of the client’s requirements. The CPA is the most trusted business advisor and must think like a quarterback rather than a defensive lineman or safety. There are many higher value added opportunities beyond the transactional services that firms can offer. This requires a process of communication to identify and package services beyond tax and accounting. Some professionals are comfortable with change while others resist. Is your firm missing viable opportunities because you haven’t named, packaged and priced services to meet client needs? These opportunities may also require different skills and delivery personnel.
4. "Just do it" Attitude
The day of the rugged individualist is over and today’s client services require a team approach to meet the expanding requirements. Broader scope often requires additional internal or sourced resources. Lisa Gansky, the author of "The Mesh", coined the term "mesh” and it is appropriate for the accounting market where leasing rather than owning is appropriate for firms and their clients. The rugged individual approach typically results in less than optimal results for the client in the areas of strategic planning, budgeting, cash flow, human resources, technology and talent development. Properly naming, packaging and pricing these services can result in extreme client savings and satisfaction while increasing firm revenue and margins.
5. Traditional Accounting Firm Management Methods
Most firms have focused on independence rather than advocacy. Both values are important depending upon the type of service being offered. Continual commoditization in the audit and tax compliance areas is forcing firms to look at margins and rethink service offerings. The charge hour mentality also challenges good business thinking. With the right business model and platform, firms can increase both revenues and margins. Unique processes and a hosted platform make the services scalable and address client requirements. The most profitable firms focus on selling consulting services, even to assurance service clients. There are of course some limitations based upon independence requirements.
The Current Environment and Opportunities
The tools and climate are right to change industries, professions and the world. Technology can be disruptive. The trusted business advisor status requires collaboration, creates value, requires scope and pricing in advance, and typically is based upon a fixed monthly fee with change order clauses to protect the client and the firm. The Value Creation Agreement improves cash flow and addresses workload compression, if properly managed. You must think more like a lean startup than a traditional CPA firm. The service life-cycle has multiple phases and you should start with the vision of your market, experiment and learn as you progress. Most successful firms admit they got their start from a client that requested the additional services in a particular niche. They learned, adjusted, packaged, priced and grew the service. To remain competitive they focus on innovation.
In practice we see four primary resources that dictate success:
- A champion with passion
- Existing clients who need the services
- A unique ability team to service the clients
- A technology platform that supports collaboration
Due to the limited space of this article we will only focus on the characteristics of the champion who reduces risk and develops a profitable service. The characteristics are as follows:
Words of Wisdom
- Level 5 leader with a purpose and vision beyond personal gain
- Team builder who is a multiplier leader
- Access to internal and external resources
- Politically connected
- Proven track record
Those with passion do, while those without passion try. Charles Kettering’s law on committees: If you want to grow an idea, keep it away from committees. Success requires leadership and a unique ability team.
Posted By Sandra Wiley,
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
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As we survey firm team members and ask them what leaders
could do to improve culture and engagement in their firm, the overwhelming #1
response we hear is "we need better communication”. The response I get from leaders is "we have
been working on that every year, will it ever be good enough?” My answer is "No, you will be working on this
for as long as you are building relationships and growing your firm”. So, what are some ideas for improving
communication in your firm and continue building on past initiatives:
Develop An On-Line
In the old days we had a central bulletin board where we
posted important information and since everyone worked on site, they developed
the habit to look at the board to insure they were catching up on all the
news. Today, we need that same kind of
space and place to put information, but with remote work spaces and flex hours
the bulletin board of the past is not effective. An on-line intranet is a great solution
today. New habits will be formed for
both the people posting items and also for the team members who need to
remember to look at it on a consistent basis.
Develop A Firm Blog
Innovative firm leaders are developing blogs where they are
providing information to their team, making announcements about changes,
sharing good news and even news from the profession. They are learning that while having a team
meeting is optimal, the blog will help keep communication flowing between the
face to face meetings, and as we know, you can’t over communicate.
Use Your Words and
Watch Body Language
Nothing is more uplifting than face to face word exchange,
better known as talking. Talking with
your staff daily about their projects, their clients, their fellow team members
and new initiatives is better than anything else you can do to communicate
effectively. The one caution is to watch
your body language. If you are trying to
fake the fact that you are interested in the person they will see it by the way
you are standing, slumping, looking at your watch, or looking at your computer screen. When you give them your time, give them your
Listen and Don’t
When you enter into a conversation with your team member,
the one thing that is most important is to allow them to talk to you and share
their thoughts. Insure that you listen
with intention and don’t place any judgment on what they are thinking. You are there to listen, to clarify and to
hold a conversation. Nothing will build
a trusting relationship more than to really listening.
Practice Being Open and
Human nature and life experiences can lead us to be closed
in our communication. While we are not openly dishonest, we don’t let go of
much information until we have too. I
encourage firm leaders to practice being open and honest in their communication
with the team. Share the overall firm
goals. Share the vision for the
future. Share the challenges the firm is
facing. Share the expectations you have
for the team. You get the picture, so
If we did a survey on what people are frustrated with in the
firm, the answer would be meetings that drone on forever with no apparent
purpose. As a leader in your firm,
insure that you are holding meetings that have a purpose, a specific time
beginning and ending, an agenda, a leader/facilitator, a note taker and action
Know Your Audience
and Put Them First
As you consider the person you will be meeting with, think
about how they will receive information best.
Do they like details, do they prefer a process or agenda, do they like
bottom lines and quick pieces of information?
Know your audience and deliver the message in the way that they will
best receive it!
Open Your Door –
We hear the cry that firms have an open door policy by their
leadership group and then when we talk to the rest of the firm they roll their
eyes and tell us that while their door is physically open, that does not mean
that the leader is available. It is
impossible to have an open door with availability all of the time, but a great
way to develop a true open door policy is to put times on your calendar that
you are free for communication with the team.
Performance coaching is more than a once a year conversation
about the number of hours that someone has billed. It is an ongoing conversation with
individuals that report to you about their professional skills. Conversations should include technical
skills, core skills and technology skills.
Performance coaching should focus on developing the staff member and
helping them to be the best that they can possibly be.
Go through the list.
Find areas that you and your firm can improve and then commit to making
2013 the best communication year ever in your firm!
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