August 2021

Are your firm’s warning lights blinking?

You’re driving to work in heavy a.m. rush-hour traffic. Your “Check Engine” light starts flashing. What’s your go-to response?

Scenario A: You immediately pull over to the side of the road, call your mechanic, discuss it with him or her, and make an appointment to bring your car in ASAP.

Scenario B: You bang on the dashboard a few times to see if it stops but continue on to work, then call your mechanic when you have time.

Scenario C: You’re too busy to take your car in, so you ignore it (and the other light that started blinking last week) until your car dies at the worst possible time, in the most inconvenient place.

As a die-hard Scenario A person (I love my cars), I cringe when people choose Scenario C. After all, that’s what warning lights are for—to let you know you could be in for a world of inconvenience and expense unless you pay attention.

That’s why it bothers me to see a number of firm leaders choosing Scenario C now, despite the warning lights everywhere. Not with their cars, but with their firms.

“Warning: Check firm health”

You’d think emerging from a pandemic would mean fewer warning lights, but in fact, lights are blinking furiously for businesses all over the globe. Why? Because the past year has caused a major shift in the way people think about their jobs.

A large segment of the office-based workforce has been doing their jobs from home and doing it well, proving beyond a doubt that remote work is viable. In the process, they’ve realized that it’s possible to have a job and a life—from just about anywhere they want.

A recent Prudential Financial “Pulse of the American Worker” survey found that a quarter of the workers surveyed plan to leave their jobs after the pandemic, with the majority looking for a job with more flexibility. Even half of the workers who don’t actively plan to change jobs say if their company doesn’t offer long-term options for remote work, they’ll look for a company that does.

Another blinking light is that workers are leaving expensive areas—mostly urban—for places with a lower cost of living. Some just move farther out into their city’s metro area or suburbs, but others are taking the freedom offered by 100 percent remote work to move to areas where they’ve always wanted to live. That’s the great thing about remote work for both workers and employers; since location isn’t an issue, the talent pool is virtually limitless.

In a recent Better Every Day podcast, I talked with John Mitchell, Rootworks’ Chief Brand Officer, who used to work in media production. He said one of the best media production companies in the U.S.—the one that everyone wants to work for, the one that’s acknowledged by industry professionals to have the best product and culture—is giving their employees the option to work 100 percent remote. Immediately, the two or three next-best media production companies in the U.S. lost employees as they applied at the company everyone wanted to work for.

“Warning: Trend in process”

The factors I mention above aren’t just one-offs; it appears to be a trend. And I’ll be the first to admit it’s challenging to realize a trend is taking place before (or even as) it happens. It’s much easier to observe them from a historical perspective. The rise of more flexible work options is one of the few trends we’ve actually been able to watch unfold, because it was happening even before the pandemic—which is what finally put the pedal to the metal and got the trend in gear. (I know, another car metaphor…)

The trouble is, not every firm leader believes it’s a trend that will affect them.

“We’re too small to worry about that,” those leaders might say. Or “Our staff likes being in the office with each other.” Or “We need to be face-to-face with our clients; it’s what they expect.”

But is that true anymore? Just like our staff, our clients—even those who didn’t use virtual meetings before the pandemic—have had no choice but to meet virtually over the past year. Now, they’re old hands at navigating virtual appointments and other remote activities. And like the workers who serve them, many have found they actually prefer to do business virtually because it makes their lives so much easier.

“Warning: Monitor self-awareness levels”

Is this trend causing a warning light to go on in your own firm? If you’re not sure, here’s where self-awareness—the ability to objectively look at who you are, what’s missing, and what needs to change in your life or business—comes into play.

We get so comfortable in our place in the world that often it takes other people to make us see what we’re doing or not doing—and how things really look on the other side of yourself.

In our podcast John mentioned something Andy Stanley, an Atlanta-area speaker he admires, says to do if you need to check your self-awareness: “Ask three people in your life, ‘What’s it like to be on the other side of me?’”

You can do that with your firm. If you’re at all nervous about these warning lights, take a deep breath and go to three people you trust in your firm. Ask them, “What’s the temperature around here? What are you hearing? How are people feeling?”

“Warning: Heavy traffic ahead”

Whatever the answers you ask for may be, I’m going to leave you with this thought to use for perspective as you ponder your next moves: We’re not going back to 2020. That ship has sailed; that train has left the station; <insert your favorite “it’s too late” idiom here>.

As a small business owner, do you really want to be stalled on the side of the highway while the rest of the profession zips by? Or would you rather make the changes that will let you merge smoothly back into traffic and keep pace with those who have chosen to move forward?

It’s a conversation you really need to have with yourself—and with your team. Because if you’re not planning to work with them to offer the flexibility and trust they’re looking for, it’s time to let them know—and to make sure you have good road service for those warning lights that won’t stop blinking.


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Five ways to navigate change

It’s an understatement to say the past 18 months have been like no other in our lifetimes. None of us has a manual or how-to guide to navigate through all the changes that have taken place—and will continue to take place—but there are five things we all can do to make things easier for our team and our clients.

  1. Be flexible. Things won’t be like they were before, but that doesn’t mean we should reject them. The pandemic fast-tracked 25 years’ worth of change, especially digital transformation. Is your technology stack adequate? What’s the best way to communicate with clients and each other? We’re all catching up and determining the best way to work now. Be open to ideas and encourage everyone to share theirs.

  2. Understand it’s a process. Whether your team is returning to the office, staying remote or adopting a hybrid model, everyone needs to be involved in making it work. How do you stay connected as a team no matter where people are working? Do workflows need to be adjusted to accommodate the changes? Include everyone in the firm and ask for ideas and suggestions. Remember, we’re all learning. Let the team know it will take time to get it right.

  3. Look at the opportunity. Many of the changes happening in your firm may not have been planned, but there’s an opportunity to reassess, improve and grow now. What does your tax process look like; is it smooth for clients and staff? Do you need a better way to track client work to stay on top of delivery dates? How often do you have staff meetings? Do you have clients who need to be terminated? Processes, technology, communication and ideal clients are vital to the firm’s success moving forward in this changing environment. Identify champions for the initiatives so everyone in the firm is part of the solution, or can be part of it.

  4. Support your team’s wellbeing. How is everyone feeling? What can you do to help? None of us should be alone right now as we find our way to a new normal. Promote the wellness program offered by your firm’s health insurance carrier or the plan under which your employees have coverage. Many of these programs cover therapy visits and virtual or telehealth therapy sessions. Making a call, asking for help and learning a new way to manage is something we can and should encourage.

  5. Be kind to yourself and others. We tend to give others more grace and understanding than we give ourselves. Is the new way of doing something not working for you? When making changes and decisions that impact others, give yourself and your peers permission to try a different approach. If it doesn’t work the way you hoped, don’t dwell on it. Learn from the experience and move on with a new approach. Be kind to others who are experiencing the same trial-and-error cycle as well.

 The most important role firm owners and supervisors have right now is to be a trusted leader. For a team to follow a leader, the team must believe their leader is committed to their wellbeing and values their input. This promotes a culture of clarity, candor, connection and consistency.

Ask for their ideas and suggestions, explain your goal to simplify things whenever and wherever possible, designate champions to implement those changes and—most importantly—celebrate their successes.

If you’re a Rootworks member firm and want more information about culture for your firm, please log in to your Rootworks.com account, go to Resources > Business Model Basics and refer to the Culture element, which provides a roadmap to build a modern and healthy culture that drives a profitable and successful firm. If your membership includes coaching, schedule a call with one of our coaches who can help you implement change in your firm and promote a healthy culture.


SSL and your website: An essential aspect of a modern firm

Website visitors, especially prospects, will make a judgment call about your site—and by extension, your business credibility—within the first minute. As a modern accounting firm, give your online visitors the security and credibility they look for with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates.

First, a little background:

  • SSL has been around since the mid-1990s. The main goal was to secure the transfer of data over the web.

  • In 2014, Google focused on raising the awareness of SSL certificates by launching an “HTTPS Everywhere” campaign.

  • In mid-2018, Google enforced SSLs for websites by flagging sites without SSL as “Not Secured,” which furthered the value of an SSL by relating it to a business’s credibility.

Rootworks websites included SSL certificates before browser enforcement, and continue to meet industry standards for SSL certificates.

Not convinced of the SSL’s value? Here’s a real-world situation we see far too often:

You try to visit the website of a financial advisor or bank whose SSL certificate has lapsed (you’ll know by the absence of the little padlock symbol before the URL). You encounter a warning message about the site’s lack of security, which indicates that information you share on that site may not be secure.

How long will you stay on the site? If you’re like the rest of us, not very long. Which makes it much less likely you’ll want to work with this business, if their security measures are as lax as the website’s security.

So, how do you get an SSL certificate—and what, if anything, do you do once you have it?

  • If your website is Rootworks built and hosted, an SHA-256 bit SSL is included and fully maintained by Rootworks. There’s nothing more you need to do.

  • If you maintain your site, make sure you have a valid SSL certificate. Check with your website provider for details on obtaining an appropriate certificate if one isn’t currently present. Once the SSL is updated, be sure to keep up with the renewals to avoid any lapse in protection.

SSL will lend credibility, authentication and trust to your business online. Having an SSL certificate is also one of the easiest ways to boost your search engine ranking, since Google makes security a top priority. Give your clients the modern—and secure—firm they’re looking for with SSL.


Marketing in the post-pandemic landscape

We’re operating in uncharted waters; navigate thoughtfully

It’s safe to say that none of us in our lifetime has experienced what unfolded over the last 18 months—a sudden global pandemic that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and brought entire segments of the economy to a screeching halt. Although the recovery has been nearly as rapid as the onset, we’re not out of the woods yet. A virus variant is threatening a new wave of infections, global supply chains are in disarray and inflationary concerns are creating uncertainty and anxiety.

So what kind of marketing messaging do you deliver in this environment? When operating in uncharted territory, there’s no clearly defined model to follow. To a large extent, we fall back on common sense and sensitivities. Viewed through the lens of marketing professionals, here are some common sense ideas and analysis on how to handle your communications in the transition back to life as we once knew it.

Be true to your brand values and culture

When the whole world feels like it’s shifting beneath our feet, we need big truths to hold onto and steady us. Uphold your brand values during times of crisis and uncertainty. In last month’s column, we explored culture marketing; it’s highly relevant during a time when we’re all seeking to reclaim part of our humanity that’s been trampled underfoot by anxiety, social angst and political polarization. And speaking of politics, it should go without saying that you should leave all traces and hints of it out of your marketing messaging—that’s common sense.

Know your audience segments

The pandemic was certainly not an equal opportunity crisis. Some segments—particularly food service and hospitality—took a far worse hit than others. Keep this in mind when you’re developing marketing messages. You need to pay much closer attention to how you target and deliver messaging to specific audience segments.

Customer experience matters

Customer expectations were already on the rise before the pandemic unfolded; in many ways, the Covid-19 crisis accelerated that demand. Clients want a frictionless experience that doesn’t consume time and energy. Is your firm equipped and organized to deliver this? Look for points of friction in your client interactions and design ways to overcome and eliminate them. Although this is a more operations-focused activity, it has big implications for marketing.

Relationships matter most

What turns a prospect into a long-standing, loyal customer? A relationship built on trust. How do we establish trust? By making and keeping promises. This is straight from Stephen Covey’s playbook and his concept of the “emotional bank account.” Promises kept are like deposits; disappointments are like withdrawals. Examine your brand promise and ask yourself what you’re doing to reinforce and keep that promise to your clients and reassure them that they can count on you. At the end of the day, what do we have, if we don’t have relationships?

Welcome to the post-pandemic (we hope) world. And remember, when you don’t have a clear roadmap to follow, let common sense and sensibility be your guide.


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What we’re working on

End-of-year events are coming together!

Last month we shared some information about our Inspire and Gather events. Here’s a quick update:

Inspire, a virtual event for the entire firm, happens October 21-22. We’ll present on a variety of key topics spread out across a multitude of breakout sessions.

New with this event: On the second day of Inspire, Rootworks vendor partners will deliver training sessions on their products. These sessions are geared to those firms currently using or evaluating those particular systems.

Throughout August we’ll announce more details on the agenda, including information on the vendors who will be presenting and their sessions.

Gather, an on-site event at the Ritz-Carlson in Sarasota, Florida, is scheduled for November 10-12. Gather will be different from our previous on-premise conferences in that it’s intended for firm leaders. The majority of the event will be dedicated to roundtable discussions on attendee-driven topics. There will also be a significant social element as Rootworks members gather in person again.

Please note: Space at Gather is limited, so it’s a good idea to register as soon as possible to ensure your spot.

Note to Gather registrants: Rootworks sent out a survey to those who were registered for Gather as of mid-July to capture specific topics you’d like to see discussed. If you could complete the survey and send it back as soon as possible, we’ll get busy scheduling roundtables on the topics that are most important to you. Thanks for your help!

Log in at Rootworks.com and go to Resources > Events to find registration for both events.

Upcoming webinars

Our Education team has been busy planning for the end of summer and onset of fall with new live staff training sessions for August, September and October.

Starting August 18, we’re bringing you the following new staff training topics:

  • Transitioning Clients: We’ll help you create strategies for communicating with clients and developing processes for transitioning your current clients into your new model.

  • Goal Setting Processes for Firm Leaders: Use the SMART approach for setting goals to guide you through a process of identifying tasks and delegating them to staff.

  • Dext Setup and Use: Participants will learn Dext setup recommendations, best practices for using the technology by both the client and firm, and updates since the Dext enhancement.

  • Virtual Presentations Best Practices: We’ll review tips and tricks for working in your virtual meeting software, effective presentation techniques and how to set up your physical space.

  • Best Practices for Handling Tax Notices: We’ll review what it means to provide audit protection services, how to develop a strategy for your firm’s audit protection process, pricing and billing considerations, and discussing audit protection with clients.

  • Using Fathom for Advisory Services: This class will examine how Fathom delivers relevant, valuable information to clients and cover core concepts for using Fathom to help clients make critical business decisions.

  • Software Tips and Tricks for Daily Use: In this class, we’ll cover some tips and tricks to make working with different programs easier. We’ll primarily focus on how staff can use Excel, Adobe and OneNote for a more efficient workday.

See the entire webinar schedule and register via your Rootworks.com account under Resources > Events > Webinars.