Like many other things in our lives right now, it really is a whole new world when it comes to managing a small accounting firm.
The old days of slugging it out, sucking it up and just getting the job done are becoming a thing of the past. Today, that strategy might be the riskiest move you could make. Why? Let’s find out.
A quick trip back…
It’s 2012, and you’re in peak tax season mode. Tax clients are moving through the firm faster than the chocolates on Lucy and Ethel’s factory assembly line. Your team has, in effect, said goodbye to their families for four months; you’re cranking out returns at a furious pace; and you’ve forgotten what daylight looks like if it’s not filtered through a plate-glass window.
Everyone’s overworked and stressed—and not just about work. One employee’s childcare has fallen through, an accountant is having car issues and you’re trying to figure out how to leave the office long enough to get your 80-year-old mother to an important medical appointment.
The tension level is so high that you can’t help wondering whether the mutterings you hear about it being time to leave the tax and accounting industry are real this time. Luckily, your team has been with you for ages, and you do your best to make them happy. Competitive pay, once-a-week lunches during tax season, and no issues with vacation time in the summer. So they wouldn’t go anywhere…right? In any case, no time to dwell on it now; you’ve got clients to herd—er, manage.
Fast forward to 2022…
And is it ever 2022! What a difference a decade makes, especially when a hundred-year event like a pandemic plays a game of 52 Pickup with pretty much everything in our lives.
During that time, employees moved home to work…and they liked it. (How much? An October 2021 Gallup poll said 91% of U.S. workers who work at least some hours remotely hope they can continue to work at home after the pandemic. Of that number, 54% hope for a hybrid arrangement, while 37% hope to work exclusively from home.) They found that working remotely, even part of the time, gave them extra hours they could put toward the “life” part of a true work-life balance.
As we watched the world change, people began to realize that life is too short to spend it at a job that keeps them from the people and experiences they value most. That realization has led to what’s now known as the Great Resignation (which some are actually calling The Great Reassessment), as millions of people leave employers who can’t (or won’t) give them the life they want, to find employers who will.
Now, just about everyone has workforce challenges. People and firms are leaving the accounting profession in droves, which leaves supply dangerously low while demand for our services has risen—classic supply and demand issues we learned about in college.
Clearly, the “same old same old” is not the right playbook here. Not now—and possibly not ever again—because it’s a strategy that doesn’t consider the human beings needed to make it work. And if there’s anything business owners should have learned in this new work world, it’s that you need to think about the humans behind the job.
So, how do we position our small firms to deal with such significant shifts? With a reduced workforce, how do we continue to serve our clients the way we’ve always served them—to the fullest extent?
Smart firm, smart client service
In a word (well, three words), the answer is smart client management—the ongoing process of actively managing your client base. I’m not talking about practice management software, although that’s certainly part of the equation.
Smart client management is the act of finding, keeping, maximizing revenue from serving to the fullest, automating to the extent possible and outsourcing what can be outsourced—all to capture and retain your ideal clients.
Historically, firms simply took on new clients (anyone who walked through the door, literally), buckled down and got it done no matter how good, bad or ugly the client experience. Today, we’re living in times that require us to step up and take charge…and to be honest, that’s a good thing for our businesses.
Now is the time to make choices, define ideal clients, get those clients and to actively manage them at the right prices, technologies, service levels and product mix—all of which combine to create the businesses we’re striving for.
“But, Darren, I’ve been doing that,” you might say. Again, I have to be honest: The majority of firm owners I’ve met—and I’m including myself in that number—have been afraid to actively manage their clients, just don’t think they have time, or it’s never been a priority. After all, that might mean saying no to someone. Or turning a client or prospect away. Or raising prices regularly. As a result, too often I see a hesitancy to commit to complete smart client management—from firm staff who don’t understand it to firm leaders who are afraid to enforce it.
I’ll be the first to admit this is a big topic, more than I can cover in a single article. That’s why, depending on membership level, Rootworks offers members a number of excellent resources to help them explore, understand and implement smart client management. Because, let’s face it, the hardest part is knowing where to start.
We offer members a proven roadmap to follow, what we term Business Model Basics, making it easy to start your journey to smart client management. We also offer staff trainings, an online learning center, software- and business-specific coaching, Mastermind groups and lots more. I honestly think that our lineup of resources is one of the most comprehensive out there and worth checking out at rootworks.com.
Everyone in your firm should understand the concept behind smart client management and be actively in pursuit of this goal in order to fully realize the firm they want to have and work for. Why? Because smart client management leads to better clients, better revenues and better employee experiences—everything you’ve worked toward for your business and your life.