March 2021

Are you an inspiring leader? You might be surprised.

Which of the following is an example of an inspiring leader?

  1. The CEO of a successful multinational corporation.

  2. A stay-at-home mother who organizes local residents to clean up community parks.

  3. An injured war veteran who founds a charity to help other injured vets.

  4. You.

  5. All of the above.

(The answer is #5.)

Now, if your reaction is: “What’s he talking about? As a firm owner, I’m #4 and I don’t feel like I’m especially inspiring,” then you’re not alone.

Whether we’ve been unconsciously influenced by the stereotype of the meek accountant or it’s the natural introversion of those who spend most of their time working with financial statements and documents, I’ve noticed that firm leaders—in fact, accountants in general—tend to downplay their ability to inspire. However, as someone who’s spent years working with accounting firm leaders, I’ve discovered that “inspiring” is a matter of perception.

Too many people think an inspiring leader has to be dramatic and powerful, like Captain America in “Avengers: Endgame,” shouting, “Avengers…ASSEMBLE!” before he leads the superheroes into final battle. But an inspiring leader can just as easily be a quiet accounting firm owner who has his or her team’s back when things don’t go according to plan.

Out of vision comes inspiration

In the past, business leaders didn’t see the need to involve their staff in the ups, downs and minutiae of the business. Luckily, that mindset has changed. As we see with our Rootworks member firms, when there’s vision, inclusion and transparency, a firm’s chances of success increase exponentially.

Your vision doesn’t have to be grand, but it does need to be:

  • Acted upon. Think about the old tale, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” If you talk, talk, talk about your vision but never actually do anything, eventually those who listen will lose interest and their sense of investment. I know it’s daunting to take that first step toward the future—especially when you’re all too aware other people will depend on the success of your vision to keep their families fed and a roof above their heads. But as someone who’s taken several first steps over the years, I can attest that you’ll regret the steps not taken much more than the steps you actually took.

  • Shared with your team. At the risk of sounding repetitive, empowerment is empowering—and one of the most powerful acts of trust you can give to your team. This is their future, too. Get them involved. Invite and seriously consider their ideas. Ask them for help. Give them things to do that help contribute to the vision. Listen to their challenges. Work together to solve those challenges and implement new ideas. Have their backs. Trust me, rare is the human being who won’t rise to the occasion when they know they’re valued.

  • Regularly communicated. Keep your team updated—whether those updates are positive or less than ideal. It’s always a thrill to share good news, of course; there’s no feeling like it. However, with all good intentions, those of us who run businesses sometimes tend to spare our teams gloomier news. Something I’ve learned over the years: DON’T DO THIS. You’re not sparing them; you’re missing out on possible solutions. Be truthful. Let them know the vision may be off track. Give them the chance to help you brainstorm solutions. It’s all too easy to have tunnel vision and miss something a colleague with a different point of view, who works in a different part of your business, could put their finger on with no trouble.

Think back on previous business leaders you’ve worked for during your career. Like most of us, you’ve probably had managers that drove you to leave a job (or two). But if you’re lucky, you’ve also had the chance to work for managers for whom you’d have taken the proverbial bullet. Managers who truly cared about you, your family, your growth as an employee—and who valued your input. How did they make you feel?

In my case, they made me feel…inspired. Important. Part of something bigger than myself. Like I was making a difference, one day at a time. They had my back. They trusted me. And not one of them was Captain America. They were regular people—managers, fellow employees, accounting firm owners—doing their best every single day.

Just like you.


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Living proactively: Lessons from the pandemic

One year ago, the world as we know it changed. And we spent March 2020 and the months after “firefighting” and reacting quickly in uncharted waters. (Simply writing that today feels stressful!)

Fortunately, the pandemic has taught us that the anxiety caused by reacting instead of preparing and planning can be avoided if we choose to be proactive.

So, what does that mean for you and your firm? Evaluate your responses to the “fires” of 2020 and commit to intentionally preparing for what the future may hold. Below are some questions to ask yourself, along with tips to help become a proactive firm.

Communication

  • Internally: How well did you respond in 2020? Do you have a strategy that works well to keep the entire team motivated and on the same page? If your answers indicate a need to improve internal communication, implement a method that keeps everyone in the loop like Slack or Teams. But don’t just stop there! Create channels for communicating about specific topics and circumstances so everyone knows where they can ask questions and find answers.

  • With clients: Put yourself in their shoes! Are your communication methods consistent and clear? Do you have easy-to-use, secure file-sharing portals? Your clients should never have to guess what you need from them, or wonder what changes are happening. Anticipate potential changes that impact your clients and proactively communicate them to avoid confusion and disruption in your processes. Overcommunicating is never a bad thing.

Prospects and opportunities

  • Are your current processes for documenting and following up with prospective clients standardized and easy to implement? Are opportunities to upsell your current clients recorded consistently? It’s important to have a standard process for documenting prospects and opportunities, so they don’t become lost among the day-to-day activities. Designate one or two staff members to lead the charge for proactively documenting prospects and opportunities. ClientView™ is a great tool to use for these purposes. For more in-depth discussions about using ClientView, head to Rootworks Online Learning Resources and search “ClientView.”

Tax process

  • Keep in mind that it may be counterproductive to compare 2020 and 2021 to other years, because the “fires” were likely different. Ask yourself, “How are we feeling at the height of tax season this year, and how does it differ from 2020?” Are there areas you want or need to change for next year? Document them! The Rootworks Tax Season Scorecard is a great way to keep track of where you stand now and identify areas where you can be proactive for next year.

  • Operate as though April 15 will be the deadline—whether it changes or not. Holding on to the deadline will solidify consistency, and if it is extended, you’ll have provided time to deal with any small fires that may pop up.

Living through a pandemic continues to teach us many lessons, both personally and professionally. And one of the most important lessons to hold on to is this: By asking ourselves what’s likely to happen, and acting before a situation becomes a source of frustration or even crisis, we can live a more proactive life with less stress.


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Tax season document intake tips

It’s the time of year when accounting firms take in a lot of data and documents from their clients. That’s why it’s important to remember a few helpful tips to keep security top of mind during these next few weeks.

  1. Make sure all your systems have up-to-date endpoint protection software installed.

  2. Assume everything you take in is infected with malware, until it’s been proven to be clean.

  3. Steer your clients to document portals over email attachments and physical media (USB, thumb drives, etc.).

  4. If you must accept physical media, scan the device on an isolated computer (meaning not on the company network) prior to loading the documents into your production systems.

  5. Be sure to discuss security in your staff meetings and review all policies, plus any potential incidents that have occurred.

Keeping these concepts in the forefront for your team will minimize the chances of your firm falling victim to a data breach or other instances of compromised security.


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Don’t miss out on tax season marketing opportunities


This level of contact with your clients doesn’t come often—seize it.

Here we are, back in the onslaught of tax season—the time of year when you have many more touch points with your clientele. Although you and your team are no doubt focused on production, don’t let good marketing opportunities slip through your fingers.

Here are the top five marketing opportunities to consider during tax season:

  1. Account reviews—Your clients’ financial results and tax liabilities tell a deeper story. Spend time understanding the drivers behind the numbers and identifying opportunities for deeper, higher-value engagements with the right clients. And remember to harness the power of ClientView on Rootworks.com to analyze what other opportunities you have to sell into your existing client base. Use the contact time with them during tax season to start the selling process.

  2. Referral requests—Pleased clients are your best form of marketing communication, and most will gladly do you the courtesy of recommending your firm to a trusted friend or business associate. The key is remembering to ask them for the favor. Why not include a referral form with your best clients’ returns and let them know you appreciate their advocacy for your firm within their personal and professional circles?

  3. Audit protection—Early results from our 2021 tax season progress survey reveal that slightly more than half of responding firms do not offer audit and/or identity theft protection services to their tax clients. Yet, firms who do offer these services have reported up to $30,000 of additional revenue. If you’re not offering these services, you’re walking away from free money! Adopt basic protection services as part of your tax preparation package—if not this season, then next.

  4. Ask for mentions on social media—Most happy clients will be glad to give you a glowing mention on their social media accounts. Just ask! Consider slipping a note in with client returns, perhaps in conjunction with referral requests. But keep in mind, if you have a grumpy client be sure you find a way to turn the frown upside down before you ask them for that favor. Better to not ask at all than to risk a dent in your reputation on social media.

  5. Ask for online reviews—The same principle goes for online review requests. Identify clients who are coming in for a smooth, happy landing and reach out to them with a request for a favorable online review. Be sure to set good, ethical boundaries, though. Never offer gifts or incentives in exchange for good reviews. Our marketing team has created a couple of terrific instructional sessions covering online presence that you’ll find on Rootworks.com:

Remember, keep marketing during tax season. It’s the time of year when you’ll have the most contact—and selling opportunities—with your clients.


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What we’re working on

Registration for the online Empower Conference is in full swing.

This all-new virtual summer event replaces our usual Firm Retreats. A one-day online format makes it easier and more affordable than ever to get your staff involved and align your entire organization.

The event includes:

  • A state of the industry keynote from Darren Root.

  • A keynote from John Mitchell—firm culture lessons learned during the pandemic and practical advice from Rootworks members.

  • Breakouts with Rootworks staff with takeaways for firm improvement.

  • An online vendor expo—interact with virtual vendor booths and chat one-on-one with our vendor partners.

  • An online demo theater—view short video previews of products and services that can have a place in The Modern Firm®.

  • Virtual happy hour, giveaways and more!

 Empower is May 27. The event qualifies for up to 3 hours of CPE.

 Register in Rootworks.com under Resources > Events.

 Upcoming webinars

  • March 24 – Staff Training: Bookkeeping Processes

  • March 31 – Staff Training: Onboarding New Clients

Register in Rootworks.com under Resources > Events > Virtual Events.