There’s no way to sugarcoat this: The last couple of years have been brutal for accounting firms—both staff and leaders.
It started in March 2020 with a pandemic that also sent the country into a financial tailspin—which sent workloads soaring as firms tried to help struggling clients keep their businesses afloat.
That led into The Longest Tax Season Ever, when firms had to learn to work together while everyone was at home and miles apart and—just for good measure—cope with Mandatory 24/7 Family Togetherness Time since everyone else was home and working and learning virtually, too.
And then came new pandemic assistance programs (CARES Act, PPP, EIDL, RRF, SVOG, just to name a few), which required accountants to become instant experts in—well, everything new.
And then, just when we thought we’d finally be able to catch our breath and get caught up, 2021 brought Yet Another Extended Tax Season.
And then, once we thought we’d finally be able to return to the office for good, bam! Another COVID surge that ratcheted our national uncertainty level up to 15 on a scale of 1 to 10.
And then came The Great Resignation—when employees realized that life was too short to work at a job that didn’t allow a work-life balance and they started resigning in droves—like in April 2021, when a record 4 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
And so, as a result of all these events, firm leaders are in the middle of what I’ll call The Great Exhaustion. They’re working seven-day, 70- to 80-hour workweeks—and in many cases, doing it only with a skeleton staff, since it’s been nearly impossible to replace the Great Resigned. And let’s face it: Now that we’ve all learned that Yes, There Is A Life Out There, who actually wants to work at a job where you have virtually no life—something the accounting profession is notorious for?
Not me, and not your staff. Not you, either. I’ve heard “I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this” from firm leaders so many times in the last few months that it truly makes my heart ache. But they’re at the end of their endurance after nearly two years of unrelenting stress and overwork.
So what’s a firm leader to do?
Take back control of your firm.
Now, I’m envisioning your incredulous expression as you read those words. Because if you don’t even have 15 extra minutes for a meal, how can you possibly have the time to take back your firm, with all the work that implies?
I have a fair bit of expertise in this area. That’s why I want to be honest: The way I see it, you have two paths, and you’re at the fork in the road where they diverge.
Path 1: You continue on the path to burnout (if you’re not already there), with all that it brings you. Sleepless nights, mental exhaustion, emotional stress, relationship concerns, health problems, disengagement, continued employee attrition and the possible eventual closure of your business. Doesn’t that sound like fun? (Said no one ever.)
Path 2: You give yourself permission to ease up on yourself, and you take back control of your firm. Without self-imposed pressure, without impossible deadlines. You do it in whatever way works for you—whether that’s one step at a time or in larger chunks of steps. The thing is, and—this is critical—the permission has to come from you. Not from me, not from your family (although I’d venture a guess that they’ll be behind you a hundred percent).
If you want some ideas for taking back control, here are a few:
Realize that you don’t have to be everything to everyone. If you’re working with clients just once a year or for a one-off service, it may be time to rethink your current service offerings and whether they’re worth your time. If you’re nervous about loss of income, is that really worse than loss of your sanity, health or relationships?
Delegate. Research shows that when CEOs delegate, they generate 33 percent more revenue. So stop micromanaging your employees and doing their work for them. Look at each task you do yourself and ask yourself if someone on your team can handle it. If not, it may be worth outsourcing that task so you can focus.
Automate. Look to see if any tasks can be automated. Here are a few examples to get you started:
Mailchimp, HubSpot and Hootsuite help you automate your marketing and social media tasks.
QuickBooks is the Big Software On Campus for bookkeeping and other finance tasks.
Basecamp, Trello, Zoho Projects—there are a number of powerful and affordable project management tools available.
Popular customer relationship management (CRM) tools include Salesforce and Zoho.
Get your employees involved. They’re on the front lines and know better than anyone what’s gone awry. Work with them to articulate the changes you’d all like to see. You don’t have to implement them all at once—and nothing is set in stone—but you must know where you’re going before you get started. Your employees will appreciate your trust in them to help you work through this, and you’ll feel better knowing they’re taking some of the burden from your shoulders.
If you’re a Rootworks member, don’t forget that we have a whole range of business resources to help you through The Great Exhaustion—no, let’s change that to The Great Firm Take-Back. From a coaching program you can add to your membership, to letter templates that diplomatically help you let a client go, to our Business Model Basics modules, we’ve learned from those who have been there and done that to help those who haven’t done it yet.
Things will get busy again, of course—they always do—but just keep in mind that like a rubber band, you can only stretch yourself so thin before you snap. Give yourself permission to move at your own pace—whether that’s glacially slow or like a snowball rolling down a mountain—and take one step today. Just one step.
And know that all of us here at Rootworks are cheering you on, because the members of the accounting profession are the brightest, most resilient group of people we’ve ever been privileged to know.
Congratulations on wrapping up another deadline! (I won’t say tax season is finally over, since I think we all still have that “never-ending tax season” feeling.)
You know, I see (and hear) in advertising, marketing and news articles this great push to “get back to normal.” And honestly, I hate it.
“But why do you feel that way, Anna?” you might ask me.
And I would reply, “Why should we get back to normal? Traditional tax seasons suck!” (Not that the last two seasons have been awesome, don’t get me wrong.)
I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to go back to normal. The fact is, traditional tax seasons do suck. (Yep, I said it. Twice.) So, why not take this opportunity to make “normal” better?
Because honestly, that’s what we all should be striving for: Being better.
Right now, the entire industry is overwhelmed, anxious and burnt out. We need to focus on easy things we can make better, instead of struggling with getting back to so-called normal. Because let’s face it, every time we try normal lately, something new, different and frustrating happens to leave us feeling out of control.
So, let’s embrace better, control what we can, let the old normal die and make each day better than the day before. To that end, let’s review some simple ideas for things that can be made better before the end of the year:
Remote or hybrid work environments: Yes, they’re here to stay. Review your policies, technology and processes and determine what areas you can enhance to make this process easier. Hint: it could be as simple as embracing it, instead of ignoring it.
Tax process: Write out your process from start to finish and review how it’s changed over the last two years. Where is your team struggling? Commit to a few enhancements. If you need a major overhaul, evaluate what can be done before year end and what can be pushed to May 2022.
Analyze your client base: Evaluate how much time the bottom 20 percent of your client base demands of you, versus the revenue they generate. Commit to raising their fees, firing some and implement a minimum fee that you’ll enforce going forward to eliminate price shoppers.
Say “no” more than you say “yes”: Commit to saying no to prospects who add busy work. Say yes to those prospects you can really bring value to and price well.
Year-end communication: Plan to communicate with your client base before year end. Tell them about firm celebrations, process changes that may affect them, tax law changes they should watch for—and set a cut-off date for source documents.
Personal planner: If you don’t already use a planner, I recommend starting. At the very least, dedicate a notebook to write out your daily tasks. Organize them in things to do immediately (anything that takes less than 10 minutes), things to do today and what needs to be done tomorrow. Include your personal goals, as well: Activity, water intake, personal time, family time. And this is so important I’ll emphasize it: YOU NEED TO PRIORITIZE YOURSELF, TOO.
The key to each of these ideas is keeping it simple. Focus on a simple list, enjoy checking items off and gain a feeling of accomplishment at the end of each day. Taking those easy steps will help you gain traction—and gain back the control that so many firms feel they’ve lost over these last couple of years.
When you have more open questions than hard, definitive answers, it can be overwhelming to put a process into place—which usually means nothing gets done.
Think about your own firm for a moment. For example’s sake, let’s use two common situations: One, Eligibility for the Employee Retention Credit and two, onboarding questions for new clients. Do you have consistent procedures that everyone in the firm, from admins to CPAs, can use to guide clients through the process?
If that question stresses you (and everyone else in your firm) out, or if your answer contains a “Yes/No, but…” you might want to consider using your website to take back some control of the situation. Because believe it or not, your website can help you make some great information and process gains without having to reinvent the wheel.
Here are three steps to help you get started:
Step 1: Template the consistent
There are a number of form builders available for creating website forms. One of the most popular and easiest to use is Google Forms, which can help you set up online forms with questions you need to consistently ask clients and/or prospects. An online form makes it easy to capture information and route it to a staff member at your firm.
Step 2: Store the data and notify appropriate parties
Using Google Forms, you can set up both email notifications and/or a data flow into a Google Sheet. That’s right—no proprietary databases to learn. Just the good old-fashioned spreadsheet everyone knows and loves, along with an email notification that lets staff know something new just came in.
Step 3: Embed the form on your website.
When the form is in the same place from the start, it gives everyone in the office a common and consistent response for clients—“Go to our website”—when the need arises to capture information. It also gives staff members involved with the procedure a place to review and process the data. Bonus: Since the information is in a worksheet, it’s easy to export or import to other systems as needed.
Using marketing as a means to take control of your destiny
What a ride it’s been. And not one where you jump up and down and shout, “Again, again!” when it’s over. Yes, I’m talking about the past 18 months or so when our world got disrupted from top to bottom by the Covid-19 pandemic. The fallout that precipitated is deeper than any of us may have expected, extending to all corners of firm operations and cascading into secondary crises such as staffing shortages, cybersecurity concerns and more.
Conversations with firm owners around the country reveal common threads of professional burnout and feeling a lack of control over their businesses and their lives. As we look forward to another turn of the calendar and another opportunity to restore life as we once knew it, it’s a good time to remind yourself that there are opportunities in every aspect of The Modern Firm® to assert control over your firm and your relationship with your vocation. Marketing is one of those aspects.
I encourage you to spend some time exploring the “Ideal Clients” module of Business Model Basics (available to all our members on Rootworks.com; log in and select “Resources” in the left navigation stack). I know—it’s not the Marketing & Sales module, but studying the Ideal Clients section will tee up your marketing and sales strategy by defining who you want to serve and how.
The Ideal Clients section of Business Model Basics will guide you through the steps of defining the parameters for not only the types of clients that you desire, but also—and equally important—what technologies and ecosystem components you want to use to serve them. This is an important early step in taking control of your firm on many levels and producing a more ideal work experience for staff.
Once you’ve identified and clearly defined your ideal clients and service mechanisms, then you can begin to set informed goals for your marketing and sales activities in the coming year.
It’s been a wild ride, and it’s time to remind yourself that you’re the one who’s ultimately in control of your firm and your destiny. Your marketing and sales focus—informed by your ideal client parameters—is like the rudder you use to steer your ship. Take the controls and take command. And remember, your Rootworks coach and the rest of our crew are here to help along the journey.
The Inspire Virtual Conference
The Inspire Virtual Conference is coming up on October 21-22. Rootworks staff will present sessions on Day 1 and representatives from Rootworks partners will present on Day 2.
The Day 1 agenda is set, and the Day 2 agenda is coming together!
For Day 2, we’re working with our vendor partners to help them provide detailed and timely software training for our members. So far TechGuru and ADP are in, and we’re working with more partners now.
SharePoint: Take your firm to the cloud (Tech Guru)
Firms across the country have been leveraging Microsoft SharePoint to streamline their operations and enable efficient hybrid working. In this session, you’ll learn all about what SharePoint can do for your firm as well as how to transition seamlessly. You’ll also discover new functionality that will help empower you and your team to collaborate effortlessly and automate workflows. As a bonus, you’ll receive a SharePoint Test Drive Project Plan template to help you get up and running quickly.
Onboarding and service for RUN for ADP® Payroll for Partners and getting the most from your ADP program (ADP)
Stacy Bolser, ADP’s Rootworks account executive, will review the RUN Powered by ADP® Payroll for Partners onboarding process. She’ll also discuss tips for working with ADP service and support for other ADP solutions, as well as review the complete ADP program for members so they can maximize the benefits and discounts.
October 6: Staff training: Using Fathom for advisory services
October 13: Staff training: Software tips and tricks or daily use
October 20: Bonus technology webinar: Onvio update, presented by Thomson Reuters
October 21-22: Inspire virtual conference
October 27: Staff training: Cleaning up your systems for the new year
October 28: Revisiting the Million-Dollar Firm
Please complete the following:
Rootworks members can now use an early access version of Insights, which delivers customer segmentation and pricing data as well as reports for your firm and clients. Connection to QuickBooks Online is required for firms and/or clients.