As much as I love summer, I’m always glad when September arrives. Not necessarily because the leaves start to change colors or it’s tailgating season—although that’s certainly part of it.
No, there’s just something about September that feels—at least to me—like opportunity and optimism. Especially for those of us in the tax and accounting profession.
The best way I can describe it is to explain it as part of a cycle. January through April represents all tax season…all the time (enough said there, I’m sure). Following tax season, most of us make note of the victories and challenges we experienced during tax season to celebrate what worked and try to fix what didn’t. Then, we’re into summer, our season for relaxation and reflection—and a progressive ascent of marketing and selling services.
And then comes September. Summer vacation is over, and our lives swing back into gear—work, school, extracurricular activities, holiday prep. Here’s where the opportunity and optimism come into play. You have four months (a decent stretch of time) to put what you learned from the last tax season into practice before the next one rolls around and then hit the ground running in January.
To help get you thinking about ways you can position your firm for a better tax season experience, here’s a deeper dive into the area I think is most important to consider for not only the upcoming tax season but for many years to come.
The efficiency of automation
I know, I know…I tend to talk about automation a lot. But when the number one challenge in your profession is staffing, you have to constantly be on the lookout for ways to maximize the efficiency of your firm to reduce the burden of tax season, protect your staff from burnout and maintain a positive culture.
That’s where automation comes in. It’s not only helpful for you when you don’t have enough people to do the work; it’s helpful to your team as well. It lifts the routine and boring tasks from their shoulders, freeing them up to do more interesting and meaningful work.
Consider just a few examples of how automation can help transform your firm and get your firm tax-season ready:
Think about all the manual processes your team performs now, and then consider all the processes that could become automated. Performing these tasks in automated cloud-based applications will cut down on time and reduce human error.
The best part is that you don’t need to automate everything all at once. If you’re not ready for full automation just yet, take a hybrid approach. Figure out the tasks that are the most time-consuming and would offer the most value to automate. Then start small, implement automation one process at a time and grow into full automation at a pace that’s comfortable for your firm.
The rewards of automation
Earlier, I mentioned how automation can eliminate repetitive tasks and enable staff members to focus on work that challenges and excites them. That’s not only a definite win for your employees, but for the firm as a whole.
Why? Well, let’s say your firm offers payroll services, as so many firms do. You start out with three employees who work on payroll (complete with all those time-draining manual tasks). When you move to an automated payroll process, you can reduce human effort down to just a single employee.
Then, one of the former payroll processors decides she wants to work with clients on advisory services. She’s happy because she’s challenging herself to learn new things, and she loves working directly with people and building relationships. You soon find out she’s a natural at this kind of work, and your clients absolutely love working with her. In fact, they are so impressed that they start referring colleagues to your firm, and your advisory business continues to grow.
And let’s not forget about the other former payroll processor. He’s currently learning every job he can because he wants to know the ins and outs of each firm offering. You’ve discovered that his passion and real talent lie in marketing and PR, so while your firm’s not big enough to have a full-time marketing department—yet—you’ve given him free rein to use half of his work time to set up and maintain social media platforms for the firm. He’s also set up a Google Business Profile and worked to ensure your website is modern and up to date in order to extend your firm’s reach. Your online engagement has risen to a level you never thought you’d see, and you’re seriously considering taking on more ideal clients from across the country.
Not only do you have a happier team, but your firm’s profitability is also steadily rising—and you’re making sure everyone benefits. No one (including your clients) has shown any signs of wanting to flee the firm for greener pastures. In fact, you recently overheard one of your employees tell a friend what a great place this is to work and that, yes, she’ll let them know if a position opens up. Win, win and win!
The opportunity of automation
I promise, my story isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky fairy tale. It’s a story we at Rootworks hear over and over from firm leaders who have decided that it’s time to seize the opportunities that automation presents. They cite faster turnaround times for clients; happier and more motivated employees; the ability to hone their service offerings to attract and keep their ideal clients; and increased revenues due to those higher-profitability services.
All right, friends, that ends this episode of “Darren Root, Automation Evangelist.” (Of course, if you know me, you know there will be more <cough next month cough>, but you’re good for today.)
And really, it’s not about automation so much as it is the opportunities it presents to firm owners and leaders to create the business of their dreams. If you take nothing else from this column, I hope I’ve inspired you with some of that September optimism I look forward to each year. You’ve got some time, you’ve got the ability and drive, and you’ve got so many cheerleaders and potential helpers on your side in the Rootworks family.
Now go forth and do remarkable things, my friends.
“Fifty-two percent of voluntarily exiting employees say their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job.”
“Replacing exiting workers costs one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. Assuming an average salary of $50,000, that replacement cost translates to between $25,000 and $100,000 per employee.”
These statistics are just two of many (dare we say) shocking figures reported by Gallup Workplace in 2021. But with effort and focus on communication and feedback, two essential factors in a healthy relationship, we can avoid the shock waves that ripple through a firm when an employee unexpectedly leaves.
We’ve all heard of exit interviews. The questions employees answer for the firm when leaving their job. The moment that honest, candid feedback is requested to (hopefully) inform employers of why the employee is leaving and what they could have done to prevent their exit. Unfortunately, efforts to retain the employees rarely pan out and employers are left scrambling to fill the position.
Instead of waiting until the probability of retaining the employee is little to none—when the employee is almost all the way out the door—why not flip the script with what we call “stay interviews?”
Stay interviews: The what and the why
Stay interviews—or stay conversations, if you prefer—are intentional, informal, one-on-one discussions that get to the heart of an individual’s needs, motivations and engagement drivers. While the overarching purpose is to raise employee retention, stay interviews are invaluable conversations that will bring about many other benefits to help you:
Stay interviews: The when and the how
Asking employees questions about their level of engagement, professional and personal needs, and happiness shouldn’t surprise them. Implementing the stay interviews on a consistent, periodic cadence gives both parties ample time to prepare and plan for the conversation.
Similarly, the discussions shouldn’t only happen when you suspect someone is disengaged or thinking of leaving—after all, if they’re disengaged, you likely won’t be able to uncover what’s working well enough to keep them engaged. Therefore, don’t be picky!
Ask all staff to participate in a stay interview (or as we mentioned above, call it a stay conversation, or even just a check-in; whatever term feels most comfortable and least intimidating for you and your team). Be sure to send everyone your questions in advance, so they have time to think about their answers. And when you have your interview/conversation/check-in, give them your full attention and listen intently to what they’re saying. This isn’t a time to check boxes; it’s a time to really connect with your team.
Finally—and quite possibly the most crucial part of the interview—is the follow-up. Stay interviews won’t be appreciated by staff and leaders if they don’t result in action items. When the meeting concludes, commit to a debrief. Then, sit with and think about the feedback, create action steps to ensure employee engagement and satisfaction, and communicate the steps to leadership and staff.
With intentional, one-on-one conversations and check-ins with staff, we can significantly increase the odds that our best and most loyal staff will stay with the firm for the long term. Furthermore, communication and gathering feedback shows staff how truly valued they are—not only as employees but as human beings—and that their well-being is of utmost importance.
At Rootworks, we’ve created a list of questions and information on managing stay interviews internally. Members can find those resources in our online learning library.
What was the very first car you owned?
My first car was a bright red 2001 Ford Focus. It had manual windows, manual locks and AM/FM radio. It was the perfect car to get me from point A to point B.
Now, think about the car you currently own. My last car was a Mini Cooper with a backup camera, power windows, automatic start—all the bells and whistles. These improved features help me to be a better, safer driver, but I still need knowledge and experience to sit in the driver’s seat.
That goes for managing your firm, too. In the same way that auto companies have improved the driving experience, technology companies are creating tech to help your firm work more efficiently. And, as the “driver,” it’s time to start embracing that technology to automate and improve the services you provide to your clients.
Advisory services + automation = a perfect match
Do clients reach out to your firm claiming they want bookkeeping services, payroll services or for you to complete their business tax return? If you do all those things, you’re offering advisory services—and the technology out there will help you automate it. Structuring the services clients call and ask for is basically what advisory services are, but you’re also adding in tax planning or cash flow forecasting to guide their business planning. And the technology is out there today to help you with all of this.
Here are some steps you can take as a firm owner to start thinking about incorporating advisory services into your firm with the help of technology from the automated accounting industry:
These steps will help you develop the framework for advisory services. You have the opportunity to become an even more valuable asset to your clients by providing education and guidance for their business.
There are many resources available for Rootworks members that can help you start thinking even more about advisory services. Take a look today and check out some of the vendors we partner with to see the technology that can help you with advisory services.
The number of options you have for data collection can feel overwhelming. However, staying tied to fillable PDF forms for everything isn’t a great option when you’re striving to be a modern firm. So, where can a firm start?
Tony’s tip of the month
If you’re struggling to get started with a more automated version of data collection, try starting your efforts with non-sensitive information. Some modern firms are taking this approach with their new-client onboarding process.
The benefits include centralized data (making it easier to manage and identify patterns), reduced usage of file space usage (no more individual PDFs crowding drives) and constant online access.
Ready to get started, but still stuck in paralysis by analysis when it comes to data collection options?
If you have a Google Business account, try using Google Forms. Google Forms allows you to track data entered via Google Sheets, can be embedded on your firm’s website, and requires little technical knowledge or learning curve to set up. While Google Forms won’t be suitable for everything your firm is looking to collect, it’s a quick and easy way to get your firm started on automating data collection.
It’s time to recognize this month’s Rootworks member anniversaries! Help us wish the following firms a Happy Anniversary:
Murphy Group CPAs
Hood & Associates, CPAs
Brand Accounting Solutions, LLC
Hannegan & Associates
Harvey & Tully, PC
Copper Ledger PLLC
Business & Tax Accountants, LLC
Edge Business Support Services
Gershon Biegeleisen & Co, CPAS
Hubbs & Whitehead, CPAs
Matthews Group LLP
Woodall & Associates PA
Callan Accounting CPAs & Advisors, LLC
Cole & Company PC
Harris Group CPAs
Abramson & Company LLC
Wells & Kapp, CPAs, LLC
Gilliam & Associates, P.C.
Congratulations on your success, and we look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries with you and your teams!
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.