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Sep 29, 2021
Boomer’s Blueprint: The edge ... an advantage in a changing market By L. Gary Boomer September 29, 2021, 9:00 a.m. EDT 6 Min Read REGISTER NOW It’s becoming more difficult to gain an edge in any business or profession, yet many are learning and changing faster than their competition, which naturally provides an edge. In the past, having an education from the right university, connections, and the willingness to work were enough advantages to excel throughout a career or lifetime. As Thomas Friedman wrote back in 2005 in “The World Is Flat,” things have changed and are changing faster than at any time in history. The internet accelerated the global market. Most futurists are predicting that change will never be slower than it is today. What does it take for CPAs, their firms and clients to hold an edge in their markets … to sustain success and be future-ready? I quickly learned when I entered the profession that a CPA certificate, license and a master’s degree were not going to cut it for the long term. I had to become a life-long learner and it wasn’t just the technical skills that would make me successful. Within a few years, I became a partner in a regional firm and quickly learned that along with making partner came many management and leadership responsibilities for which I had little training. I often refer to this as the zone of incompetency. Fortunately, I had grown up on a farm and had a minor in economics, which provided a perspective beyond just accounting (e.g., risk management, cash flow, capital investments, pricing, technology, equipment maintenance, debt structuring, scheduling, and long hours during busy season). Some might say this was an advantage, but I didn’t realize it at the time because I was focused on getting better and adding more value to clients beyond compliance services. At first, I thought this could only be accomplished through additional technical skills. I was wrong and needed a change in mindset. That mindset change came from enrolling in Dan Sullivan’s Strategic Coach program for entrepreneurs. Enough about me; this is about you and your firm and how you can achieve an advantage and perhaps even what some might call an “unfair advantage” by accelerating your mindsets, skill sets and toolsets. The market is competitive for traditional accounting services and requires continuous learning of new laws and regulations. I believe your first step in breaking this competitive cycle is to hire a coach or someone from the outside who is positive, supportive, goal-oriented, focused, trustworthy and willing to hold you accountable. This is not an easy step for accountants due to the fact that it is a journey and not an event. It is an investment that requires a commitment to learning, practice time, and dealing with setbacks, as well as successes. I am a believer in Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule of intensive practice and learning to gain mastery. Coaching along with proven tools and shortcuts can accelerate and scale that process. Another big game changer is the focus on adding value to clients rather than just performing quality technical services. To add value in today’s market you must vision the future from an ideal client’s perspective rather than from a service line perspective. This will require a team approach, rather than becoming the smartest rugged individual in the room. I am sure you know many smart people who cannot leverage or scale beyond their own capability and capacity. They even have trouble delegating and building a team because no one can do it as well or like them. Most revenue growth today in the accounting profession is coming from advisory and consulting services. It requires a team to meet the needs and wants of a target client. One piece of good news is the team approach can reduce the challenges of succession and retirement. The importance of teams As you might guess from the previous discussion, the second step is the mindset and willingness to develop a unique-ability team that can add value in multiple ways and especially from a client experience and anticipated value perspective. The higher you go in an organization, the more the problems become more behavioral and less technical. Your team will require a vision and plan if you wish to attract and retain quality talent and clients. Most firms and clients’ visions should have changed over the past two years with the disruption (enablement) of technology and the pandemic. Talent is leaving because leadership too often is talking about how it was pre-pandemic, rather than what it will look like into the future. Now is the time for firms and clients to define their vision for the future. What do they want to be, do, have, experience and create over the next three years? As a reminder, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones always said, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” I and many others are living proof of that statement. Your current success and the firm’s success may be your biggest challenge in sustaining success and being future-ready. It requires balance and the tendency is to focus on the return rather than the investment to remain future-ready (e.g., leadership, talent, technology, processes and growth). The third step is digital transformation, which requires business transformation. Not only have we experienced the continuum of value, but we are also experiencing the continuum of pricing. Subscription pricing is an improved strategy to match value with scope, wants and needs. This step requires leadership and a change in mindset by the accounting professional. Value is determined by the client, not the service or time invested. It is not unusual for the professional to give away what the client values the most and overcharge for the service the client values the least. Ron Baker has led the charge for value billing, while the cost-plus model (theory of labor) is a Karl Marx theory. This step and change in mindset will be critical to your sustaining success and being future-ready. Here’s a summary action plan: 1. Find a coach who can help you with the vision and the strategic plan. The planning process is generally as valuable as the plan. Today, one coach is probably not enough. I recommend multiple coaches who can focus on leadership, building unique-ability teams, technology, processes and growth. Think of your most successful sports teams — they have multiple assistant coaches. The virtual world has leveraged the coaching experience. Zoom is a transportation system. 2. Develop unique-ability teams to meet the wants and needs of your target clients. Think beyond your internal resources. In a virtual world, you have access to resources you didn’t have or didn’t realize you had two years ago. The Kolbe Index has been valuable to Boomer Consulting and many of our clients. 3. Transform your business model with a focus on client value and subscription pricing. One of your biggest obstacles may be too many small clients. Value is determined by the customer or client. How easy is it to do business with you and your firm? Those professionals, firms and businesses that learn and change faster than the competition will continue to have the edge and the distance between them will only grow. Think exponentially, plan with accountability, and grow profitably.