What is Raising the Bar for You?

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As most accountants prepare to shake off the effects of yet another tax season, the question remains: what is going to get you and your firm to the next level?

Perhaps you’re not thinking about what’s next for your business. Not so “should’ on you, but you kind of should. If you’re frustrated with aspects of your business, you need to take a good, hard look at what is making it that way and what is going to raise the bar? Staying the same is easy, but it gets harder as you look around you and see other practices making core changes to improve life-work balance, revenue, and remove blockers through technology, service, or client mix.

At the end of the day, part of the issue is figuring out what, exactly, will raise the bar for you? Back when I was Editor of AccountingWEB US, we ran a survey that asked similar questions about if you feel like you are the agent of change, leading your clients; if you are being led by them, or if you felt a combination of being pushed by them and pulling them along.

Ultimately, the bar I refer to (aka the thing or things you wish to achieve), is either raised by you or by some outside factor. Figuring out which will start you on your journey towards, hopefully, gaining some control over the trajectory of your business. And make no mistake, your firm IS a business, and if you’re not treating it or structuring it as such, then perhaps THAT is the bar you need to raise.

Now, I’ve never run a firm, but I have spoken to enough owners and seen enough during my time to know what tends to work if you are motivated enough to make even incremental changes. Moreover, raising the bar for yourself and your business does not have to be a Herculean task, and to make it achievable, set small, or even SMART goals and you will see results

To put it simpler terms, here’s just a general snapshot of what “raising the bar” can be for your business in 3 key examples. Take one or all, but make them happen over the next year and let me know (if you so choose) how it went:

3 Ways to ‘Raise the Bar’ for Your Business

1. Set YOUR Deadlines

I’ve mentioned this before: how tax- and non-tax-centric accounting firms need to take more control over their work. While technology is great (and I’ll get to that), setting policies for when work can and needs to come in will not only control the flow, it will also help manage crucial client (and staff) expectations and keep frustrations at a minimum.

Look, we get that government entities tend to dictate when certain forms and payments need to be submitted. Use that as a base for setting your own. Similar to how firms that have moved away from time-based billing yet still track time as a base for the pricing levels, you set can utilize pre-set deadlines to create your own

Too many accountants don’t take control over what works for Them, as well as within designated filing deadlines. It’s time to raise the bar and say “when.”

2. Automate What Ails You

Over the years, I’ve realized one of accountants’ most valued assets is time. Having more of it, or even spending less on tasks, opens the doors to a lot of possibilities to add higher-value services or just feel more organized and, let’s be honest, freer. But in order to achieve the aforementioned, systems need to be in place to allow this to happen.

You’ve all no doubt been hearing the benefits of automation in not only the reduction of time on tasks but also in helping to know the state of work and the ability to be “real time” with clients and staff. The problem occurs when firm leaders don’t know exactly What to automate, let alone switch from current tools or processes that, while inefficient or issue-ridden, they’ve just become accustomed to.

My suggestion is to begin with your biggest blockers, the things inside of your practice or processes that really could use the biggest overhaul. Only you know what gets in the way most or what could be better during the busiest times or just throughout the year. I am willing to bet there is a tool to improve how you work internally or with clients—anything that is slowing you down or causing the most frustration for you and your team. Start there and you will see that bar raised within a calendar year.

3. Change Your Pricing Structure

Notice I didn’t say “charge more.” Yes, I know this has been the rallying cry for all accountants, from tax preparers to bookkeepers and advisors. But it’s not quite that simple, is it? Raising fees comes along with any positive change to a pricing structure, but there’s a bit more involved than that. The good news is, with proper planning and direct thought on what prices you’d actually be raising and why, the bar will indeed be raised for your business.

First and foremost, if most or even some of how you get paid is hourly, know that, in no uncertain terms, this is tying you to volume work and not value work. The burnout the profession is experiencing year in and year out is largely caused by the sheer number of clients you need to work with in order to hit financial goals. This simply can’t be the case anymore.

There is way too much evidence and use cases available in the market, and I’d wager among your closest colleagues that adjusting the structure of your pricing from fixed-fee, all the way up to subscription allows you to work with fewer clients while providing more value to them.  For some, fixed-fee does not quite cut it either.

Set tiers of pricing (3 is usually good, any odd number, to be honest) and have clients choose their level of service, you’ll find that they’ll pick what works best for them and you.

Conclusion

Look, none of this is prescriptive, and some, I’m willing to bet, you’ve heard before. Guess what? You’re hearing it again because you deserve better. Raising the bar on the kind of firm, nay, the kind of business you want to be, begins with making incremental changes, and the aforementioned, in my view, will begin to move the needle for you over the next year.

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