Relevance. That’s a word I’m hearing all the time, whether it’s in discussions with CPAs around the country or in gatherings of some of the profession’s thought leaders. The main question is how CPA firms can remain relevant in a rapidly changing business environment. If you’re among those concerned about this issue, consider these few key steps.
Understand the changing client. Clients are becoming more sophisticated, with greater access to the tools and information they need to run their companies. In addition to our core services, they are seeking more insights and ideas than ever before. A new generation is taking over existing companies or starting their own, and they have different expectations and values from the retiring baby boom generation. They may also include women, minorities and foreign-born entrepreneurs who will have questions about our own firms’ commitment to diversity. In addition, they do not require or even prefer a bricks-and-mortar environment, but instead are comfortable doing business in the cloud and on the global stage. If we are to remain relevant, then we must do it by understanding the changing client and shifting our focus so that we can anticipate and meet their needs.
Develop a new vision of your value. All CPAs should be able to identify and articulate their unique value. As author Leo Pusateri and I discussed in a recent “You Are the Value” webinar, you should engage in a process that involves revisiting the value you deliver, the price you charge for your value and how your clients perceive your value. Even if you already have a sense of what you bring to a client engagement, now may be a good time to consider whether you are addressing the issues the changing client truly values. Your firm may offer unparalleled technical skills, for example, but the client may put more stock in advice that can help them lower their costs or take their business to the next level. Have a conversation with your clients about their needs and challenges and about how you can meet them. Before and after these conversations, think about the many ways your firm’s skills and expertise can benefit clients, then be ready to talk about your value and allow them to define your firm going forward.
Take a look at your firm’s business model. Once you have a greater understanding of the changing client and of the value you can offer, you may want to reevaluate your firm’s business model. Do timesheets and a project-based environment really work for your firm, your staff, and your clients? Instead of an engagement that you do once a year, you should be thinking of your work with clients as a combination of a project and a relationship. CPAs are in a unique position to help clients grapple with current and future financial challenges and identify and seize their most profitable opportunities. CPAs should keep this goal in mind when structuring and executing their work.
Be a visionary. In the CPA Horizons 2025 project, the AICPA called upon CPAs from all sectors of the profession to help define the future for the profession and the people and organizations we serve. You can use the findings of that project and the PCPS CPA Horizons 2025 Toolkit to create a vision for your own future. Put these tools to work to consider how your clients are changing, the value you can offer to these changing clients and the business model you need to support your efforts.
Seize the small firm advantage. Flexibility is one of a small firm’s greatest benefits, which means that you have the agility to retain relevance amid changing client expectations. Assess where your clients stand and what the future holds for them. At the same time, look inward to identify the many advantages you offer current and prospective clients. Consider the next steps for your clients and your firm and pinpoint existing practices that may need changing. Your result will be a deeper relationship with clients and a stronger and more profitable practice.
James C. Metzler, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is AICPA vice president, small firm interests. Have questions for Jim? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212/596-6039.