Face Your Firm's Top Challenges Head On

July 29, 2019

Do other firms have the same issues we do?

Whether you lead or work in a firm, it is normal to wonder if other firms are up against similar challenges. Such knowledge helps us make sense of our situation and understand what’s happening across the profession. This is why the PCPS created the PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey. Conducted every two years, it is all about gathering insights from firms of all sizes across the country to understand the significant matters they face.

In this edition of Feature Focus, you can take a look at standout trends from the recently released 2019 Survey. You can also tap into practical strategies and tools available to help your firm address these issues as you plan for the future.

Key Findings

There was tremendous interest in this year’s Survey with a 97% increase in participation over 2017. Here are some of the most telling issues the 2019 Survey revealed.

  • Interestingly most of the significant challenges firms face today are not new
    • Seasonality and workload compression (all size firms)
    • Talent and staffing (all size firms except sole practitioners)
    • Keeping up with the changes and complexity of tax laws (all size firms except21+ professionals)
  • One top issue new to this year’s Survey is on the minds of firms of all sizes
    • Privacy and security risks
  • Three top issues are expected to impact firms of all sizes over the next five years   
    • Staffing
    • Changing Client Needs
    • Emerging Technologies

Click here to access the complete 2019 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey Results and see how your firm compares. You will find survey responses broken down into five firm size categories - Sole practitioners, 2-5 professionals, 6-10 professionals, 11-20 professionals and 21+ professionals.

Prepare for a New Age of Privacy and Security Risks

One new reality for firms of all sizes is the concern for cybersecurity and privacy. In this new era of data breaches and cyberattacks, including those directly targeting the accounting sector, it is more important than ever for firms to keep client and firm data safe.    

To help your practice combat this challenge head on, consider these proactive steps:

  • Be Ready for Attacks

Approach this challenge as if your firm is under attack. Identify possible areas of weakness and discuss the potential impact of breaches, equipment failure and interruption of service. Strategize on how best to prevent or minimize such threats.

  • Adopt a Firm Approach

Develop a cybersecurity plan to use during an actual event. Prepare to maintain operations if at all possible during a breach. Develop step-by-step policies and procedures then train your people to follow them. Conduct an annual mock attack to test your firm’s readiness. Include a firm communication plan to deploy to all employees in the case of a cyber event.

To help your firm put proper safeguards in place, check out these AICPA and PCPS tools and resources:

Minimize the Struggles of Seasonality and Compression

For many firms the 2019 tax season was difficult for practitioners, so it is not surprising that workload compression and seasonality was a top issue for firms of all sizes. New comprehensive tax legislation added to this year’s challenges. To help ease the pain in your practice as you look towards the future, here are several practical strategies.

  • Carefully Consider Your Clients

Review your clients and transition out those no longer a good fit for the firm. Your staff will have more time to work with clients at a deeper level, identifying opportunities for additional valued services. Tap into the PCPS Good fit client tool to assist you with this endeavor.

  • Increase Peak Time Fees

Have you considered establishing a premium busy season rate? This would involve increasing fees for work that must be done during peak times. Discuss the pros and cons with your colleagues.  

  • File Extensions

For clients whose work often arrives late, why not talk with them about filing automatic extensions? Then you can push their work out of peak times. This will allow you to better meet their needs, while reducing seasonal overload.

Want to draw upon other firm leaders’ experience in tackling seasonality, workload compression and other key issues? Consider connecting with other firm leaders to discuss practice management issues through PCPS Networking Groups.  

Sharpen Your Talent Focus

Attracting and retaining good talent continues to be a challenge for firms of all sizes and is expected to be top of mind over the next five years. This means a continued focus on your recruiting and retention initiatives. Here are tips, tools and best practices for your firm.   

  • Conduct Stay Interviews

One of the most overlooked opportunities in talent retention and management is the ability to understand why employees stay with the firm or whether they’re considering other opportunities. One effective way to do this is through a tool called the ‘stay interview’ that provides a platform for conversations with employees on why they remain at your firm, questions they may have about their career progression and reasons they might want to leave. Listen closely to their responses.

  • Review Your Firm’s Recruiting Plan

The summer months are a good time to review and plan so you can be ready for the upcoming year. Do you have passionate people representing your firm as brand ambassadors at recruiting events? Are there additional recruiting activities or venues your firm should consider? Are you actively involved in schools with diverse new talent? Get started with the Recruiting Action Plan.

  • Offer Internships

If your firm is not offering internships, maybe it’s time to reconsider. Not only are internships an effective way to get to know individuals that could be the right match for your practice, they offer a chance for you and the student to work together in a real world environment. What’s more, interns can help reduce workload stress in peak times. If both sides are happy at the end of the assignment, it creates the perfect opportunity to offer a full-time position in the firm. For more information, check out the PCPS Internship program quick start guide.

Here are additional resources for your firm as it looks for solutions to its staffing challenges:

Navigate Changing Client Needs

As tax laws, technology and the economy continue to change, it is critical to tune in to your clients’ changing needs. The same goes for potential clients.  

  • Learn What is Important

Talk with your clients about what they value from you and your firm. How have their needs changed since you began working with them? Are they looking for new services, new business approaches, new technology or something totally different? Uncover what else is on their minds with the Client Advisory Board Toolkit.

  • Review How Your Firm On-Ramps New Clients

When you bring on a new client, it is an opportune time to talk about the relationship you are embarking on. Learn exactly what they want from you and your team, rather than simply discussing specifics about the upcoming engagement. Get clear on their overall goals and objectives. Understand what types of assistance they want, their preferred method of communication and their need for additional services going forward. Discover how they want to be informed of new services and other important developments (i.e. email, social media, face-to-face communications, newsletters) and carefully consider their feedback in your client communications.

For more tools and resources, take a look at these:

Amp Up for Emerging Technologies

  • Align Technology with Firm Goals

With rapid advances in technology, it is easy to get overwhelmed and feel you have to do it all. Not only is this unrealistic, it is costly. Focus on what will help your practitioners operate more efficiently and serve clients better. Select one or two specific initiatives that align with firm goals and commit to it. Purposeful steps that add value to your team and your clients are the key to success.

  • Help Staff Master Technology  

Technology is only as good as one’s ability to use it. Whenever your firm makes an investment in new technology, encourage those who will be using it to learn it. Take classes or participate in webinars. Focus on key features to help achieve specific objectives.

For more insight, visit these resources:

Use the Survey Results to Move Your Firm Forward

The true value of the PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey is not just in knowing what is on the minds of firm leaders across the country but in helping you make better decisions and put new information to work in your practice. To get started, whether in strategic planning or growth positioning, here are action steps you can take now.

  1. Review the Survey with colleagues
  2. Look closely at overall findings - zero in on issues facing similar sized firms
  3. Identify one or two top areas that resonate with your firm to focus on   
  4. Define an overall goal – then prepare an action plan to help you reach this goal  
  5. Identify a champion to lead it

To turn your challenges into opportunities, refer to the Solutions for Top Challenges matrix which includes PCPS and AICPA resources available to help.     

Here’s to facing your firm’s issues head on as you look to the future. Small steps now will yield big strides going forward.