Many great ideas for new services or improvements at firms suffer from “death by committee.” They are debated, pushed off, and delayed until they are ultimately shelved, or a completely watered-down version is finally produced and it is either too late to the market or made with too many compromises to be effective.
This, however, is not the case with all firms. There are firms that have interwoven innovation into the very fabric of their firm culture. They embrace trying new methods and taking chances on implementing improvements quickly. They make changes before they are forced to by the market or evolving times.
The good news is that every firm can make improvements and learn how to adapt more quickly. Wherever your firm falls on the scale of “we would rather still be using abacuses” to “we implemented AI into our audit process 5 years ago” there are lessons that can be learned to drive change in your firm.
Water Your Ideas and Give Them Time to Grow
National Director of Innovation at BKD CPAs & Advisors Brett Krug’s personal motto is “Yesterday is over. Let’s impact tomorrow with what we accomplish today.” This is the perfect credo for someone in charge of inventing new service lines at a national CPA and advisory firm.
Brett leads a team of seven professionals from different backgrounds that focuses on filing patents, developing products, and launching business lines at BKD. During the pandemic, his team was able to create a new product to help BKD business clients dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
Although it was nice to be able to help clients quickly in a trying time, Brett notes that it pays to be patient with innovation. “There are good reasons why creating new products takes time. You need to ensure quality and that the new product or service will add value and raise the bar.”
Brett also notes the importance of experimentation and investing time in different ideas. Not every idea for improvement or a new service will turn out to be a home run. However, never know which ones could be successful unless you give them each proper time and attention to develop. Once an idea begins to show promise, you can invest more time in that idea and eventually bring it to market.
Be Open to Ideas from Every Level
When the pandemic hit, Sensiba San Filippo LLP, a Silicon Valley-founded CPA firm, decided to call on everyone at the firm—from every level—for ideas on how to cut costs and add revenue. This openness for ideas paid off. From these discussions came the development of a SALT practice and an in-house R&D tax credit practice as well as engaging with banks for the PPP loan process. These new service lines helped the firm bolster their revenue during the pandemic.
“Being a Silicon Valley-founded CPA firm, innovation is something we live and breathe every day. We are used to having open discussions and looking for ideas at every level on how to improve,” said Jennifer Cantero, Director of Marketing and Sustainability at Sensiba San Filippo LLP.
As illustrated by their nimble pivot to success during COVID-19, Jennifer notes the importance of including everyone at the firm for innovation. Holding open discussions and roundtables with partners and staff can generate successful ideas that may have never been discovered if it was just left to senior management.
Jennifer also advocates letting staff take ownership of their ideas. “When you allow ownership by staff on their new ideas and projects, they will not only have buy-in for the idea because it is their own, but they will feel more connected to the firm for investing in them. They may have to work longer hours on their project, but because it is something they believe in, they will feel more fulfilled and engaged because they are personally invested.”
This concept is something Jennifer lives. In addition to overseeing all marketing at the firm, Jennifer heads the firm’s sustainability practice, which she founded. This means more hours, but because it is her project and her passion she “loves it.”
Focus on Micro-Goals
For many accounting firm marketers, the pandemic has forced us to quickly change how we approach our job as well as how we work with team members. This means finding new ways for staff to communicate with current and potential clients.
Stephanie Gandsey, Marketing Director at DHJJ in Naperville, Illinois, says, “One of the major ways accounting marketers need to change is to become the person in the firm who keeps communication moving forward. I have had to learn more about networking online and then use that knowledge to train our CPAs on how to successfully talk with clients and prospects virtually. In turn, we have made small tweaks to how our proposals are presented to make it easier to share over the computer.”
The pandemic has also forced many of us to work from home for the first time. Not having the structure of the office has caused problems with focus. Stephanie advocates creating micro-goals to keep everyone on track. “We know that our personal lives are upended as well, so it is really hard to think long term and even short term. We challenge leaders to think about how they can create micro-goals for their teams, such as “what we can do THIS WEEK to keep pushing people forward in a manageable way when we do not know what other restrictions may pop up?” As an example, my school district was supposed to bring kids in K-2 back for hybrid learning next week. We just found out on Friday that due to rising cases, that plan is scrapped. Having a micro-goal can keep people going even when surprises hit.”
Be the Change
Whether you are looking to future-proof your firm or just adapt quickly to changes brought on by the pandemic, it pays to have innovation at the forefront. Take inspiration from these leaders of innovation, and spark the change you want to see at your firm.
About Chris O'Day
Christopher O’Day is the Director of Marketing at ALL CPAs, a 50 person firm in Chestnut Hill, MA. As the Director of Marketing, he is responsible for business development, strategic marketing, digital marketing, social media, communications, recruiting, event management, and other growth efforts for the firm.