Posted in: Uncategorized

In preparation for our May Executive Team Conference (ETC), I connected with my good friend, Michelle River with Fore LLC. Michelle is presenting on Advanced Pricing Methods®, plus a bonus session as a panelist with Brian Blaha of Wipfli LLP and Dave Stonesifer of Herbein + Company, Inc. This panel discussion is on why pricing differently can be a good first step toward changing your business model. Of course, the real first step is to realize you need to change your business model. Fortunately, there’ll be plenty of other sessions that will address that topic as well.

As Michelle and I were discussing the questions to ask, and the ultimate results we were looking for, it brought me back to the many conversations I had with member firms when I first joined Allinial Global. At the time, I invited every member firm to meet with me one-on-one so I could learn more about their business and see how we could help. One area that kept coming up was Client Accounting & Advisory Services (CAAS), and the inability to grow because of challenges finding and attracting staff to that group. But you should not allow human capital to inhibit growth. We have plenty of solutions to help with this problem, and we’re currently talking to Botkeeper, in addition to other companies that produce automation tools. There’s also a huge opportunity to outsource services to any of our member firms that provide outsourcing in India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and other markets.

This is where I think Michelle’s theory about fixing pricing holds true. Part of the issue with using non-humans to provide client solutions is how to get paid for it. We’ve believed for so long that hourly rates have some sense of value, but I don’t believe the inputs were ever the true value to the client. I don’t believe the client cares if the work is done by a local human, a human on the other side of the world, or even a bot. The client just wants to know that you, as the service provider, will make sure the work is done on time and correctly.

Pricing strategies of today are taking on different names: pricing in advance, value pricing, and subscription pricing. All are very relevant, and many member firms believe they’ve already tackled the issue of pricing in this way. But they haven’t. They’ll provide a fixed price when they have to, but then when pricing gets difficult, or the client appears to have an open checkbook, many firms revert back to the old ways. There’s never really been a firmwide strategy that says they’re going to price differently to fix all of their other issues.

I can’t wait for this session. Please register for the 2021 Executive Team Conference on May 16 if you haven’t done so yet.  You may want to have several join in for this session alone. If you’re not an Allinial Global member firm and you’d like to see this session, let me know and we can try to make that happen.


      
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It’s almost April. Is it too late to make marketing trend predictions? Not if these trends will likely transform into timeless “traditions.”

How do I know which marketing trends are here to stay? Great question. I listen to accounting marketers while I host our monthly marketing community calls, networking events, and webinars. I follow our members on social media. Every day I receive a variety of questions from members all over the globe. Last but not least, I conduct regular member surveys on marketing topics such as budget, CRM, advertising, and websites. In other words, as a person who is deeply invested in the success of Allinial Global marketers, I’m in a unique position to see patterns forming before they make headlines.

Based on both qualitative and quantitative data gathered over the years, here are three accounting marketing trends that I expect to continue into 2022 and beyond.

  1. Leaning into Advertising. When I published our State of Advertising Benchmarking Survey two years ago, there were still quite a few firms who hadn’t considered advertising to be part of the marketing toolbox. Today, the majority of our member firms are onboard with advertising in various channels – mostly digital but some traditional media as well, depending on location and industry specialization. Advertising could easily be a topic for its own series, so I won’t let it hijack this blog post. But before I move on, I would like to make one recommendation: don’t forget about Facebook. LinkedIn is an obvious choice for accounting firms; it makes reaching your target audience easy, even if you have zero advertising experience. However, LinkedIn’s advertising cost is a lot higher. Moreover, having a LinkedIn account does not necessarily mean your target audience will be active on the platform. Depending on your service line or industry specialization, Facebook may be an excellent choice for your next awareness campaign.
  2. Prioritizing Client Experience. Every year, I notice more and more firms investing in client experience. Often, this means collaborating with companies such as ClearlyRated and Delighted to gather feedback from clients and identify a firm’s Net Promoter Score (NPS). The results are used not only to improve client experience but also to promote the firm’s brand, with client testimonials repurposed as content for the firm website, proposals, social media, and so on. We publicize the winners of “Best of Accounting” from Inavero each year, and I predict that the list of winners who are Allinial Global members will grow each year.
  3. The Rise of Employee Advocacy Software. Back in 2017 I was introduced to Clearview Social, a relatively new type of employee advocacy software that allows employees to share firm/company content with their own personal connections to amplify reach. Because Clearview’s founder was a lawyer by training, Clearview did well initially with law firms. But they quickly found that the accounting industry was a viable adjacent market, and the adoption of Clearview Social among accounting firms has grown steadily. As of today I know three Allinial Global member firms who have adopted Clearview Social, and there are more who are considering it. With so many Allinial Global members investing heavily in content marketing and looking to improve their content distribution, employee advocacy software is a worthy consideration for the marketing tech stack. In fact, I will be researching Clearview’s competitors for an upcoming blog in July entitled “Redefining Social Media Excellence.”

It was difficult to narrow down the trends to just three, but there they are. It’s fun to open myself to opportunities to be wrong publicly, but to err is human; to predict is to invite discussion.

What are your predictions for 2021 and beyond?

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Posted in: Uncategorized

Over the last few months I’ve had several conversations with members, nonmembers, and community members about the current state of live events. When it came time to discuss our Executive Team Conference (ETC), there were lots of opinions on what we should do.

When we finally made the decision to continue with both a live and virtual option, there were, of course, a variety of reactions. I received emails and calls saying, “Thank you for keeping this event live!” Then I heard from others that said, “How dare you force us to meet live?!”

We didn’t take this decision lightly, and we don’t expect to see the same level of live attendance that we’re accustomed to, but we thought it was important to offer an option that addressed the complexity of the pandemic. Some firms said they could attend in person and would prefer to be at a live event. Other firms have said no travel for any of their team through a particular date, which prevents them from attending live. Some are living in locations that still restrict travel, or they may have team members who don’t feel safe traveling just yet. We respect all of that, and we are working hard to make this hybrid event the best possible experience for all.

With that in mind, I thought this would be a good time to address some of the steps we’re taking to make the Executive Team Conference a successful hybrid event.

1. An engaging virtual experience. To address the issue of live versus virtual attendance, I have charged the team with ensuring that virtual attendees feel well connected to the event. Even if you’ve attended a virtual event with us before, we’ll be doing things a bit differently. For example, we acquired a video camera that can follow a live speaker, which we’ll place in the front row at the event (who sits in the front row anyway?). In that seat, we will have a cardboard picture of an attendee to remind speakers that they have a bigger audience. As a virtual attendee, you’ll be sitting front and center without fear of being called upon by the speaker.

2. Equal opportunities to engage and interact. The roundtable sessions taking place during the live event will be replicated in the virtual event as well. While it won’t be the exact same experience, virtual roundtables still provide a great opportunity to network and learn with your peers. The topics this year will be well pointed at the top issues facing firms today. And while most of our speakers are live, some are virtual, making the experience the same for all.

3. Clear guidelines for safety. For live attendees, we have established safety protocols based on CDC guidelines (available on our Global Events page), which we plan to follow now and into the near future. ETC is being held at the Belmond Charleston Place in South Carolina, and while South Carolina does not currently have a mask mandate, the hotel does. To me, this is not political; it’s about giving our members the safest environment possible for live events. Allinial Global members who would like to know more can log in to our member website to access full details on all of the safety protocols in place. We have implemented six-foot distancing, daily health check-ins via an app, temperature checks before entering meeting rooms, and a variety of other precautions. We are taking safety very seriously.

I know that many of the leaders of our firms are facing similar challenges with opening offices, allowing for larger team meetings, and handling client travel. A few of our member firms have reached out to us to see what we’ve put in place as they try to figure it out for local team meetings as well. We are happy to share our protocols. I don’t know if we have it perfect, but I do know we’re not going to stop trying until we do. We want to serve both live and remote participants in as similar a way as possible, keeping everyone safe and offering the best possible experience we can.

Whether your situation allows for in-person or virtual attendance, we hope to see you at ETC.


      
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On November 20, 2020, member firm Bober Markey Fedorovich (BMF) became the first Allinial Global firm to migrate to the new .cpa domain. Soon after BMF, member firm Hantzmon Wiebel also migrated to .cpa.

What is a .cpa domain, and why would you want to change your firm’s website from .com to .cpa, you ask? Available only to licensed CPAs and CPA firms, .cpa is a new and exclusive domain from the AICPA. Its primary benefits include:

1. Trust: As a restricted top-level domain (TLD) for licensed CPAs and CPA firms, .cpa builds trust and credibility with both existing and prospective clients. Have you noticed the blue check marks on Twitter and Instagram influencers’ profiles? They signify profiles that have been vetted and verified; in other words, their owners are who they say they are. Think of .cpa as a blue check mark. Whenever a website visitor sees the .cpa domain or clients receive an email from a .cpa email address, they can rest assured that they are interacting with a legitimate site and email – not a cybercriminal posing as your firm or professional.

2. Cybersecurity: Online fraud and cybercrime are on the rise, and firms need to have a comprehensive plan to protect their online brands. Firms with .cpa domains benefit from an additional layer of protection; because every .cpa domain holder goes through a verification process, the online identities of firms with a .cpa domain are harder to spoof. Registry service providers for the .cpa TLD also perform a base level of monitoring on all .cpa domains to detect phishing, malware, and other cyber threats. With these added benefits, client and firm data are more secure from phishing attacks and security threats.

3. Brand positioning: .cpa domains allow firms to secure their most preferred names. Many firms are also securing multiple domain names, which allows them to choose how to position their brand in the marketplace. These names can call attention to a firm’s practice area focus (taxes.cpa), a niche industry or vertical focus (healthcare.cpa), or even a geographic focus (boston.cpa). From a marketing perspective, this strategy serves firms well in organic search, as their websites may be found online more quickly than their peers.

One question that many marketers have asked is how the migration to .cpa will impact SEO. There could be a temporary dip (emphasis on temporary) in a firm’s SEO ranking – depending on how long your firm has invested in SEO. But I don’t view this as a dealbreaker unless a significant portion of your revenue comes for search leads. The way I see it, this is all part of technological adoption; we need to put in the effort and investment now to ensure that our firms are well-positioned for the digital age. However, I’m here to make suggestions only. The decision is up to you and firm leadership.

If you decide to move forward with the migration, the following are three tips from Stephanie Smith, Marketing and Communications Specialist at BMF and Chair of the Allinial Global BD/Marketing Committee:

1. Change your email address to .cpa before migrating your website. But keep your .com email address active and have your IT team redirect those emails to your new address. This will provide ample time for you to communicate the changes internally, generate some excitement about the migration, and ensure that your new email addresses will be whitelisted by your external stakeholders. Incidentally, the BMF team has no current plans to jettison their .com addresses.

2. Leverage partners’ relationships with clients, and communicate early and often. Timely communications from the marketing department to clients and other key external stakeholders will be important. But emails sent directly from the partners’ inbox will be even more important for a smooth transition and to minimize the likelihood that your new email address will land in the spam folder.

3. Commit to a timeline, and don’t look for downtime. With multiple deadlines throughout the year and the continuing evolution of PPP, there’s no “best time” to migrate to .cpa. Once you decide to migrate, my recommendation is to create a project plan as soon as possible and start executing.

Many thanks to Stephanie Smith for sharing her experience and insights with the Allinial Global marketing community. She was gracious enough to share her project plan, deliverables, and communications samples with me.

In addition, the AICPA and CPA.com have some helpful resources on www.domains.cpa to guide you through migration, including a step-by-step guide, FAQs, deep-dive videos, and a weekly onboarding webcast.

If you are an Allinial Global member who would like to see Stephanie’s project plan and samples, please let me know. For questions that are not addressed in the FAQs section of domains.cpa, please contact our CPA.com rep, Brian Siet, for assistance.

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Posted in: Growth, Mark's Insights, Value Pricing,

In Part 1 of our series on CAAS, I noted an interesting phenomenon: as the pandemic sparked new interest in client accounting and advisory services (CAAS), the gap between the “haves” and “have notes” in CAAS continued to grow. As we’ve seen throughout 2020, firms who were already committed to embracing the cloud and transforming their practices are thriving. But it’s not just the technology that sets these firms apart—they are thinking about their services in a very different way.

So, how can you set your firm up for success with all the new opportunities available in CAAS? In our previous post, I outlined two foundational characteristics of successful practices—a clear strategy for your business model and a standardized tool set for your industry vertical. But what’s next after you have these items in place?

3. Pricing. I find pricing to be an art form, rather than something scientific. The challenge for most firms is trying to use an antiquated way of pricing CPA services with an innovative and forward-looking service like CAAS. I can’t tell you the number of firms that try to count the number of transactions and multiply by the time it takes per transaction to come up with a daily, then weekly, then monthly “estimate.” Blah. The client doesn’t care.

Successful firms in this category have thrown that all away and developed a three-tier pricing system. Typically, the lowest price in the system would be no less than what the client would pay for in-house services. So if the client wanted to hire a full-time bookkeeper who may or may not have the skills necessary to provide a reliable financial statement, that’s an option at about $40k per year, plus benefits, time off, etc. Alternatively, they can hire the firm for, let’s say, $3,500 per month, and the client will get better information, with full financial statements, KPIs, and a dashboard they can see 24/7. And if you’ve chosen your industry vertical judiciously as indicated on my previous blog post, each new client you onboard becomes more profitable than the one prior because you’ve already established a standardized chart of accounts, GL, financial statement package, etc. That’s the base price. We’ll discuss the next two price points in the advisory discussion.

4. Incorporating advisory services into CAAS naturally. CAAS is a natural fit for advisory, which is why I like two As in CAAS, not just one. Sure, the accounting is important, but it’s the advisory that truly makes this viable and incredibly profitable. And if you’ve chosen your industry vertical wisely and priced strategically, the advisory can be incorporated into the service in a seamless way.

Focusing on an industry niche gives you all kinds of data that can help you be smarter about what’s happening in that particular market. What one client does well can be shared with another client who may be struggling in that same area. And as you shift to three-tier pricing, you can naturally incorporate the advisory into the engagement. So if your base price includes the transactional activities, financial statement, and dashboard, the middle tier can include a planning day up front as well as regular check-ins that you and the client determine—I’d say at least twice per year, but most likely quarterly. Then the top-tier price can include everything we want to offer, plus monthly check-ins, budgeting, sales goals and systems, expansion initiatives, and so on—the possibilities are endless. You will typically see about 70% of your clients choosing the middle tier, so make sure that’s the tier with the highest profitability.

Some firms may feel hesitant about the advisory space, but it is the wave of the future. At Allinial Global, we’re working with third-party providers to give firms the tools they need to feel completely confident about moving forward. In addition to our CAAS firm assessment, we will have pilot programs from Sage, as well as a CAAS workshop on transforming your practice. I hope you’ll consider joining us in May for our CAAS workshop so we can start turning your CAS practice into a true CAAS practice!


      
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Posted in: Growth, Mark's Insights,

As I continue to speak to member firms, it is clear that the pandemic has hit certain geographies and industry verticals harder than others. However, one service line that is near and dear to my heart has really taken hold among firms who do it well. That’s client accounting and advisory services (CAAS).

There’s a lot to say about CAAS, so this will be the first in a two-part series on successful CAAS practices. We’ll start with some discussion of how the pandemic has been shaping CAAS and then take a look at key criteria that can help your firm transform its practice.

One thing I witnessed in 2020 is the separation between the “haves” and “have nots” in CAAS. For over ten years now, I’ve been involved with a digital CPA community that has embraced the cloud and transformed their CAAS practices. At AICPA’s Digital CPA Conference in December 2020, I had the honor of presenting with Erik Asgeirsson, President of CPA.com, during his keynote address about this very topic.

During the pandemic, traditional bookkeeping practices continued as they were but with the added challenges of getting access to client information and getting the work done. Often, when those same clients were asking for help in advisory around government program support or ideas for back-to-work and business strategy, firms didn’t deliver in the same cohesive way.

In contrast, firms that have truly transitioned to a CAAS practice thrived during 2020. Some even had clients who had previously turned down outsourced services calling back asking for help! So, what does a successful CAAS practice look like? Let’s explore some of their defining characteristics.

1. Business model strategy developed and initiated. Many believe that changing the name of their existing bookkeeping operation will solve the business model issue. Not so. Starting with a clean slate and thinking about what it is you want to define, create, capture, and deliver in this service line is critical. The AICPA and CIMA created a great tool for this called the Business Model Framework. I’ve used this over the last few years and am happy to have that conversation with our member firms.

A few years ago, I was discussing this issue with the CEO of a firm that had just been through this process. Their business was entirely tied around CAAS in the old model. They had been performing outsourced CFO/controller-for-hire services along with some standardized bookkeeping. The CEO decided to sit down with his firm down and ask, “If we were starting our business today, what would it look like? Who would we work for? How would we deliver the services, and what resources would we need?” They started with a blank sheet of paper, and when they were done, they looked at what they created and realized they had an entirely new line of business. They even decided to start a separate company under that new model.

2. Selection of industry vertical(s). Part of the business model creation is choosing a vertical that you already know you’re good at or passionate about. It’s important to understand the marketing flow, how the business makes money, and the tech stack that will best serve that vertical. From there, the firm can create a standardized technology tool set, GL, chart of accounts, financial statements, dashboard, onboarding process, and go-to-market.

I spoke to one of our member firms in Europe recently about this exact thing. Their firm created a tool set for physiotherapy practices (known as physical therapy practices in the US). Their practice is thriving and continued to grow during the pandemic. They even decided to move their physiotherapy practice into a separate building because the personalities and the work environment were so different from traditional professionals. The firm is also providing incredible insight into the physiotherapy community and helping clients when they see opportunities to improve operationally. They are now looking to leverage similar insights in other personal service and healthcare-related practices to grow into another vertical.

At Allinial Global we are “all in” on helping our member firms transform and grow their CAAS practice. In fact, this February we will have a firm assessment available for our members to complete to help with CAAS transformation. We also have pilot programs with Sage coming soon and a CAAS workshop on transforming the practice in May. In the meantime, stay tuned for Part 2 and be sure to mark your calendars for our CAAS firm assessment coming in February!


      
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Posted in: Mark's Insights, Practice Management, Top Firm Challenges,

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2021 brings better days than we’ve seen in 2020. The pandemic has been a truly tragic event with many lives lost, and I can’t begin to thank the first responders around the world who worked tirelessly trying to save lives and keep people safe.

For the accounting profession, I’d have to say we were quite lucky overall. I am forever thankful for the extra time spent with family, as well as the focused time that allowed me to meet my new team at Allinial Global and to connect with just about every member firm within the association. This helped me get to know our members quickly, which I found to be an absolute delight.

During these conversations, we talked about the challenges firms were facing today and fears of the unknown in the future. Here’s how I’d describe the top three concerns, along with some recommendations.

1. The new normal. Regardless of how firms fared in 2020, conversations always seem to shift to what the “new normal” will look like. Many are thinking of the old way of doing things, with all employees in the office, all fieldwork at the client location, all networking meetings in live locations, etc. But here are some things to think about when it comes to the new normal:

Office. Firms would do well to consider a work-from-anywhere policy that allows for personal choice and professional judgment. Don’t get caught up in requirements or percentages for in- and out-of-office staff or mandating office hours vs. work-from-home hours. Firms that insist on getting all of their employees back into the office through mandates will lose the recruiting game on the other end.

Clients. Virtual audits will be part of the new normal, so dare to think differently about client interactions. Interestingly, clients may not perceive added value in having auditors on-site in their office. A CPA in industry once told me that she sent her auditors home after three days of fieldwork in the office when she realized that she had never seen anyone pass down the hall between the conference room and the accounting staff. Turns out the auditors were emailing her staff all their questions, which could’ve been done from anywhere.

Networking. I may end up missing this the most. While conferences, remote meetings, and networking dinners won’t be gone forever, they will take on different forms, at least in the short term. At Allinial Global, we’re working on finding the right balance of live and remote for 2021. It’ll take some trial and error, but I believe the hybrid model will help us reach even more people from our member firms. For those who prefer in-person events, I’d encourage you to keep an open mind as we try new approaches to networking. Even if things look different, we are still stronger together.

2. Technology. Technology continues to be top of mind. Technological advances are here to stay, and firms need to keep up. For some, the pandemic accelerated the inevitable. It highlighted firms’ remote access issues and also exposed the limitations in technology available to the profession.

In audit, for example, firms are wondering what their options are. With cloud being a major capability need, many are researching making the switch. In certain jurisdictions, you’ll find tax and ERP software intermingling. In the longer term, there will be opportunity for APIs to find better solutions to ERP and focus on making the bridge for more simplistic filing using some type of XBRL format.

Another place where we see technology’s impact is outsourced accounting. During the pandemic, firms that offered a pure outsourced accounting model using cloud technology stacks found that they were busier than ever, getting calls from clients who hadn’t yet made the switch. This created a “haves and have nots” situation for firms that have transformed their client accounting services into the new way of doing business. These firms go well beyond basic bookkeeping services, providing clients with strategic guidance that saves time, creates new efficiencies, and frees clients to focus on reaching their goals.

Fortunately, there is still time to transform your approach to client accounting services. Starting late may put you behind the movement, but making the switch will offer plenty of opportunities for growth and profitability. No matter where your firm is with this process, I recommend getting involved in the Allinial Global CAS/Outsourced Accounting Community of Practice. We have some big plans for this growing community in 2021 and look forward to supporting our members in this critical growth area.

3. Resources. Whether the concern is human resource limitations or how to handle resources like excess space and capacity, your firm should have a clear plan to address resource-related challenges, including:

Human resource issues. Firms need to make sure they have enough people to get their work done. Likewise, those who are looking to expand need enough people to staff up the growth and expansion of services. Fortunately, there are more answers than ever to this dilemma. Now, recruiting can happen all over the world! Virtual work means unlimited access to talent, but it also means having the right procedures in place to support virtual employees.

Resourcing work. We are in an interesting time—many of the things we’re doing today could or will be replaced by technology. So, do we invest in human talent knowing that it could ultimately be automated? The answer is in outsourcing. Just about all services provided by firms can be outsourced, and I’ve had many conversations with firms about outsourcing to cover the short term. Don’t let human resource constraints prevent good growth.

Physical resources. What will your office space look like by the end of your next lease term? If you are thinking of reducing your physical footprint, consider your options for reinvesting space resources. Shifting things around can create new opportunities for technology and other future items necessary for growth.

These seem to be the top concerns for firms as of right now. When thinking about difficulties, it helps to remember that any great challenge comes with an immense amount of opportunity. In the words of Sun Tzu, “Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems.” Cheers to turning the challenges of 2021 into new opportunities and victories!


      
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Posted in: Uncategorized

First things first. Congratulations on having the curiosity to explore a literary rabbit hole! (And one relating to a notoriously verbose author at that!) This certainly wasn’t the likeliest topic for an Allinial Global blog post, but I’m glad you were willing to give it a chance.

As the copywriter at Allinial Global, I’m partial to literary tangents, and I’ll be the first to admit that I may have a bit of a thing for Mr. Tolstoy. While I enjoy nothing more than diving into a lengthy Russian novel, the good news is, I don’t have the fortitude to write an 800-page blog entry, and there will be no required reading for this post.

So, what lessons can a long-dead Russian novelist offer the accounting profession?

1. The value of empathy and different perspectives. Tolstoy was a keen observer of human nature and social customs, and he was remarkably open to learning from people in all walks of life. His novels and characters invite us to consider complex social conflicts, and thinking about these types of situations helps us develop empathy. Although many accountants consider themselves “numbers people,” empathy and related social skills are vitally important in a world that is increasingly complex and interconnected. In the age of AI and automation, these types of soft skills provide a distinctly human value that has yet to be replicated. When responding to client pain points, grappling with diversity and inclusion in the workplace, or designing customized user experiences, for example, the ability to connect meaningfully with others and understand their perspectives makes all the difference. 

2. The art of making the ordinary strange. If you need a new Russian word in your life, you can call this one ostranenie. Translating to “defamiliarization” or “estrangement,” ostranenie involves presenting ordinary things in new and surprising ways—and Tolstoy was a master of this practice. His novels are beloved for the way they capture the details of everyday life and make the familiar seem fresh and fascinating. In the accounting profession, there are plenty of opportunities to make use of this concept to enliven contexts that could otherwise seem tedious and dull. Whether you’re walking a client through the details of a new tax provision or guiding a new team member through an established process for the first time, it’s up to you to bring life, color, and energy that gets people excited to be on board.

3. Trust is your ticket to authority. Author and Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee has called Tolstoy “the exemplary master of authority,” citing Tolstoy’s ability to make us trust what he tells us. One way that Tolstoy inspires trust is by using third person omniscient narration, writing from the perspective of an all-seeing, all-knowing narrator. While seeing and knowing all may be a tall order in the context of accounting, a thoroughly knowledgeable and trustworthy stance is certainly a goal worth aspiring to. Today’s top firms rely on comprehensive approaches that integrate various aspects of advisory into one holistic view of clients’ business needs. The ability to inspire confidence is critical to positioning oneself as a trusted advisor, and the most authoritative advisors succeed because they know how to leverage their knowledge of the broader business landscape to help their clients thrive.

And there you have it: three surprisingly timely lessons straight from the nineteenth century.

Who knows—maybe you’ll gain additional insights when you add War and Peace to your reading list for 2021. But if your schedule doesn’t permit for such hefty reading, you can always check out this handy list of writing tips on our website (and note that you’ll need to be signed in for access).

We’re signing off for the holidays, but we hope to see you back in January for a look at firms’ top three concerns in the new year. Happy holidays from Allinial Global!

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Posted in: Growth,

Publish or perish. This is a well-known aphorism in academia, an area that piqued my interest as an undergrad. A bookish philosophy major, I had my heart set on pursuing a PhD in Philosophy of Religion (and a ruthless disregard for making a living wage—a privilege for the young and foolhardy). Fast forward to 2020, when my goals and interests have taken a few different turns, and I still think of that timeless academic adage and how fitting it is for the world of accounting marketing where I find myself now.

As many of you noticed, we just published the 2020 Allinial Global Biggest Marketing Wins, an annual best-practices sharing publication that showcases the biggest marketing successes in the AG marketing community. Allinial Global members have pivoted beautifully during this challenging year—many of our firms went from hosting zero webinars to many or from having zero experience in video to producing an entire series.

The agility and creativity of AG marketers have been inspirational, and I can’t help but notice that #futureready firms who thrive during challenging times think and behave like media companies. My prediction is that those firms who still hesitate to venture into publishing—or more specifically, to produce content such as blogs, white papers, podcasts, videos, and so on—will fall behind their competitors and eventually enter the “perish” danger zone. This is because firms who continue to engage their target audience with content will only get better over time as they learn to improve their content marketing through trial and error. Furthermore, those who are more strategic about their content marketing will be able to further differentiate themselves and rise to the top.

Luckily, many Allinial Global member firms are already on board with content marketing. Instead of proselytization, their marketers are interested in addressing the gaps in their current content marketing game. Toward that end, here are my top three tips for making your content marketing more strategic vs. tactical.

1. Buyer persona. As some of you may recall, I hosted two back-to-back marketing community calls focused on content marketing earlier this year, and I was surprised to learn that most firms do not have any buyer personas. Instead, they plan their content marketing calendar based on their service lines and specializations. I think this is a huge miss. Yes, most companies, including accounting firms, have a tendency to navel gaze and focus inward rather than on the client. But to borrow from the Father of Philosophy, Socrates—know thy customer!


2. Buyer journey. Producing and distributing content based on your firm’s service line and industry specializations may not be optimal, but it still works up to a certain point—especially for existing clients. But what about winning new clients? Should you be producing different types of content specifically designed to win new business? Absolutely. What would motivate someone to switch accounting firms and start the buyer’s journey? What are some key characteristics that prospects look for when researching alternative solutions? What are the perceived barriers toward hiring a new accounting firm? How do you create and align your content with specific buying stages? This is where mapping out a buyer journey comes in.


3. Focus. I think focus is the most important part of strategy, and content marketing strategy is no exception. Most of us are part of a small marketing team, if not a team of one. It’s true what they say: we can do anything, but we can’t do everything. Consider focusing on a couple of industry specializations or mediums—blogs and videos, for example. I encourage you to choose the areas where you really want to excel and go all in (which, incidentally, is where our name All-in-ial comes from). You’ll be able to improve so much faster by focusing and eliminating distractions.

If you’re a member who would like some assistance developing buyer personas, I am happy to help! Ask me for templates that are both blank and completed as a reference point.




Posted in: Learning & Development, Mark's Insights, Practice Management,
I’ve had the honor of getting to know many, many firms over the last 15 years. Throughout my travels at AICPA and now as I speak to Allinial Global firms, I’ve continued to hear the need for greater business acumen skills from newer professionals.

But what is business acumen and how do you train for it?

Of course, to find the meaning I relied on my massive research skills—I Googled it.

Here’s what I found:

Business acumen is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a "business situation" in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome. Additionally, business acumen has emerged as a vehicle for improving financial performance and leadership development. Wikipedia

I know what you're thinking: Wikipedia isn't always a reliable source, and you keep warning your team not to use it. But it worked here, and from what I can gather, many agree with this definition.

I’ve also spent significant time talking to firms about the future of the profession. In those discussions, I have often cited the Future of Jobs Survey from the World Economic Forum. According to the latest survey, the top five skills needed for 2025 are:

1. Analytical thinking and innovation
2. Active learning and learning strategies
3. Complex problem-solving
4. Critical thinking and analysis
5. Creativity, originality, and initiative

I believe that all of these skills intertwine to make up this idea of business acumen. But how do we solve for it? I did some research, and I could only confirm what our great L&D team at Allinial Global had already found out. One of the foremost experts is Kevin Cope, founder of Acumen Learning. He wrote a book titled Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company. I highly recommend the book for you and your clients.

Our L&D team had already started working on a program with Acumen Learning before I could even recommend the organization. One thing the L&D team discovered in talking to members and researching the topic is that business acumen training cannot be a generalist-type course. It will be specific to particular industries. But the L&D team also recognized that finance professionals have very different skills than, say, the sales team in an organization. So they worked with Acumen Learning to tailor the program to the needs of Allinial Global members.

Their plan is to offer business acumen learning to our Communities of Practice (CoPs), specifically to those employees who’ve recently joined a member firm and are just starting to learn about the industries and clients their firm serves. We are in the process of scheduling a course for the Manufacturing and Distribution CoP in mid-January or early May. The course will include two four-hour sessions focused on helping attendees understand the following:

How their clients make money
The challenges their clients are facing today
How to create value for clients

Our intention is to expand the business acumen training offering to other CoPs based on participant feedback. I’m excited about this new offering and think it will go a long way toward helping our member firms equip their younger professionals with the skills they need to succeed and better serve their clients.

If you are interested in learning more about the business acumen course, please reach out to our VP of Learning and Development, Kimberly Bates McCarl, at kbatesmccarl@allinialglobal.com.

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