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: 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: AG Events, Growth, Value Pricing,

Last week, Allinial Global hosted over 50 business developers, marketers, and partners-in-charge of marketing on Zoom for the annual BD/Marketing Conference. While all of us missed the magical moments that inevitably happen while connecting in person, our members, presenters, and staff made the most out of two half days together and even set a record for the longest continuous Zoom session here at Allinial Global. On our first day, we went from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. EDT!

If you weren’t able to join us last week, I’ve shared my top three takeaways below. Most of us are familiar with the 3 Cs of marketing—company, customer, and competition. But have you noticed what I’d like to call the 3 supplemental Cs of accounting marketing—courage, collaboration, and community? Please allow me to explain.

1. Courage. As accounting marketers, most of us are in a team of one or a few, outnumbered by accountants who think quite differently from the way we do. This means that we face many opportunities to convince our executive team—with moderate to high risk-averse tendencies—to try something new for the firm, such as social media, Google Ads, or video. And here’s where our first supplemental C of marketing comes in. We need courage to question and change the status quo. Testing new approaches is a critical component of digital transformation. We can’t rely on Excel spreadsheets to keep track of prospects and clients forever. Sooner rather than later, we need to identify and implement affordable CRM solutions for our firms. We can’t rely on outdated websites and anemic social media presence if we expect to recruit the brightest young talent and win next-generation clients. We need to continuously update and enhance our digital presence with the help of different groups of stakeholders. Future-ready firms are transitioning to value-based pricing and leveraging three-tier pricing and subscription models for their services, especially for Client Accounting Services (CAS), and we need to find allies within the executive team to move the pricing needle. This point leads me to the introduction of our next supplemental C: collaboration.

2. Collaboration. For accounting marketers, collaboration with your internal stakeholders is obviously important. No marketing initiative—whether it’s a virtual or in-person event, email campaign, or new niche/service line—can be executed without collaborating with your practitioners. Depending on the project, you may also collaborate with other departments as well—IT, HR, and so on. In fact, we had a panel dedicated precisely to this topic for this year’s conference! But in a post-pandemic world where the pace of change is accelerating and unpredictable, collaboration with your external team is also critical. How do you pivot to virtual events when you’ve never even hosted a webinar before? Do you proceed with strategic marketing projects during uncertain times? How do you get into video marketing with zero budget? If you’re a member of Allinial Global, you’re in luck! You can connect with a virtual team of marketers who will not hesitate to share their insights and experiences to help you make an informed decision.

3. Community. Last but certainly not least, community is the third and perhaps the most important of the supplemental Cs. Whether you are a member of the Association for Accounting Marketing, Allinial Global, or some other alliance, having your own community of marketers is invaluable—regardless of your experience level in accounting marketing. At Allinial Global, we have a formal system to create and cultivate this sense of community by segmenting marketers beyond just firm size. Recognizing that the marketing tech stack is playing an increasingly important role for the accounting profession, I will be creating a HubSpot mastermind group, for example. I believe that we learn best by executing, not just attending a class or reading a book, and we improve the fastest by connecting to a community of peers who share similar goals. Cultivating and improving this type of community within Allinial Global is one of the things that I LOVE about my job, and I can’t wait to share my future plans with you all.

If you are interested in joining the extraordinarily talented and generous marketers and business developers of Allinial Global, please reach out to me anytime.