In my experience, there’s one word that can elicit either thrill and excitement or fear and loathing: CHANGE. Everyone’s reaction to it is different, and we’ve all felt these differing emotions as we’ve experienced major changes in the last few years. It seems as if everything changed (and changed quickly), and during this trying time, we as accountants played a critical role in our clients’ lives and their businesses.
For instance, how many late nights were there working on PPP loan applications? How much time was spent trying to run payrolls and helping our clients navigate the unemployment reporting systems and all the other plethora of small tasks and guidance and support we could provide? And we did all of it while we ourselves were trying to figure out where we were going to set up our home office, where our kids were going to set up their school ‘room’ and where we were going to find toilet paper.
It was exhausting and that was just the external stuff. We all suffered the emotional burden of loss—loss of family members and loss of clients and their businesses.
There’s no denying that change is tough, but I believe it’s also necessary. Now, I know you may be thinking, “We’ve had enough already.” I hear you but my response is, “Let’s keep pushing.” We need to affect positive change not only for ourselves and our businesses but to be of better service to our clients. They need us, and right now, we have a perfect opportunity to rethink our Practice Management mindset, which includes reimagining our processes, our goals and our services—and how we provide them.
And QuickBooks can help.
Practice Management Reset
Take a moment and think about how our practices have changed over the last few years. Prior to the pandemic, my firm did not Zoom or Loom or engage in electronic bill pay or WFH at all. We had started transitioning our clients from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online (QBO) in 2015, so thankfully, we were well positioned to be of service with real-time remote accounting services, which was critical in the spring and summer of 2020.
Of course, we still have our “legacy” clients that insist on bringing us their paper check stubs and paper bank statements for us to do our after-the-fact accounting work for them. But we continue to try and promote our real-time accounting services to them, showcasing the benefits of a more involved working relationship with their companies.
When I started at the firm in 2004, everything was after the fact with a deliverable. The clients brought their check stubs, and we re-keyed the data and then provided them with a compilation report that they swiftly threw in a desk drawer and never looked at again unless the bank called and needed it for lending purposes. My background was in the service industry before working at an accounting firm and the whole month-end closing process and the deliverable always seemed like a waste of time to me and of zero value to our clients. Granted, they got what they paid for but was there any value to their operations in that deliverable?
I was not being of service to my clients. I was not helping them achieve their goals for their businesses or their lives. Heck[KL1] , I didn’t even know what their goals were! I only knew how they spent the money that came in. So, I started banging the drum for change, asking:
- How can we be of service?
- How can we provide real value to our clients?
- How can we all win together?
And the answer was transitioning our legacy and QBD clients to QBO.
Changing Minds One Step at a Time with QuickBooks Online
So, how did we go about helping our clients see the value in moving online with QuickBooks? We started small. I transitioned one client from QBD to QBO, spending months learning QBO and how it could benefit our clients and our firm with just that one client. When I was comfortable with the product and felt like I could rely on it, I added another client and so on. But these additions came only from inside our firm. They were books that we maintained, not our clients.
In the fall of 2014, there was a major shift in the accounting services realm with the issuance of SSARS 21. Before then, the lowest level of reporting we issued was Compilation. With the issuance of SSARS 21, we could send out management reports as long as they were a by-product of the accounting software. That industry change along with the conversion to QBO really launched our CAS Department. Now we could be of service in real time.
Fast forward to today and our CAS Department no longer prepares any compilations or higher. That work has shifted to our Audit Department. Our CAS Department focuses on the day-to-day business needs of our clients.
In the fall of 2019, we merged with a local firm that was operating on the paper deliverable and using a DOS based modular accounting system. We folded their employees and clients into our firm, and we were off to the races. Our first order of business was to transition from the legacy software to QBD and then for the clients that were amenable, we migrated them to QBO.
I would love to report that we had 100% buy-in on those changes, but we did not. It’s an ongoing process to try to change hearts and minds. For my colleagues, this change must begin with them constantly thinking, “Is there a better or easier way to do this.” It’s critical that we not get stuck in the “this is the way we have always done it” mindset.
Effective Practice Management Guidelines
So, how do you effectively manage a practice that is growing due to client demand and at the same time ensure that you are giving those clients the best experience possible while keeping your coworkers engaged and invested in the services they provide? For me, it comes down to a quote from Elisabeth Kubler Ros: “There are only two emotions: love and fear….”.
This is not to imply that every day is bliss and that we love all our clients every day. That’s not realistic, but living without fear—fear of change, fear of chaos, fear of loss—is a goal that can be chipped away at every day. For example, if you’re comfortable with the status quo, hire or promote from within someone who isn’t. In other words, if you cannot be the agent of change, find someone who can be that for you.
Keep in mind as you chip away at the fear of change that change doesn’t happen quickly. For us, it’s been a nearly 20-year journey, and we continue to grow and look for change every day. Change does not have to be chaos. For it to be effective, I would argue that it must be a well thought out, well designed and step-by-step process. And you must be able to think, re-think and retool everything.
Moving Forward with QuickBooks Online
If I have any advice as you move forward with change, it’s start small, scale up and utilize the many capabilities of QuickBooks Online. Right now, in 2023, we find ourselves in a period of tremendous application capability, expansion and machine learning. So many new tools are available to help us be of better service to our clients and increase our productivity, which in turn grows our own businesses and gives us more opportunities professionally and personally.
We are truly in a win-win environment, and it is only through change that growth is possible!