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Transcript:

Our firm just had a great team retreat. It was supposed to be in person, but COVID meant we had to pivot that to a virtual retreat and that’s fine. It turned out being pretty awesome. And one thing that was proven that we knew walking into was we prepared a whole agenda of some teaching from me and my partner, but some teaching from our team, and then collaborative practice where all these communities come together. All the people in the community come together through collaboration and the wisdom they produced together is amazing. So anytime you’re leading an event, anytime you’re bringing a community together, limit some of your teaching, push people together, push them in groups, push them in community. The things they will learn together is mind blowing because they’re just as smart and as wise as any speaker. They have history, they have abilities.

And when you push people together, that event becomes stronger, better, wiser. You get more information out of it. People are more bought in. It’s just a beautiful time together when the leaders of an event or a company step back and let their team lead because the team is also amazing. So that’s just a hint we knew going in, and it turned out even better than we thought. It’s just amazing what our team can do. Their brilliance, their thought, their care, their love for one another. And it just drove all of that even deeper. So virtual team retreats, push your team together in those. Do breakout rooms and zoom, or however you do that, and you’ll see some amazing things happen. So thanks so much. Take care.

Transcript:

We didn’t plan on the pandemic wrecking our team retreat. So we’ve been virtual for almost a decade. And this year, we were supposed to have all of our team fly in for a few days of a team retreat, where we serve each other, care for one another. And some people, we just haven’t met in person yet. And we miss our team. We’re with them every day and the pandemic blew that up. So what we’ve been doing is pivoting not only services and things that everybody else is doing, but we’re pivoting a team retreat. So we’re turning it into a virtual team retreat, but we’re trying to bring as many aspects of the intimate part of being in person to the virtual part of it as well. And just a couple of things we’ve done is we got our team involved. Our leadership team started leading their own teams to build out certain parts of it.

So our team is going to lead parts of the team retreat. It’s not just my partner and I. And then also, everybody’s leaving their homes. They’re still leaving. And those that can, and that it’s safe and feel comfortable, they’re going to some hotels, so they can virtually still feel like they’re away and it’s different. So these are some of the things we’re changing and it’s coming up soon. And we’re really excited to teach our team new things, to hear parts of our team teach things that none of our team know we do, like the marketing processes. We’re going to teach our team how all that happens. We’re so excited. But even though the pandemic blows things up, you can still pivot and make things special. It’s just going to be different. So there’s some sense of us embracing.

It’s not going to be what we thought it was, it’s going to be different. But in that can also come things we don’t anticipate. So our team has just stepped up and they’re leading their own teams to build such amazing things. And we’re so excited about how we can serve each other. And we’ll do some updates to let you know how our virtual team retreat is going as we’ve pivoted from a live team retreat. So those are just some things we’re working through and some thoughts on how we’re pivoting that. So let us know how you’re pivoting the things in your firm too, because this is a tough time for everybody. We’ll see you.

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COVID-19, CPA firm, Leadership
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Transcript:

I’ve been thinking about a service-based company and making invisible things visible. And that’s one strategy to run a creative services-based company is to make all the parts of the company that are invisible which has all of it, right? Because we sell the knowledge out of our head, we have people and so there’s not a lot of things that we can touch and hold. And so making things visible is a way to see some kind of clarity. So helping a team have a job description, that’s clarity. Giving them an accountability chart on a wall, that’s clarity because it has visibility to it. Well, how do you do leadership? Leadership, we’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. And one thing we found as my partner and I were talking about it, we found that we have a lot of principally based documents in our firm which is basically just documents for various areas where we serve clients in certain ways.

We’ve written documents of principles, beliefs we have, kind of like manifestos and we use these with our team. They’ll use them when they do a financial presentation to a creative agency or something like that. What it does is it brings visibility and something to stand on, something to understand. You can point to it and it helps you really know how to run your company with a lot of clarity. And you probably have some of these things. Core values or a purpose statement, these are principally-based documents probably you have written somewhere or posted somewhere. These principles are visible, you can touch them, you can look at them, you can use them as you hire people or fire people. And they really help you understand how you’re serving. So that’s just an idea. Bring some visibility to anything that’s invisible in a service-based company and I think it’ll do a lot to help aid the clarity of your leadership and what you’re trying to accomplish with your company. I hope that helps. We’ll see you.

In Part 1 of What is a Firm?, we discussed the truth about what leading a firm will actually require of a firm entrepreneur (sacrifice!). Now let’s dive into some journeys firm owners can choose to go through in very specific ways.

I believe there are possible trends in our changing profession right now that are actually disguises for deeper fears around firm owners not wanting to make this deep commitment to other humans and to a purpose greater than themselves. The fear could be that this sacrifice required to lead a firm may impede the life they want. I’m seeing trends and particular words being spoken that lead me to believe this. I’ve written about these possible fears, like scaling big to sell your firm, the Gig economy, productized firms, and the lifestyle firm. These examples can be good choices for some and yet confusing choices of firm models for others. The choices people make around these models can range from their inclination to have the firm serve their personal desires all the way up to being overwhelmed and crushed by large piles of revenue flying through a big firm. It’s a tricky balance. There can be selfish, sacrificial, real, and even hidden and unknown reasons why owners make the choices they do. My intention in this article is to convey observations and patterns over time to truthfully say things that can lead you to a better life and work, if the mindset we’re discussing registers with you and your firm.

What is that better life?

I’m glad you asked. The ‘better life’ is one that robots, bots, and AI can’t take away from us. It is the deep need humans have of committing to other people in their lives that will speak truths to them that transform them into more stable people. But if you are “seeking to not talk to clients, run your firm in 2 hours a week, and hire contractors that speak to your clients so you don’t have to because you’re lazy and don’t want to work as much” (a quote from a video I watched from someone the other day) then you are in the wrong business. We asked another group of entrepreneurial owners the other day what they want their next 2 years to look like: “to make a lot more money and work a lot less.” Well, I hate to tell you but even kids running lemonade stands understand that you make more money when you work for it. Work + money go together; you can’t magically divorce the two just because you read about a Lifestyle firm in someone’s blog post. I can say that with certainty. Moving away from humans and the work required to care for those humans will always be the wrong move for a professional services business owner. As mentioned, there can be admirable, as well as poor reasons, why firm owners make the choices they do in the type of firm they choose to lead.

Let me say what I think most humans want from their firms – they want to be in truthful relationships where they are loved and cared for, and where transformation happens. Maybe not all of them, but generally our profession is one of technical expertise that can be applied to help small business owners. That’s how we are viewed. This transformation can free our clients and teams from anxiety, fear, the unknown future of running their companies alone, and the need to have a smart person committed to them that they can ask ‘what do you think I should do now?’ When you have this in your life, you know it! Life is much richer because of it. But guess what? You’re gonna have to die to get it. You are going to have to make a commitment to the humans you serve in ways that will cost you something. Trust me (since I’m on the other side of this painful truth) when I say it is worth it. You become more stable, and can see the world from a truer perspective. And with a more accurate lens comes a healthier person. This is the work we get to do every day simply because we serve humans.

Here are some specific examples where my beliefs about a service firm run hard into the trends we are seeing in our profession today. I’ve already listed these examples above: scaling to sell, the Gig economy, the productized firm, and the lifestyle firm.

Scaling to sell. This is becoming more and more common. As firm owners hear of other firm owners who have sold their firms, they think this is an option for them too. Over 20 years ago when I started in this profession, selling and merging were possible but they didn’t dominate the landscape of early firm ownership like they seem to now. Now firm owners are selling their firms in the first 5 years of their careers, where firms in the past usually sold or merged as part of a retirement strategy. What do you do after you sell your firm after 5 years? I’ve seen firm entrepreneurs sell their firms, get bored, then start another firm. But they lost around 7 to 10 years of crucial career-building knowledge while firms around them kept walking that road day after day, earning the expertise they sell at a higher price to their client base. Selling is a way to focus on what you want to do personally, but may not be what you decided you want to become when you turn 50. It’s just a good place to ask yourself “do you want what selling your firm means?” What does it get you in the short term vs the long term?

Gig Economy. This is a fairly new model of operations where professionals can become contractors for professional work (like Upwork.com or Paro.io). They don’t have to lead a firm or be involved with a team. They just move from project to project and get to end relationships quickly – no mess, no fuss. But that comes with a cost (I think). It leaves you alone with the ability to see your struggles and grow in your room alone. Sure, we all need to be alone at times. But as humans, we were made to be with others (which is why this pandemic is messing with our heads). That’s how we see our faults, improve our strengths, and find joy in our work. Relationships in teams, with clients, and people are where we grow, and where we can influence others to grow as well. Families are an example. But the Gig Economy has the danger of making us all islands (if we’re not careful). Sure, people are annoying. But that’s you. You are annoying. So maybe you are the very person that helps others grow through the struggles you have. Consider what your role is in firms, teams, and groups of clients that you stay with for many years where you are allowed to challenge them and help them grow. Being with others is truly transformative. So ask yourself “do you want what working alone means?” What does it get you in the short term vs the long term?

Productized firm. Online packages and pricing for firms is another example of different models of firms we can run online. I’ve taught on fixed pricing before, but we can take this model to an extreme that begins to mirror a tech startup company more than a service-based company (these are two different models of businesses and they are not interchangeable). We talk to a lot of owners of software companies in the accounting profession, and they have to scale at small monthly prices online for global customers to make their model work profitably. They need volume. If they don’t stay focused on that task, they will get distracted and lose touch with the proper metrics and decisions that guide that model of a technology business. That is not an intimate professional services company. As professionals leading firms we are servants of humans– humans that need our counsel. The humans in our lives need our care, guidance, warnings, and encouragement to do their work to its fullest potential. And mass scaling of commodity prices where we don’t have to talk to our clients is not what we were made for as advisors. Quick mass scaling at small monthly prices is for the technology company. Hear me: this is not a case to stop pricing online, but a call to not let these models of business become imbalanced in a way that leads us down the road of applying inaccurate business models to our profession (like becoming  technology startups). You may productize, but ask yourself “do you want what boiling your services down to products means?” What does it get you in the short term vs. the long term?

Lifestyle firm. A lifestyle firm is about the owner’s lifestyle preferences, and minimizing work. I can’t say that is wrong for anyone because many run lifestyle companies with joy and happiness. But I can say that a services firm is decidedly not for a lifestyle situation (since I believe firm owners will always be moving towards human relationships, not away). Making products on Etsy IS for a lifestyle firm. Creating hand-crafted products that you sell online is for the lifestyle company owner. But I don’t believe service-based firms can sustain that model long term. Why? Because you as the owner get what you want – but I do not believe your client is getting what they need (read What is a Firm? Part 1). And even though some clients of lifestyle firms may not fully realize they are not getting all that they should in a committed relationship, I believe it’s still true that there is a lopsided care taking place (or at least, imbalanced). And I don’t believe the math works long term. If you want a lifestyle firm, that generally means living a life that is a bit more expensive than those working 40 to 60 hours per week and staying home. Lifestyle firm owners may travel, or be involved in hobbies. Travel and hobbies are expensive, so you need income to pay for this privilege. However, a lifestyle firm by definition is limiting the amount of time at work, thus creating a limit to their income. So the limited income eventually will fail to pay for the more expensive lifestyle over the long term. It’s important to ask yourself “do you want what limiting your income to focus on your lifestyle means?” What does it get you in the short term vs. the long term?

I love our profession solely because of its deep intimacy with other humans. There is nothing that has changed and shaped me more than the other humans in my life. Yes, it comes with a commitment of time, emotion, energy, and brain power. But what you get for what you give is life-changing – this is the stuff that leaves legacies. Trying not to talk to your clients, making them pick packages online, or pumping hundreds of people through a bland lifeless tax season is not the depth that those humans need in their lives and businesses. But your client won’t make the change because they aren’t building your business, you are. Humans are known for buying things they shouldn’t be buying – and many of our clients are buying stuff from our firms we have no business selling (or at least the way we are selling it). So you as the firm owner will have to make the change.

How many lives could we change if we dove deeper into the lives of our team and clients with commitment to them? We have the power to change our client’s customers, and their customer’s customers. We are so lucky to be in a profession where an intimate relationship can easily become the core of our firm’s service (I believe it must be). Our clients will pay us a lot more money to serve only a handful of people. This is not an article on firm profitability, but a call to you to build what only our profession can build – firms that invite humans into intimate relationships where people are being changed. The ripple effect of that change is huge.

 

Jason is the Founder of Thriveal and the Chief Innovative Officer of his CPA firm, Blumer & Associates. He is the co-host of the Thrivecast and The Businessology Show and speaks and writes frequently for CPAs and creatives, his firm’s chosen niche. Jason loves to watch documentaries on just about anything. He lives in Greenville, SC with his wife and their three children.

Professions are always changing. It takes time to watch them undergo change, to reflect on them, to listen to what ever-changing markets want from a profession, and to truly understand insights about how we as owners should change too. To fully vet out this change in our profession, I need to get philosophical in two long blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2). So bear with me.

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