How to Step Outside Your Tax-Focused Box

Posted on May 26, 2022

Some might argue that accountants have been told to prioritize technology if they want to achieve success, and that this has come at the expense of the people they work with. At the AccountingWEB Live Summit in San Diego, expert Penny Breslin took to the stage to explain why building the right team is crucial to offering non-tax advisory services to SMBs and stepping outside your box.

“Have you ever noticed accountants are doing a job that’s been done the same way for centuries, but the rest of the world doesn’t do that?” 

This was just one of the questions Penny Breslin posed to her audience listening to her talk on “Non-Tax Advisory Services to Offer to SMBs” at the AWEB Live Summit in San Diego last week. 

And unfortunately, being inside a repetitive box has led to accountants developing some maladaptive skills and winding up in less-than-favorable situations, such as missing out on hiring sought-after talent because they’re not up to date on what new grads are looking for or working themselves to death from January through April and burning out by April 18. The last two years were particularly bad for accounting professionals in terms of taxes, Penny noted.

So, what can a CPA do?

One idea is to start offering non-tax advisory services. You can think of this as CAS, developing a niche, or acting as a sort of “fractional CFO,” to use Penny’s phrase.

Your clients need more than just someone to handle their tax returns. Your ability to process data efficiently and produce reports that meet the other financial needs of your clients and help them alleviate their biggest pain points is a huge value-add you offer.

The road to enhanced profits and a better work-life balance starts with changing your mindset. Rather than thinking of your accounting firm as, well, a practice that offers accounting services, Penny encourages CPAs to start thinking of themselves as a business. The system a business uses will work differently than those you have in place to get through tax season. And by “system,” she means people, not technology. Your focus needs to be on ensuring the right people are in your office and on your client roster.

Building the right team has been more than a bit challenging for accountants in recent years. It’s no secret the accounting and finance profession is experiencing a severe talent shortage. New graduates simply aren’t going for the traditional accounting degree and joining one of the Big Four prior to starting their own straightforward little accounting firm anymore. Penny also highlighted a more specific obstacle to hiring talent under 50: They’re seeking employers who offer more than just a salary. They want a vision, a leader with a mission and direction. “ ‘What will you give me to make my life better?’ That’s what new grads and Millennials want to know before they take a job.” This is throwing accountants off when it comes to hiring. 

To solve this issue and reach your goal of successfully offering non-tax advisory services to SMBs, Penny recommends renaming the positions you’re hiring for to mimic those of any other traditional business. For instance, you need a client services manager whose job it is to ensure whenever clients speak with your business, they have a positive conversation. You can hire an office manager with a two-year degree from a college near you and have them help you run your firm and apply the tech expertise Millennials and the generations behind them seem to innately come with. For help, look at the organizational map of any traditional business, and remember communication is key to success. Accountants don’t often communicate well, Penny joked to the audience. However, they can hire people who do. This will help ensure both you and your clients have the information necessary to work well together, and that you get to pick and choose which parts of the job you’d like to do rather than having to do everything. 

Additionally, remember that building the right team doesn’t just mean hiring the right people. It also means keeping the right clients. You don’t have to just put up with clients who abuse your staff or who continuously fail to turn in the right documents on time and give everyone a headache. Instead, choose ones you enjoy working with, and make sure you evaluate your choices beyond just how much they contribute to your bottom line. How well do they fit in with your workflow? "All of your clients need to agree to use the same tech stack," Penny emphasized. She even recommended seriously considering charging the ones who don't extra.

After reviewing your entire roster, you might find you only have a few clients you'd want to market your new services to. Don't be discouraged: This is a starting place, and there's always room for growth. Businesses have many needs, and even if you begin by just doing their books, there’s a possibility to expand into cash flow forecasting and other services.

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