The agile CPA firm
Congratulations! Your firm has weath- ered the opening act of the reces- sion. You’re more profitable. You’re
refocused on business development. You’ve
figured out this “social media thing:” You
have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and
But have you transformed your firm?
You may be doing a different dance, but
— if you’re like most firms — you’re still at
the junior prom.
In contrast, a new breed of CPA firm is
bootstrapping its way into client boardrooms
and wallets. Launched by entrepreneurial
Gen Xers, Millennials and young-at-heart
Baby Boomers, agile firms are cropping up
around the world. They are more nimble,
open, innovative, interdisciplinary, and aggressively client-centered than traditional
(non-agile) firms. And I predict that will become an increasingly common story in the
years to come.
Agile firms are more profitable.
Research conducted at MIT showed that agile
companies — companies marked by their obsession with the client experience, leadership
in innovation, the ability to turn knowledge
into value, and consistent, “no surprises”
execution — grow revenue 37 percent faster
and generate 30 percent higher profits than
non-agile firms. Trouble is, most business
leaders don’t feel they are flexible enough to
compete successfully with agile firms. And
the bigger your firm is, the harder it will be.
What does it mean to be an agile CPA
Agile firms are nimble. They can adapt
quickly to client or market changes. This is,
in part, because they have tighter sense-and-respond cycles than non-agile firms. Agile
Are you nimble,
BY REBECCA RYAN
Rebecca Ryan is an author, speaker and
entrepreneur whose firm, Next Generation
Consulting, helps forward-looking firms
figure out the future. Reach her at rr@
nextgenerationconsulting.com or (888)
922-9596, ext. 702.
firms regularly round up and discuss the intelligence they’re gathering from clients to
develop new products or services.
In 2009, an agile firm in Ohio recognized
that its manufacturing clients were having
a hard time obtaining credit from banks.
It found a specialist in alternative lending
structures, and introduced him to all of their
manufacturing clients. The agile firm quite
literally saved many of its clients from going out of business — not by providing tax or
audit services, but by noticing a client need
and quickly responding.
Agile firms can act nimbly because there’s
little hierarchy. Any team member can take
action to help a client at any time. If you love
the service at the Four Seasons, you’ve experienced the nimble, client-centered approach
of an agile business.
Agile firms are lean. They are not bogged
down by expensive overhead, burdensome
organizational structures, or we’ve-always-done-it-this-way processes. Agile firms ask
questions like: “Why do we need Class A office space downtown when clients prefer that
we visit them at their offices, and we can use
Skype, Google Talk, e-mail and instant messaging to connect our people in real time?”
Agile firms ruthlessly question every expense and would rather “cheap out” on standard industry perks — e.g., golf club memberships for senior partners — so they can
focus on the stuff that matters to their clients
and employees. Agile firms may not pay the
best, but their employees are loyal, because
they feel that they have a say in the business.
Agile firms aren’t encumbered by a partnership structure. They run themselves like a
bootstrapping start-up from Day One.
Agile firms are obsessed with improve-
ment and innovation. Agile firms mine the
edges of their processes and markets, the
place that author Steven Johnson calls “the
adjacent possible.” For example, agile firms
use the lean process to eliminate waste and
increase efficiency. Agile firms use other tools
like the ROTI scale to gauge the “Return on
Time Invested” from meetings, and “sprint”
periods of two-to-four weeks to tackle prob-
lems or invent new solutions. At the heart of
their obsession is the belief that agile firms
can always do better.
Will you be attending Accounting Today’s
second annual Growth & Profitability
Summit, October 25-27, in Las Vegas?
Have you been following my updates
on Twitter, @ATomorrow? In addition to
offering information about this month’s
event, I’ve asked for your participation.
What questions do you want me to ask
the marketing experts I’m moderating in
a panel on lead-generation campaigns?
Have any other must-asks for all our
other panelists and speakers? Want me
to rustle some card-counting tricks out
of Bringing Down the House subject and
keynote speaker Jeffrey Ma?
I can’t promise that I won’t bogart that
last bit of information, but regardless, all
of your feedback will be heard when you
tweet with our event hashtag #GroPro11,
both leading up to and during the conference. Your tweeted insights will also
be visible onscreen throughout the event.
I’ve found the simple hashtag to be
a valuable resource at conferences and
events. I have followed new speakers
and attendees on Twitter, been alerted to
supplementary information about particularly interesting sessions, and had many
slightly awkward, “I think I know you from
your thumbnail headshot?” introductions
that have ended in good conversation
and opportunities for new Accounting Today and Accounting Tomorrow content.
My colleagues have found similar
success. Our technology editor, Seth
Fineberg, has been tweeting from tech
conferences as @Seth TechEditor. And of
course, event updates and breaking news
can always be found @Accounting Today.
We will all continue the live tweeting
and retweeting during our conference,
and I hope to see some new faces joining
in under #GroPro11. Please,
introduce yourself during one of our receptions or networking
breaks. We can
squint at each
other with cautious recognition over our
And then take
Ma’s tips to the
— Danielle Lee