Grow Your Firm

Three Bad Habits Accountants Need to Break to Survive the Next Decade

Will Lopez Head of Accountant Community, Gusto 

You’ve heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, over the past 10 years, it has taken a strong community of accountants to push a profession forward. 

Introduce your clients to payroll they’ll actually love.

Let’s be candid, a majority of accountants have hit the snooze button on the blaring innovation alarm. Accountech apps, though, have taken steps to solve many accounting pain-points, investing in the profession, but many in our industry are still lying in bed. 

Listen, the economy at the moment is roaring, small business optimism is at an all-time high, record low unemployment rates in a half-century like in Colorado (my home state), and new business formations are soaring. Yet, for the most part, accounting professionals are not connecting the dots to help their firm and clients stay competitive in this environment. Even worse, they think that kind of lackadaisical behavior is acceptable. It isn’t.

So, what’s going on? For the most part, accountants like the way the industry has operated the past 30+ years. It’s familiar. It’s safe. It’s risk-averse. Looking back on the past decade, though, some of my peers’ bad habits worry me. I’m concerned accountants believe adopting new tools and business practices aren’t worth the effort. Unbeknownst to them, the statistics of modern business and accounting continue to stack against non-adopting accountants. That’s why I took a role at Gusto to support their hopes of empowering accountants in getting them back in the game.

With a new decade afoot, my hope for accounting professionals is to take this moment to (1) identify bad habits and, (2) commit to resolving those bad habits over the next decade. When it comes to embracing a digital transformation like the one you are seeing within accounting, you need to put one foot in front of the other, then the other, and then the other. That can only happen if you stop hitting the snooze button to innovation. 

Here are 3 bad habits you may be struggling with and the practical steps to break them.

Bad Habit # 1: Being too comfortable!

Accountants and bookkeepers all over the United States have gotten too comfortable. Professionals come up with every reason under the sun for why they shouldn’t adopt some new tech or strategy. Yet, you need to realize that you are the modern expert who is relied upon in all things latest and greatest. You need to stay in tip-top shape because your clients depend on you to remain competitive. 

Here are my recommendations for those of you who are coasting along:

  • Get plugged in. Join every single ‘Accountant Program’ and treat their teams like your team. The accounting industry has never been more collaborative and supportive of newcomers and want-to-learners. Not to mention, all that support is free of charge (like Gusto’s Partner Program)! Stop thinking conventionally in these partnerships, keeping them at arm’s length, and embrace them as extensions to your practice.
  • Expand your team. If you are training or giving product demos to team members and clients, involve your accounting app representative to join you. Almost every partner program I know will partner with you in team building, client sales cycle and more. Let them help you with building your firm. You will grow faster together.

Bad Habit # 2: Selling yourself short!

Accountants tend to sell themselves short, settling for far less than they are truly capable of. The reality is that we’ve entered a profession with more talents and abilities than most of us ever use. Yet, because your practice is “just fine,” there’s no need to consider anything that better positions your skillset and business, right? Wrong. 

Accounting firms sell themselves short by maintaining outdated tech and processes, and this will be the demise of many of them. Maintaining the status quo is no way to push an industry forward. 

Here are my recommendations for those of you who want to raise the bar:

  • Learn from others. There are many success stories of firm owners who have stepped up, leading the way for others like yourself. Seek them out and take time to study them. As an example, learn how Amy Northard, CPA, has 200+ clients on the waitlist of her virtual accounting firm.
  • Engage with a mentor. Mentors can see our blindspots, where we need to improve, while we often cannot. They offer encouragement, keep us going, and find ways to stimulate our personal and professional growth. One of my early cloud accounting firm mentors is Bruce Phillips, Partner at Aprio Cloud, formerly HPC, who has led the way for many. 

Bad Habit # 3: Thinking everything has to be perfect!

Recently, there was an interesting piece in Vox about how perfectionism is killing us that said: 

perfectionism is a broad personality style characterized by a hypercritical relationship with one’s self […] Setting high standards and aiming for excellence can be positive traits, but perfectionism is dysfunctional because it’s underscored by a person’s sense of themselves as permanently flawed or defective. 

Naturally, it made me think of accountants. 

Accountants believe that anything they recommend to their clients must first pass their theoretical hole-poking test, withstanding the rigors of their infinite wisdom. Therein lies the bad habit. Expecting new technology and strategies to achieve a state of transcendent perfection leads to deadly indecision. It’ll kill your chances of staying up with the times, running a sensible and modern practice. 

Here are my recommendations for those of you that need a reality check:

  • Reevaluate your standards. These accounting apps and accounting ways aren’t perfect. Nothing is perfect. Nothing. If a new accounting tech or business practice helps you get moderately closer to the perfection you seek, adopt it! Sure, it may not have this or that feature done in this or that way, but try relaxing your standards a bit. After all, the moment business owners are offered a better solution from someone else, they will walk right past you.
  • Expose yourself. No, you don’t need to take your pants off. (I mean, you can if you want, but that might lead to legal problems beyond the scope of this blog). Face your fears by exposing yourself to what makes you uncomfortable. For example, go to accounting trade shows you’ve previously written off because that’s where the “young accountants hang.” Or, participate in oddly titled webinars like the ones Gusto hosts on CPA Academy (and get some CPE, too!). Solid results will require some consistent, dedicated practice. But, you’re a perfectionist. That’s your specialty, right? 

Finding courage in the new world of accounting can curb your appetite for inaction. Courage takes practice, patience, and time. Start today, and remember that while early-adopters have positioned themselves to be the early bird who gets the worm, it doesn’t mean you can’t be the second mouse to eat the cheese.

Will Lopez
Will Lopez Will Lopez is the head of Gusto’s accountant community. He has dedicated his career to supporting accountants and small businesses. Before Gusto, Will founded AdvisorFi, a modern accounting firm, which used technology to help automate business processes and provide financial coaching for small businesses.

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