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How to Become a People-Centered Accounting Firm

Gusto Editors  
Three employees sitting around table in office with a the male and female colleague smiling at each other

What does people-centric mean, and how do you create a people-centered accounting firm? 

Introduce your clients to payroll they’ll actually love.

Here at Gusto, we believe the core of any accounting firm is its clients. Focusing on people may seem like a difficult task in an industry that deals primarily with numbers rather than the individuals it serves. That’s why Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy delivered a webinar to bring you invaluable insights into how you can shift your focus to your clients rather than their financial records.

Our webinar “2020 Changed the Rules: Client Services in the Changing Work Environment” addressed the importance of accountants shifting their focus from the numbers to the clients themselves.

This webinar tackled the ideas behind becoming a people-centered firm with Jody Padar,  known as “The Radical CPA.” Jody is the vice president of strategy at Botkeeper, a software company that compiles clients’ financial data from multiple resources and organizes them in one convenient location. Jody is also a prevalent writer who prides herself in having a significant social presence. She has also appeared on Accounting Today’s Top 100 list.

In this article, we will address the best ways to develop an advisory culture that focuses on clients’ individual needs. You will also learn invaluable new strategies to improve your person-to-person connections in this ever-changing environment. 

Shift your strategies toward people-centered advising

Within the ever-changing world of accounting, the client’s personal needs have to come before financial decisions. This idea may seem counter-intuitive, but it is necessary for adapting to the future accounting firm culture. Jody suggested thinking like a start-up business as a way to redefine your firm, regardless of how established you may be. Thinking like a start-up firm will enable you to reform practices to suit your clients better. 

The first way to change your current work environment is to focus on a specialty. Not every firm is created equal, and by stripping away extraneous functions, you can  become a valuable asset for your clients. Focusing on specialty will create more value for your firm and help you to develop integrity around what will become your firm’s core: 

“I think we all like to think we have integrity, but [you need to] know [that] you absolutely, positively need integrity. You need to be really clear about what you intend to protect and what you intend to provide.”

– Jody Padar

By taking time to rebuild, you can analyze your clients and choose those who are suited for your new, specialized strategy. Concentrate on the clients you enjoy working with and release those who do not fit your business model. This will allow you to be the best possible advisor to those you serve. 

In addition to restructuring your client base, you may also need to adjust your workforce. Dismissing employees is difficult, but you need to build a work environment that caters to people. Not everyone has the interpersonal skills required to be an influential advisor, so it is vital to filter your workforce to create a people-centric firm.

Female facing male colleague sitting on stairs engaging in a happy conversations

“Who on your team has the skill sets to advise clients? Who can get their head out of the computer and pick up the phone to have a really good client conversation?”

– Jody Padar

Throughout this transformation, you also need to think about how you will serve your clients while developing processes. Implementing workflow software will enable you to spend less time working on your clients’ accounts, so you can spend more time advising clients.  

Promote people-centric philosophies through technology

As the economic environment shifts from office-based to remote work, it is necessary to adapt your strategies. Jody believes workflow software is one of the most important things to apply while transitioning to the digital world. Workflow software removes a need for physical files used in traditional offices and streamlines remote interactions between employees and clients. 

“When you’re not sitting in an office, you can’t pick up a file and put it on someone else’s desk. We all know email gets lost, so how are you going to refine your own processes internally and externally?”

– Jody Padar

Every firm will experience growing pains while refining workflow processes. However, going through a digital transformation enables firms to utilize their learning experiences to help their clients adopt new technologies and strategies. 

“If … [you’re] a business owner going through this digital transformation, there’s nothing like experiencing the pain yourself, learning from it, and then being able to turn it around and sell it as consulting.”

– Jody Padar

By utilizing technology in everyday processes, you are opening up an avenue to consult your clients. Helping your clients become more technologically-savvy allows your firm to provide guidance in optimizing their businesses and support their financial endeavors. Creating a concise, digital record of your clients’ accounts will help you remain on the same page with them and help you advise them effectively.  

“We’re really going to have to think about what it means to move to the cloud, how to use automation every day, and how we’re going to help our clients move to the cloud, as well. Remember, we have our firm to think about, but we also have our clients’ businesses to think about.”

– Jody Padar

Many clients rely on their CPAs for support when transitioning to automation. Jody stressed that caring for your clients does not mean you should lower the value of your services. Depending on third-party software may remove time-consuming tasks from your workload, but that does not make your accounting work less valuable. 

Female accounting employee sitting in at desk refernceing desktop screening while working with client

Recognize the value of people-centered advising

As your firm transitions into an automated, people-focused advising center, it is vital to retain your worth. Having access to your clients’ financial information can create stress because you know whether or not they can afford to operate. This knowledge sometimes pushes accountants to forgo charging their clients for their services because they care about their clients’ financial wellbeing. However, if you lose sight of your value, it will hurt your ability to provide long-term assistance.

“We have to remember our value and that it’s okay to get paid for our services. Just because we’re using a third-party technology doesn’t mean there isn’t value.”

– Jody Padar

CPAs are highly knowledgeable on tax laws and practices, and their knowledge remains highly valuable even when they use automated software. Your expertise also puts you in the unique position of guiding clients instead of focusing on processing information. In turn, you can sell advising services that promote growth and opportunity instead of numbers-based services. Jody presented one unique example of guiding clients in the food and beverage industry: 

“I was talking to some CPAs who were helping restaurants with new apps so that they could [offer] takeout directly [to customers], as opposed to just using DoorDash or something like that. There’s this opportunity to help digitize businesses with new apps.”

– Jody Padar

Shifting your firm’s focus to clients may present an opportunity to adjust how you charge for your services. Remember that while you may be doing less physical work because of automation, you still provide a vital service. Jody warned that if you lose sight of your firm’s success in the name of helping others, you’ll eventually become frustrated and ultimately hurt your firm. 

Perform people-centered client services

While helping your clients shift towards automated accounting, be sure to offer services that keep up with the economy’s demands. One essential service to provide is cash flow projections. SBA loan applications rely heavily on the forecasted income of the applicant, and having detailed cash flow projections will smooth out the loan process. 

People-centric advising provides services that affect clients beyond their finances. Many of the financial decisions people make reflect their belief systems. The advice you provide for your clients will also help them define what is vital to them, their firm  and their families both now and into the future. Jody stressed that as an advisor, your goal is to assist them in formulating independent decisions:

“You need to… be there with them. You know you’re not going to be able to fix [their personal problems], but you can help them process the good and the bad.”

– Jody Padar

Providing financial guidance that affects your clients’ personal lives may initially seem like an uncomfortable task, but your clients need to know that you are a reliable resource during economic and personal uncertainty. Remaining steadfast in your advice will allow your clients to make wise financial decisions while having a support system.

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Learn more about people-centered accounting

Our ever-changing economic and technological environments provide expanding options for accounting firms. Automating menial tasks has given firms the unique opportunity of focusing on advising their clients. If you want to learn more about people-centric accounting, make sure to watch the entire webinar here. Also, be sure to check out Part One of this webinar article series. 

Shifting the focus of your work environment from technical data processing to people-based advisory may seem difficult, but you can seek additional support that will help your firm during the transition. Here at Gusto, we assist firms in implementing people-based accounting strategies. Be sure to check out our people advisory program to learn how you can become a better advisor for your clients. We also provide a partner blog full of resources for all of your advising needs. Visit our Gusto for Accountants page for more information on people-based accounting and check out our payroll options to streamline your firm’s workflow.

Updated: August 17, 2021

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors
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