Tax Pro Forum: How to Innovate in an Ever-Changing Environment

Practice Management Brainstorm to innovate

When someone says “innovation,” technology is the first thing that comes to my mind. But, for tax preparers, it’s important to look at a much broader definition, thinking of the many ways that you can succeed or grow in your business by adapting to an ever-changing environment. We talked to three Intuit tax preparer customers who we consider innovative; their examples of innovation stretched far beyond technology to their business models, marketing practices and more.

Before divulging their wisdom, let’s meet each of our innovative tax pros:

Mariette Martinez headshot_use this one

Mariette Martinez, EA, is a virtual small business accounting consultant and tax professional. Her mission is to empower solo-entrepreneurs to seamlessly manage financial performance and meet year-round tax obligations by using accounting, tax and workflow technologies.

 

MMB-Raimondi-headshotB (Mary Beth) Raimondi, CPA, CITP, MS Taxation, specializes in QuickBooks® consulting and training, and is an Intuit® ProConnect™ ProSeries® customer. She is an Advanced QuickBooks Certified ProAdvisor in both QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online. She also holds certifications in QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions and QuickBooks POS.

 

Mark Sidell


Mark Sidell
, CPA, is a partner at Sidell and Company, a full-service CPA and consulting services firm in the Phoenix area. His practice provides tax services to individuals and small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), as well as CFO and controller consulting for SMBs.

Now, on to their innovative wisdom!

 

Examine Your Business Model

One way to innovate your practice is to take a look at your business model, or how your business generates revenue

Mariette Martinez recommends staying focused on your passion, instead of trying to be everything to all of your customers. Martinez offers year-round consulting and accounting to her clients, and is proactive in helping them learn and grow. However, she is “first and foremost a mother,” and with a family of three children, she felt that it was important that her or her husband be able to work from home. Her challenge was providing the best service to her clients while focusing on her personal priorities. Her solution is focusing her practice on helping solo-entrepreneurs grow and succeed through consulting and accounting, and she forms partnerships with other specialists — from lenders and financial advisors to health insurance agents — who she trusts to refer other specialized services to her clients. This has the added benefit of her receiving referrals from these other vendors at times, but Martinez says the biggest payoffs are the efficiency she achieves in her practice and the peace of mind that she gets from her clients working with true experts.

Mark Sidell is a big proponent of value pricing for his services. He says, “Most of my clients have a fixed fee, and they appreciate that because they know how much my service is going to cost upfront. They don’t get nickel and dimed for every question they ask me. In addition, I’m motivated to do things more quickly with this pricing model. I want to spend more quality hours, as opposed to quantity hours per client. If I can do work faster and have more clients, I can be more profitable.”

MB Raimondi offers services ranging from QuickBooks training and consulting to tax services, so her business model innovation also lies in her pricing structure. For such different services, she realized she needed different pricing models as well. Her training services are offered at hourly rates, yet she uses some elements of value pricing for her accounting and tax services, giving clients more certainty in their pricing and enabling her to focus more on the value she can provide than the time she’s spending with each client. Your own pricing structure may be a great way that you can innovate.

Develop a Brand and Marketing Strategy

Our panel agrees that to be an innovative firm, you should use the resources and tools available to you to help you market yourself to either grow your business or build a brand that attracts the right customers to your practice.

Both Raimondi and Martinez are focused on building their brand to attract the right set of clients. Raimondi has been in the business for more than 30 years. She has a busy practice and is not actively looking for new clients. However, when potential clients reach out, she wants to make sure she has the right client base for her practice, which mainly revolves around Intuit products and services. To get word out about her expertise, Raimondi writes articles online, trains QuickBooks ProAdvisors both live and through webinars, and uses Facebook to brand herself as a top QuickBooks guru, both on desktop and online. Raimondi says, “My niche is being a generalist, knowing both products very well, and their use cases for a broad range of different types of organizations.”

Martinez establishes her brand largely through her website and social media to attract clients who are amenable to future-ready processes and working in the cloud. Martinez says, “I want people to get to know me before they get to know me – it’s part of my lead strategy. If someone doesn’t want to have remote meetings and use electronic accounting systems, I want them to know up front that my practice is virtual, so I write about this on my website and blog. I won’t continue to work with them unless they are okay with working with a virtual practice, so I’m trying to do that in a way that gains people’s trust but lets people know if my practice isn’t a good fit.”

Leverage Technology

While there is much more to innovation than technology, technology is used to help you work remotely, do more with less time and stay organized. Our accountants shared the different technologies that help them stay innovative and effective.

Sidell says that moving to ProConnect Tax Online has been a good change for his practice. “Overall, the product helps me be more efficient. I like that it’s cloud based, which saves me extra storage costs and allows me to be flexible in my practice since I can access the product from anywhere. If I’m traveling and a client calls me with a question, as long as I have Internet access, I can answer their question.”

Martinez says that she “uses various tools to service clients in the right way.” These tools help her do more with less time, and help her stay focused on her priority – being a mother. She uses cloud software, from QuickBooks Online to Smartsheet online project management software and the 17hats business management tool. “Innovation of technology was a big deal in being able to scale my business without having to grow physically,” she says.

Martinez also mentioned that technology can be a great way to keep learning and developing as a tax professional. There are many Facebook groups that help tax pros, accountants, software developers and forward-thinking business owners connect, challenge each other, and ask/answer questions in a casual, nonjudgmental environment. She is a member of Between Wall & Main, and she has found it to be career changing. Martinez recommends looking around Facebook to find a group that is a good fit for you.

Raimondi is an advocate of being an early adopter of technology, especially since she spends 75 percent of her job working remotely. She uses apps for smart devices, including QuickBooks Online and Online Payroll. She also meets with most of her clients remotely, allowing her to work from anywhere. She uses a web-based document management system with her clients so they can access their folder to upload documents and download their tax return. “This allows us both to have easy access to these files,” she says.

What technologies can these pros absolutely not live without? Martinez says her Google Calendar is essential; it is on every single device she has and keeps her on track throughout the day. Raimondi says that her favorite piece of technology is her portable USB-powered monitor. “I travel a lot,” she says, “and it makes me much more productive to have two monitors when on the road.” And, Sidell can’t live without his smartphone since it’s the source of his email, messages, Internet and applications.

I hope these innovative tax pros have given you some good ideas for how to implement innovations that are right for your own practice. Check out these articles for more information on software tools that can help you innovate your own practice by taking it to the cloud: