TFYW #011: Four Reason Your Systems Upgrade Is Not Happening

Nov 25, 2022

This week I want to talk about what’s stopping firms from upgrading their systems.

The trigger for this newsletter was a combination of conversations about two things: Firm efficiency and Firm valuations.

Whether or not to invest and upgrade a system is a simple numbers game for efficiency:

Credit: XKCD Comics

The investment to increase your team’s capacity is at the heart of sustainable growth.

Upgrading your firm’s system is a matter of valuation. If there is any desire to sell your firm in the near future, a cloud-enabled firm is truly the only way to maximize the selling price.

In some geographies, it is the only way to actually sell your firm.

Background

I have spent 1000s of hours designing and upgrading business systems. Some of that time was on my own firm’s system but mostly on my client’s systems.

There are a few key underlining issues that always come up in the process. These issues cause firm owners to either bury their heads in the sand, create half-baked processes, or constantly move from app to app.

I will address those underlining issues and not the bizarre actions of firm owners.

While most of this newsletter addresses transitioning from a traditional brick-and-mortar firm to a cloud firm, the principles are the same for all system upgrades.

Roadblocks pop up in all system upgrade journeys, with four main stops.

  1. Fear – Uncertainty about how it will turn out.  
  2. Value – There is a misalignment with what you value.
  3. Action – You don’t know where or how to start.  
  4. Improvement – Continued action is required.   

Diagnosing where you are at in this journey will help you understand the next steps to keep moving forward.

1. Fear

This is anything that stops you before you even start. All fears about implementing new tech can be distilled down to three main fears – all of them have to do with mindset and perspective.

I am going to put on my coaching hat here:

I am going to waste time and energy without getting a return on my investment 

Without a plan and commitment, yes, I agree, there will be a lot of wasted energy and money. However, with a focused plan, the time and resources will be the most significant investment you’ll make in your firm.

My team won’t like the change  

I cannot deny that there will be team members that won’t like the change. I have seen it many times before. However, if you move to a cloud infrastructure, your talent pool will increase by 1000x.

You’ll also be able to offer new wanted perks with a minimal additional investment which are not available in a traditional in-office environment.

I am going to lose clients

Again, I won’t deny that you will lose clients. The new way of doing things will turn a few clients off. 

I had just moved across the country when I started my firm full-time. Of the clients I left on the other side of the country who were used to seeing me face to face, 15% found a different accountant.  

Don’t let the perceived inconvenience for a few outweigh the increased convenience for the rest. 

Overall, each of these fears stems from uncertainty around risk. And whether we acknowledge it or not, we deal with risk daily in our firms.

Implementing new systems is shifting from the risk we know to the risk we don’t know.

Unfortunately, sticking with the risk we know has a large opportunity cost.

2. Value

Many hesitate to adopt technology as they perceive that it somehow cheapens or devalues the work that they are doing.

Hours have been the industry’s accepted value measuring stick for decades. Revenue has been dictated by hours spent working. For some traditional firms, technology and systems decrease the time spent on the work, reducing the firm’s revenue-generating capacity.

Implementing new technology does not change the WHAT of the work but rather the HOW of completing it.

At the end of the day, you provide the client with a tax return. The value received by the client has nothing to do with the number of hours you worked but what they receive personally. The value of that return is the peace of mind of being onside with the tax authority.

 

If you don’t remember anything else from this week’s newsletter, remember this:

 

The true value of your service has nothing to do with your team’s input (hours spent), or the output (tax return) but rather the outcome (time, energy, money saved, or problem solved) for the client.

 

3. Action

Once we move past the fear and see the value of what could be, we stall at the immense task of redesigning an entire firm.

Fortunately, Implementing new technology in your firm has to be a piece by piece approach. There is just no other way to do it.

A firm’s system consists of a series of connected parts. Chunking your firm into those parts provides a clear path to execution.

These parts are workflows and processes.

The primary client serving workflows are:

  1. Marketing
  2. Selling
  3. Onboarding
  4. Fulfilment 
  5. Follow up + Testimonials

Practice Management holds it all together.

And your firm needs the foundation of:

  1. Talent Recruitment + Training
  2. Tech research + implementation 
  3. Strategic vision 

The fulfilment workflows include all of the client work we do: Bookkeeping, Outsourced services, FS Prep, Tax Prep, and Advisory work. Upgrading the fulfilment workflows will provide the biggest return on investment, but it will take the most resources to complete.

Chances are, your team is probably already at capacity. So any discussion to upgrade the fulfilment workflows will be met with boos and mutiny.

Start small. Either Upgrade a smaller workflow first or start with a small pilot group of clients. Repeated small gains can yield significant value.

Creating efficiencies and capacity will produce momentum. Seeing results will motivate you and your team.

You need to designate a champion if you do not lead the implementation—someone to execute the plan and coordinate the team members and clients.

Regardless of who leads the charge, there has to be full commitment and direction from the top before any system will reach its potential.

4. Improvement

Implementing new technology is not a one and done exercise. Improvement or continued action needs to be built into the plan.

There are three levels of system implementation.

1. Embracing new technology is the simple adoption of a stand-alone app or tool. Desktop (non-cloud) tools do not connect with others, and I see some firms take that same approach taken with cloud tools.

Don’t get me wrong – most cloud tools have great features by themselves, but there is a lot of value still locked up in stand-alone tools.

2. Connecting new technology is the start of a fully integrated system. This level of implementation turns data entry into data flow. Simply connecting apps reduces valueless work by over 90%.

Most firms hover between Embrace and Connect.

3. Leveraging new technology is the consistent review and tailoring of the connected system for your niche and team. Delivering focused value moves your firm from a generic position to an expert one in the market.

The best way to leverage the systems in your firm is to make technology a strategic priority in your firm. Nominating or hiring a person to lead the tech research and implementation workflow is necessary. This role cannot be on top of an already full workload.

Training team members is a big part of that technology strategy.

A firm’s system value has less to do with the cost of the apps and more with the overall adoption and integration of those apps.

I hope you have found this helpful in upgrading your firm’s systems

Build The Firm You Want,

Mark

P.S. Email Mark@FirmNexus.com with something that you want me to talk about. I’ll add it to the list. 

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