Get Ready, Get Set…Go Forward with the Accountant Entrepreneur Mindset
In an age of constant disruption, it’s easy to slip into survival mode—stuck in an endless loop of simply “keeping up.” Ever-evolving technologies and elevated client expectations have greatly altered the accounting landscape, leaving many professionals in a state of stagnation—unsure of how to adapt and move forward.
If this sounds all-to-familiar, fear not. Whether you're an employee in the profession or running the show at your own firm, our Accountant Entrepreneur series (and this article) can serve as your starting point for getting unstuck—when you make the transition to the accountant entrepreneur mindset.
Understand Your Role and Place in the Profession
For years, the accounting profession has operated in the same manner: “The way it’s always been done.” Hanging on to outmoded traditions and practices has certainly led many down the path to becoming what Clayton Oates, industry influencer, terms “the uninspired accountant” in our first webinar of the Accountant Entrepreneur series, How to Develop the Accountant Entrepreneur Mindset—who are questioning both their role and their place in the profession.
To break the endless cycle of “keeping up,” the time has come for accounting professionals to adopt the accountant entrepreneur mindset. Thinking like a true entrepreneur allows accountants to transition away from perceived pain points, such as rapid technology change and heightened client expectations, and toward the solution. To think like an entrepreneur is to step out of the day-to-day and envision the bigger picture. It’s to face the disruption head on…dissect it…and see the opportunities that lie within.
“To think like an entrepreneur is to step out of the day-to-day and envision the bigger picture. It’s to face the disruption head on…dissect it…and see the opportunities that lie within.”
The big question is: What does this all mean for the accounting profession?
The short answer is: Great opportunity!
- The opportunity to harness advanced cloud-based technologies to build a business on par with the big firms.
- The opportunity to build technologically advanced systems that deliver a premium client experience.
- The opportunity to exceed client expectations by offering higher-value advisory services that clients both want and need.
- The opportunity to create a business you are passionate about—one that is client-focused, agile and sustainable.
Get Clarity on What It Really Means to Be an Entrepreneur
As accountants move forward with an entrepreneurial way of thinking, it’s important not to be fooled by preconceived notions of what it means to be an entrepreneur. Quite often, entrepreneurs get a bad rap.
Clayton Oates stated, “We perhaps reference [what an entrepreneur is] off social media or the traditional news system that actually tells us or presents us a particular view of entrepreneurship, and often it's the negative side, where it fails.”
Understanding this, it’s important to make note of what is mere perception and what is reality in terms of the traits of an accountant entrepreneur. Consider a side-by-side comparison:
The fact is that many accountants already possess the traits of a true entrepreneur (in spades), making entrepreneurial thinking a natural fit.
To take this a step further, a common definition of “entrepreneur” goes something like this: “A person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks with the hope of profit.”
The reality is that while profit is part of the equation, it certainly isn’t a stand-alone element. True entrepreneurs are those who possess a passion for what they do, a desire to help their clients succeed, and the skill set to support the services and products they offer.
Oates attested: “I think there's a disconnect here. For us as accountants we're not just hoping for a profit. We're actually wanting to enable clients to create a profit and sustain it as well.”
As a result, Oates offered an alternative definition for today’s accountant entrepreneur: “Someone prepared to pursue a vocation of making a positive change in the world (via business/firm). A change identified as necessary for which you take responsibility that you are committed to and capable of enacting.”
At the heart of this definition is the client.
For the accounting profession, one with a long tradition of relationship building, this means that most are already adhering to an entrepreneurial mindset to some degree. Now, just imagine how much farther you can take your firm when you and your staff face the disruption and embrace change.
True entrepreneurs are those who possess a passion for what they do, a desire to help their clients succeed, and the skill set to support the services and products they offer.
Bring Employees into the Entrepreneur Mindset
It’s important to note that it’s not only the responsibility of business leaders to follow an entrepreneur mindset, but staff as well. When you have buy-in across the firm, adoption will be far more successful and, in turn, the client experience that much richer.
Firm employees can ask themselves the following questions to help get into the entrepreneurial mindset—while firm owners can use these questions as a tool to help employees adapt to a new way of thinking:
- Do I do more than I get paid for? Am I going beyond expectations to enrich the firm and offer clients premium service?
- Do I live above the line? Am I fully accountable for my role in the firm?
- Do I have an ownership mindset? Do ask myself how I would do things if I owned the firm or if I owned my client’s business?
- Do I accept being “teachable” and am I curious? Am I always open to learning and getting better?
- Do I inspire others by proactively accepting challenges and working to solve them?
When employees are thinking like an entrepreneur, it empowers them to run the business—just as an owner or partner would. This results in having a dedicated team in place to manage day-to-day operations and support clients, so owners and partners can stay focused on big picture leadership.
Discover the Power of Shared Discovery
We know that clients are at the center of a true accountant entrepreneur mindset. So, the next logical step is to dig deeper to discover client needs. The art of discovery is identifying what clients really want from you.
“This is where the magic happens,” Oates attested.
But how do you make that magic happen? You start with a few proven tactics, including:
- Make client site visits a regular part of your routine—Take the time to visit your clients on site and initiate conversations about their needs. This insight can lead to providing higher-value advisory services that the client may not even know they need.
- Initiate and measure client feedback—You don’t know what you don’t know, and the same is true for clients. So, ask questions that prompt deeper, insightful dialogue, and then analyze feedback to uncover hidden wants.
- Attend educational events that enable you to learn more about your clients. For example, if you serve a specific niche, attend informational events focused on that industry.
- Bring coaching and mentoring to the forefront—You’re likely doing this anyway, so be sure to capture intelligence along the way. As you mentor clients, continue to prompt open, honest dialogue to uncover any unknowns.
- Support clients with budget set up and review—Working with clients on their budget offers deeper insight into their financials and may open the door to providing monthly client accounting and advisory services (CAS). And remember, the more value that is perceived by the client, the better you set yourself up for value billing.
5 Entrepreneurial Laws that Work – How Does Your Firm Stack Up?
Wrapping up the discussion around the accountant entrepreneur mindset, we close with five established laws. These laws provide a roadmap of sorts for firms looking to adopt the accountant entrepreneur thinking model.
The law of value vs. price
This law attests that our true worth is determined by how much more we give in value than we actually receive in payment. If the entrepreneurial mindset is centered on the client, then the value to the client must supersede compensation.
Oates asserted, “You have to give more to get more.”
Evaluate your firm on the value you offer clients by asking the following questions:
- What value do we offer our clients? Make a list to include the benefits clients receive from each service offered, your platform (service delivery) and the overall client experience.
- Are we leveraging technology and resources appropriately to provide the highest level of value to our clients?
- Are we truly serving our clients as advisors?
The law of compensation
This law is centered on the importance of positively impacting large numbers of people. Your income is determined not only by how many people you serve, but by how well you serve them. This law pushes firm leaders to think through how they can offer new services or refine existing ones so they are scalable and allow many to benefit from them.
Oates stated, “We need to think through how we can share great value with others.”
Assess where you stand on compensation versus benefits offered to clients by asking the following questions:
- Are our services scalable in order to support as many clients as possible?
- Do we properly vet new service ideas to ensure they are what our clients want and need?
The law of influence
This law attests that your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first. When done correctly, this results in a big win for everyone involved—both the firm and its clients. As a trusted advisor, your role is to show clients what their “future” can be and then help them achieve those goals.
Oates offered a Zig Ziglar quote to bring this point home: “If you can help enough other people get what they want, you will get what you want. It's in that order.”
Evaluate your firm in relation to influence by asking the following questions:
- Do we put our clients’ interests before our own? List how.
- Do we have buy in on this mission across all departments and staff? If not, how can we communicate this effectively?
The law of authenticity
This law is centered on being your authentic self and dispelling any beliefs that entrepreneurs are hardwired to be taskmasters, fast-paced, risk- and profit-seeking hunters. Maintain the true traits of the accountant entrepreneur: dedication to integrity and ethics, focused “strategizer” and planner, and caretaker of clients.
“The most valuable gift you have to give is yourself,” stated Oates.
Are you your most authentic self? Ask a few questions to assess where your firm stands:
- Do we offer services that best support our clients’ success, not our own?
- As a whole, does our firm live the promise of integrity and ethics in everything we do?
The law of receptivity
The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving. In simplest terms, this means that while accountants primarily live in a state of giving—offering guidance and advice—they must also be open to receiving the rewards of that work. This is what drives their passion to serve.
Oates offered: “Fulfillment comes when you are open to receiving that which you’ve earned.”
How does your firm score in the area of receptivity? Ask the following questions to begin your assessment:
- Is our entire staff, including partners, open to feedback and input from our clients?
- Is our staff trained to be receptive to feedback and input from each other?
Take the Next Step…
Today’s accounting professionals have a choice to make.
The consistent release of newer, better and faster technologies and ever-changing client expectations have forever changed the accounting landscape. The notion of disruption is not ground-breaking news. Accountants feel it every day. What’s more important to the profession is getting to an understanding of how to handle it…where to break the cycle of “just keeping up.”
The short answer is that you start here—understanding first what it means to be an accountant entrepreneur.
This includes both employees of the firm and firm owners and partners. NO matter what your role in the team, you can move forward by conducting an honest evaluation of where the firm stands today. Once you know where you are, it’s much easier to plan the changes required for the future.
Do you avoid today’s challenges and remain in a perpetual cycle of “keeping up?” Or, do you embrace change to build a client-focused, value-driven and profitable business?
If your choice is the latter, the next logical step is to enter the world of the accountant entrepreneur mindset. Once on track, great opportunity awaits.