Whether you are in growth-mode or not, accounting firms struggle with basic productivity issues and simply keeping pace with their colleagues and growing business needs of their clients.
We have found that they tend to benefit from hearing about what their colleagues went through and their shared success. As such, sales tax and compliance service provider Avalara produced a series of case studies of firms they have worked with that, like many, have had to overcome challenges with efficiency and updating technology in the right way.
Avalara’s Julie Lubetkin, Vice President of Marketing, Channels and Partnerships, recently interviewed Judy Vorndran, CPA, attorney, a partner at TaxOps, LLC, a tax advisory firm in Colorado. Prior to joining the TaxOps team, Vorndran was the first to be a National Tax Resource at a Top 100 CPA Firm.
In 2017, she was appointed to a three-year term on Colorado’s Sales and Use Task Force, working alongside government officials to aid in the improvement of the state’s overly complicated taxation system. Here are a few things she had to say about her experience in the field.
Lubetkin: What opportunities have you seized to leverage technology? How has your practice handled trends in the accounting industry?
Vorndran: Technology and automation are integrated into every part of our business, from how we interact with clients – and the amount of time we have to do so – to how we get our work done and efficiently collaborate with our team.
Through cloud sharing, we have accelerated how quickly we can go from signed engagement to deliverable. The shared platform allows our staff to work anytime, anywhere. This flexibility has resulted in staff loyalty on our team and team constancy for our clients. Automation is freeing us up to do higher-level advisory work.
In combination with our tax niche, we are able to provide our clients with an unusually high level of knowledge, expertise and forward-looking insights in select tax specialty areas that we might not have had the bandwidth to handle without automation. This allows us to spend more quality time listening to our clients, assessing needs and risks, and designing solutions that are truly unique to that client.
This type of engagement is particularly effective for us as an entrepreneurial firm. Our engagements are value-based and we don’t track billable hours. The more time saved with technology, the more time we have to add the types of value our clients expect – and have fun doing it!
Lubetkin: Have you added new value-added services, and if so, how did you determine pricing levels?
Vorndran: We moved to value pricing in 2011 and focused on value-added services ever since then. We price our engagements based on our experience and the “value” we expect to deliver. That value increases with the level of engagement the client wants. For example, if the client wants tax returns completed in 22 states, then that’s a base price. However, if he or she wants a tax return, plus advice on building out a state-by-state compliance framework, that’s a higher price. Same thing if the client wants 24/7 access to specialists available to answer questions – that’s another price.
Lubetkin: If you are finding it more difficult to compete with firms that are more savvy marketers, how are you addressing that?
Vorndran: At the end of the day, we are in the relationship business. Getting in front of as many people as possible, including accounting professionals, business stakeholders and referral sources, drives our leads. Additional referrals come through social media and our website presence, all working to keep our pipeline full.
Lubetkin: What sales tactics and marketing strategies are you using to market your firm?
Vorndran: We are a B2B firm. We use thought leadership content, social media, webinars and presentations to keep visibility of our firm high.
Lubetkin: What sales tactics are you using to market your firm and services? How are you structured?
Vorndran: Each specialty line of business at TaxOps operates under its own P&L, making us accountable to our teams and ourselves. Direct outreach from referrals, marketing campaigns, and meet and greets keep our name at the ready when businesses need a tax specialist.
Lubetkin: What methods have you found most effective to bring attention to your services and your brand? How has that changed over time with rise in social media?
Vorndran: We do blogs and have a LinkedIn page which we post to on a regular basis. We send out newsletters and try to keep in front of our clients with these vehicles. We keep our webpage up to date with interesting facts and stats, maintaining our blogs and events. We track engagement with these vehicles by looking at opening rates, people who sign up for our blogs and click-throughs to see if they are effective. Although we’re uncertain whether this actually creates business opportunities, we have noticed many people searching our firm via Google.
Lubetkin: What does success look like for your firm? How do you track the progress of the business?
Vorndran: We look at revenue minus costs, but could do a better job of understanding effort to outcome. Since we do not track hours, we guestimate how efficient we are. We have very experienced people, so we are not recreating the wheel in the process of passing these efficiencies on to our clients.
Lubetkin: What changes do you see in hiring new staff with the skillsets required by the growing accounting practice?
Vorndran: I think our culture is our difference – we treat people like adults and professionals. They do not have to “keep” their time, normal office hours or a dress code. We expect people to perform to their best ability, measuring that with client and staff success, and collaborative fun interpersonal working relationships.
Julie is VP of Marketing, Channels and Partnerships at Avalara where she is responsible for driving channel marketing strategy and programs to help accelerate growth with industry partners, including solution providers, value added resellers, development and implementation specialists and accounting professionals.