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Outsmart Automation by Identifying Firm Strengths


According to multiple reports over the last decade, there is a greater than 95-percent chance that key accounting and bookkeeping services will become automated. It's not if, it's when. And it's not "in the future," it's already happening.

Mar 2nd 2021
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The automation of accounting and bookkeeping services will become more and more prevalent. This means that the way most firms provide value to their clients now is not the way they will provide value in 10 or even five years.

Many firms use automation tools to perform, at least partially, the services they provide for clients. That's not a problem, unless your firm's income relies primarily on a service that can be automated.

It becomes a problem when your clients look for ways to shrink their overhead. They ask questions like, "What are we outsourcing?" and "What can we do ourselves?" Fully automated accounting software is cheaper than a fully human accountancy firm, and always will be, since digital tools scale in a way that humans cannot. Competing on price is a dead-end road.

The only way to compete with automation is to concede: let technology take the number-crunching and “grunt work” you have historically done, which has not been the real value your firm provides. The value is the acquired knowledge, skills and expertise applied to each client's particular needs.

Strengths and Specialties

To future-proof your firm, you have to identify these strengths and specialties. It is only then that you can build core services and offer your clients value that can't be replaced by algorithms and automations.

So, how do you get started? You don't need to make up fluffy marketing messages. Your firm has valuable expertise, and your clients need it.

Here are the steps to take:

1. Identify firm strengths and skills.

2. Define your firm's specialties.

3. Update core services.

4. Demonstrate the right value to clients.

Identify Your Firm’s Strengths and Skills

Your firm's strengths and skills are not vague. They are specific, practical areas of developed knowledge and skills. They are acquired through education and experience. They create expertise, which allows you to identify patterns, find answers, see potential problems, create (and test) strategies, quickly find and apply solutions, track results and know which results are worth tracking.

Start at the individual level in your firm. What are your own strengths and skills? Then, expand to other members of your firm. Look for acquired knowledge: educational focus, industry background, topical specialization, certifications, ongoing learning and professional development.

Look for second-nature skills: these are often a combination of soft and hard skills. For example, a firm member may be excellent at making clients comfortable and asking questions to gain insights, which leads to better financial analysis.

Once you have a basic inventory, look at potential combinations: If one firm member has industry expertise in manufacturing and another firm member has great skills in forensic accounting, you have a specialization.

Define Your Firm’s Specialties

Firm specialties are based on the combinations of strengths and skills from your firm, as in the example above. They are also based on who your clients are and what your clients need. Your job is to define the specialties.

It's a bit like cooking. You know what the ingredients are and you know the flavors and textures. You also analyze the ingredients, specifically which ones will work together or don't fit. Don't use what is not relevant. Focus on a few solid specialties and you can expand later.

Update and Add Core Services

Once you have defined your firm's specialties, you need to update or create new core services related to these specialties. Stay focused on increasing the services which cannot be outsourced to machines. You don't need to drop accounting and bookkeeping, you do need to roll these services into a core offering that includes a specialized value, such as high-level analysis, industry tax expertise or financial advisory services specific to your client verticals.

Demonstrate the Key Value

Many firms use content to reach and win clients. That's great, unless the content your firm shares can be found from 22 other sources with a simple Google search. When your core services can be automated and your "expert content" can be duplicated, your firm is not future-proofed.

Focus on creating content that shares insights, not facts. Facts are findable, if you know where to look. Insights, which are drawn from strengths and applied as specialties, are unique, detailed, specific and immensely valuable to the clients you serve.

Mine your expertise and share it. Then, as you work with clients, track the results that come from the core, expertise-based services. Quantify what you save clients in dollars, hours and problems.

Imagine the impact of a statement like, "Last year, we saved over $500,000 for our clients through our outsourced CFO services." Automation is not an enemy if your firm is ready to offer the greater value of trustworthy expertise, strengths and specialties with clients.