Firm Fixer Upper

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Lorilyn Wilson: [00:00:00] Avalere proudly sponsors this podcast series about accountants by accountants and featuring some of the best thought leaders in the industry. Thank you to our sponsor, Ava Lara Alvarez. Award winning Tax Automation Solutions help accounting practitioners and businesses of all sizes simplify sales tax, compliance with real time rates, automated returns, filing and more. Learn more at Avalere. Hey, everyone, this is Laura Lynne, and you're listening to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Accounting Podcast. More accountants than ever are experimenting and shaping our profession in new and interesting ways. On this show, I sit down with these rock stars to discuss the ideas, the opportunities, the struggles and the strategies that they're taking advantage of so the rest of us can do the same. Accountants can earn free CPE credit from listening to this podcast. Just download the earmarked CPE app in the App Store or visit your Mac CPE. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Accounting Podcast. Now this episode is going to focus on the ugly. Both David Lurie and Blake Oliver said, We need more ugly in this. There's too much good. So we have Amanda Wilkie here today who is going to talk to us about some ugly accounting firms. Not ugly people, ugly firms. So I'm sure the people running them are wonderful. But as lots of firm owners know, it's very easy to have ugly internal processes, workflows, tech, etc. And so that is what we are going to discuss because Amanda is a consultant at Boomer Consulting. So first I was curious if this was like a play on like boomers, like I was like, Oh, that's clever. You're you're helping these old older folks, you know, make change. And then I went to the website and that's actually the last names. Yeah.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:02:08] Laura Lin You would be surprised how many times we get we get that question and I, I absolutely love it. We actually have one of those, you know, an easy button. This is okay, Boomer sometimes. So we love it. We pass it around, we get Santa. Okay. Boomer Yeah. Button It's great.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:02:25] Yeah, I would just lean. I would just lean into that heavily. I'd be like, Yeah, that's exactly actually why we, we named it this. So but Boomer Consulting consults with CPA firms and this is straight from their site the on leadership talent, growth technology and processes. So helping CPA firms be better businesses because what I find is CPA firms are great at doing the CPA things. We're good at auditing, we're good at tax returns, we're good at advising, but everything around actually running a firm, a lot of us are really, really bad at. And so it's great that there are companies out there like Boomer Consulting that can help CPA firms with those functions. Now Amanda has a deep background and kind of the I.T side of it and you know, just looking at her LinkedIn, doing a little pre recording stalking, she's worked at some of the top accounting firms in the nation. So she has that deep experience of I say like working with the Titanic's, you know like you're trying to do things, you're trying to make changes with smaller firms you can do it a lot easier. But the big firms, you're definitely trying to turn these ginormous ships, which can be very hard and very painful. So this is going to be a really fun conversation, and I can't wait to hear about your experiences and your insights in doing this. But before we get started, just tell us a little bit about who you are, how you got here, etc..

Amanda Wilkie: [00:03:47] Yeah, well, like you mentioned, my focus historically has been technology. So my undergrad is computer science. I looked around, I looked around the Linux lab my senior year of college and was like, I don't know if I want to hang out with these people my entire life. And you fast forward a little bit and I started the first accounting firm that I worked at. I started on January 3rd and I had no idea what I was getting into. And I looked around. I'm like, Do I want to hang out with accountant and so forth for the rest of my life? But really, by the end of that first tax season, like, I had just developed such an admiration for everything that the accountants went through to meet those deadlines, to keep up with the technology changes, tax law changes, you know, all of that. And I just my my heart reached out to them and I'm like, I really want to help these people. And I knew that I could help through technology because just like you were saying, you know, CPAs are really good at being CPAs. Like, I can't advise them on the technical side of their job, the client side of their job, but I can help them with technology. And that's kind of where my journey and public accounting started. And now I'm actually I'm actually starting my 18th tax season in the profession. And I know that we count I always count by tax seasons because they're kind of like dog years from a technology standpoint.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:05:15] We always tell people that one year in a public accounting firm is like three years of experience. Again, just because there's so much technology and so much change that the firms go through. But my journey, you know, I, I started at one firm and like you mentioned, I've worked in multiple firms. So through different moves and mergers, I've worked in four different firms in the top 75, including my role as CIO of a top 25 firm as as well. And I think you you described it very well. I'm not sure I'd call them all the Titanic because they weren't all sinking. But but trying to really drive change in large organizations like that is very, very challenging and it takes a long time. And like you mentioned, CPA firms aren't. Necessarily good at some of those things, like the leadership, the talent, the growth, the technology, the process. And that's what we here at Boomer Consulting really refer to as like the pillars of success. And that's where where we help firms. So I joined Boomer Consulting just about five years ago and focusing on technology, but also at that at that point started working with the rest of the boomer team on where technology and process not only were they like Intersect, but how you really integrate technology and process because you can't really talk about one without the other. These days, if you do, then you're really missing the mark and you're not going to get the benefit out of either one of them.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:06:51] So that's really my focus here at Boomer is both technology and process. And specifically, I work with firms in three different ways. So one is we do some training and education. So I love opportunities like this to to chat with people like you, to educate people in the profession. We also have peer communities. So I love that opportunity because when people ask, well, what are other firms doing? I get to sit down and talk to these other firms on a regular basis to find out what's going on in their firms, what's happening in their firms. And that was one thing. Every firm that I worked with was a member of these communities. So Boomer for me was always just a great wealth of knowledge when I was working inside of firms. And then that third area that I work with, firms is on the consulting side. So from a technology standpoint, I help firms build technology strategies that's going to support their growth and support their overall strategic plan and also help them with process improvement. So really coming in and that's one of the things that we can talk about today is process improvement and change. Change leadership, because I do help firms sit down, map out their current process, identify areas that need to be improved and can be improved, and then help them build a strategy for those improvements. So in a nutshell, that's that's my my experience in my background.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:08:21] Oh, that's fantastic. It's a.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:08:23] Big nutshell.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:08:24] Big nutshell. Yes, it's great because you're going to have so much good insight and stories that come along with that. So let's though, start to keep David and Blake happy. Let's start with the worst, and I will let you define what the worst means to you. But what's kind of like the biggest makeover you did. And you can define that as like the most amount of work you did or the the outcome, that change was the greatest. So I'll let you. Yeah, do what you will with that and define what that was for you.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:08:52] And I promise to leave all the names out of it just to protect the the innocent.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:08:59] Oh, no, we'll be, we'll be putting them in the show notes. Everyone know I'm.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:09:02] Going to have links to their links to their website.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:09:05] Demi dm me later, I'll tell you. Okay.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:09:09] You know, I'd have to say, yeah, I've never come across a firm that like, I just felt like, well, we can't, we can't help this firm, you know? And that's, you know, that's a good thing. But we, I have come across quite a few firms that are just resistant to change or, you know, feel like some people on the team feel like they don't necessarily need the change. Everything's fine. But honestly, if you're calling a consultant in to help you, at least have someone at the top who feels like something's broken or we can do something better. And so we, you know, we see that a lot. So, you know, at least the firms that we work with get to really they're kind of bought in from, you know, from the beginning. So I don't want to call anyone out. But, you know, we have seen firms that are, you know, really struggling with, you know, talent development or they're you know, they realize that everyone is stressed out, burnout, have no idea how they're going to, you know, service these clients and meet these these deadlines. And again, that's where my heart really breaks for these people. So I think some of the worst firms that we have worked with, or I will say some of the firms that are kind of in the worst shape are the ones that are really struggling from a talent perspective.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:10:37] And Lauren, we're seeing that more and more today because talent is getting you know, it's hard to find. And now you have those those struggles now that, you know, 2020 pushed us into more of a remote and a hybrid world. Now, I as a CPA, I can live in Minnesota, and I couldn't go to work for a firm in New York. And at first everyone was like, Oh, well, that's great. I can pay the Minnesota salaries. That's not happening. I can I can live in Minnesota and get a manhattan salary or close to it. So, you know, when I think about some of the worst firms that we've worked with, I think some of the worst firms or the biggest opportunity is really yet to come because we were in a bad spot with process and technology and how it impacted talent. And that is the part that is getting worse. It's getting worse for all firms that that are out there. So there's definitely a lot of opportunity in that area.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:11:49] Avalere helps businesses of all sizes, get indirect tax compliance, write their sales tax solutions, help you manage sales, and use tax complexities while lessening risk for your business and clients. Whether you're a small business or a global enterprise, Avalere can help you deliver tax compliant services confidently and efficiently. Over 30,000 organizations across the globe use Avaliar as cloud based compliance solutions to solve transaction tax compliance needs, including sales and use. That and other direct and indirect taxes. Oh, my gosh. I feel like I could go down a huge long rabbit trail just on the talent piece. So let's just go a little a little ways down it because. Okay, so if what then is okay, so in the in the industry I'll hear about I don't know if I want to come influencers, but what people say is, okay, if you are having this workload issue, fire clients or raise their prices, you know, they that's kind of the first thing they talk about. Instead of trying to find more people to help do the work, Is it just your current workload, accordingly, your price point? So then each employee has less work to do. Is that the first thing you say or what's the first thing you say? If someone's like, We have too much work or not enough people.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:13:09] That might be something that you would hear. That's not necessarily what I would say because you because those people still have to go somewhere. Those clients still have to go somewhere. So what are you doing? Are you just handy your worst clients off to someone else? Who do you recommend your worst clients to like? Do you have friends in the profession? Do you have, you know, do you have other firms that you trust enough to say, Hey, here are my worst client, good luck. That's we're not doing that, you know? So where does that work go? And where do those you know, where are those people go? Where are those clients go? The what I actually would say what I would focus on is really the process, because we see so much opportunity in processes within firms. And that's where firms struggle is change leadership. And let me quickly define the the difference between leader change leadership and change management. Like we're bad at change management. Yeah, change management. You know, we have to change changes coming at us. Someone has to control that, change, educate, implement those kind of things. Let's change management change. The leadership is actually looking to steps ahead and understanding the changes that are happening in the profession and understanding the changes that are happening in your firm and then actually turning that change into opportunity and harnessing it and making it a positive and making it a proactive event, not a reactive event.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:14:45] And so I think we we have an opportunity as professionals in the public accounting space to turn change into a positive for the firm, and that is a positive for your staff as well. So instead of having them just hit by all of this change and it being reactive within the firm, you actually need to harness it and turning it into change leadership. So when you know, when when I talk to a firm and they say, Hey, we're having those talent struggles, yes, you can do client filtering. Yes, you can raise your prices to to help with some of those things. But that's not that's only going to help you a little bit. That's not going to help relieve a lot of the stress and and make a better I call it a client, an internal client experience, because your staff is really your internal clients. So you want to improve the internal client experience as well.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:15:43] Do you think the reason firms get in that situation in the first place is that they.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:15:49] Are.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:15:50] Not doing any type of resource planning, like looking forward? Like why do you think firms get in that situation? What's happening on the front end that's leading to that effect?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:16:00] Yeah, I think that is is part of it. I think another part is that just by nature, CPAs and firms are risk averse. So we don't want to change. You know, we'll change if we have to. The flip side of that is we work in a profession that is full of change. Again, tax laws changing all the time. Technology is changing all the time. And we are reliant on, you know, the technology providers, we're reliant on the regulators to to implement those changes. So sometimes it's that we don't really have the opportunity to take a breath and really see the change that is coming. And I'll tell you, one thing that we're seeing is we're actually seeing more and more non CPAs and accounting firms because those non CPAs can do a lot. I mean, I, I ask firms all the time when we're looking at what their staff is actually doing is sit down and you ask, does this task, this particular task we're looking at, does it require the CPA designation? If it doesn't require a CPA designation, your CPA is probably shouldn't be doing it. So because they are focused on servicing the clients and good, bad, ugly, there's still folks. It's on the billable hour. That's a whole different that's a whole different episode, I'm sure. But good, bad or ugly, there still focus on those things or focus on client service. They're focused on the billable hour. They don't necessarily have the capacity to focus on change and change leadership. So we're seeing more and more non CPAs or non non client service professionals that are focused on the change, the change leadership and the resource management.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:18:01] Okay. So that's again, this could be a whole nother episode is just on the CPA designation. Technically, the only thing you need that for is signing audits, right? So if a firm is not signing audits, they you don't need a CPA doing any of those tasks. So do you find, though, that is it more I'm assuming that a lot of these people who are wanting the CPA designation are still in the billable hour and thinking I can build more per hour if I have these letters attached to my staff's names. Do you find that? Is that why people are resistant to it? Like it's like, dare I say, the clout, you know, and want to hire more CPAs as opposed to these more non traditional accountants?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:18:41] Yeah, I mean, I think the CPA designation is still very, very you know, it's very, very important. And honestly, you know, when I when I go to a medical professional, you know, yes, there are some things I'm perfectly fine seeing a physician assistant about, but there are some things that I want an MD for, you know, And I think that the public accounting profession is, you know, is the same. So from a compliance standpoint, yeah, I still you know, I still want a CPA, but there's a lot of things and again, there's a lot of things that are non client facing and the area of leadership, talent, growth, you know process and you know in technology, there's a lot of things in those areas that don't necessarily require that CPA designation.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:19:31] Yeah, there's been a couple people I've seen on Twitter, one in particular named Patrick, and I don't want to say his last name because I don't want to to bungle it, but his name is Patrick. But he's a he bought an accounting firm, so not in the accounting industry. He's like, you know, decided to break into this. He has a lot of experience in other industries and it's been really interesting seeing this non accountant come into the industry and run the business like an actual business and not, you know, without that accountant, CPA perspective, but more how do I make this a successful business? And it's just been really fun watching him do that. And then too, you know, I think accountants are very quick to be like, Well, that that'll never work, you know? And it's like, no, we do need these innovative outside people coming in who haven't been, you know, who don't have the curse of being in our industry, do not have all the, you know, all the baggage that comes along with it. And it's like we need those fresh voices and those fresh perspectives to move our industry forward.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:20:29] So the one I really like, Lauren, is, you know, well, what other firms are doing this? Do you want to be like other firms? I mean, and there's again, from a process perspective, and when I'm talking to firms about process, I can tell you what's working in other firms. So when they're like, Oh, that'll never work, I can tell you what is working in other firms because I've seen it work with in other firms. But there are times, and I think more from a technology standpoint that, you know, when they ask, well, what are other firms doing well, do you really want to do what other firms are doing? So to your point, I do think it's important to get some of those outside perspectives. I'll tell you, one of the one of the most eye opening things for me when I first came into the profession was just understanding the the partnership structure. And I was like, wait a second, how many owners does this company have? How many bosses do I have? How many people do I have to get input from? So I think some firms still really struggle with with that is that, you know, every partner feels like the one and only owner. And I can tell you from a technology leader perspective, that's something that we really struggle with and that's one of the things that really slows it down. You mentioned, you know, we mentioned the Titanic and, you know, just trying to make change and it's like steering a cruise ship. Well, sometimes it's like steering a cruise ship because I've got 85 to 200 different captains or people who think they are captains of that ship that I need to that I need to to, you know, to get buy in from and build buy in from. So, yeah, there's a lot of fun stuff in the profession.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:22:19] Do you think that that kind of traditional partnership model, do you think that's going to die or do you think it's just going to see, you know, some evolution? Because what I'm kind of hearing on the streets, on the Twitter streets, are these younger people come into these firms and they see that path to partnership. They know how long it takes, and then they look at the partner's life and it still doesn't look that great. And they're like, yeah, no, thank you. So what are you seeing? Do you think that model is going to keep persisting or is it just going to have a slow death?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:22:48] Yeah, I think it's definitely got to change because you're you're right. And again, this is my 18th tax season and I've been hearing that and and seeing that, you know, they they look up the ladder and they see how hard these people are working. And I, I remember a partner, one of the firms I worked at actually coaching other partners and reminding them, let's not highlight how hard we were. Let's not highlight, you know, that we're that we're missing, you know, kids soccer games. Let's highlight that our kids are in private school and that her kids are going to, you know, to school without student loans. And again, that's a trade off. You know, I know plenty of people who they are willing to work that hard to give their their children that that kind of life. But I also know plenty that would rather be there for that that soccer game. So, yes, and I think that that is a struggle that we have been seeing. And we're continuing to see where you have fewer and fewer younger people coming in the profession and looking up the ladder and saying they may look up the ladder and they may say, I want to be like that person, but they're not looking up the ladder and saying, I'm willing to work that hard to be like that person. It's just not worth it. So I do think the the partnership model will continue to change.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:24:19] We're starting to see the structure change. You may have, you know, heard this for the last couple of years, but, you know, we used to have that pyramid, you know, where you had a lot of interns, a lot of young staff, and those were kind of your prepares, your doers. And, you know, they didn't even get client contact. When I talk to firms right now and they're like, oh, yeah, we don't we don't let staff level people talk to clients because they could leave the firm. Well, if they're not building the relationships with the clients, they're probably going to leave your firm. But you had, you had to reach those certain, you know, those steps on the ladder and up that pyramid before you had that client contact, you build those relationships. You were seen as a strategist. Well, we're starting to see that change. You're starting to see kind of the bottom corners of that pyramid kind of fade away. And it's more of a diamond now. Mm hmm. And but that diamond actually means that your lower people are coming up. But sometimes the the upper people are coming down and doing some of the the tasks that are kind of in that middle as, as well. So will the partnership structure change. I think it's going. Two. And we're already starting to see the structure within the firm change as well.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:25:41] Mm hmm. Did you know that 52% of accounting practitioners, large and small, still rely on spreadsheets and manual processes for sales tax compliance? Why not move your accounting practice to the 21st century using Avila for accountants? The Avila for Accountants Automation platform helps accounting service providers of any size grow their service offerings with sales tax prep and filing transfer pricing, research, business license management and more. Scale your practice efficiently with award winning automation that brings efficiency and accuracy to sales tax compliance. Want to learn more? Email accountants at avaliacao or visit avaliacao. Do you think there's something about accounting firms that's unique compared to other professional industry when it comes to kind of these pain points, you know, all the way from the model to growth to tech, do you think, or do you think it's just common across all industries and the professional services?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:26:49] I do. I think the accounting profession is unique. How much time do we have?

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:26:57] As much as you want. 45 hours. They said 45 minutes. I'm changing it to hours.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:27:03] Let's. Let's do it. I'll get my coffee. I'll get my afternoon. Pick me up. Yeah, we. I do think that we are unique in new ways. Again, everything from the partnership structure to just the, you know, the career path. Again, I think about the young people. When I started, you know, 18 years ago in public accounting, if you think about it, a firm gets a class of interns. And that class of interns, there's usually a lot of a lot of training, you know, a lot of things that bring them together, a lot of events, a lot of social events that get them connected. Because the goal is is to get them so connected that they spend the next 30 years at that firm. And I think that that is something that is really unique. I spoke to a friend about this recently after reading an article, and I wish I would have saved the link. I would send it to you. But the the article basically said that there are studies happening right now that showing that people gen, you know, Gen X, I'm Gen X, Gen X and younger, that they no longer are looking for that work BSF or that that work spouse. You know we hear that that's my work husband, my work wife, my work BFFs they're no longer looking for that because they don't hair.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:28:32] And years ago we would have said, you know, you need to have that connection. If people are connected, if they feel like they have that work best friend, they are more likely to stay with that company longer. So the conversation I had with my friend over this was, you know, our profession was kind of built on that. Our profession was you get the interns in, you get them all together. They stay connected. Some of them actually get married. We've seen that happen. You get them connected because what you want is you want them to build the connections that will you know, that will keep them at that firm for, you know, for 30 years. And if that's not a connection that people are looking for anymore, how do you get them connected? How do they you get them connected to your culture and get them to stay there their entire career. And so when we think when I think about things that are unique to the accounting profession, I think that that's a big one, is that, you know, historically you could spend your entire career at at one firm and and never leave. And that wasn't that was actually looked at as a positive thing, not necessarily a negative thing. So I think that's something that makes us really unique.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:29:53] Mm hmm. Yeah. Well, for any firms out there, it's like, how do I keep people? I'll tell you how to keep people. Don't overwork them and pay them. Well, there you go. That's how you keep good employees. I know. It's not like it's not rocket, it's not ping pong tables, it's not kombucha. It's literally respect their boundaries as people don't overwork them and pay them above what other people are paying. There you go.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:30:16] Yeah, Yeah. It's no longer There's a keg in the kitchen, you.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:30:20] Know, Right? Yeah. Is so funny. So back before I had my current firm, I was part owner in another firm and we were small. I think at our biggest we had like there was nine of us, but we had, you know, we had the office space, we had kombucha beer but was fine. Like, I don't think anyone ever tapped the beer because we're doing tax returns. Like, I can't do tax returns junk, you know? And then too, at the end of the day, I'm driving home for 35 minutes to my place, like, so it's like it's like the beer would just sit there and go bad. No one was staying there and drinking beer after, you know, after the day was over, we were all leaving and going.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:30:54] Yeah, because you, you, because you want to be with your your friends and your family that, that aren't at, you know, at that office.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:31:02] Yeah. Yeah. It's like I liked my coworkers and I liked my employees, but it's like, at the end of the day, I want to be, you know, not at the firm for a second longer than I need to. So. Okay, here's a question. Are there what types of changes have you found that firms accept the easiest? Like, what are the easiest changes to implement where you just don't really ever get resistance or pushback? Oh.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:31:27] That's a good one. Right now, I would say any firm that I work with that's still using like paper and it blows my mind because again, when I first started in the profession, way back when we were all going through the big paperless push, oh, we're going paperless. And realistically, that just meant less paper or it meant, you know, we implemented a quote unquote document management system, which was really just an electronic file room. Like you still had paper floating all over the place. Same with the workflow solutions. But people would say, Oh, we've got digital workflow, now you have a workflow solution. But when we talk to people about process and there is still any time that they're using paper and we recommend they get rid of the paper, most people are like, Thank you very much. Now there's still a few people in there that are like, Well, what are we going to do without the paper? Well, there is a digital there's usually a, you know, a digital version of this, which you really you definitely need. Now, now that we're hybrid and we're not all in the same space, you know, you really need that. So there are a few people that are like, no, you're going to, you know, whether it was the, you know, the red folder, the blue folder, the green sheet, whatever it was, you know, the green cover sheet, the routing sheet. You know, there there's a few people that are still like, well, what are we going to do? I had one firm, one time, just recommend they change the color and just make it a half sheet. No. But today, in the environment that we're in, you know, most firms are like, Yes, please take away the paint.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:33:09] Gosh. Yeah. So my first my first accounting job, I entered the accounting career or the accounting work industry. I entered the accounting industry a little later in my career. So I had my first accounting job at 28. And I remember this firm it was and I had no prior experience. So I was like, This is just what people do. So it was all, you know, we had the paper folders getting passed around and you have your sheet on top, you know, checking off where you are. And then I was preparing and so we would print out the tax return. I would like do ten keys to keep it to like the tax return so the reviewer could like title. And then to I remember they were giving the client copies of the return on like a CD.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:33:57] Like Yes.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:33:59] Oh my gosh. And then I was there less than a year. It was incredibly toxic. It was like your typical toxic you know, every toxic thing that could happen to a firm was happening there. And so then when I went to the next firm, which was I mean, it was like 80% paperless, but it was I remember we were using like adobe and tic ty and I was like, We don't want to print these off and mark them up. Like my mind was blown.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:34:22] Yeah, like you, you had no idea there was any other way. And again, when you have an environment where, you know, people come in, they work their entire career there, they hear that other firms are doing some things, but they're like, that can never work here. We can't do it that way. We're special. Yeah.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:34:43] Okay. So if those if people are most amicable to that type of change, what types of change are people most resistant to?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:34:53] This is this is a good one. And this goes back to the kind of the talent, the talent topic that we mentioned earlier, but actually giving people more autonomy over the work that they're doing and the schedule that they have. And I'll give you I'll give you an example. Best practice in the profession these days is to use like tax preparation pools. So you're lower level, you know, less complex returns, just putting them in a basket and having the preparers actually come and say, okay, I'll take this FIFO order. Of course, that's one of the struggles that we have, you know, coming and saying, okay, this is ready to work on, I'm going to work on this one. And many firms think, well, that's not going to work Like these young people aren't going to take responsibility for their own workload. We're going to have to tell them we have to push the work to them. And what ultimately happens is then you have people sitting there waiting to be told what to do, and some of them are overloaded. Some of them, if you if you tell me, hey, here's a tax return, it should take you 20 hours to do it. Guess how long I'm going to take to do that? 20 hours. 20 hours. But if if I go in and say, okay, I'm ready to do this and you tell me, hey, can you get three returns out this week, then I'm going to go in and I'm going to my goal will be, you know, three or.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:36:29] Interns not filling up the hours. So that is, I would say, one of the changes that firms think won't work. But what you're actually doing is you're giving these people, again, more autonomy over what they're working on. You're giving them more exposure because they have an opportunity to work on different types of returns. They have an opportunity to work in different industries with different clients. You're giving them the opportunity to work with different managers and reviewers in your firms so they have a wider experience and they have more control over their work and their professional development. The flip side of that is now you have your managers, you have your reviewers actually working with more and more preparers as well. And so your managers are learning different ways to manage and they have more exposure as well. So it's it's really best practice, but it's one of those things that firms are like, Oh my goodness, these people are not going to volunteer, do work like you're paying them. They're going to show up, they're going to do the work. You just have to manage them now.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:37:45] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Oh, that's really interesting. Do you find that there's a certain makeup of firms that are more or less open to change? Like, are certain firms you come across and they whether it's revenue, employee count, where they are full board, they're like, Get Jesus, take the wheel, Amanda, take the wheel. Tell us what to do. Or are there other firms? Also on the flip side that are certain revenue size pop up, who are who are just really push back on things?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:38:12] Yeah. I'm very, very lucky because when firms come to us, it's because they're ready to change. At least someone at the leadership level is is ready for the change, whether or not the people inside the firm or not, that's different. But I would say that firms that have recently gone through a great amount of growth that after and I'll give you an example, maybe a firm has gone through a merger or a couple of mergers. And what you end up having is you have one, two or three firms essentially operating under the same name, but all of their processes, the way that they're managing the work, the talent and the talent development, those are all still being done the old way, the legacy firm way. So firms that have experienced, whether it's M&A or organic growth, if they have grown fast, they realize that the way that they've been doing things is not sustainable. And those are the ones that are usually like, Please just tell us what we need to do. Please help us through this. And those are the firms that we we really enjoy working with because we are going to help them create that one firm approach, that one firm process, as opposed to having those multiple firms, individual firms under one name and one roof.

Speaker3: [00:39:40] Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:39:41] What? What's the most common, ugly thing you see in firms? Like, is there one thing that really sticks out that you come across almost in everyone you do consulting with? Oh. He's. That was a heavy sigh. Well, I'm like.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:40:01] You know, and I can't think of, like, something super specific. Like, I'm not going to say there's an application or there's one for, you know, one personality type. Yeah, I actually like. Adding what we call the strategic naysayer. So if there's someone that you know is, you know, there, they're going to be open to change. But, you know, they might be a little more difficult to win over. I actually really like having them on the project team because if you can get them on board and you can answer, you know, the why questions for them, so why we need to change and why this will be better, you can get them on board then. They are usually a huge, huge champion for any change that you know that you throw out there. But I would say one of the most common kind of ugly things that I see is I'm I'm going to go back to that difference between change leadership and change management. And it's that we just don't have anyone focused on change of leadership. And you really need someone who is going to drive that. And it doesn't necessarily have to be a CPA, it can be a non CPA, but firms that don't have that, I would say that's that's a kind of an ugly thing to me. And, you know, I like leaving a firm. Kind of instilling in them that change leadership is something that they really need and that they need to focus on.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:41:38] Interesting. That's good. If you're listening for a moaners, take note. This is if you are doing changes you need change leadership.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:41:46] Yeah, well. And Marilyn, if you don't mind, I can dive in a little bit deeper. Yeah. That because people are going to be like, What do you mean, change? Yeah.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:41:53] They're like, God. They're like, change leadership next.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:41:57] Yeah. And they're googling. What is change leadership mean? Yeah. So kind of like digital transformation. It's like, okay, yeah, digital transformation check. You can, we can go back through like the last, you know, eight years of, of buzzwords if you want to. But when I think I've changed leadership, I really think of three different areas in your firm. So one, you have engagement management. You have project management and then you have process management. So the engagement management, you know someone who is really bringing together all the pieces of the engagement, the communication with the client, the communication internally. So we're starting to see firms really focus on that. And it takes the same skills as your project management and your your process management as well. So someone who can communicate, someone who is, you know, very organized and someone who has influence. So whether you're talking about a large tax client or a CAS client or an audit client, you want this person to be able to influence that audit team or that CAS team as well as be able to influence the client. Mm hmm. The project management piece and this is, you know, sometimes in the profession we use the word project for engagements and different things, but project management being kind of a special one off project, something that is, you know, a big change, implementing something, you know, implementing technology, implementing a new policy, things like that.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:43:36] So again, you need someone who's going to be able to communicate and someone who's going to be able to influence and someone who is going to be very, very organized. And then that third piece of really the the change leadership is really the process management. So looking at your processes, looking at what's working, what's not, and then really focused on continuously improving your your processes. So those are the three different areas, but they're really the the leader of that the leadership piece is really being able to look out, you know, at the profession and what's happening in the profession and what's happening in the technology and the talent pieces and the trends and really being able to stay one step ahead of those and like I've mentioned previously, turn those into opportunities and being proactive, not reactive with them.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:44:29] Yeah. Oh, my gosh. So while I was listening to you talk, I had a moment of inspiration. And Ava, Laura, you sponsored this podcast, if you're listening. Zack, Producer Zack, write this down right now. Wouldn't it be fun to do a podcast series called Extreme Firm Makeover, where every up you work with one firm during the season? Yes. You know, if you can see Amanda's face, but she is loving this. But you work with a firm and then each episode is talking about like you're coaching them and then talking about the changes and what milestones they're hitting. How fun would that be? Oh, let's do that. We need to do that. Producer Zack, write that down. But it's that because it's like I mean, because hearing you say it, I'm like, okay, yeah, yeah, you need to do it. But then, you know, I'm one of those people and I'm sure a lot of like when someone's actually doing it and I'm watching it happen or listening to it happen in real time and it's like, this is what it actually means because I feel like I hear some complaints about some of the influencers in the industry where it's like, you know, they'll, they'll be like, Oh, people should do this thing. But then we're like, Yeah, we'll do this thing. But then we don't actually know how to do the thing. Like we don't have the actionable, like step by step. So we're going to do that. That's a side note. But yeah, but I mean, here you talk about it, I'm like, Oh, this is complicated. It's complicated. And it's a lot in leadership. Management is hard.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:45:48] And that's why we're seeing more and more firms actually have an an individual that is focused on change leadership because it can't be a part time job. It can't be something that I put down from January to April because I'm focused on client service, because then everything just sobs. You need a non client service professional to really lead change within your organization.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:46:19] Do you think that's something that could be contracted out or does it have to be an internal employee?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:46:24] That's a really good that's a really good question. I personally think of for for it to be successful, you need someone who really has skin in the game. So that would be someone who is internal. But also that person has to have the the the authority and the influence. And many times just based on, you know, our profession, the partnership structure, you you bring someone in, they can tell you what to do, but they're not going to do it for you. And, you know, and and honestly, the partners, the partnership isn't going to let this outside person do it for them, because this is my firm. I know what's best for my firm. Now, again, I'll take your advice, but I'm not going to let you come into my house and clean my house up. You don't you don't live here. So for that reason, we're actually seeing more and more firms create that, create that role. And it's really becoming part of the operations team within the firm.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:47:34] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. That's. That's great. Well, gosh, like what? Here's the question. Like, let's say I'm a small firm. There's only three of us. Like, I can't afford to have someone do that. You know what? What? Then what do those people do?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:47:47] Yeah. So now we're not talking so much about a cruise ship or the Titanic. You're really talking more about a speedboat?

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:47:56] Yeah, a little. Maybe it's not even speedy. Maybe it's just a little motorboat putting along.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:48:00] Yeah. There. Yeah. I think in. In that case, changes. I don't want to say that it is easy because you still. I mean, if you've got three people in your firm, you know, you're only 33% of the opinions. Like you still have another, you know, 66.6% of the opinions or people that you have to get, you know, on on board. So I won't say that it is as easy, but I do think that you can make it a bit of your side hustle to really drive change within a small organization like that.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:48:35] Mm hmm. Okay. So this I like this question. This is a really fun one. So what type of advice do you see other consultants or influencers? I'm really hitting on influencers. Some people call me an influencer. I'm like, Don't call me that. I'm just out here being silly. I am just a silly goose. I don't think of myself as an influencer, but what type of advice do you see these people in the industry giving that you don't think is good advice? We kind of touched on like just raise prices and fire clients. You said you don't really like that piece of advice. Is there another piece of advice that you see kind of mainstream that you're like, that's not really great?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:49:09] Yeah, definitely. You know, definitely don't just raise prices, you know? I'm trying to think I don't want to necessarily call anyone out because I think there's a lot of really, really smart people who are advising the, you know, the profession. I would actually go more with what I'm hearing from some firms, which is is, you know, one, they're saying, okay, we'll just outsource everything. Which don't do that. So in addition to let's raise prices, let's fire clients. Don't outsource everything. Yes, outsource, outsource what you can, but don't don't necessarily outsource everything. Like if you want to identify where your people can add the most value to your clients, and that's usually more from advisory and consulting services. Yeah. So definitely don't, you know, don't outsource those things, outsource your compliance. You can, you can do that. But you know, still talking to a few firms that are like, well, if they don't want to work this way, if staff doesn't want that, they don't want to work this way, then they can just go work somewhere else. And that is a mindset that yes, that is a mindset that drives me crazy. I was actually speaking at a conference recently and I don't think this gentleman worked at a public accounting firm. He was more private industry, but I had a conversation and he said, Yeah, you know, we if we if they work from home, we have applications installed that track the websites that they're going to. And you know, like you see when I'm going to Facebook on lunch, well, with Facebook, who cares? I guess they're going to be they sat in your office and they scrolled Facebook on their phones.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:51:06] So I did. I did. Yes. Me. I'm the problem. Yeah.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:51:11] And, you know, and he said, oh, no, we you know, when they sign up, they they sign and they join our firm. They actually sign, you know, documentation and policies that say that they won't use our our equipment for that. And that is a firable offense like that. That's not the culture that you want to to build. That's not the culture that's going to get people to to stay. So you really have to be a little bit more flexible and again, give them more autonomy over their career, their learning ladders, the work that they're doing, the clients that they're working with. You really do have to embrace that Well, and to.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:51:53] It's a worker's market right now. It's like you're just going to fire these people. Who are you going to hire? No one can find people to hire, so it's like you're going to pass someone up or you're going to fire your tax manager because they went looked at Pinterest like, be for real? Yeah, for real. So at my other firm we had employees. I was like, I don't I really don't care how long it takes you to do the work, as long as you do it. Like, I don't care. Like if it takes you one hour a week and you do all the work you're supposed to do, Awesome. Good for you. You're super efficient. And I'm actually now at my firm. I have now that I've owned a couple of years, I'm bringing on my my first employee again. And it's I'm like doing this experiment where it's a good friend of mine, but she no accounting background, none zero zero accounting background. Went through a divorce and kind of got interested in some forensic accounting stuff. And she's like, Huh, This might be because she was digging through her ex's finances and she's like, This is kind of fun.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:52:52] I might want to do this. And I'm like, Okay, if that's a path that you want to go down, you've got to learn. You got to learn the foundations of accounting. So I told her, I'm like, If you want to. And she's very social, very well connected in the community, very likable. And like if you want to go start building your own book of business under me, you know, we'll do a profit share, I will train, I will review, but you can kind of learn under me, you know, But it's like, I know. Here's the thing. Like because of her personality, I'm like, I know she's going to crush it because she has those intangibles that I cannot teach. I can teach you debits and credits, like I can teach you how to do that. So this is like my own experimentation of how easy is it to take someone who is not in the accountant world, I don't think has ever taken an accounting course and make them an accountant.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:53:36] But then I look forward to I look forward to that because I, I agree. I think it can be done. I don't think accounting is for everyone, but I do think that I do think that that it can be done. And I love it. I love you know, I forget what the saying is about a woman's scorn. But yeah, I think a woman scorned would probably make a great a great accountant.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:53:59] Oh, gosh. This could be a whole nother podcast series of like Extreme Home or Extreme Accountant Makeover. Yes.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:54:07] Yes, absolutely. I would listen to that podcast as well. I'm thinking maybe a limited series. Yes, Maybe do four or five.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:54:15] Yeah. Yes. Yes. Over a series of. Sounds like you check in once a month or actually, I guess what you'd really do is pre-record it and then, you know, release it all, you know, a week apart. Yes, but. Okay. Oh, my gosh. I'm going to become a podcast host full time like Blake here.

Amanda Wilkie: [00:54:30] There you go.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:54:30] I'm fast on my way. But anyway, Amanda, thank you so much for coming on. This was such a fun conversation. If there's accountants out there who want to connect with you, what's the best way to do that?

Amanda Wilkie: [00:54:43] So you can always email me. That's Amanda Wilkey at Not a boomer, but a consulting. And then you can find me on LinkedIn. And Twitter is Amanda Wilkie. Bci Yeah, so they can reach out to me.

Lorilyn Wilson: [00:55:01] They're great. And I know I tried to make this ugly. It was not an ugly episode at all. It was a super fun episode. So thank you. I really enjoyed it. Yes. And thank you everyone for listening. See you next time.

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