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3 ways small firms can turn challenges into opportunities

6a0133f5884316970b01b7c94b352c970b-320wiThe thing I enjoy most in my role as Chair of the AICPA is the time I get to spend talking to members from across the profession about the issues most important to them. What’s clear to me is we’re all facing the same challenge of staying ahead in a fast-changing world. But we’re unique in how we confront this challenge.

This is especially true with small firms and sole practitioners, which play a powerful role as trusted advisers for their clients and communities. Firm owners wear many hats — human resources, business development, marketing and service providers. As the pace of change speeds up, it’s hard to manage the day-to-day and prepare for the future.

I had the pleasure of attending the recent AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) Executive Committee meeting, where members shared insights on the top issues facing firms and the tools and resources we’re providing to help address each of these issues as they plan for today and tomorrow.

Here are three areas that really stood out.

Tax reform

It’s probably no surprise that tax reform remains a big topic of conversation. Even with tax season on the horizon and the overview of the legislative changes now well-known, practitioners understand guidance will keep coming for the foreseeable future. The top areas of concern are related to educating clients about the changes in deductibility for entertainment, uncertainty and need for additional IRS guidance around qualified business income, and accounting method changes.

As more practitioners seek guidance to address these issues for their clients, you need a resource you can trust to provide the answers they need. The Tax Reform Resource Center provides you with comprehensive coverage on tax reform. And, since tax reform is such a shift for clients, it presents a great opportunity to strengthen client relationships and discuss planning for the future. The AICPA’s Planning & Tax Advisory Services website has details on how to leverage those tax reform discussions with clients.

Succession planning

Succession planning continues to be a focus area. As more baby boomers set their sights on retirement, selling their practice is often a viable way to ensure their legacy and set up their staff for the future. To remain attractive and valuable to potential buyers, they need to maintain a solid infrastructure. That includes updated and secure IT systems, a well-defined business model and strategy, knowledgeable and skilled staff and a strong client base. PCPS has several resources to help, including the PCPS Firm inMotion e-Toolkit, which guides you through the latest trends while offering solutions for embracing new talent and meeting evolving client needs.

Another helpful resource is the PCPS Succession Planning Resource Center. There you’ll find podcasts, turnkey tools and programs to help you prepare your firm for the future.

Culture

Since staff is a key component to a solid infrastructure, it’s important to create a culture that encourages being holistic and accountable. Firms need to be inclusive, inviting and committed to evolving as staff needs change. In short, firms should be places where people want to work.

An evaluation tool for employee engagement is a great first step to take a pulse on where your organization sits currently. The AICPA Online Mentoring Program allows participants to seek a mentor and/or mentee outside of their organization, which is a powerful force for developing the next generations of leaders.

The work environment can be a significant influencer for CPA candidates in their pursuit. A firm culture of motivation, support and recognition can be just what staff needs to prepare for and conquer the CPA Exam. This toolkit contains best practices from peers, guides for developing liaison programs, a progress tracker tool and other resources to help you encourage your staff as they pursue the Exam.

In a new podcast dedicated to culture in small firms, you can hear what small firm leaders across the country are doing to remain successful in today’s rapidly changing environment. 

As CPAs, it’s our role to help our clients, whether individuals or businesses, navigate these extraordinary times to create a more successful future. To deliver on that responsibility requires we stay a step ahead. The AICPA is working harder than ever to make sure firms of all sizes have the support and guidance needed to meet client demands today and tomorrow. Together, we’ll create an even stronger profession and more vibrant future.

Eric Hansen, CPA, CGMA, Chair, American Institute of CPAs

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