Top 5 Predictions for Accounting Firm Growth in 2022

The past two years have brought many changes, challenges, and opportunities to the accounting profession. When looking at what to expect in 2022, three factors will influence everything that occurs in the profession this year:

  • Graying of geographic boundaries
    Remote work has created myriad challenges – and opportunities – for firms nationwide. That means clients can partner with professionals anywhere, and employees can work wherever they like. The graying of geographic boundaries continues to change how firms go to market as more organizations explore opportunities to target buyers outside their traditional footprints.
  • B2B and B2C
    The accounting profession has long been comfortable in the business-to-business (B2B) marketing model. However, with the rise of the business-to-consumer (B2C) approach, clients and prospective buyers are now accustomed to immediate access to their information and services (think of one-click shopping and pay via Amazon). How are firms embracing this new consumer-driven approach to engage clients and buyers, and how are they reaching a broader audience? Some firms have made progress during the pandemic, but the B2C experience still lags profession wide.
  • Technology
    The investment firms are making in software and technology to support marketing increased in 2021, and it’s a trend I anticipate will persist. Firms and their marketers need to understand technology to create a better experience. This will come primarily through automation, which supports client experience and enhances capacity among staff.

One of the most significant benefits of technology today is how it can improve the quality of the data firms gather by collecting the right data at the right time. Firms then need to learn how to take that data through the process, from targeting new clients to closing the deal. Firms can’t communicate with buyers or clients or help them strategically unless they have personalized, specific information.

CRMs are leading the effort here, not just for pipeline and sales, but from an operational perspective.

Even though most firms have more work they can handle, it’s about getting the right work and asking if you want to maintain or grow. If you’re really looking to grow, these are the things you need to pay attention to this year:

  • Employer brandFor a long time, large firms promoted themselves because they were hiring, but it was reactive for most firms. For all firms, even those that need to hire only a few positions each year, recruiting efforts need to become more significant and continuous to compete. Many firms have gotten away with word-of-mouth referrals, but that won’t be enough in today’s market. Why? The graying of geographic boundaries.

Think about your firm’s brand, and elevate its awareness among entry-level and experienced candidates alike. Millennials are coming into leadership roles looking for firms that reflect their values, and they are quickly becoming the influencers and decision-makers among today’s buyers.

Key Takeaway: Competing today isn’t just about posting open job positions. Today, firms must pay close attention to their employer brand and amplify it.

  • Personalized marketing: The highest engagement rates we see on email campaigns, social media, and digital marketing happen within firms that give their audiences information tailored specifically to what their industry or service needs. This is more than just adding their name; it’s creating a 1-to-1 experience.

Using technology, such as a CRM, auto-tagging in an email management system, and social media analytics, to track and monitor buyer and client behavior and interests will pay dividends for firms. This data will help firms strategically segment contact lists and other outreach by targeting specific audiences with the content they’re looking for – and avoid overwhelming others with information they don’t care for causing them to tune you out.

Personalized and segmented marketing and communication to the buyer and client regarding industry and service line offerings continue to become more commonplace, but you must know your specific, segmented audiences. Digital marketing and growth efforts kicked into high gear during COVID, and buyers and clients have become more comfortable with that approach in the past two years. I don’t see us going backward, which is why relying solely on in-person networking won’t be enough anymore.

Key Takeaway: Marketing today is about personalization and getting the right information to the right audiences. Know your buyers and clients on a deeper level.

  • Client experience: The experience buyers and clients expect is a lot different than what they’ve been getting or putting up with. COVID is driving this evolution, which requires firms to be more intentional and strategic when communicating with clients.

Technology, on the whole, will help firms execute on – and enhance – the client experience by allowing more targeted communication. Look for chatbots and more strategic submission forms to support this effort, which is another B2C characteristic influencing the accounting profession.

Many firms already offer clients a portal to access invoices, review documents, and pay online, but I expect many more will add this feature, with some even moving to a centralized landing page where clients can access their documents and other information that pertains to their engagements. As more users look to communicate with professionals via their website, not just get information, it’s imperative to leverage technology to streamline the client journey, from onboarding new clients to making access to their documents quicker and easier.

Key Takeaway: Leverage technology to get the right information for the right people for a customized B2C experience from the first sales pitch to onboarding.

  • PricingMore and more leaders in the profession say billing by the hour isn’t ideal, as firms continue to outsource or offshore compliance services and leverage internal staff resources more appropriately to support the shift to advisory. However, the profession hasn’t adopted this approach en masse just yet.

Firms are having more discussions when they look at their actual profitability and how the past two years have changed operations, services, and client deliverables. More importantly, more and more buyers prefer to know what they are paying for upfront.

Key Takeaway: Adapting and evolving pricing structures will become increasingly important across all lines of business.

  • Upskilling the Entire Team: Training and development no longer can be a check-the-box, last-minute CPE rush. This goes beyond CPA and accounting professionals, as more team members will become more client-facing than ever. Firms need their accountants and CPAs to do what they do best, so prospect and client-facing training for all team members, including the rise in non-CPA team members, is critical so everyone can identify opportunities.

Leadership can’t expect people to work the hours they work and complete training on top of that. They’ll look to place team members in long-track, continuous training programs earlier in their career that evolve and grow as they do, rather than waiting to start at the manager level – or beyond. From the director of first impressions to entry-level staff tax accountants, everyone needs to become more comfortable and have the training to identify opportunities on all levels.

Key Takeaway: Firms will seek a continuous training model that complements their team members’ career progression strategy to get up to speed quicker.

By Sarah Johnson Dobek, President CPAsNET

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