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IMPROVE CASH FLOW 6 mins 11 Oct 2023 by Kasey Clark
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With another busy season looming, many accounting and tax professionals may be pausing to consider – could there be a different, better way? 

Leading accounting and tax professionals addressed the question head on in Ignition’s “Rethinking tax season” webinar. The panel of experts provided insights into how their firms manage this challenging time of year. And they offered recommendations for how your firm can navigate it more effectively.

6 Top takeaways from the discussion:

  1. Research shows a massive discrepancy between tax firms' revenue during tax season and the largely untapped potential of advisory services.
  2. Tax season practices are evolving, and it’s time for many professionals to rethink traditional approaches.
  3. Advisory services are changing the financial dynamics of accounting firms, emphasizing the broader value they offer to clients beyond hourly or one-off yearly rates.
  4. Fear and tradition are major barriers to firms adopting innovative revenue models.
  5. Successful firms are moving away from billing upon completion to reducing accounts receivable, and switching to upfront payments.
  6. Firms have the autonomy to shape their service offerings; some may even 'fire' tax-prep clients to focus on higher value work.

The first of 4 webinars inspiring change within the profession

Moderated by Ignition’s own Director of Partnerships Ryan Embree, the “Rethinking tax season” webinar features leading accounting and tax professionals Carla Caldwell, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Candella Accounting & Advisory Services, Sean M. Duncan, President and Founder of SMD Consulting & Accounting, LLC, and Dan Gertrudes, CEO and 'non-accountant' of GrowthLab Financial Services.

The session is first in the "Great Debate" four-part webinar series, focusing on candid, vulnerable discussions to inspire change within the profession

Each session brings seasoned professionals to the table for a deep dive into the significant challenges they've encountered throughout their careers and the innovative ways they've chosen to tackle them.

Read on for a recap of what the panel had to say during the first of these insightful discussions. 

Setting the scene with some maybe-not-so-shocking statistics

With the accounting landscape evolving and client expectations shifting, the discussion around tax-focused firms and full-service firms offering advisory services has come to the fore. 

Moderator Ryan Embree highlighted figures that underscore the need to re-evaluate age-old practices in the accounting and tax industry:  

Sound familiar? Fortunately, with insights from our experts and tools such as Ignition to address these pain points, busy season need no longer be the marathon of long hours, and accounting and tax professionals can veer on to a new track for their firms. 

New tax season, new tactics

Shifting from the statistics to the specialists, Ryan Embree then steered the conversation toward the approaching tax season, asking for our panelists’ strategies and mindsets going into 2024.

“I meant when I said I fired all the tax returns; we weren't kidding,” said Sean M. Duncan. “We just stopped doing them… there are so many people out there that do taxes that quite frankly I didn't need to, and there are so few people focusing on advisory.”

So, Sean M. Duncan has carved out a new niche, offering advisory services such as wealth management services, estate planning, business law, and life insurance, as well as tax and bookkeeping advisory and business services. 

“I'm not saying everybody has to do that,” he said. “That's part of the beauty of it. You get to do whatever you want to do. You get to decide what your business is going to look like. I was making a bunch of money, but I wasn't living the life I wanted to live.” 

He eliminated tax prep so his firm could focus on higher value, higher paying work. He summed up how it is now: “Tax season is irrelevant to what our firm is”.  

This notion of taking control similarly resonated with Carla Caldwell, but in a slightly different way. Her firm does not offer tax prep services but rather support for small business clients and individuals as they head into tax season. “We have our ‘tax season’ before tax season starts... because we're making sure everything is ready to go,” she said. “So when our clients take their files to an accountant that's going to do their tax return… they have a gorgeous set of books.” 

But, she stressed it's not just about preparing their books for a tax return. “We're working with our clients throughout the year, making sure they understand their numbers, their profitability on projects or events, or whatever the case might be,” she said. 

Breaking the mold: Overcoming fear and tradition

In addition to being in control of the services your firm provides, Ryan Embree noted another commonality among the panelists – their shift toward recurring revenue and away from one-off tax-prep payments. So, he asked, “What’s stopping [other] firms from making the switch? 

“Fear and tradition," Sean M. Duncan responded, quickly and candidly. “My son is a junior in high school, and he's taking an accounting class... on the second day, he was taught, here are the careers in accounting: tax, audit, corporate, government... That's just brainwashing... We all know there's a lot more to it than that, but tradition has locked it in."

Dan Gertrudes, who also teaches accounting at Brown University, offered a different take: “When I say, ‘Here are the careers,’ I say, ‘You can be an entrepreneur. You can be a financial analyst. You can be an investment banker.' I mention nothing about being an accountant.”

Both men urged professionals to challenge the status quo. 

“We need to change how we do it and be willing to make those changes and stop following tradition,” said Sean M. Duncan. “Accountants and tax professionals are afraid that clients are going to be mad [if you switch to recurring revenue] and won’t follow you. And we all have plenty of stories on why that's not the case.”

Carla Caldwell agreed. “It really is a disservice to the next generation of analytical minds that choose accounting as a career because they don't get to hear about what we get to do,” she said. 

“And what we get to do as we advise and work with entrepreneurs… I just can't imagine having more fun… I love the idea of helping others really understand their business,” said Carla Caldwell.

Redefining value with subscription-based billing and upfront payments

The discussion progressed to a topic every professional services provider grapples with – billing and payments. It’s true, accounting and tax professionals typically like rules and processes. But, said the panelists, as times change, so should your approach. Rather than tying yourself to hours and time, it’s time to look instead at what your clients need

“Value equals results,” said Carla Caldwell. “We tend to undervalue ourselves.” 

Both Carla Caldwell and Dan Gertrudes use and advocate for subscription-based billing, a feature that Ignition allows for. "Once we did that,” said Dan Gertrudes, speaking about his own firm, “we turned our backs on hourly billing". 

Subscription-based billing also ensures upfront payment. It’s something Sean M. Duncan was emphatic about, when asked about how his firm gets paid: “Upfront. Period. The end.” 

He reflected on the days before turning to technology. “Before we had Ignition, we had six figures of AR [accounts receivable]; within 12 months, we went to zero accounts receivable… AR needs to go away.” 

His advice? Ditch the waiting game. 

“The clients that don't want to pay you in advance are the ones that were going to 'slow pay' you in the first place. You're not a bank, so unless you're planning on charging 15 to 20% interest for the slow payers, start charging upfront," said Sean M. Duncan.

To top off an insightful discussion, the panelists also shared how their firms have adapted to post-pandemic working conditions.

Over to you

During this dynamic hour, our panelists weren’t the only ones talking up a storm; the online chat was going off, too. Come and join the conversation! 

If this preview has you intrigued, watch the full webinar to gain even more invaluable insights for navigating tax season, fine-tuning your pricing, and achieving the work-life balance you want. You’ll discover practical tips and tricks that could inspire a new direction for your firm. (Plus, if you want to see whether Sean M. Duncan really does rap to "Baby Got Back", there's only one way to find out.)

The Ignition platform is also ready to help you run your firm smarter by automating and optimizing client agreements, billing and payment collection. To put an end to late payments, unbilled work and mundane repetitive admin for good, watch an on-the-spot demo.

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Kasey Clark
Kasey Clark


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Published 11 Oct 2023 Last updated 19 Mar 2024