There is perfect alignment with Xerocon Atlanta and its host city. Atlanta, Georgia is the Hollywood of the South, where “action!” is the call of the day. The same can be said for our community attending Xerocon.
Xerocon focuses on actionable a-ha moments that every accounting professional can take and implement when they return home. And to help articulate how and why attending Xerocon is a great step in preparing your firm for the future, we chatted with one of our highest rated speakers from Xerocon Austin, Jina Etienne, Co-Founder of EtiennePartners.
Jina brings a wealth of knowledge from her background in public and private accounting, including a term as President and CEO of the National Association of Black Accountants and as Director of Taxation at the American Institute of CPAs. Her perspective on the industry and what accounting professionals and firms need to succeed today brings insight that can help you build a plan for action that begins at Xerocon.
You’re returning to Xerocon Atlanta after our Austin event in December – what surprised you the most about the event and the Xero community?
The energy, passion and character – by which I mean uniqueness and individuality. I also fell in love with the Xero team.
If you had to choose one piece of advice for accounting professionals today, what would it be?
Be yourself. Clients hire us because of who we are, not because of the school we went to or our pedigree. Too often, we buy into the fallacy that we need to behave a certain way, to “act like an accountant” in front of the client. While that may have been true in the early days of the profession, it’s no longer true today. Our individuality and uniqueness are our competitive advantage. This allows us to attract clients that “fit” our style, personality, strengths, technical specialties and personal interests. Which, in turn, makes it easier to build strong, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
When you share trust, respect and a deep understanding with your client, it doesn’t feel like work and you still get paid! It’s wonderful; a true professional win:win situation!
How do you see the industry changing in the next five years?
Technology is changing the game, and that will require us to (finally) be flexible, adaptive and responsive. We talk a good game about being proactive, but far too many of us are still more reactive.
We all know how hard it is to see opportunities for change or improvement within our own business – not because we are unwilling, but often because are too busy or overwhelmed by the pressures of running the business. Well, clients are in the same boat. As the outside accounting, we are in a position that is the envy of other consultants or advisors – we see inside the company, in real time and without filters. Far too often, accountants can see patterns, opportunities or potential train wrecks coming but don’t say anything – either because they weren’t asked about it directly, it wasn’t on the list of services in the engagement letter, or worse – they won’t get paid for it.
In my experience, sharing these insights led to a deeper and stronger relationship with the client. As a result, they valued my advice and paid for it without complaint.
What seems like “low hanging fruit” in how accounting professionals can think differently about the future of their firms?
Their software and how they use it. I promise I am not saying this because Xero is asking me these questions! I believe the writing has been on the wall for years, but now we are starting to see the tide actually turn.
Because of technology, data entry, recording source documents and posting routine transactions are all being automated. This is driving a shift in the skills needed for new hires and entry-level staff. Today, people need to walk in the door with analytical and quantitative skills.
Gone are the days when our value was entering the data and producing reports. Providing financial reports is now our starting point. Today, we can create and add value by providing insights and recommendations drawn by reading and reviewing those reports.
Why should accounting professionals consider attending conferences like Xerocon?
Software is the heart of every accounting practice. Learning more about features, shortcuts, add-ons, compatible tools and best practices is critical to improving efficiency and building capacity.
I believe that all accountants essentially offer the same services – a mix of bookkeeping and write-up, issuing financial statements and tax return preparation. It is difficult to differentiate your value by promising that you do great work or claiming that your tax returns are “better” than those provided by other accountants, because professional accountants and CPAs are among the most trusted of all advisors by business decision-makers. As a result, standing out from your competition will boil down to client perception and connection. To connect, you need time to have a relationship where you really know your client and understand their business. Understanding and optimizing your accounting software is the best way to gain that time. Only then can you offer advice that is meaningful, impactful and (ideally) measurable.
We love Jina’s advice about building a relationship with your client and understanding their business, and you’ve told us that the first step toward that advisory role and proactive advice is gaining efficiency in your practice. When you can reduce the time each client takes or build a process for scale, you free up the time needed to build that relationship.
With that understanding, Xerocon is an event dedicated to helping you become more efficient and connect with a community of like-minded individuals ready to share, engage and collaborate with you.
So join us, Jina and the Xero community this June at Xerocon Atlanta. We can’t wait to see you there.