Meet the 2017 'Firm of the Future'

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For the first time, a non-US firm won the Firm of the Future award presented by Intuit at its annual QuickBooks Connect event in California. The $25,000 prize is now in the hands of AIS Solutions from Ottawa.

The QuickBooks Firm of the Future has very close parallels to AccountingWEB’s Practice Excellence Awards but is an international scheme open to accountants in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia. Reflecting the universal nature of modern practice development, the three pillars of Intuit’s Firm of the Future programme are very similar to the themes emerging from the entrants to AccountingWEB’s awards: embracing online technologies; becoming a trusted advisor; and digital marketing.

The runners-up included UK Firm of the Future winner, Leeds-based Business Works, plus All That Counts from New South Wales, Australia; and Business Cents, from Spokane, Washington.

Founded in 2000 by Juliet Aurora, AIS has evolved into a cloud-centric bookkeeping service, supported by an education network for bookkeepers called Kninja that launched last year.

Rich Preece, the global accountant segment leader at Intuit who oversees the Firm of the Future, commented, “What impressed me most was the way AIS specifically embraced digital marketing, when 87% of their new leads come through digital marketing,” he said.

The firm started its transition to an advisory, cloud-based business model in 2010, with the focus shifting over time from compliance to a financial ecosystem.

“We now do real-time bookkeeping,” Aurora explained. “We’re tech-friendly and savvy, but a big part of who we are is education - for our team and our clients. We want other firms to learn from us. This is why we have Kninja.”

According to Steve Loates, Aurora’s husband and VP of business development, the cloud ecosystem lets the firm deliver insights and advice that weren’t possible just a few years ago. “We have less clients than we used to, but they are comparatively larger clients,” he added. “This was a conscious effort on our part because we can deliver a lot of value to them.”

The Kninja service is being readied for a relaunch in 2018 and reflects two key characteristics that emerged from AccountingWEB’s 2017 Practice Excellence Awards: first, the way that the most successful firms commit themselves to continuous improvement; and second, a growing interest in building online and real-life communities as a way to grow the firm.

Loates said that AIS learned a lot when it introduced the Kninja network to help other businesses and this in turn helped the firm to improve. “We are always making sure we are learning and growing and training so we can provide better education for our clients,” he said.

For more insights from AIS, see the full interview with Aurora and Loates in AccountingWEB.com

The UK perspective - Business Works

The UK finalist, Business Works, exhibited similar traits around educating clients and striving to improve. Jo Tomlinson was flown over to QB Connect for the final along with staff member Sindy Smethers. While they were there, they talked to AccountingWEB about their experiences and shared some of their tips for success

“It was a really positive experience for us,” said Tomlinson, “I thought we were doing a great job doing what we believed clients needed us to do. But somebody else said, ‘You’re right – you are doing what accountants should be striving to do.’ That positive affirmation is a nice thing to have.”

As a CIMA-trained practitioner with a long track record in business, Tomlinson’s advisory approach digs beyond the financial numbers to what really motivates business owners. “We ask people what they originally started out to do. It’s certainly not tax returns or chasing debt and all the minutiae of building your business,” she said.

“We ask what they want to achieve out of their business and talk about how they can get there quicker.”

According to Tomlinson, there are only three types of activity anyone does during a day. The first is whatever it is you wanted to achieve when you set out in business, the second is doing things you love, and “the last category is noise”.

She continues, “If you can cut out the noise, then you’ll get to your dreams much quicker. It’s not easy, but we can get to that.”

About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk is the global editor of AccountingWEB UK and AccountingWEB.com.

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