The Right Networks team hit the road to participate in AccountingWEB’s first LIVE Summit Conference in San Diego, CA. In addition to attending key sessions and meeting with hundreds of attendees, I participated in a Niche Transformation panel.
As the Right Networks Director of Firm Technology Strategy, I also presented “Today’s Cyber Threats and How to Protect Your Firm Against Them” to an appreciative audience.
Below are some summarized highlights from sessions I attended during this inaugural event.
The Importance of Being “Real”
Jina Etienne opened the conference with her “Authenticity Sells” program. Clients hire you because of the “person you are” and not because of your degrees or work-related promises. For this reason, it is essential to be your real, authentic self if you want to build a long-term relationship.
She highlighted that “our brain is our brand” and that we need to create a service “experience” beyond completing the engagement. In the end, make sure the experience stays with the client, so they keep coming back.
Do Not Hold Back
Jina explained that people often hold back out of the fear that they will be perceived as “being different.” When starting out, many individuals will act the way they think they are supposed to act in front of their peers (i.e., “fake it until you make it.”).
In the long run, however, each of us must find our personal comfort zone so we can be our “true” selves.
If you accomplish that, your energy exudes into your signature skills. Being authentic creates the unique impression you really should leave with your clients. This is particularly relevant today as the accounting profession begins to provide more advisory services. These services are often offered alongside traditional compliance services such as tax returns and financial statements.
Security Awareness, Maintenance and Leak Prevention
Next on the summit was the security agenda, where I highlighted elevated methods of cyber attack that many firms need to look out for.
These methods often include:
- Sophisticated phishing schemes
- Credential harvesting
- Automated tools targeting servers and workstations.
The latter attack often occurs when servers and workstations are not updated on a continual basis.
I later walked through the anatomy of a ransomware attack, including the importance of training your personnel on social engineering attacks that hackers utilize to get victims to give up personal information.
Never Click on Anything Suspicious
Sage advice: “Never click on a link in an email or text without first verifying its legitimacy with the sender, preferably through a different channel than the link was sent.”
“Never click on a link in an email or text without first verifying its legitimacy with the sender, preferably through a different channel than the link was sent.”
I discussed the importance of independent security maintenance and support for any firm that maintains its own equipment. Better yet, transition that responsibility to cloud providers with a verified security procedure.
I also went over the importance and IRS requirements of regular security training.
With ongoing training, a firm’s staff will learn about specific targeted attacks against accounting professionals and share details about Right Networks Managed Secure Workstation and Security Awareness Training explicitly designed to train accounting professionals.
Rapid-Changing Accounting Technology Paves the Future
Clayton Oates opened the second day of the conference by explaining the “inflection” point in technological advancement the accounting profession finds itself in.
He stressed the importance of re-evaluating the current technological environment in terms of what is optimum for a firm and its clients. He also advised against using outmoded processes or waning technology out of habit.
He made a salient point by asking the audience, “If you were starting your firm today, what services, tools, platforms and processes would you be utilizing to build your practice?”
“If you were starting your firm today, what services, tools, platforms and processes would you be utilizing to build your practice?”
Build systems that are accessed by the cloud
Your firm should rely entirely on a secure cloud-based system.
This system should utilize:
- Integrated applications using machine learning
- Application programming interfaces and artificial/augmented intelligence.
- Real-time reporting of data via an accessible dashboard with high accuracy.
- Enterprise-level security that protects the firm and clients from cyber threats.
Just make sure whatever application partners you utilize have your firm’s best interest at heart. Clayton stressed how some vendors treat the accountant’s data as “oil” (to be optimized by the vendor for profit) while some treat the accountant’s data as “water” (to help give life to the accountant’s practice and focus on the best interests of the accounting firm.)
He closed by making a nod toward Jina’s previous keynote, suggesting that all of us consciously allocate at least 10% of our time towards personal learning and growth.
“Focus on getting better, not bitter!”
Transform Your Niche
The most popular and boisterous session presented was the “Tools, Tech & Tactics to Target and Transform Your Niche” segment.
I was able to participate alongside four other key leaders in building “niched” practices.
When asked if the word niche is pronounced “knee-chez” or “nit-chez,” our response was “niches rhymes with riches!”
We highlighted how the focus on becoming a recognized expert within a specific niche allows you to bill at the higher end of the service spectrum. With today’s cloud environment, a niche also helps you expand your marketplace to a broad geographic area
Of course, there is a risk of focusing associated with focusing on one niche, however, the benefit of going deep into one area and being known for that provides greater opportunities to be included in proposals as an industry expert.
Opportunities to Expand Your Brand
Another wonderful thing about establishing a niche is the fact that you can:
- Become well-known enough to participate in panel discussions
- Author expert articles and checklists that people will want to obtain
- Produce webinars and video training modules
- Volunteer for advisory boards to build your brand
Behind every niche-advisory practice is a core technology stack of applications that will allow experts to interact with firm members and clients. The top tools mentioned were Team/Zoom collaboration, workflow for project management and Microsoft Power BI for reporting/dashboards.
Overall, integrated technology stacks of applications utilized within that niche should be built around the core accounting applications that clients utilize. By default, these applications can all be found in the cloud, just make sure it has enterprise-class security in place.
A Fiesta and a Bang!
The second evening ended with a Mexican fiesta party and closed the following morning with more opportunities to learn and network. With accounting conference season officially kicking into full gear, opportunities to collaborate with peers, solution providers, clients, and prospects abound.
Now is the time to pursue those opportunities!