December 2021

minute read


Get the elephants out of the room

Not long ago, John Mitchell (who most of you already know as my podcasting partner in crime, in addition to the many other things he does here at Rightworks) and I were recording an episode of our “Better Every Day” podcast when the topic of asking the hard questions and having the hard conversations came up.

John remarked that leadership begins with candor. Then, he said one of those wise John things that stop you in your tracks: “You don’t have to be Simon Sinek to be a great leader. You just have to get the elephants out of the room.”

You just have to get the elephants out of the room.

We’ve all had the experience where it’s easier not to ask a hard question when you suspect you already know the answer. So you don’t say anything, because let’s face it: If you do, it becomes real, and you have to deal with the fallout. But if you don’t, it just stays where it is, and things can continue without disruption.

The trouble is, not asking means a baby elephant that could have been easily shooed out of the room with an honest conversation transforms into an enormous full-grown elephant stomping angrily all over the place—disrupting not only your world, but others’ worlds, too.

Of course, hard questions aren’t restricted to a firm’s leaders. Your team may have significant questions they’re hesitant to bring up with you, like:

  • How does this job fit into my life?
  • How much freedom do I have?
  • The rest of the work world is changing; why aren’t we?
  • What impact are we having on our clients?
  • Does our business model make things smoother and better and more sustainable for all of us?

All perfectly valid questions that deserve an honest answer. However, if you just keep your head down and hope they quit asking—if you don’t stop to address them in a way to speaks to everyone on the team—the elephants will take over not just the room, but the entire firm (and realistically, how many elephants can you fit in a building before it bursts at the seams?).

“Why not us?”

Before COVID-19, most of us had physical places to come into and do our work each day. We were expected to work long hours for four months during tax season, go back to nine-to-fives for the next few months and then snap back into tax season mode in the fall, with a short reprieve for the holidays until it started all over again.

It’s not like that anymore. Thanks to the rise of remote work during the pandemic, employees have either experienced or had a glimpse of the freedom that’s possible with a decentralized office. They were finally able to blend work and life in a way that, frankly, wasn’t possible in the past for most outside the top leadership team.

Even if your firm never moved to remote work, I’d bet your employees are wondering if it will happen in the future, because a good part of our industry (and the work world) is moving that way. And if it doesn’t happen, your employees will start to wonder, “Why not us?”

The new leadership

I sincerely believe that, given the seismic changes we’ve undergone as a society since early 2020 and the turmoil in the employment sector now, there will be raised expectations for leadership in 2022. But where five years ago we defined a leader as someone who could rally the troops with stirring speeches and a vision of a brighter future, today a leader is defined as someone who sets their ego aside to listen and give honest input to the people who contribute every single day to making your firm the best it can be.

If what I just said makes you roll your eyes, next year will be a tough one for your business. But if you’re willing to have those conversations now so you can ask and answer all questions—not just the ones you want to hear—you won’t have to worry about what your people are thinking. You’ll know.

One of the things I’m most excited for next year, because it’s opening up so many opportunities to answer these questions, is the growing ability to automate tasks. The knee-jerk response to automation is usually a horrified, “You’re going to replace me with a <device>???” But we’re starting to see that in our industry, automation doesn’t replace humans, it elevates them.

Think about it: Instead of spending long hours entering repetitive data for, say, payroll, automation frees your team members to do higher-level—and potentially less—work. That, in turn, gives them the chance to settle into a better career path, one that interests and excites them.

I realize automation isn’t cheap and will cost you money and time to set up. But it will also save you money and time in the long run and help your team thrive.

Outta the way, Jumbo: One last challenge

I’d like to toss one more challenge on what I realize is an already outsized pile. But I believe I can promise that this one will be fulfilling for both you and your team:

Take the time to sit down, talk to each other and get the elephants out of the room.

Ask the questions. Give the answers. Have the conversations (which will be easier than you think) about freedom and flexibility and creating a place where you all want to work.

In 2022, prioritize what John called in our podcast the “human being conversations.” Make room on your schedule for lunches—whether all together, in small groups or individually. Ask them your questions and let your team ask you theirs.

And don’t wait until after tax season—start now and keep it going through the beginning of the year AND through your busy time. That’s right: Even if you can only do a team lunch or snack once every other week, keep it up so you’ve got the pulse of your practice and stay abreast of what’s happening.

I’m also going to give you a bonus challenge: Do the same with your clients (all right, maybe not the lunches, but swap questions with them, too). As with your team, it can be scary to have those conversations. You may not love their answers, and you may have to actually change some things. But is there any better way to create your—and their—ideal firm than to ask them directly what they want?

What’s left in the room once an elephant has had free rein there can be hard to clean up. So if you really believe that your team and clients are the heartbeat of your company—and trust me, they are—prioritize them in a brand-new way this year by showing those pesky elephants the door before they’ve had a chance to do their thing.

Assignment: Reflection

There are different moments throughout the year that cause me to reflect on the passing of time.

I often reflect on just how quickly time seems to pass us by. This reflection typically corresponds with the change of seasons. As someone who lives in Michigan, we experience all four seasons and are often surprised when—in a blink of an eye—our muddy spring is over and the heat of summer that felt suffocating just days ago has mellowed enough to begin turning the tips of the leaves to shades of red and yellow.

You can feel winter just around the corner as you wake up to frost lightly dusting your mums and outdoor plants, and there’s a chill in the morning air. The month of December contains many milestones and holidays, and it just feels like the perfect month to spend some dedicated, quality time reflecting on the year that’s coming to a close, and anticipating and planning for the year ahead.

Sometimes we get so busy in the day-to-day that we forget to celebrate how far we’ve come—and to give thanks to those around us who were there to support us, love us and challenge us to be the best version of ourselves.

So for this December, my assignment to you is quite simple and personal: Take some time to reflect on YOU, from both a personal and professional perspective. Here are a few questions to get you started, and a bonus tip: I find that writing down my answers really helps to focus my thoughts.

  1. What was your favorite memory from 2021? (Where were you, who were you with and how did you feel?)
  2. What’s one thing that you learned about yourself in 2021?
  3. Who do you really want to say thank you to? (Spoiler alert: Tell them, too!)
  4. Who do you want to say “I’m sorry” to? (Not always easy, but always worth it.)
  5. Write down in a single statement what you wish for in 2022. This could be a specific , broad or narrow goal, work or personal.
  6. If you’re looking for additional structure and/or framework, download the planning worksheets from the Rightworks Online Learning Library. These worksheets are a great tool that provides steps for future planning.

Last, enjoy the process! It’s a gift to be able to take time to work on ourselves, reflect and plan for the future.

I wish you all a healthy, enjoyable holiday season.

‘Tis the season

Happy Holidays, all!

As we head into this holiday season, it’s important to be on the lookout for fraudulent requests and solicitations. Unfortunately, opportunists love to take advantage of people this time of year. In fact, our web services department has already seen a rise in the number of firms reaching out to us for assistance in verifying the authenticity of requests/solicitations related to:

  • SSL purchases/renewals
  • Domain registrations/renewals

Go figure—the bad guys use technical terms that sound familiar, and are just scary enough to drive someone to act before they have a chance to think calmly through exactly what they’re paying for.

To avoid being caught off guard by an opportunist this holiday season, keep the following in mind:

  • If you’re being directed to take immediate action, pause and check with someone in the know.
  • SSL certificates are important, but if you have a website hosted by Rightworks, no need to worry—we have you fully covered.
  • Domain expirations do occur, but they’re typically easy to handle through your existing registrar.

To prep your firm, make sure you:

  • Log in to your registrar and verify that auto-renew is activated for your domain. Never use a link in an email for this—just navigate directly to your registrar’s site for login.
  • Verify that you have a current and active credit card on file with your registrar.

Remember, when in doubt, pause and check with your tech at the firm and/or our support department at to keep your holidays happy and safe!

A New Year’s resolution: Build a marketing culture in your firm

What is a marketing culture? Let’s start by establishing what it isn’t: Marketing culture is NOT about creating an environment of high-pressure selling and upselling.

Marketing culture IS the shared beliefs and behaviors that help your team understand the importance of all aspects of marketing—products, pricing strategy, delivery and promotion—so they can integrate that understanding into serving your firm’s clients. It’s also about taking the marketing components that are vital to the firm’s own interest and framing them into an outstanding experience from the client’s point of view.

The firms that are crushing it are those that deliver an extraordinary experience throughout the entire marketing process—from promotion and attracting ideal clients to cultivating them into loyal proponents and advocates for your firm.

This type of client experience is facilitated (in part) by the marketing culture. It starts—like everything inside the firm—with intentional, inspirational leadership. In this case, the leader needs to make it clear to the staff how the firm’s aspects of marketing (products, pricing, delivery and promotion) revolve around attracting and serving the firm’s ideal clients. There’s an important story to be told—the story of why the firm does what it does to serve clients well.

This can be challenging, abstract stuff to communicate to staff, but, like always, we have some tips to help you with it all. Here are some ways you can build your marketing culture:

1. Define the reason why

Employees give their very best when they have a sense of being connected with the organization’s “reason why;” that is, the underlying mission that gets us all out of bed every morning. That higher purpose is a driving force. But it doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be simply the desire to provide innovative products, exceptional service and welcome relief for customer pain points.

2. Be simple. (It’s complicated.)

The most effective marketing emerges when people clearly understand and resonate with what the firm stands for, without voluminous explanation. In other words, compelling simplicity. That’s a lot harder to achieve than meets the eye. Building and operating a firm is complex—the job of the leader is to distill it down into core principles and a story that inspires, empowers and unites.

3. Create more value

Marketing-driven cultures develop a value mindset that shifts the way employees think about an organization’s product, service and process development. The key question here isn’t “How do we sell more?” It’s “How do we create more value, build deeper relationships and grow with our customers?”

The answer to the latter question often lies outside of traditional product roadmaps. It may, in fact, depend upon your ability to create a service that seems unrelated to your organization’s core product or service.

4. Live it!

Anytime a client or prospect is exposed to or interacts with your firm—indirectly through communication channels or directly through staff contact—a touchpoint occurs. And every touchpoint serves to either elevate or diminish your firm in the minds of those people. Stephen Covey referred to this principle as the “emotional bank account.” Every interaction results in either a deposit or withdrawal. It’s the mechanism that determines how your clients and prospects feel about your firm. And how you make people feel is important.

Marketing-driven organizations understand the importance of this principle, and they carefully, intentionally create touchpoints that favorably shape the overall client experience. Try listing all of your firm’s touchpoints and identify gaps and opportunities for improvement.

Also, try doing this within the context of routine staff training sessions. And ask staff to share what they perceive their roles to be in shaping the client experience. Ask them what their role in the “marketing department” is. Use what you hear to discover new insights and give clarity to your team.

That’s a lot to think about. Mull it over while you enjoy a holiday season full of happiness, inspiration and renewal.

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire
by Rebeccah Henderson

Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup
by Bill Aulet

It’s the Manager: Moving From Boss to Coach
by Jim Clifton

Maximize Your Multiple: The Business Owner’s Guide to the Institutional Money Deal
by Jon Taylor

What we’re working on

Annual member survey

We’re preparing our annual member survey, which we usually send out right around the first of the year. This will be the fourth year it’s being sent out, so be on the lookout for it soon.

In case you’d like to give a little advance thought to the feedback you’ll share with us, we typically ask these questions:

  1. What would you say were your firm’s most significant accomplishments in the prior year?
  2. What would you say were your firm’s biggest challenges in the prior year?
  3. What did Rightworks do in the prior year that was most helpful for your firm?
  4. What do you believe Rightworks could do differently in the coming year that would better help your firm?

We use your responses to make the member experience the best it can be, so as always, we thank you for your time and feedback!

Upcoming webinars

  • December 7: Winter web update webinar
  • December 8: Staff training: SurePrep best practices
  • December 10: Vendor-hosted webinar: Protecting your clients’ data with Rewind
  • December 14: Winter culture webinar
  • December 15: Staff training: Getting ready for busy season, Part 1
  • December 16: Winter update webinar

See the entire webinar schedule and register at Resources > Events > Webinars in your account.

Member anniversaries

It’s time to recognize the December Rightworks Academy member anniversaries! Join us in wishing the following firms a Happy Rightworks Anniversary:

One Year
Johns Benson & Johns CPAs, PA
Zuazo & Associates, Inc.
Padgett Business Services (Orillia, Canada)
Carlos E. Gonzalez-Varela, CPA
Gray Financial LLC
Bogard CPA Inc
National Tax & Financial Services

Five Years
Freidag Associates CPAs
DeeptallyCPA LLC

Ten Years
Sanford, Lea & Associates
Arney & Associates Inc.
Raymond CPA Group LLC

Congratulations on your success, and we look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries with you and your teams!