Reprinted with permission from Accounting Today
Sometimes it’s not what we’re thinking, but how we’re thinking that keeps us from the success we deserve. In this case I’m referring to the limits we impose on ourselves, which I call thought borders.
While not necessarily geographical, they constrain our forward movement much as the absence of a passport prevents us from entering another country.
Learning to identify these artificial limitations and move beyond them is a powerful tool for growth.
Take off your blinders
In order to grow the firm, accounting leaders must constantly assess their markets to craft strategies for short- and long-term expansion. In my experience many are too quick to dismiss particular services or industries, which prevents them from pursuing potentially lucrative opportunities.
They do this because of mistaken beliefs and negative thinking – thought borders.
One of the most common is summed up in the statement, “We can’t do that because we’ve never done it before!” The market is screaming for chocolate ice cream, but because firm X has only and always produced vanilla, they erect an impassable barrier between themselves and a world of chocolate-craving clients.
Let’s bring it closer to home. In your partner meetings you’ve repeatedly discussed the fact that international is a sizzling hot market. You keep yourself from this vast opportunity because of what you consider logical reasons – you’ve never had a non-U.S.-based client and no one on your staff speaks a foreign language.
But in fact your firm is positioned as well as any to grab some of this global goodness. Your service lines mesh with potential areas of strong international growth. Your domestic technical expertise is well established. And you’re committed mentally and financially to growth.
Once you venture beyond a thought border, the doors will open wide. For example, while advising a firm that was going through this precise scenario, I introduced them to a provider that specializes in helping other CPA firms break into the global market.
They do this by providing international tax expertise during the startup phase, a common approach in areas such as cost segregation and tax credits. It was exactly what my client needed to jump start its global pursuit.
The “We don’t have any international clients” curtain is another that’s easily pushed aside. The international field is wide open, with nearly 140,000 inbound and outbound international entities in need of service.
Find them by getting creative. Talk to international lawyers, embassies, foreign chambers, consulates, and globally connected faculty members at local universities. Get to know your community’s economic development council. What about sponsors of trade missions? Port authorities? Consultants who relocate companies and their executives?
Interview existing clients. You’d be surprised how many of them have foreign-based distribution centers or manufacturing sites that could be the entrée you need.
It’s a small world after all
Another common thought border is related to travel phobia. The thinking goes, “We can’t send auditors out of town because it costs too much and they hate to travel.” Welcome to the 21st century when a firm headquartered in Peoria is no longer limited to clients in the “309” area code!
Technology and real-time communications have done more than perhaps any other factor to expand the scope of our reach. Sure, face time is essential, especially initially. But it’s entirely possible to deliver top notch, ongoing client service via email, Skype, cloud computing, and other low-cost, no-travel methods.
Another thought border I’ve identified is the “generic offering” mentality. It assumes, for example, that all audits are equal. That may appear true when we look from the inside out. But that’s not how it looks to your client. The ability to add value by creatively customizing an audit to your buyer group can give you a significant edge over other firms. This is entirely possible, even in the world of strict standards!
No stone unturned
Rather than seeing limitations, think in terms of opportunities. As you eliminate the excuses and constraints, you open the door to exciting possibilities.
Unleash your inner Colombo. Replace the “no we cant’s” and “we never haves” with creative sleuthing into markets that are best suited for your firm regardless of past experience. Leverage what you know and what you’ve done to achieve success in new sectors.
If you stay within your thought boarders, I predict you’ll be stuck slogging it out in the price-driven, commoditized competitive trenches with everyone else. The markets are filled with people suffering from border thinking syndrome. Move beyond it and find your bright future.