Knowledge Management?

When I first heard the term knowledge management I thought to myself; great, one more buzz phrase to add to the list.  Static this, tacit who?  Reverse please:

I am a simple guy.  I like simple things.  I enjoy taking complex ideas and simplifying them so they can be understood.  The conversion from complex to human is an important one, because once I can understand it, the word can flow into the streets.

My research of Knowledge Management turned up a number of explanations and ideas, all being complex.  I also uncovered that knowledge management was more than a business buzz; it kinda separates the entrepreneurs from business owners.  Lets get started.

Literature on the topic usually refer to two types of knowledge: static and tacit.
Stop.  For this post the two types of knowledge I am going to talk about are: textbooks and brain mojo.  For our scholars out there, textbooks translate into static knowledge, and brain mojo translates to the ever so sexy tacit knowledge.  Textbooks and brain mojo, textbooks and brain mojo, say it with me, please

Textbooks, or static knowledge, is the information we process into knowledge from the resources all around us.  School, textbooks, IRS websites, PDF’s, magazines, white-papers, case studies etc.  This knowledge is available to anyone who wants it.  Its not a secret, it is literally what has been published for people to read and process.  Textbook knowledge is great because just like a textbook, if you forget it or need to reference it, just look it up.

Brain Mojo, or tacit knowledge, is the information that makes the world tick.  I refer to it as Brain Mojo, because unlike textbooks, someones Brain Mojo is rarely published for others use.  Even if we did a better job publishing Brain Mojo, I believe only a few could benefit from it.  Brain Mojo perpetuates entrepreneurship.   An appropriate example to illustrate someones phenomenal Brain Mojo would be the late Steve Jobs.  I have heard the critics call Mr. Jobs controlling, degrading, genius, perfectionist, among other names.  These labels Mr. Jobs accumulated throughout his career are a direct result of his Brain Mojo.  His Brain Mojo, directed, created, edited, criticized, and complemented everything that came out of Apple.  Some say he left a road map for Apple to follow for the years to come.  Let me be clear here, a road map is not Brain Mojo, so it is left to be seen if the current leader at Apple can carry on Mr. Jobs legacy.

Since textbooks are already in circulation, some say it is important to try and capture the Brain Mojo to pass on.  I am not sure it is that easy.  I understand manuals, policies, and trade secrets can be documented, but I believe the Mojo is something deeper.

Your thoughts?

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Video Conferencing

As video conferencing becomes a more popular platform for customer meetings I frequently ask myself the following questions:

  • Is this as important as a face-to-face meeting?
  • Should I worry about my camera appearance?
  • How prepared should I be for these meetings?

Typically in a traditional meeting (in-person), I come prepared with my Xoom, paper, writing utensil, business cards, cleanly shaved face, etc.  But what about the Skype meeting that I find myself in more and more these days?  To help me uncover this burning question I have taken a series of face shots of me during one of these meetings.

As you can see, the results are not what you would expect from a seasoned Skyper.  This led me to do further research on video conferencing etiquette, here are my findings.

  1. Be Prepared – This may sound obvious, but it is important.  Being prepared can mean different things for different industries, I am going to focus on the professional services.  For starters, arrive on time.  Just because it is a video meeting does not mean that you can show up 15 minutes late.  Next, check your equipment.  Is your mic and speakers working, your headset, is the volume at a disturbing level.  I have sat through Skype meetings where the other parties mic volume was so high I had to turn my speaker volume all the way down just to understand what they were saying.  Last, ensure your relevant notes and talking points are current.  If you have to search for a key figure under a mound of paper on your desk, this may not look good.
  2. Camera Appearance – As you can see from my photo spread above, I need some help in this area.  Personal hygiene should not fall by the waste side just because you are meeting on the web.  I try and communicate my personal hygiene, as if I was attending a traditional meeting.  Next, look into the camera.  It is real easy to get distracted by a second monitor, cell phone, assistant, calendar reminders, etc.  I try and align my video conferencing software right below my web cam and focus on the camera lenses when I am talking.  When I am listening, I will slightly shift my eyes down to the software, allowing me to watch the customer.  Physical appearance can tell you a lot about the person you are meeting with.
  3. Know your software – We are human and things happen.  Coughs, sniffles, other bodily noises, and earthquakes are beyond our control.  Save yourself the embarrassment and understand how to operate the software in case you need to hit the mute button or end the video portion of the call.  After a meeting, I try and spend 10 minutes exploring the software for new features I did not know about.  These may come in handy one day when the going gets tough.

When technology embeds itself more and more into our lives, we think no one is watching.  Unfortunately this is not true with video conferencing.  Hopefully these tips will improve your video conferencing experience.

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One Tool Your Clients Need (Even If They Don’t Know It)

By Brian O’Connell

If you surveyed your clients on what they want from their accountant, they might answer with broad concepts like “availability,” “affordability,” and “quality.”

Would they say want software that allows for the secure and near-instantaneous exchange of documents with their accounting firm? Probably not.

But whether or not they know it, this software is just what your clients need. In fact, it allows their accountant to provide those broad values of availability, affordability, and even quality.

What is this software? It’s called the Client Portal.

What Is a Client Portal?

A Client Portal – also called a Secure File Exchange – is software set up by accountants (and other financial professionals) often in conjunction with their CPA website. It acts like a safe-deposit box, only this one is nestled safely in the “cloud.”

Here’s how it works: through the accountant’s website, clients log in to their Portal and upload their tax worksheet, QuickBooks files, Excel spreadsheets, or any other financial file. The accountant then logs in and retrieves those documents, and then places completed work for the client to pick up.

As simple as it sounds, the Client Portal can have a dramatic impact on an accountant’s efficiency. Perhaps even more important, it helps the client – that is, it adds value to the client-accountant relationship – in several key ways.

A Much-Needed Alternative to Email

Many accountants share files with their clients by email. The problem is, email is simply not secure. It travels through a variety of servers along the way to its destination, and in any of those spots, it can be compromised.

In fact, using email to exchange financial documents is a violation to state and federal privacy laws, including the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999.

Furthermore, email was not designed to handle large files – as anyone who’s tried to download a file bigger than a couple megabytes knows. As a result, it can be extremely frustrating for your client to receive files by email.

Values to the client: keep their data secure; streamline workflow

Fast Turnaround

Other common methods of exchanging files is to use a courier service, client pick-up, or even snail mail. Can you guess why it’s time to phase out these options?

Exactly: They’re just too slow. What can take days by mail takes a mere minutes when using the Client Portal.

And don’t even bother trying to compare client pick-up with the Portal. Which would your client rather do: take time out from their busy day to drive over to your office, during business hours, to pick up some papers – or log on to your website and download those same documents whenever it’s convenient for them, day or night?

The client doesn’t even need to be at home to access the Portal. He or she can log on wherever there’s an Internet connection. So even if your client is on vacation, you can do business together.

Value to the client: serve clients on THEIR schedule

Online Backup

A Client Portal makes it possible to offer online backup to your client. This is a huge benefit from the client’s perspective, because it means they can stop worrying about flood or fire ruining their records. To folks in “tornado alley” or those on the coast during hurricane season, this is a big deal.

Through the Client Portal, your clients can keep backups of all their financial documents. (You can charge a nominal fee for the service, too, giving your bottom line a little boost.)

Value to the client: peace of mind

No Time Like the Present

As this year’s tax season approaches, consider adding a Client Portal to your firm’s offerings. It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated.

With a Client Portal in place, you can deliver availability (clients can access their files whenever they want), affordability (if you get a reasonably priced Portal, there’s no need to pass on extra fees), and quality (online backup alone is an enormous benefit).

If you’re looking to increase value and deliver what your clients think they want, a Client Portal is an excellent way to do it.

Brian O’Connell is Founder and President of CPA Site Solutions, a niche web design firm providing CPA websites for accountants, SEO, PPC, and other marketing services to small and mid-sized CPA and accounting firms, bookkeepers, and tax preparers.

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Tablet-Mania, CPA style

While standing in the electronics section at Target the other day, I felt this crazy sensation come over me.  Next thing I know I was mysteriously teleported over to the tablet isle where I was faced with a daunting decision.  Target carries a number of tablets, but of the eight or so choices, the Apple Ipad 2 and the Motorola Xoom were the only two contenders for me.   Before I go any further, let me preface, I am googleite, 100%.   Their products work well, I carry an Android smart-phone, my office is heavily leveraged in Google products, and I dream about owning many shares of their expensive damn stock.
With that being said, the Ipad 2 lives up to all the hype.  I have met some innovative CPA’s who are doing amazing thing, for business, with their Ipad’s.  You may be asking, “Isn’t a tablet a tablet, what is all this talk about Apple and Motorola?”  Here is what Cliff would have told you about the topic: Apple and Motorola are like night and day.  The availability of business “tablet” apps on the Apple Ipad 2 outnumber the Motorola Xoom 470 to 1.  Given my past, and beliefs, this fact was not helping that universal pull to the cute Ipad display  Enough babbling, I bought the Motorola Xoom.
So here I am, two weeks into my purchase, ready to dispel the myth that an Android device can “run” with the Ipad for business use.
(Disclaimer: As of 8/8/11, I could find around 75 “tablet” apps in the Android marketplace.  The Apple whatchamacallit store has around 500,000 Ipad apps)

My list of tablet apps:

  1. Quickoffice Pro – This is your standard office suite.  Word, Excel, PP.  It syncs with G Docs, Dropbox and Sugarsync to name a few.  This is a must have if you are going to work on ANYTHING.  Price $14.99
  2. ezPDF Reader – So sweet pdf editor for the Andriod tablet.  Highlight, Underline, Strikethrough, Freehand, Comments.  To me, its an Adobe Pro, on the go.  Price $1.99
  3. File Manager HD – This app gives me the native windows file folder look for all my storeables.  Price: Free
  4. Evernote – Yes, I know there are a number of note taking apps out there.  I have an Evernote account and am familiar with the product…..back off.  I can take notes on the fly, record my voice, add/take picture, tag the notes……no connection needed.  Once I establish a connection, it syncs with my established account.  Price: Free
  5. Dropbox – While it is not the securest means to transfer files with customers, I use to to temporairly house files and docs while on the go.  Price: Free
  6. Google Docs – This is my lifesaver.  If a client has a gmail account, they are going to get a Google doc from me in some shape or form, I insist.  I really have more on my G Docs account then I would care for people to know.  Price: Free
  7. Webdav Nav – This is the secret weapon.  No description here, if you want to know more, contact me.  Price: $3.40.
  8. WavPlayer – I use this so I can listen to my Voicemails from our VOIP system, when they hit my inbox, not sexy, practical.  Price: $0.99

Am I forgetting anything?

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“it is what it is”

According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of the title of this post is: Used often in the business world, this incredibly resentful versatile phrase can be literally translated as “f!^* it.”
You may be asking, “Chris, why would you take the time to blog about a group of words?”

I am taking the time to profess my disgust for this phrase because it is used way too often.  When I hear someone say it, it makes my spine tingle.  It is the sorriest admission of (defeat, dislike, unrest) I have ever heard.  In my experience it is usually vomited at the end of a discussion where one party did not get what they expected.

My disdain for this phrase has a deeper layer.   For me, this is not about the words or even the above translation; for me this is about accountability and responsibility.  Too often people do not take responsibility for their actions.

  1. They waited for the warranty to expire to try and return the product.
  2. They did not speak up when the requested well-done steak came to the table rare.
  3. Expectations were not agreed upon before an engagement was started.

Responsibility is being left in the shower every morning!!!!!

The result?  A lame reaction, which happens to mirror the actions of a 3 year old when they don’t get the bubble gum at the checkout counter.

Challenge: The next time you are about to utter the phrase, ask yourself, where was I wrong in this picture?  Oh, and check your back pocket for responsibility, you may have left it in the shower this morning.

P.S.  If there is absolutely no way out of the phrase, try the Urban Dictionary literal translation, it rolls off the tongue easier.

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R.I.P. Billable Hour

Firm of the Future, Firm of the Future, Firm of the Future.  Results are in the air!  Recently a colleague of mine (in the legal profession) presented at Ignite Law 2011.  Jay Shepherd, founder of Prefix LLC, shared in just 6-minutes, “How you will practice law in 2019.”  I learned that the billable hour was founded in 1919.  Who knew?  Jay goes into detail on how the legal profession can move away from the century old billable hour.  Pricing based on solutions is cool; old crusty time sheets are not.  If this type of TEDx learning/awareness is happening in the legal community, I see major hope for us CPA’s.   Enjoy, I know I did.

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CPA Network

Back in February a really cool South Carolinian by the name of Jason Blumer shifted the focus of his personal blog from himself to create a community for new-age CPA’s. The THRIVEal Network is what he calls it. THRIVEal you ask? What the heck is a THRIVEal See for yourself

I describe it as group of like-minded professional, not afraid to challenge the status quo. The processes and metrics of the traditional CPA firm are stale and unsustainable; we have popped up on the scene to say, watch out #CHANGEISCOMING! While these process and metrics have withstood the test of time so far, technology, collaboration and creativity are a few of the attributes we are preaching. Frankly, I am stoked and honored to have joined the coolest group to hit the CPA arena.

The THRIVEal network hosts six “community calls” throughout the year. During these calls, members get together (online of course) to discuss the forefront topics of our profession. Yesterday was the second call and the topic we discussed was Value Billing. It won’t take you long browsing my attractive blog to figure out I am a bit of a Value Billing fan. I trashed my timesheet on 01/01/2010 and was happy to discover that life goes on without the dreaded timesheet. I could go on and on about how the change saved my career, made my customers happy, and made me more profitable, but I will refrain from repeating what has already been posted, so please check it out. Instead I am going to focus on what I learned from the call.

We began by talking about efficiency vs effectiveness. For the longest time, I was obsessed with being “efficient.” How can I run payroll, from start to end, with 6 clicks of the mouse, I would ask myself. Funny thing is, I would get worked up if it took me 7, 8, or 9 clicks to complete. The point here is, who cares how many clicks it takes to run the damn payroll??? After absorbing the idea that effectiveness trumps efficiency, it was clear to me that the purpose of running payroll was to pay employees, submit the taxes, and DO IT CORRECTLY. If I executed the payroll in 2 flippin clicks but forgot to pay someone…#missionfail. As a young CPA, it is easy to get caught up in the technology and forget you are responsible that someone gets dinner on the table this weekend.
Another topic we discussed was business practices that add value to your customers. A member shared that customer education was mandatory for his firm accepting that new customer. I like the idea of education, when I am educated I feel a “part of” something and not just a “part.” Anyways, who wants to stop learning? not me. I embrace learning from customers. At the end of the day we both have something to contribute to what we are working on. Just the other day I was having a multi state conversation with a customer and I was explaining states are starting to crack down on nexus issues by communicating to each other. The customer shared with me how the NYC is suing a number of the travel sites for shorting them on sales tax. My point here is I embrace learning from all sources, its cool.

Wrapping it up, I felt some lightbulbs go off during the call and I am sure others felt that way too. If I had to age myself for where I am with Value Billing, I would estimate 1.5 years old. Just a baby, but growing everyday.

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Year Anniversary

This week apr16.com turns 1!!!  So much has happened in the past year, I don’t know where to begin.  Lets start with: I opened my own firm, met a group of people who Have/Will shape my outlook on the accounting profession, I hired, I fired, and I have worked on the confidence to say that “I can.”  My reason for blogging was to share my experience, successes, challenges, and to connect with potentials wanting to convert from old ways.  In mid 2009, I was ready to check-out of public accounting.  I told myself there was no way I was going to do this for the rest of my life.  Most of my discouragement came from a rigid routine which I felt zero appreciation for and my environment did not breed growth; I was dying.  Through twitter, I stumbled upon an interview with Ron Baker challenging the timesheet as a viable metric in public accounting firms.  It was my “a-ha” moment.
Six months later I launched this bad-boy and the first post was a three part post on trashing the timesheet; I was ecstatic at the freedom of not tracking time and wanted to share all.  I feel it would only be fitting to celebrate this occasion with another video.  This came to me from John Shaver at Aries Technology Group.  It really needs no introduction, enjoy.

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Efficacious

Anticipating the arrival of his new book “Implementing Value Pricing: A Radical Business Model for Professional Firms” I had the opportunity to speak to the man himself, Ron Baker.  Ron connected with me on Twitter and we set up a phone call to catch up.  I must say the conversation brought up new energy to what I had done approximately one year ago, “trashed the timesheet.”  Since the transition, I have kinda forgotten what it was like to track my time.  During our conversation, Ron was mentioning to me some of excuses he hears all over the world, promoting the timesheet, and it was bringing back chilling memories of tracking my time.

Ron pointed me the verasage website when we began to discuss the topic of “first class” customers vs “coach” customers.  The title of the blog is “forget being effective, be efficacious”  which I ignorantly pronounced “efacious” is where he pointed me.  EFF-a-cacious is superior to effective.  So, if Spam is effective, Filet Mignon would be efficacious.  You get my point, but let me warn you that my metaphor really does not do the word justice.  What the guys at verasage are challenging the profession to do is step past being effective and deliver the client a celestial experience.  While I have not had a ton of time to think about the process, what jumps out to me is a child’s first trip to Disney World.  Having the ability to deliver a desired result, I think Walt and the gang have that down pat.  Just when I thought I had the whole client service aspect down, the folks at verasage push the bar one notch higher.  I LOVE IT.  Keep up the inspiration coming guys.

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Year-end Value Chat

I wanted to document a year-end review of value billing.  In my first posts on this blog I spoke of what it was like, the transition, and what it is like now without the timesheet.  I have had more time to reflect on the true meaning of value billing and what it means to me.  If I am not creating value for a client, I don’t want their money.  When I came into the industry I was taught, find new client, bill the client, and HOPE some value was transferred.  While the word value was never used I suppose my end product; a compilation, a meeting, a tax return was that value…..I guess?  Since I have trashed the timesheet this idea of value has taken on a new meaning for me.  It begins with trust.  When I say trust, I don’t mean, “let me be the center of your financial influence.” trust.  But, “tell me your expectations, and let me try to exceed them” trust.  From trust I move to collaboration.  “Will you work with my team, to exceed those expectations?”  Lastly, acceptance.  Along with being the key to serenity, acceptance of an expectation is where a valuable client relationship should be.  Clients who get the most benefit from value billing are willing to trust, collaborate, and accept.  When the three come together, I am able to pour the value out, like gravy on Thanksgiving stuffing.
Happy Holidays
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