Kathy Ryan

Founder & CEO, RoseRyan

The 5 key traits of trusted advisors

One of the greatest compliments is when clients consider us a trusted advisor. Recently, some encouraging words came from a client that was just getting used to a new accounting method. After working with this startup for months on an assignment, our consultant made them aware of an approach that would give them a more accurate view of their business. “My encouragement to you is to keep pushing us toward ways of working that would be better for us, not just the way we have always done them,” our client wrote in an email.

Not every client we work with needs to make significant changes to their processes, and we wouldn’t just go in and overhaul a client’s way of doing things (unless we were specifically asked to, of course), but there are times when employees and managers get stuck in their ways. We all do. Or we’re not able to see some strategic choices ahead. We all need trusted advisors who can pull us out of our rut, show us a better way, provide us with a new perspective, or just enlighten us on what others in our field are doing.

Similarly, many of us are in a position to be a trusted advisor. Whether you’re a CFO aiming for a tight relationship with your CEO, or a consultant wanting to be viewed as a business partner – and not merely as a “vendor” – the term “trusted advisor” is a coveted label. It can take awhile to earn such a status, but once you do, you’ll have a whole new level of respect and a stronger working relationship that can lead to longer and better professional engagements.

Anyone who aims to be a trusted advisor and keep that status needs to have the following traits:

Altruism: Trusted advisors always put the clients’ needs ahead of their own. During RoseRyan engagements, we sometimes observe companies getting bogged down with manual processes that could be automated. We could keep our mouths shut about how the client can work more efficiently – and rack up the extra billable hours that result when things take longer to complete. But that is not what’s best for the client, and won’t earn us their trust and loyalty in the long run. By always viewing ourselves as an extended member of our client’s team, we are more likely to come up with solutions and processes that are in their best interest.

The ability to listen: A trusted advisor listens carefully to what clients say and don’t say. The client may not always know exactly what they need or the right questions to ask. A trusted advisor is always asking questions, assessing the situation and offering recommendations. Trusted advisors are also listening for cues on the corporate culture so that they don’t overstep their bounds when it comes to how and when to make suggestions or implement changes.

A deep well of experience: Specific knowledge of a topic will get you only so far with a client. You may know the ins and outs of lease accounting rules, for instance, but what will really impress a client is your ability to confidently discuss how the rules have been implemented at other companies and play out in real life. Experience all feeds into my next point, as well; someone who has had practical experience and exposure to various corporate situations knows how to adjust to a client’s unique needs.

Adaptability: No client wants someone coming in from the outside with a big ego or an overbearing attitude who insists on doing things their way. This is especially true when a company is in the midst of a big change, like taking on new accounting software or becoming SOX compliant for the first time. Internal politics can really come to a head during such transitions, and stress levels can be high. A trusted advisor has a knack for understanding the politics, rising above it, and using a diplomatic yet direct approach to keep the client moving down the right path, in an efficient manner.

Candidness: Honesty is the best policy in any partnership, and that’s particularly true between clients and consultants. Being up-front with clients is a value we highly value, even when it involves awkward or tough conversations. If we have information that will help a client, we share it, hopefully with the right sense of urgency and diplomacy. For example, we pointed out to a finance leader when the privately held company’s finance department needed additional skills to transition the business to the public markets. We went above and beyond to help draft a new organizational chart, which incorporated the talents the company already had on the team as well as new ones to consider, such as people who had experience with SEC reporting.

Becoming a trusted advisor is a privilege that can easily evaporate if you are not careful. When you keep the qualities I mentioned in mind, you can differentiate yourself and become a respected partner.

The rewards of taking the time and effort to be perceived as a trusted advisor are too good to pass up. It engenders long-term client relationships with loyalty and repeat business. It can also lead to more challenging work, which we welcome wholeheartedly. We’re the type of people who thrive on a good challenge and love to have interesting work to sink our teeth into.

When one of your business partners has evolved into a trusted advisor, hold on to that person or firm and see what else they can do for you. They are not always easy to find.

Kathy Ryan is a founder and the CEO of RoseRyan, an award-winning consulting firm of finance and account aces who expertly guide companies forward in any stage of their business lifecycle. The firm’s dream tackles short- and long-term assignments, from the startup needing an interim CFO and scalable infrastructure to the large enterprise managing tricky transactions and complex compliance issues. Since 1993, RoseRyan has amassed a wealth of experience working with more than 700 clients of all kinds and sizes, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area’s tech and life sciences sectors. Accounting Today named Ryan to its list of “elite” managing partners, and she’s proud of the firm’s collaborative and friendly culture, which has been lauded as a Great Place to Work and a Top 100 Workplace in the Bay Area.

Carolyn Hall

CPA, Director, Wiss & Company, LLP

It's not just a conference, it's a community

Many of us work at traditional firms and are the key players in the client accounting service area. It can be a challenging position at times as we don’t have a big internal network. Having an extended family in our professional lives has so many advantages. We are able to discuss client issues, software selection, staffing needs and business development challenges. At times our relationships expand beyond our work lives and we learn about each other’s families and personal interests. Developing these meaningful relationships keep us connected and provides resources throughout the year. As we face new challenges or want to revisit relevant topics, we have each other to lean on.

As the years pass, many of us look forward to seeing colleagues and friends at the annual Digital CPA Conference. The camaraderie amongst the participants and vendors is so evident and it continues to develop from year to year. Attendees discuss everything from practice development to practice management. We share ideas in both formal settings like the round table discussions and training sessions and also hold individual conversations at lunch and social hours. We discuss changes to our practice since we last spoke or share experiences with new colleagues. Discussions about the latest software and how we are using these new tools in our practice is always a hot topic. Having the software vendors present leads to more in depth and informative conversations, as well. organizes the annual Digital CPA Conference. The conference is planned almost a year in advance including the theme, the selection of courses, keynote speakers, instructors and social events. In addition to the team, an advisory board is selected to assist in the planning process. Each year the conference is filled with great courses, motivating speakers and most importantly effective networking. As a result of this year’s conference, I set a few main goals for the FWRD practice here at Wiss. I am working with our marketing team to enhance our proposals to include more specifics about our services and to help set clearer expectations for clients. In addition, we are enhancing our technology package by adding a document fetching and OCR enabled software which members of the community are having great success with. Finally, we plan to standardize our assessment process to help gain efficiencies and increase response time during the proposal and onboarding phases.

I look forward to interacting with this amazing community throughout the year and eagerly await DCPA17, as I know it will be another fantastic event. My suggestion, if you don’t have a community to rely on and learn from then set a goal to find that group of professionals in 2017.

Carolyn is the leader of the FWRD practice. Carolyn's strong abilities to understand each FWRD client's needs provides immeasurable benefits to the business owners as they grow. FWRD clients say that Carolyn's advisory services and strong relationships with them ensures the highest standards of service and results for their business.

Michael Trabold

Director, Compliance Risk, Paychex

Five Tax Tips for Small Business Owners to Consider as the New Year Approaches

The end of the year is a busy time for everyone, small business owners in particular. There’s the fun of holiday events and time with family and friends, as well as the pressure to end the year strong and plan for the year to come. Now’s also the time for small business owners – and their accountants – to think about taking steps to potentially lower the taxes they owe this year and make sure they’re prepared for new tax issues that will roll out in the coming months.

It’s easy to get a little perplexed by the ever-changing rules, requirements, and deadlines of business taxes, but here is a list of tax considerations, compiled by Paychex, for small business owners to think about as they approach the New Year:

  1. Affordable Care Act. For tax year 2016, business owners who are defined as an applicable large employer (ALE), under the Employer Shared Responsibility Provision (ESR) of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), must include a detailed reporting of healthcare coverage. However, the due date for furnishing the 1095-C has been extended from January 31, 2017 to March 2, 2017. The deadline for filing the forms with the IRS remains March 31, 2017 for electronic submissions. Also, reporting entities that can show they made a good faith effort to comply with the reporting requirements – both for furnishing statements to individuals and filing statements and returns with the IRS – may be eligible for good faith transition relief from section 6721 and 6722 penalties to the 2016 information reporting requirements under sections 6055 and 6056.
  2. Accelerated W-2 Form Filing. There is a new federal law that accelerates the W-2 filing deadline for employers to January 31, 2017. Be sure to pay close attention to the W-2 filing deadline in your state as many states across the U.S. have also accelerated the filing of W-2 information to January 31, 2017. Accelerating the W-2 filing at both the federal and state levels will make it easier to detect and prevent refund fraud.
  3. Accelerated Depreciation. Don’t forget that the Section 179 deduction is still set at a limit of $500,000 as a result of the PATH Act that was signed into law on December 18, 2015. As long as equipment and software are financed and in place by midnight on December 31, 2016, they are eligible to receive the Section 179 deduction. Also, bonus depreciation is extended through tax year 2019, so small businesses will be able to depreciate 50 percent of the cost of equipment acquired and put into service during 2016 and 2017.
  4. 401(k) Tax Credit. Small businesses that start a new 401(k) plan between now and December 31, 2016 can claim a federal tax credit for the first three years of the plan to offset plan startup costs. Eligible startup costs include those necessary to set up and administer the plan, as well as those to educate employees about the plan. A percentage of contributions made by the employer are also tax deductible.
  5. Deferral of Income. Consider if deferring income into 2017 makes sense for your small business. Doing so may allow you to take advantage of reductions in tax rates the next administration is looking to enact.

No one can say with certainty what the New Year or the new administration will bring, but these five tax tips should give small business owners a sense of the steps they need to take and things they need to consider as 2017 gets underway.

Mike Trabold is the director of compliance risk at Paychex, Inc., a leading provider of integrated human capital management solutions for payroll, HR, retirement, and insurance services.

John Engels

Founder and President, Leadership Coaching

The Challenges of Self-Management

People regularly ask me, “What are the most common issues you see firm leaders struggling with?”

All leaders grapple at times with business uncertainties, personnel issues, economic fears and personal family concerns. But the most chronic leadership struggles have to do with the leader’s self-management. Four self-management challenges stand out:

1. Avoiding discomfort

Most of the avoidance that happens in leadership stems from emotional discomfort. If leaders could learn to regulate their allergy to discomfort, they would care less about approval and perfection and make better decisions.

This is more challenging than it sounds. I wish I had a dollar for every decision I see leaders make that is driven by their need to be liked.

The odd thing is that leaders who make popularity a priority are rarely respected in the long run. Another way to say it: Caving in to the fear of rejection often leads to rejection.

2. Over-preoccupation with enemies

I coach my clients and children to learn how to deal with people they don’t like.

One of my parenting quips is: “By the time we get rid of all the people you don’t like, there won’t be anybody left!”

I often hear family, business and global leaders perpetrating an “eliminate the enemy” mindset. I have two main beefs with seeing people as “enemies”—whether they are business competitors, siblings or “problem partners.”

The first is that such an attitude guarantees a highly anxious relationship. Anxious relationships are much more prone to impulsive decisions and destructive consequences.

The second problem with an enemy mindset is that it feeds my own irresponsibility. As long as the other is the problem, I don’t have to look at myself. In fact, one way to shield myself from responsibility is to make the other the bad guy.

Instead of hyper-focusing on enemies, take a good hard look at your response to the enemies. Self-management in leadership is all about increasing your Response Ability.

3. Seeking the easy way at the cost of progress

I’ve noticed that people who always take the easy way rarely feel good about themselves.

Consider young adults who are “given” jobs and opportunities based on their bloodlines, students who have no stake in their college expenses, business partners who continually avoid discussing uncomfortable issues, lottery addicts, and anyone who takes more than they give for an extended period of time.

Traveling the easy path can be morally and emotionally costly. Sacrifice – a truly noble virtue - becomes unavailable. For those who never taste the sweaty satisfaction of a tough job well done, self-confidence diminishes.

Facing adversity often turns out to be the defining factor in successful firms, marriages, families and societies. Perhaps we should not be so quick to avoid the struggles of life, instead seeing challenges as opportunities.

4. Shallow connections

The biggest challenge of self-management is a leader’s inability to connect at a deeper level with his or her spouse, children, business partners and staff. Much of the distance and conflict that occurs in families and businesses could be greatly eased if leaders knew how to forge deeper conversations.

Leaders I interact with want to do this, but deeper conversations are out of their comfort zones, and they haven’t developed what I call connection capacities.

Connection capacities include emotional awareness, humility (“seeing oneself as one really is”), the willingness to reveal self to others, genuine curiosity about the other, an appreciation for what the other is up against, and the ability to listen.

These capacities are learned neither easily nor perfectly. Few leaders can navigate this path alone. Progress requires focus, and a good sounding board.

The rub? Many firm leaders spend too much time doing what they like and are good at: solving problems, giving advice and cutting deals, while ignoring the importance of deeper connections.

A steady commitment to prioritize connection can shift the tenor of even the most troubled relationships.

But, let’s face it: It’s tough to connect with someone – or to manage yourself - if you are not on the road to knowing yourself.

That, it turns out, is the key to self-management.

Andy Childs

VP of Marketing, Paychex

Small Business Owners See Value in HR and Regulatory Guidance from Trusted Advisors

Implementing new overtime rules. Managing a mobile workforce. Adjusting to the requirements of health care reform. You name it. Small business owners are dealing with more HR challenges than ever before.

In a recent survey, conducted by Paychex, some 44 percent of small business owners agreed it was increasingly difficult to manage HR – twice as many as those who said it was not. Their top concern: managing regulatory compliance (73 percent). Benefits management (65 percent) and payroll and tax administration (65 percent) tied for the next biggest worry. Rounding out the list were performance management (53 percent) and recruitment and retention (44 percent).

So, who should small business owners turn to for help? Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said they would find it valuable if their existing trusted advisor – accountant, attorney or other consultant – offered additional guidance on HR and regulatory compliance.

CPA firms, meanwhile, are eager to broaden their role with clients, according to research from Developing new offerings that expand the value CPAs provide to existing clients was the top priority for firms in last year’s Innovation in Public Accounting Survey.

With these trends in mind, this fall, Paychex and announced the launch of an expanded partner program, designed to help CPAs broaden their advisory role in human resources. The program designates Paychex the preferred provider of HR services for AICPA members and their clients.

Through the program, CPAs refer clients to partner with Paychex, one of the country’s leading providers of HR and human capital management solutions, solidifying the accountants’ role as expert advisor and creating more strategic, higher-revenue consultation opportunities for CPAs.

From health care reform to new overtime rules to changes in the minimum wage, the HR landscape is evolving at a rapid pace. Keeping up with regulations requires expert guidance, and the Paychex Partner Program puts one of the most trusted advisors – CPAs – in the best position to serve clients.

For more information about the Paychex Partner Program, including access to: Paychex’s cloud-based platform, employee time and attendance, HR applications, and benefits administration.


Andy Childs is the vice president of Marketing at Paychex, a leading provider of human capital management solutions for payroll, HR, retirement, and insurance services.