“I mandated across the firm what type of clients we would work with, the personalities of those clients, the technology that was used, and the core service offering. So, that allowed us to standardise pretty much everything. I think that’s the secret.” Ryan Lazanis

Today I’m speaking with Ryan Lazanis Founder of Future Firm

In this episode, we talk about . . .

  • How do you create the best customer experience possible?
  • How you create a scalable modern firm that can sell.
  • Helping firms implement a strategic plan, set up goals, and maintain focus.
  • Some of his favourite technology tools, including Team Works, Xero, Practice Ignition, Spark Hire, Zoom, and Slack.
  • Using blogging to market to and attract client of a particular personality type
  • How firms can benefit from gig economy accounting

What’s your favourite movie, song, or band from your teenage years and why?

Ryan Lazanis:             Wow, you’re putting me on the spot right off the bat here, right, Heather? From my teenage years, favourite band? Well, I’m going to go back earlier than my teenage years. I’m going to go all the way back to elementary school actually, where I looked at the graduation book for elementary school and at the time, it said my favourite band was Green Day. So, I’ll go with that. And that was, who knows, that’s going back probably the ’95 or something along those lines. But, yeah, it was Green Day back then.

Can you share with our listeners a bit about your background, Ryan?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah. So, I’m a CPA born and raised here in Montreal, Canada. I started my accounting career in a pretty small traditional CPA firm here in Montreal. There’s about five people at the firm, two partners, myself, a bookkeeper, and a receptionist. I spent about five or six years there, I obtained my CPA designation there.

Ryan Lazanis:             I went into industry briefly. I was an assistant controller at a medical company. I was there for about six months. I just did not enjoy the routine and repetitiveness of working in industry and working in an accounting department, and I think I realised that accounting was never a true passion of mine. I always wanted to own a business. And I felt that accounting was the backbone of business, the language of business, and that’s really why I went into accounting in the first place.

Ryan Lazanis:             And after I spent, like I said, I was an assistant controller for about six months and every day I would literally go home in Google types of business ideas. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew that most of my education and my training was in accounting, so it would be foolish to throw that out the window. So, I decided to try and find a different kind of accounting model that I could perhaps start on my own here in Canada, and I came across a really interesting firm in the UK. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone doing this, it was called Crunch Accounting.

Ryan Lazanis:             Basically, they had developed their own software and they had paired it with a team of online accountants. And I thought that was just the future. That was the first time I’ve seen that kind of model implemented. It was a cool-looking website, they had subscription pricing, and I just really loved the way that they rolled out this kind of offering. And actually, back then before I started, my firm actually reached out to them to see if maybe they wanted to do some partnership here in Canada, but that was really what I modelled myself after.

Ryan Lazanis:             I started a firm of my own called Xen Accounting in 2013, and that a lot of that was really born out of the fact that I was frustrated with accounting, I was frustrated with the profession. I felt it was moving very slowly. I felt that business owners weren’t well-supported by a lot of these traditional firms, and they just weren’t getting the service experience that they wanted in the digital age. So, a lot of this was created out of my frustration for what I was seeing in the profession at the time. So, I don’t know if you want to go more into that, but that’s kind of leading up to when I started my own firm basically.

Being in Montreal, are you expected to and do you know French, the language?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yes. It’s a French-first province. Montreal is quite bilingual. I’m an Anglophone, but everybody does learn French. So, yes, I speak French, read French, write French. My French could be better, but certainly it’s not an issue for me.

Heather Smith:          Excellent. And it is interesting that you bring up routine because I personally think a lot of accountants go into it because they like the routine, but I think that they don’t recognise that routine is one aspect and accounting is another aspect, and you’ve actually done a very good… You’ve actually recognised they are two separate things. Accounting doesn’t necessarily need to be routine. It can be a beast without routine associated with it. I think the compliance part of it is the routine part of it.

Ryan Lazanis:             And that’s what I like to advocate for right now with Future Firm, and we can get into a little bit about what that is a little bit later on. But I advocate the chart your own path, right? You don’t have to follow the typical path that most accountants do. And certainly, I was on that path. I started working in a firm, I went into industry, and that’s the typical path that a lot of CPAs take. I broke free from that, but a lot of people don’t. And I advocate for creating your own path essentially.

What’s the startup and small business environment culture like in Montreal?

Ryan Lazanis:             I’d say it’s very strong, and one of the reasons for that is because it has one of the most interesting research and development tax credits in the world. So, there’s a lot of technology startups that situate themselves in Canada solely to take advantage of these tax credits. Actually, when I ran my firms in accounting, that was a very big part of the firm because when I started at online accounting, it didn’t really exist in Canada at the time. It existed in Australia and New Zealand a little bit several years before that, but not in Canada.

Ryan Lazanis:             And when I first started rolling out an online service, I was butting heads with a lot of different types of businesses because they were really concerned about security in the cloud. But the ones that were really comfortable meeting with their accountants online and the ones that were comfortable using cloud accounting technology were those technology startups. So, I really heavily invested myself in that ecosystem at the outset and learned a lot about it. I learned just how strong the tech startup ecosystem is in Canada.

Heather Smith:          Yeah, absolutely. And I do recall, I think it’s almost a decade ago, that I wrote Xero for Dummies, and when I had to research the Canadian sections, you were the only person who was writing anything on it. What does Ryan say about GST and HRT and all the different types of taxes because there was nothing I could find.

Ryan Lazanis:             I went back in my archives, I don’t know… Do you remember when we connected? That was in mid-2014, and we had a few. So, that’s when you were writing that book. And yes, nobody was talking about GST and sales tax for Xero at the time, and I wrote a guide. You link to it many, many times and referenced it many times, so that’s how I think our connection started.

Heather Smith:          You were the only one I think who worked it all out. So yes, I was appreciative of that. You were the standout person definitely in Canada. So, I imagine things have changed quite a lot since then for you, in that a lot of startups are actually starting up there in Canada, a lot of startups in the cloud space are actually starting up there. So, you were the pioneer.

You started and ran your own practice for a little over six years. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us to paint a picture of what the actual firm look like?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah. So, it started off as a one-man show, four walls and a desk, really had no idea of where the firm would go, had no plan really actually. And it was really just about how could I create a different kind of model? How could I take what’s already being done and do a 180 from that? And look at the typical pain points that people have when dealing with their accountants, but also the typical pain points that employees have when working in an accounting firm and how could I eliminate those? So, it was very much based around that concept.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, the whole idea was make it easy, make it pain-free, make it as automated as possible for business owners, but also make it an enjoyable work environment for the team. And it started off as an in-person setup. The team was centralised in an office, but we’d be working fully remotely with businesses across Canada, really focused on leveraging cloud tools to automate workflows as much as humanly possible, focus on delivering a high-quality customer experience.

Ryan Lazanis:             I really look up to the companies like Uber, for instance, where they’ve looked at every kind of customer interaction and streamline that. So, I make the comparisons between the taxi industry and Uber, they’ll both get you to the same destination, but the way that you get there and the feelings that you have along the way are much different. So, I really tried to model a firm around that concept.

Ryan Lazanis:             Grew the firm to about 15 people over a five-year span and ended up going through an exit at the end of 2018 to a larger European corporate services firm. They really like the technology-forward approach. They like the team. It wasn’t just the technology, it was the team full of technology-savvy accountants as well. And a scalable model. I think I helped implement a scalable model, which is difficult to do in professional services and requires focus and standardisation. So, I think these were some of the reasons why we were a good target for an acquisition.

Ryan Lazanis:             I helped transition things over to the buyer over most of 2019 before starting my new venture, Future Firm.

Do you miss being part of a day-to-day practice?

Ryan Lazanis:             You know what, I don’t, truthfully. The things that I probably miss the most is I had an amazing team. I had an absolutely spectacular team. That is hard to… Until you’ve actually gone through that, you rely on them, they rely on you. That kind of relationship is very difficult to duplicate I think. So that, I do miss. They were awesome team.

Ryan Lazanis:             The clients were spectacular as well. So, the people side of it, I do miss. But the actual operational side of things, I don’t miss whatsoever, especially because I don’t like accounting and tax and I don’t like to be engaged in those discussions whatsoever.

Ryan Lazanis:             Whenever there’ll be a new team member on the team like, let’s say, I’d hire a CPA and they’d start going into an in-depth tax issue happening with a client. And it would take them maybe a week or two to realise that I would completely tune out. My mind could not focus on that kind of topic or discussion whatsoever. I just say, “Look, you’re brought here to take care of this kind of stuff. I trust you with it so go and do your thing, but I don’t want to hear about the nitty gritty details.” So, that sort of stuff, I really don’t miss. I don’t want to be involved in accounting, tax, even financial discussions. It’s just not my cup of tea.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, some things I do miss, some things I don’t miss. But on the whole, I’m very comfortable with the decision to exit.

Heather Smith:          Yeah. Excellent. Thank you for sharing that. I’m completely the same, tax bores me to tears. And I constantly have to say, “I’m not a tax accountant, you’re a tax accountant. I’m an accountant,” and they don’t understand the difference there.

Last year, you founded Future Firm, what was the driving force behind that?

Ryan Lazanis:             So, it really came down to boiling things down to my purpose in life. And it’s really, again, driven through my frustration of the accounting profession and the lack of resources available for firms that want to innovate. I remember when I started my firms in accounting, there was no resources out there, and I’d go to my professional body and I’d talk to them about some things on my mind that I’d like to roll out. They would have no opinion whatsoever. They’d quote something of some technical jargon out of this handbook that nobody could really even decipher, and there was no help.

Ryan Lazanis:             The help I would get was actually I’d reach out to firms in Australia, and I talked to them. I created an online network and I share ideas that way, but there was no resources out there.

Ryan Lazanis:             When I was getting approached by multiple different firms for acquisition at my firm, I started thinking about, “Okay, do I want to do this forever or do I want to do something else?” And I determined that I actually wanted to do something else, and that something else was how do I provide resources to other firms that are going through their modernisation journey and that want to create an online, automated, scalable, modern firm of their own.

Ryan Lazanis:             I just want to play a small role in helping advance the profession because there’s not a lot of resources out there, right, especially in Canada. Well, I’m not focused explicitly on Canada. There’s certainly no resources here whatsoever. So, it’s really about helping firm owners modernise, stay on the cutting edge, and create an online, scalable, modern firm of their own.

Heather Smith:          That’s excellent, so I’m really excited to hear that. So, I used to be an accountant in Canada in ’96, ’95, and there was a lot of associations back then. But I believe your number of associations is reduced currently?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah. Where were you in Canada?

Heather Smith:          Pickering. The exciting town of Pickering, which is just outside of Toronto, but those last seven or eight accounting associations there.

Can you briefly explain the Canadian Accounting Association consolidation?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah. So, there was three big ones, there was CA, CPA, CMA. And I think one of the reasons they consolidated them all into CPA is to bring all of the members together, to make themselves more competitive on a global landscape. But truthfully, I still see there’s a bit of a lag there because if you want to be competitive, I think you have to innovate as well, and there’s a lack of innovation. So, that’s one of my frustrations.

Ryan Lazanis:             And I understand the purpose of the profession is to protect the public, but you also have to move forward as well. And that’s what I want to see is a little bit more of a forward push from the profession.

Heather Smith:          Yeah, excellent. So, just to give you some insight, I’m involved with an association called the ACCA, also here in Australia called the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. They made a couple of us their ambassadors for innovation. They run a catalyst programme, which is all about doing that to try and help their profession innovate.

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah, I’d love to see that.

Heather Smith:          Yeah, which is exciting. It’s like you’re trying to get them to do it, but it sounds like it’s not happening, so you’ve just gone and done it yourself, which is great. Fantastic.

Would you describe yourself as a cloud integrator for practices?

Ryan Lazanis:             It’s a good question. I mean, it’s certainly for practices. You know what, I think that was one of my ideas when I first started, but I think a bigger piece of it is helping firms get focus, helping them create more of a model. I think technology is one part of it.

Ryan Lazanis:             At the beginning, when I launched Future Firm, I was testing out different types of offerings, and one of it was putting together technology reports, detailed technology reports, of my recommendations and the processes implemented, all that kind of stuff. I moved away from that. I wasn’t enjoying that as much.

Ryan Lazanis:             Now, what I’m helping to do is I work with a small group of firms on a one-to-one mentorship basis at the moment to help them implement a strategic plan, set up goals, and I help them on the bigger strategy pieces, right? So, part of it could include technology, but I’m not researching apps and I’m not playing around with apps for them. I’m not writing out a detailed process on how to implement it. I’m giving my guidance leaning on my experience and the experience of what I’m seeing happening in the market. So, it’s really happening at a higher strategic level for the most part.

Heather Smith:          Hey, that’s really interesting. Thank you for sharing that with us.

So, the $64 million question, how do you create a scalable, modern firm that can sell?

Ryan Lazanis:             So, I think it wasn’t something that I set out to do, it came more out of… And I wasn’t thinking about how do you scale a firm, I was thinking about how do you create a good customer experience? So, for me, personally, it all started with, how do I create the best customer experience possible?

Ryan Lazanis:             At first, when I started my firm, I just wanted to offer virtual CFO services, forget bookkeeping, bundling the tax compliance, but I just want to offer virtual CFO services, and those were the plans, budgeting, cash flow, health checkups, that kind of thing. I would teach business owners to do their own bookkeeping. The issue there was we weren’t able to plan the work effectively because we didn’t know when we would get the books back from the clients. We didn’t know the condition of the books that would come back to us. So, the plans that we were selling were not providing a great experience because it revolved around the quality and timeliness of the data.

Ryan Lazanis:             So then, I said, “Okay, you know what, if we’re going to work with a client, if we’re going to offer a good customer experience, if we’re going to make it pain-free for them, and if we want to make sure we’re delivering high value on what we’re selling, I need to do the bookkeeping. The firm needs to do the bookkeeping for every single client.” So, that allowed us to put all the clients on the same tech stack, handle the compliance piece, and all the timeliness and accuracy of the data. We controlled the full end-to-end process and that allowed us to standardise the operation.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, that’s what I learned about the importance of standardising the operation and doing the opposite of what most firms do is they say, “I’m going to service this kind of client, I’m going to service that kind of client, I’m going to do this kind of service offering, and I’m just going to do everything,” whereas what I said is, “We have to work online so the client can’t meet us in person. They have to be on these cloud accounting tools. We have to do the bookkeeping.”

Ryan Lazanis:             So, I mandated across the firm what type of clients we would work with, the personalities of those clients, the technology that was used, and the core service offering. So, that allowed us to standardise pretty much everything. I think that’s the secret.

Heather Smith:          So, I’m going to come back to the… Thank you very much for that. I’m going to come back to, how do you market to a certain type of personality and how do you attract a certain type of personality?

Ryan Lazanis:             A lot of it at the beginning was kind of ruffling feathers, I think, and I think I hit a note with that early on. That’s where I learned about blogging because I think the first blog I wrote was Cloud Accounting and the Death of a Dinosaur, and the death of the dinosaur was the traditional accounting firm. I knew nothing about writing, nothing about blogging, I just released it. I was trying to appeal with the people that were frustrated with their accounts, and there was a good chunk of people that were and there’s a chunk of people that were not and were maybe even turned off by that article.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, I think to target… Going back to your question, it had to do with appealing to a slice of the market and just hitting the right note there, and not being afraid to turn off a chunk of those readers as well. So, I think I just appealed to what people were feeling about frustration that they were having with their accounting firm.

Heather Smith:          That’s so interesting. I just had a conversation with a local bookkeeper called Sarah Stein, and she said her strategy was to attract a particular type of personality as well. And it’s the first time that I’ve heard that because I’ve always had recommended the strategy of going for an industry type, which I now realise may not necessarily the best thing, but personality type is a really interesting one.

Heather Smith:          So, what recommendations would you have for an old school firm, I’m not sure if you use that terminology, a classic firm or an old school firm that wants to automate, modernise, and move to the cloud?

Ryan Lazanis:             I think what I am recommending to every firm I speak with is you have to set up a strategic plan at the outset, otherwise you’re going to bounce around. And this is what I see with a lot of firms that I speak with is there’s a million things you can do. There’s a million pieces of technology out there, there’s a million ideas floating around on social media. Which one do you implement? They’re not like rocket science to implement. But I think the problem what you see with firms is there’s a lack of traction because there’s just so much coming at them and you need to determine what you prioritise, right?

Ryan Lazanis:             I think if I had to prioritise one piece of technology, first, you have the basics like cloud accounting apps, then you have apps like Zoom, which everybody’s using now, apps like Slack. But then there’s a lot of firms that are running their task and project management often at an Excel spreadsheet still. Now Excel, we all know accountants love it, but you don’t run your business off of an Excel spreadsheet.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, a project management system is one of the apps that I typically highly prioritise when we’re in that process of trying to determine which apps and which workflows we’re going to look at automating or streamlining first. But it really comes down to the strategic plan and mapping out where you want to go long term and working backwards to arrive at small, short-term priorities and goals, and seeing which apps are going to fit into the mix. They’re like which processes are causing the most pain at the moment, and those are the ones that we ultimately have to prioritise.

Heather Smith:          You mentioned you like project management tool. Which project management tool that would be critical for your firm? Which project management tools do you like to use?

Ryan Lazanis:             So, the project management tool that is critical for my needs is a system called Teamwork. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of it. And it’s not really even geared towards accounting firms, it’s really geared towards any kind of business out there, which has its pros and cons.

Ryan Lazanis:             But what I really need out of a tool is, at the absolute core, I need something that can track my tasks and deadlines and make sure they’re assigned to someone, so that work is not slipping through the cracks. I need to be able to collaborate on that work and communicate back and forth within the app, not through email.

Ryan Lazanis:             And most importantly, and I don’t know how people run their firms without this but many do apparently, because Teamwork is really one of the only systems out there that has this kind of functionality which is workload planning, capacity planning, modelling out what your capacity is in the future and determining if your staff, if your team is overworked or if you’re underworked, or if you’re able to bring in this particular mandate in April or May or June. I don’t know how people run a firm without doing workload and capacity planning, because it’s not possible to… That’s why you see a lot of accountants being overworked, they don’t engage in capacity planning.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, this is a tool that’s absolutely critical for me, which is lacking from just about every system out there. And without this, I would not be able to run a firm.

Heather Smith:          Thank you for that, Ryan. What recommendations would you have for someone who wants to start a modern future-focused cloud practice? So, we’ve talked about the old school, they’ve got something existing, but if they’re starting with a fresh slate, what would you recommend to them?

Ryan Lazanis:             So, my number one recommendation, and this is a full-on shameless plug, is to head on over to my website and sign up for my weekly newsletter because I’m literally giving tips on a weekly basis and showing what I think the future of accounting looks like. So, you can go to www.futurefirm.co/top5, five like the number, and that’s where you can sign up for my newsletter. And I think that’s where a lot of people start, at least a lot of the firms that are looking at Future Firm and the resources that I have. They start with just saying, “Okay, this is what’s happening in the market right now,” and then they can take it from there.

Ryan Lazanis:             But, again, I think it really comes down to pass that whether you’re a firm that’s been around for 40 years or a firm that’s just starting, you need a plan, and the plan is not going to be perfect right off the bat. It’s actually probably going to be far from perfect. But you need some sort of target to know where you’re going and you need to work backwards to arrive at, “What do I need to do now?” So, you need some basic strategic plan to give you some direction and some focus.

Ryan Lazanis:             And again, the plan, it’s going to be very difficult when you’re first starting out because you probably have no clue what you’re doing, which is normal. When I started my firm, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing either. But you need to start with a plan and then you need to revise it every quarter, and it will get more and more focused as you go and you’ll start to have a little bit more of a direction. So, I think whether you’re a new firm or an existing firm, you need to have some kind of plan.

Heather Smith:          Thank you for sharing that. And they can, if they want to come to you for that and engage with you for your one-on-one mentoring. Would that be appropriate?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah. I mean, again, I’m working with a very small group of firms at the moment, so I’m capping it at 12 firms. So, if there’s an open slot, certainly, people could always reach out to me. But it’s not something where I’m going to be mentoring 200 firms. It’s not, and it’s not everywhere I’m going to take Future Firm either. I’m really focused on building out a lot of different online resources, so it’s very much building out the content at the moment.

What advice do you have for staffs sitting in firms who want their firms to modernise but cannot get the decision makers across the line?

Ryan Lazanis:             You know what, change management is one of the hardest things to deal with, and I’m not a change management expert. There are change management consultants out there that can certainly play a role, and I think that it would make a lot of sense to engage them. I think there was a lot of stubbornness from a lot of firm leaders to move forward.

Ryan Lazanis:             And I think what we’re seeing during the coronavirus is that there’s no choice now, so I think a lot of them are going through a modernization whether they like it or not right now. And I think after the dust settles, we’re going to see some irreversible impacts of how people want to work and how people will work, so we’ll see what happens there.

Ryan Lazanis:             But I’ve seen a lot of stubbornness with a lot of firm leaders where there’s people in the firm that are pushing, pushing, pushing, but they can’t get through. So, I think there has to be… It’s a tough one. It’s really a tough one because it’s really dependent firm to firm, but I think some change management consultants might be able to play a role there as well.

Heather Smith:          Yeah, absolutely. Totally agree there. And it is interesting that you’re saying, “Okay, use some consultants for this, and some consultants for this, and some consultants for that.”

Heather Smith:          So, you’ve made it clear that you actually don’t do a technology stack assessment for firms, that you don’t get into that detail, but

Can you share with our listeners some of your favourite accounting apps or tools that you see the modern firms of practice is using?

Ryan Lazanis:             Sure. Yeah. So, I do offer an assessment, but I’m not going to test every single… I do do an assessment of every firm that I mentor. It’s like, “Okay, what are you using for your proposal engagement letters? What are you using for task management?” So, I do understand that, but I’m not going into incredible detail of every single feature that they might need. Do you know what I mean?

Ryan Lazanis:             So, the ones that I like, so for project management, it’s really going to depend on tastes here. There’s Teamwork, there’s Carbon, which is incredibly popular, Jetpack Workflow, Asana, a lot of firms like. So, their system’s like that. I’ve always really liked Practice Ignition. I got on board of Practice Ignition super early, and I’ve been a big fan of them ever since. Xero has been a big one for me. When I started my firm, there was really no other options in Canada, so I built my firm around Xero. Zoom, Slack, Loom. Loom is becoming more and more popular these days.

Ryan Lazanis:             I think one of my most favourite apps that most firms should eventually use is something to help if you’re hiring team members. It’s a very time-consuming process to screen candidates. And an app that I used was something called Spark Hire, which is a tool that I use for conducting one-way video interviews.

Ryan Lazanis:             Basically, you get a lot of resumes from people and you don’t know who to move forward to an interview with or not. Sometimes you move forward with someone or with a candidate for an interview and you might know after the first five minutes that they’re not a good fit, and that interview unfortunately becomes a big waste of time. So, I want to avoid those kinds of situations and I want to speed up the screening process.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, with a one-way video interview, I can email off a link. After I see a resume that looks interesting, I email off a link to the candidate. There’s 10 pre-recorded questions there that they have to answer using their webcam on their own time. These questions, in my case, would test for attitude traits to see if they would be a good cultural fit.

Ryan Lazanis:             And after they complete it, I’d get notified and I’d be able to watch that interview, often at 2x speed to get through pretty quickly, to determine if they would be a good possible fit for the team. And then, I’d move to an interview, an actual virtual interview. So, I really love that to cut down on the amount of time that it took during the interview and screening process.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, those are some of my favourite apps. I’m probably missing a bunch. I think I had about 30 or 40 SaaS apps when I ran my firm. So, I love software, I love technology, and I was happy with the tech stack that I had. But certainly, I’m missing a few at the moment as well.

Heather Smith:          Yeah, I really like the idea of the video interview because it actually assesses whether they can actually use technology as well.

Ryan Lazanis:             That’s the other one. Because what we talked about earlier is about standardising things, and that was one thing where they have to have the tech skills. And if they didn’t have the tech skills, they have to have the problem-solving skills, because it’s not hard to email support, right? So, if I got an email back from someone that says, “It’s not working,” well, usually that’s not a good indicator of a good problem solver, right? So, there’s a few tests that I would implement, not only with candidates but also with clients as well.

Heather Smith:          To test their tech skills before you took them on?

Ryan Lazanis:             Absolutely.

Heather Smith:          Okay. That is standardising your client.

Have you seen evidence of practices adopting automation opening up the possibility of additional income streams outside of the normal accounting practice?

Heather Smith:          I’m not trying to push you into a direction that you don’t want to go, but is that something that you’re seeing? Are you seeing-

Ryan Lazanis:             And I think I understood… Yeah, sorry. Go ahead. No, I think I understood the question, but I just wanted to make sure. Yes, because there’s a lot of things that you can do now with technology that you maybe didn’t want to do before, right? Bookkeeping is one thing. Bookkeeping, a lot of firms, a lot more firms. I ran a CPA firm and I offered bookkeeping for every single client, which is not typical for a CPA firm. A CPA firm typically doesn’t want to do bookkeeping because it’s very manual and tedious, and they want to do the tax and advisory work. Whereas, I felt if you are going to be doing the tax and advisory work, you need to be doing the bookkeeping. So, that’s a simple example.

Ryan Lazanis:             Now, over and above that, I think what we’re seeing at what a lot of these cloud firms are doing well is they’re becoming a full-on outsourced accounting department, right? They’ll do the books, they’ll do the tax, they’ll do the compliance, but they’ll also do paying your bills, handling the payroll, acting as a virtual CFO. But I think we’re going to see a lot more different services being rolled out now because the technology and the innovation on the technology, I think, has stalled a little bit and I think we’re seeing other apps in the space that are trying to say, “Okay, well, you could offer this kind of service offering now.”

Ryan Lazanis:             I’ll give you an example. I joined the Advisory Board of InvoiceSherpa, which is a piece of software that helps automate the collection of accounts receivable. And I know very, very few firms, at least in North America, that are offering A/R services. In other parts of the world, they’re called credit control services. Why aren’t firms offering this as a service? There’s tools there that can automate these processes to get cash in your clients bank account faster, especially in this day and age where cash is king right now. Why aren’t more firms offering this? I was guilty of that. I didn’t offer that. I just didn’t even know it was available.

Ryan Lazanis:             But I think we’re going to see more and more of these kinds of different service offerings being rolled out that will surround the client with more resources and essentially help build out a more robust accounting department around them.

Heather Smith:          Thank you for that. Thank you.

You’ve written a blog post called How Your Firm Can Benefit from Gig Economy Accounting. Can you briefly share a synopsis of what you shared in that blog post?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah. So, some of the things that I write about and talk about is just trying to open people’s eyes to what the future might look like. And instead of being scared of the future, how can you benefit from it, right?

Ryan Lazanis:             I’m going back to my early days when I started a cloud accounting firm, there was a lot of uproar at the time where people were scared about cloud accounting and how to automate everything and put people out of business, but actually it helped other businesses grow faster. So, I think what we’re seeing is a trend happening at the moment is an Uberization of everything we do.

Ryan Lazanis:             There’s different kind of marketplace models that are set up to allow buyers and sellers to transact very easily for certain types of commodities. So, we’ve seen that happen with Uber, where there’s drivers and then there’s people wanting a ride and they connect on Uber and then Uber matches them up automatically and off they go.

Ryan Lazanis:             And you’re seeing this now with QuickBooks Live in the U.S. and it launched in Canada recently, and perhaps it’s in other parts of the world as well, where you have a bookkeeper and then you have someone wanting bookkeeping, and they connect on QuickBooks Live and they’re automatically matched up and off they go. You have Taxfyle in the U.S. for tax services, and then you have Paro for other types of financial services. So, you’re seeing an Uberization of the professions start to happen. And I’m thinking…

Ryan Lazanis:             A lot of people, when QuickBooks Live was first announced, people were upset. There’s a lot of bookkeepers upset because they said, “Well, I’m going to go out of business now because now I’m going up against the big software company,” and I’m saying, “Okay, well, maybe if you don’t adapt your offering, perhaps that might be an issue for you. But I’m saying for firms out there, where the biggest issue is sourcing talent and acquiring talent, you now have a new option. You have an option to hire a gig worker when you need it for what you need.”

Ryan Lazanis:             For instance, if I’m running a firm in Canada and my client needs a cross-border U.S. tax service, what do I do? I might lose that client because if I can’t offer that service, they might go elsewhere. But if I could tap into a pool of gig workers from like Taxfyle who offers U.S. tax services, perhaps I could fill that need and maybe even make a markup, a margin off of that work as well. Or if you’re going into tax busy season, you’re not going to hire a full time employee perhaps, maybe you don’t even want a contractor, maybe you just need to tap into the gig economy for a one-month period. So, there’s other options out there to acquire talent, and I think we’re going to see that.

Ryan Lazanis:             I saw an interesting report out of Australia that said, I think I’d have to get the actual stats, it was in that blog post you mentioned that, I don’t know, a quarter or a third of all firms in Australia are thinking about leveraging the gig economy in the next three years or something like that. So, it’s starting to come to the forefront, but it’s still very early days.

Ryan Lazanis:             But I think millennials, Gen Z, and those types of generations, they are very used to that Uber kind of economy. They are very used to doing what they want, when they want to do it. And these types of platforms allow for work to be set up in that manner. So, I think a lot of firms are going to have to get comfortable with leveraging the gig economy down the road.

Heather Smith:          Yeah, absolutely. I completely very much agree with what you’ve shared there. Thank you very much for that.

What does the next five years hold for you?

Ryan Lazanis:             Good question. I think if I map out the next 10 years, what I’d like to do is have an impact, play an impact in helping 50,000 accountants modernise their firm essentially. I’m not mentoring 50,000 people, but I’m reaching 50,000 people through my content. And typically, a measurement for that would be like a number of newsletter subscribers because those are people that I’m constantly engaged in.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, for me, it’s really about how can I play a role in helping accountants around the world to create a future-proof and cutting edge for a model of their own. So, that really what I’m focused on. A lot of what I’m doing is really focused on content and online resources to help firm leaders around the world modernise their firms.

Heather Smith:          Excellent. Thank you so much for sharing that. And as you’ve mentioned, you have your newsletter that listeners can sign up to. I know that I just… The one actually that came out this morning, I think I learned a few new tips for using Zoom in it, which I’ll try and implement later today.

Ryan Lazanis:             Cool. And I’m signed up for your newsletter and I really enjoy it, and I love the app-focused approach. And often, I have a few of your pieces in there as well. So, I definitely enjoy the stuff that you’re putting out.

Heather Smith:          Thank you very much. Yeah, no, it was a something to stop microphone noise from other people. That was one of the things in the Zoom section of the newsletter that I thought well, I should sign up to that for. So, is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners, and how can they get in contact with you?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah. I mean, not much else. We covered what I’m up to at the moment. I think if anyone wants to chat with me, I always check my emails. Anyone that’s subscribed to the newsletter and they have question for me, they just shoot me a message. I respond pretty quickly. You could always head over to my website as well, I have a contact box there. But, yeah, there’s nothing other than blogging regularly, weekly newsletter, weekly podcast, which I’ll probably have a lot to learn from. So, I’ll take a few tips away from what you’re doing, Heather. But other than that, that’s what I’m up to at the moment.

Heather Smith:          Excellent. And I think I saw a note saying that Kenji had sent you in a question and you actually converted it into a podcast or a blog post?

Ryan Lazanis:             Yeah. So, what I was doing with the podcast is I wanted to… A lot of what I do is I just jump into something, see how it feels, and then take it from there. I started a podcast, I know I’m 18 or 19 episodes deep into my podcasts at the moment. I started off with similar formats like yours, the one-hour interview format, but I decided to turn it into something, and we might have discussed this online, something more bite-size where firm leaders could take away one practical tip each episode and implement it in their firm.

Ryan Lazanis:             So, I try to keep episodes now, instead of interviews, it’s less than 10 minutes. And I give one practical tip on how you can implement something in your firm to help modernise it. And part of that was gauging… Some of my readers have questions for me, so they just shoot me an email and say, “You know what, Ryan, I have a question about this,” and sometimes I turn those questions into a podcast episode.

Heather Smith:          Absolutely. It’s great when people send you questions, and you have the capacity to answer them and create some further additional content out of that. So, thank you so much, Ryan, for joining me today. I really appreciate it. And I’m sure the cloud listeners will benefit immensely from all of the learnings that you’ve shared with us. How can they get in touch with you?

Ryan Lazanis:             They can head on over to www.futurefirm.co. There’s a contact box there. I already mentioned that they could sign up to the newsletter. They got my email address there as well, and then we can just chat there additionally.

Heather Smith:          Excellent. Thank you so much, Ryan.

Ryan Lazanis:             Thanks a lot, Heather. Appreciate it.