Planning for Business Success in Rural America
Integrating Core Values and New Technologies for Growth
OUTdrive Episode 17 with the Wilson Toellner CPA Team
In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff visits with Ron Toellner, Alaina Gump and Adam Wolfe, partners of Wilson-Toellner CPA. Together, they lead a team of more than 40 individuals to provide traditional CPA firm services, as well as business advisory and support services to help clients solve problems and achieve their goals.
As experts navigating a variety of industries in rural America with a specialty in agriculture business, the group shares insights into planning for business success, integrating new technologies for growth and the core values that drive their personal and professional lives. Read more for some great insights from their conversation.
Freedom and Opportunity in Rural America Today
Cliff and Ron remind us that rural America continues to evolve and provide opportunities for those who live here–opportunities to live, work and play and have a high quality of life. While talking about living and doing business in rural America, Ron sums it up perfectly. He says, “However you define rural America, I think of the opportunity and the freedoms that you have and all that you can do in rural America.”
No matter where you are, having access to technology for personal and professional uses is important. Ron mentions that access to technology could have previously been a drawback to rural living, but emphasizes that this is no longer the case in many parts of rural America, including Sedalia. He adds, “We have access to every type of technology that you could want or need and we use that access to technology every day. You don’t need to be in an urban area to take advantage of those things.”
Access to technology is only one of many things rural America offers to those who live here. Ron emphasizes that many people are moving to rural areas after realizing all the benefits of a rural lifestyle for them and their loved ones. He explains, “The quality of living associated with rural living is really starting to draw high quality, extremely intelligent people to our rural communities at a tremendous pace. I truly believe people are recognizing everything that is out here and available.”
Whether it is the opportunity for community involvement, promising career opportunities, small town living or the ability to make personal connections with friends and peers, Ron captures it perfectly, saying those who live in rural communities, “live in the best of all worlds right now.”
An Individualized Approach for Clients
The rural American lifestyle means the ability to truly get to know your neighbors. At Wilson Toellner, their clients are their neighbors and the firm has been delivering results for their communities for over 32 years. One thing that has led the firm to such great success is its commitment to understanding clients’ needs and finding the ideal solution for their individual situation. This is accomplished through many strategies, including ongoing conversations with clients.
When asked how they interact with clients, Adam uses the onboarding process as an example of the individualized approach they use for each client. He explains, “We say we spent a lot of time talking about if we’re doing the right job with our clients. With a new client, we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about what that ideal relationship for them looks like. What hats are you ready to take off and put on somebody else so that we can figure out our role? And what’s the environment that we’re going to interact in so we can figure out our software platforms, but then also, what’s the relationship going to look like as far as how and when we bill for our services.”
While this example is specific to onboarding a new client, the principle can be applied to every aspect of a business. Relationships are built on trust, and one of the best ways to build trust is having open communication. Whether it be about new campaign ideas, project status reports or open conversations about the billing process, understanding a client’s needs and meeting them will prove invaluable over time.
Integrating New Technologies
Wilson Toellner has adapted to meet the needs of its clients and employees over the years, growing with the digital age and changing the services it offers. Cliff touches on the history of the firm and how they have transitioned to offer additional services, saying, “You started as a public accounting firm and I remember when you opened your door. Now you’re also a business advisor and a counselor to your clients. Talk about the transition you made and maybe some of the services that are new that you provide now and decisions that you made along the way.”
Alaina explains the overall transition in business processes and strategies and what it means to the company. While the team once focused solely on looking at and summarizing past transactions, the process continues to evolve and become more in-depth. “What we’re focusing on now, in conjunction with those, is to talk to our clients and business owners about what’s happening right now, projections for the future, not just for tax planning, but cash flow projections, and talking with them about the tools that allow them and us to communicate on a more regular basis.”
This shift in business strategy has proven successful, but requires continuous learning and additional technologies. Striving to deliver efficient results and have open communication with clients, the firm continues to invest in new technologies and tools to serve clients. Alaina notes the benefits of these investments, saying, “Some of the results have been greater relationships with our clients, talking to them more frequently, being more involved in their business and really helping them to be successful doing what they do best.”
Adam uses specific examples such as automated data population for more efficient use of time. By using time-saving tools, the team is able to more effectively serve clients and provide a bigger impact by focusing on bigger picture strategies. However, Ron points out that technology and the internet is integral to the success of the team and company. He says, “There are a number of the people that are part of our firm, yet aren’t anywhere near one of our four offices. We don’t have exit interviews anymore when someone leaves because their spouse gets a job. It’s more of an interview of how we get you set up where you’re moving to, because you’re going to keep working with us, and being part of our team, just like you’ve been for years.” Technology allows this to happen.
This is just one example of being adaptive and being focused on core values to actualize success and business growth. Whether it was cloud-based technology that allows for an adaptable work environment, evolving tools for things such as automated data entry or new ways to communicate with clients, companies must strategically integrate new technologies for continued success. Take Alaina’s word for it: the benefits are great and the investment is worth it.
Leading Decision Making through Core Values
While new technologies are helpful, a company’s success depends on an effective and dedicated team to make it happen. At Wilson Toellner, success starts with what is on the inside. While the firm makes it a priority to add only highly skilled and talented individuals to its team, recruiting these individuals is not something that happens overnight. It requires dedication from company leadership to lead with strong core values and remain true to its mission statement, no matter the industry or current environment.
A true example of leading with core values, Wilson Toellner was named one of the 100 Best Small Firms to Work For by Accounting Today for the past four years. When asked by Cliff about the award, Adam explains the hard work put in to develop such a strong work environment. He says, “It’s one of the things that we’re most proud of out of everything we do. We spend a lot of time and attention on what it feels like to do business here, what it feels like to work here, the experiences that our people have and that our clients have. I don’t think there’s any secret sauce to what makes it a good place to work, and to exist, but we really do spend a lot of time paying attention to the needs of our people and their families and we understand that those things are changing all the time.”
He goes on to explain that while every employee’s situation is different, a recent employee survey shows that leading with core values continues to prove successful. He explains the results, “To summarize, it’s all about valuing family and culture and them feeling like it’s a family here, as well as their family outside the office. Everyone cares about each other and wants to make it a good place to be. That’s something that we focus on and try to make sure that we’re living those values and making decisions based on those everyday. To get some feedback that aligns with what we’re trying to stress and do is great.”
Through a combination of these values and others, Wilson Toellner is a great example of strong leadership working to meet the needs of its employees and individual clients. No matter the industry, all leaders can benefit from a reminder of keeping it simple and refocusing on what truly matters. Are you living out your core values? How are you building a strong team and effective work environment?
Alaina adds on to Adam’s point, explaining that Wilson Toellner’s family first attitude is a driving force to recruiting talented individuals. She adds, “There are several values that we talk about and we also try to live in the firm. One of them is that family first attitude that we bring to our culture. In our industry, we may work quite a bit and that is something we always want to talk to our people about, is that family is first. We really try to make it as easy as possible for people to spend time with their family, love their job and work hard when they’re here.”
Simplifying Your Message
Wilson Toellner has found success by communicating with clients and prospects in a way that they can understand, whether it be through social media or in-person conversations. Adam explains the importance of this, “The difficult thing as a CPA firm is that it’s not impressive when you spill technical jargon. The more impressive thing is to take what we know and to make it conversational. And so when it comes to any marketing, we try to make it clear that when you talk with us, you sit and meet with us–you’re not going to get somebody that’s talking over your head.”
He continues, explaining how this ties into truly understanding client needs. “We want to sound like human beings that understand what the person across the table is going through. We want to convey that we can listen to your situation, figure out the key parts of it, and then apply what we know to that. So giving people information out of our world in a digestible manner is always what we’re focused on.”
This is a valuable insight that is applicable to any business from a marketing perspective. Give people information in an easy-to-understand and digestible manner. Simplify your message and make it super-relevant to your audience. This is a great thing to keep in mind in all professional communications, and especially in developing strategic messaging and creative content.
Hear more about financial planning for sustainable growth, insights into doing business in rural America, the importance of emerging technologies and other insights from Cliff Callis and Ron Toellner, Alaina Gump and Adam Wolfe in this episode of OUTdrive.