This is the first in a series that we’re calling The Inovautus Spotlight. For starters, the light will shine on our respective team members. Naturally, with the first step, we’re pointing that light at Sarah Johnson Dobek, Inovautus Consulting’s Founder & President. Learn more about Sarah today and the rest of the Inovautus team as the year unfolds.
— Rob Nance, Director of Content Marketing & Consulting Services
Q: What are some of the things that you love most about the accounting profession?
Sarah: The great people that I get to work with and the interesting landscape of the work they do. I feel like I learn something new every day from my clients and that I am a better business owner because of them. I have also enjoyed watching the landscape of the profession shift. We are in such an interesting period of time for the profession. For me, it’s fun to help them navigate this challenging environment and help capitalize on it.
Q: What have been some of your fondest memories of your time in the accounting profession?
Sarah: My first tax season party. 🙂 I really got to see the CPAs let loose (in a good way). Developing my very first growth plan for an accounting firm and then delivering it to our partners. The implementation of that plan was even more fun. The amazing support I got from the community through my transition out on my own and also when I lost my mother.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do on a daily basis?
Sarah: Helping people and businesses grow. Each person and firm I work with is different and I love helping them progress along their own path of growth.
Q: Practical Ideas for Growth is the name of the monthly Inovautus Consulting newsletter, but just what are some of those practical ideas for growth?
Sarah: These are real world things that the people and firms can execute on now. “Practical” to me is about it being approachable and the right fit. It’s not a theory or a one-size-fits-all thing. Most of our clients don’t have enormous budgets. That means we prioritize and provide advice based on what will work the best for the firm and the people involved.
Q: How challenging is it to run your business? How do you juggle it all?
Sarah: I thrive on challenge, but I also happen to love what I do. So much so that you will see me working long hours that most wouldn’t. I juggle it by prioritizing and making choices. Each day is different and jam-packed. But that is how I work best.
Q: Outside of your work duties, what else do you like to do? How do you spend your down time?
Sarah: Camping, hiking, cycling, skiing, cooking (I am into barbecue smoking and also canning right now), plus spending time with my husband and dog.
Q: Out of the fire pit and on to accounting marketing … you were once a firm’s marketing director. How has that role changed over the years and where do you see it headed?
Sarah: It’s changed a lot. Marketing today isn’t just about making something look pretty. The technical landscape has changed a lot and so have the expectations. Firms are looking for results and are expecting their marketing and business development staff to produce. Today’s growth professionals are savvy leaders within their organizations who have to be educators, politicians, and change agents.
Q: What are some of the key marketing issues facing public accounting firms right now that managing partners need to keep on their front burners?
Sarah: I am not sure it’s about key marketing issues partners need to know about, but more the marketers understanding the key issues the profession is facing … and keeping these on the forefront. See below for some of these issues:
- Building credibility with partners
- Best practices in building a growth culture across the firm
- Managing business development expectations across the firm
- Best practices in developing the young people in CPA firms
- How firms are addressing soft skills development
- How to successfully transition rainmakers out
- How to identify the next leaders in your firm
- Grooming your next gen leaders
Q: Living and breathing accounting services marketing like you do, what frustrates you about where the public accounting profession is with marketing at this point in time?
Sarah: Nothing really frustrates me with the profession. I view different mindsets as an opportunity and have realized that not everyone will be an ideal fit. I like to find and work with the people that share our mindset. What excites me, though, is a budding new generation of entrepreneurs and leaders who want to take over. I get to meet more and more of these people every day.
Q: Where is professional services marketing lacking, falling short or just being too darned stale and boring?
Sarah: Content refinement. I believe there is a huge opportunity to be digging deeper in this. Most firms we work with, even the ones who seem further along than most, have a huge opportunity. I also think marketing departments can and should be playing a bigger role here.
Q: How important is it that a firm’s marketing director knows how CPAs work and what they encounter day-to-day?
Sarah: Super critical. The more they understand about what the CPAs do, the better they will do their jobs. I think I asked so many questions when I first started working in the profession that I used to get looks of dread every time I knocked on a partner’s door. I still ask lots of questions. I am inquisitive by nature, but it has helped me understand my market and my firms.
Q: You’re very involved with the Association for Accounting Marketing. How has that organization evolved over the years?
Sarah: We are fortunate to have a lot of senior professionals. When I first joined the organization, I remember hearing the average tenure for an accounting marketer is 10 months. Today I am happy to say it is much longer and fortunate to know so many professionals who have been with their firms for 10+ years. I also think the association is evolving to be more cutting edge and collaborative. The AICPA/AAM collaboration is a perfect example; it helped raise the profile of marketing in accounting firms. I have fewer conversations around the need for marketing and more about how firms can tackle this based on their available resources.
Q: What do today’s public accounting firm partners need to know about AAM?
Sarah: It’s an amazing community, one which your marketing professionals must embrace. I credit a lot of my career success to a lot of what I learned and the people I met through AAM. There is no other association like ours for the market.
Q: If a young professional told you he/she wanted to get into accounting firm marketing, what would you tell them?
Sarah: Do it! It’s so much fun. Many young marketing professionals don’t know this field (professional services marketing) exists. They don’t teach it in schools and very few firms recruit on campus. Most schools push product marketing. When I fell into this profession, it could not have been a more perfect fit for me.