Sitting in the same room with the I.C. Opportunities innovators warps my brain, but in a really good way.

I.C. Opportunities is a group of forward-thinking CPAs and accounting vendors who are paving the way to the profession’s future. Here’s an example, taken from the conversations that took place during the group’s latest meetings in Chicago:

The CPA profession has been buzzing about value billing for years now, and why not? The rest of the world sets prices based on a product’s value, not on how much time it takes to make it. Isn’t it time professional services follow suit?

We’ve heard all the arguments before:

  • When you bill by the hour, your reward for efficiency is making less money.
  • The people who work the longest often demonstrate that they’re not good at their jobs. If they were, they’d do those jobs in less time.
  • Shouldn’t we be worried less about punching the clock and more about adding value for our clients?

Old habits die hard though, don’t they? Billable-hour evangelists roll out all the same, old objections, including this gem: “If we don’t track our employees’ time, how will we know if they’re doing their jobs?”

Oh, I don’t know … by the fact that their jobs get done?

Some CPAs are starting to get the message. There are plenty of success stories out there, and if the next generation of CPA leaders has its way, there’ll be more on the way soon.

What I’m beginning to realize, though, is that this whole value billing debate has less to do with value and more — much more — to do with people, and with the very future of business.

Think about it: We’ve argued before that the social movement isn’t about doing social media; it’s about being more social in everything we do. That goes way beyond simply bolting social media onto our outdated business models. It’s about building new business models that put people — not profits — first.

Value billing is a huge part of that people-first movement.

To deliver value to our clients, we must first determine what’s valuable to our clients. It’s no longer good enough to sell what we do. We must build trusted relationships with our clients so we know how to best serve them.

If that’s true, I’d argue that value billing makes us more human. It forces us to stop hunting billable hours and start building relationships. The focus shifts from us to them.

If the business of the future is social, value billing might just be its cornerstone.

How are you adding value for your clients? And remember: “Billing more hours” is the wrong answer.

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