It’s not just about numbers: business leadership for accountants with Future Firm’s Ryan Lazanis

  • Ryan Lazanis, CEO of Future Firm, is changing the way cloud-based accounting firm owners structure and scale their businesses with his formula for fast and efficient growth.

  • There’s a glaring gap in most accountants’ training: few have the know-how to run their own businesses. Ryan focuses on helping firm owners build a complete business model, including marketing, management skills, pricing and more.

  • The scalability of service-based businesses doesn’t have to be limited by traditional staffing constraints. For Ryan, it’s about leveraging aspects like standardization and automation.

Ryan Lazanis is passionate about helping cloud-based accounting leaders successfully scale their firms. But it may come as a surprise that despite being an early adopter of paperless accounting, Ryan was raised by a print shop owner.

The CPA turned accounting business coach is a forward-thinking professional with progressive ideas about the future of the profession. 

He’s created a model for firms to fast-track their growth while providing a life beyond the virtual office. It’s a business framework based on the many lessons he learned the hard way when forming Xen Accounting, his Canadian cloud-based accounting firm that the Equiom Group acquired in 2018. 

After selling his company, Ryan embarked on a journey to share his wisdom with fellow CPAs via his latest venture: Future Firm.

Ryan joins Karbon CEO Stuart McLeod on the Accounting Leaders Podcast to discuss when to sell, the knowledge gaps for CPAs turned firm owners, and business models optimized for growth.   

Lean on your strengths (and hire for the rest) 

Ryan didn’t start Xen Accounting with the goal of one day selling his business. Instead, he assumed he’d live a life mirroring his father’s business: founding (and then running) the company from birth to its final days. 

Yet much of Ryan’s career path was influenced by what not to do after observing his entrepreneurial father. For example, he knew he didn’t want a life that required 4 am wake-ups and returning home at 9 pm. He also knew he needed professional training he could fall back on in the event his business (or industry) ever took a downturn. 

So Ryan pursued his CPA credentials, not because of an inherent love for bookkeeping and tax, but because he saw it as a career safety net. 

As one of the first adopters of paperless accounting in North America, Ryan was ahead of his time. While he could tap the wisdom of pioneers in Australia and New Zealand, such as Ignition’s CEO and founder Guy Pearson, he didn’t have many examples of firms to use for inspiration.

“I had no clue if the model would work,” Ryan tells Stuart on the podcast. 

“Everyone was saying that it was a stupid idea and that nobody wanted to work virtually with their accountant and no one wanted to do things online. I was ready to go six months without acquiring one client and then saying, ‘OK, let’s quit it.’ I ended up picking up clients far more easily than I thought.”  

But Ryan quickly learned that despite being a visionary in his particular way of providing accounting services, he didn’t particularly enjoy accounting—nor was he very good at the daily tasks that come with the job. 

To make up for his shortcomings, Ryan hired expert accountants to serve Xen’s customers while focusing on his actual strengths: designing systems and marketing the business.

When opportunity knocks 

Despite Ryan not setting out with the initial strategy to someday sell his business, he soon started to explore the possibility as numerous accounting firm leaders approached him about buying his firm. 

“A couple of years into starting Xen, I started to get approached by a number of firms that wanted a cloud division or wanted to adopt a more automated type model, or a more streamlined, systematic way of working,” says Ryan. The firms ranged from small to large, prompting him to ask himself, ‘Okay, what do I really want to do here?’

Ryan mapped out his ideal life, and it became apparent that selling was the way to go.

The missing pieces to the firm owner’s puzzle

So much of what Ryan learned when scaling Xen Accounting came through trial and error. And while Ryan had a natural inclination for business development, he (along with most accounting firm owners) lacked the proper training on how to run a successful business. 

Ryan’s committed to fixing this common problem that many solopreneurs and accountants venturing into the world of firm ownership face. 

He’s created a formula that allows owners to quickly and systematically scale their cloud-based firms. To do so, he’s filling in the education gaps by covering topics such as marketing, accounting firm pricing and sales, hiring, task delegation and business model standardization. 

Ryan’s recently launched online learning platform, Future Firm Accelerate, allows him to share his knowledge with firm owners through a coaching model that combines learning modules with small group calls and one-on-one coaching sessions. 

Bigger isn’t always better  

As an early adopter of paperless accounting and a business coach specializing in cloud-based firms, Ryan has some strong opinions about tech stacks.

It’s a topic he regularly covers in Future Firm’s newsletter, which finds its way into the inboxes of over 6,000 accounting firm leaders worldwide.

Ryan is a firm believer in the adage “less is more.”

“I see a lot of distraction amongst firm owners that are chasing after all these different types of [technology],” he tells Stuart. Ryan describes the behavior as “shiny object syndrome” and cautions against adopting new technologies without first developing a game plan for how the new app will grow your business. 

Instead, it’s better to find a few optimized (and well-established) tech solutions that streamline work systems and create efficiencies for customers and employees. 

“A project management system like Karbon is number-one critical,” Ryan says. 

Recommended reading: Designing a fully integrated accounting firm tech stack

Is growth actually limitless? 

As the owner and co-founder of Karbon, Stuart often finds himself engaged in conversations about the infinite scaling possibilities for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies versus service-based businesses like the accounting firms Karbon’s software supports. 

Many accounting firm owners believe their scalability is limited as a service-based business.

But Ryan thinks the idea that accounting firms are limited by their staffing capacities is an outdated notion. Instead, for him, it’s about productizing services, standardizing offerings, and automating where appropriate. 

If you’re running a service-delivery-type model, you want to achieve something that’s not chaotic, that doesn’t drive you into the ground, and that you could add to your growth without sacrificing your personal life.

Ryan Lazanis, Future Firm

Ryan also believes that certain firms are ripe for developing recurring revenue models using online courses.  

He thinks it’s a medium gaining traction in an increasingly remote-based world. 

“I think there’s a play for a more passive, revenue-oriented model. Not to say it’s not a lot of hard work to get there, but I do think that we’re going to see a lot more of this stuff,” Ryan advises.

Recurring revenue opportunities are one way accounting firms can make money through multiple channels. The strategy feeds a firm’s sales funnel while also priming registrants to opt for more premium, personalized financial services in the future. 

Consider it one more lesson Ryan learned from his entrepreneurial father: Don’t wait for print to be dead. Instead, find new ways to satisfy your clients while keeping up with the changing tides.