The value of community, automation, and owning your data with Jason Staats

  • Jason Staats, CPA, is a firm owner, YouTuber, podcaster, and founder of the accounting community Realize. Realize helps accounting professionals think collaboratively to solve the problems facing their firms.

  • Automation is at the center of what Jason does, using tools like  Zapier to create no-code or low-code solutions to various accounting functions.

  • Jason believes in the importance of cloud accounting because of the data accessibility it grants. Fluid access to data is critical to success.

Jason Staats wants accountants to do what parents have been encouraging since the sandbox days: share.

His community of accountants, Realize, helps do just that with collaborative learning. 

“As a firm runner, I always learned the most simply by sitting in a room with other firm owners that have firms similar to myself. The most energizing, most helpful conversations I've ever had have been with people who run firms like mine,” Jason says.

And he walks the walk too, sharing knowledge and tips on his YouTube channel. Started during the pandemic, Jason uses it as a way to keep the chatter alive among accountants. And he co-hosts AutomationTown, a podcast to encourage automation across ‘knowledge work’ industries.

Jason chats with Karbon Co-founder and host Stuart McLeod on episode 61 of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, sharing his thoughts on why accountants can benefit most from automation, the importance of getting on the cloud and owning your data, and the power of community.

Realizing value

Jason recognizes how much knowledge overlaps in accounting—and how many gaps there can be. When working with just your firm, there’s a big missed opportunity for shared learning. That’s why Jason started Realize.

With over 300 firms participating across the US, Realize ‘matchmakes’ groups of four to five similar firms. The groups have weekly calls where they help each other work through their problems.

“It's not really an education community as much as it is just a space to give permission, to pull in collaborative people who are open to sharing their life, client setups, how they do renewals, and how they do all these different things. And that's always been the most impactful way to learn for me,” Jason says. 

When making decisions solo, it’s easy for something to seem like a good idea at a given time. But a few months down the road and with some hindsight, it might have been better to make a different choice. That’s what Jason wants to give Realize participants: the chance to share what works and doesn’t work so they can learn from each other. 

And the effect of that sharing is transformative. 

It's just such a fast way to develop confidence in what you do. Because if you're running that firm in a vacuum, there is nothing to anchor yourself to.
Jason Staats, Realize

Automate…and move on

Another big push for Jason is leveraging automation wherever possible, preferably in a low-code or no-code setting. He feels that accountants and their clients are uniquely primed to benefit from automation.

“The accounting system is the backbone of a small business. For most of those companies, it's their first CRM. There's usually more data there than there is anywhere else. And with small businesses, you have that stuff and a whole bunch of different systems. But when it comes to kind of orchestrating where all that data goes, and being able to automate that, I really don't think there's anybody better positioned to be able to make that happen than accountants,” Jason explains.

Automation is especially helpful for accountants wanting to rise above the grind and get into more advisory work. Once the lower tasks are managed by automation, time is freed up for more creative ways to bring in money. 

And now seems to be the best time to focus on automation. Accounting is already running shorthanded as an industry, with more professionals retiring than entering the field. Combine that with labor shortages across all industries, and it leaves some serious personnel gaps. 

Jason thinks that makes an even bigger case for automation.

People have never been more ready to spend on automation because they know the cost of not having the right person or not being able to get a job done.
Jason Staats, Realize

Recommended reading: 8 time-saving accounting automation ideas

Follow the data

Jason and Stuart discuss the importance of using the cloud, particularly when it comes to having access to your data

When Jason first came into his most recent firm, Brenner & Company, the big focus was on getting into cloud-native platforms that allowed full access to accounting data. 

“There are still a lot of tools in our industry, even SaaS tools that don't have an API or won't give you access to your own data. People feel this pain most when they switch systems and they realize all of that data in the old system isn’t going to come over,” Jason explains.

That’s why Jason recommends building your tech stack with data in mind. What stack has worked best in his experience? Solid practice management software, Xero, QuickBooks Online, and Zapier to help with automation and integration.

Putting a stamp on the industry

Though Jason recently left his CPA practice Brenner & Company, he likes to be forward-thinking in all of his endeavors, whether that’s Realize, his podcast, or his YouTube channel. He thinks about hiring much like how he thinks about attracting clients. 

“If you're running a run-of-the-mill firm that just does what people expect, I don't know that that's a very lucrative way to attract people to your flavor of accounting. Now you need to do compelling things within a firm—not only because it's a better way to help our clients and build a more profitable practice—but also because it's your way of putting a stamp on the industry that other people will notice, and then engage with and come work with you in one way or another.”

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