Best of the Small Business Web: Full of Bean Counters
BY Leigh Buchanan
Results Accountants' Systems, an online community, turns a one-shot workshop for accountants into a lifelong commitment.
Company: Results Accountants' Systems Revenues: $12 million Web address: www.ras-net.com Site launch cost: $146,000 Current technology profile: Microsoft Windows NT, Microsoft Site Server, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Visual Interdev, Allaire HomeSite, O'Reilly WebBoard, Webmaster ConferenceRoom, mIRC, Mal's e-commerce, Sausage Software HotDog Webmaster Suite Why we love it: This on-line community turns a one-shot workshop for accountants into a lifelong commitment Categories of success: Utility & Design
Paul Dunn would be the first to admit that an Outward Bound program for accountants sounds like something out of Monty Python. That's just fine with the founding chairman of Results Accountants' Systems (RAS), who desperately wants his normally mild-mannered clients to break out of their conservative shells and become, in Dunn's words, "heroic." And if he has to dress them up like pastry chefs and have them compete to build the tallest layer cake to achieve that, well, then layer cakes it is.
The cake-construction contest was the crowning event of a recent RAS boot camp, the Pleasanton, Calif., company's signature educational program, held seven times a year in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Dunn's native Australia. The camps, which extend over four intense 14-hour days, are meant to stretch participating accountants' conceptions of themselves and their profession, while showing them how to help their own clients become more profitable. "The typical accountant is a historian -- he'll tell you what you did last year," says Dunn. "We're teaching them that they should be helping their clients create history."
Since RAS's launch in 1992, almost 7,000 boot-camp grads have walked away from the program bearing fond memories and an assortment of books. But there, with those typical conference take-aways, it ended. And that left Dunn dissatisfied. Dunn, a former marketing maven (his partner, Ric Payne, is the accountant), yearned to create a "brand," and he knew that one-shot deals do not a brand make. "We wanted this to be a lifetime partnership with our clients," says Dunn. Such a partnership would benefit RAS's customers by providing them with a fount of continuing education and support. And it would benefit RAS by creating a perpetual revenue stream.
What Dunn envisioned was a kind of petri dish in which to grow the RAS culture. So the company launched a Web site and populated it with articles, white papers, discussion forums, and help areas that Dunn and his staff monitor. The idea was that for a $285 monthly fee accountants could extend the boot-camp experience -- the educational and communal aspects of it anyway -- on-line. Some material lives on the site's surface, but the richest veins lie buried beneath passwords in what Dunn calls "the inner sanctum."
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan