Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Smaller Firms

“To this day, I don’t like people walking on stage not looking good. You have to look good. If you feel special about yourself then you’re going to play special.” – Benny Goodman

Are you a smaller firm or are you looking for one to acquire?

Here’s something to think about from the recent AICPA Private Companies Practice Section and Succession Institute LLC survey:

Considering that our profession has roughly 44,000 firms, with about 600 having 21 professionals or more, we believe that the merger market for small firms is about to heat up in the short term, and the marketplace is likely to get very soft towards the end of that five-year period because of the increase in the number of firms in play.

If you think you will “merge up” when the time comes, you better get your house in order.

I have the good fortune to work with many smaller firms and these firms are focused on streamlining processes, training, technology and profitability no matter if they intend to remain independent or are preparing to merge up.

  • "No matter how great the talent or efforts, somethings just take time. You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant."
  • Warren Buffett

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Bringing In New Business

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin

Sally, a new manager in a growing CPA firm has just been told that to become a partner in the firm, she must be able to bring new business and increase revenue for the firm.

Sally is in shock. She had never realized that it was absolutely necessary to bring in business if she wanted to be a partner. After all, it is the life-blood of the firm.

Here are three simple tips to help people like Sally in your firm. It might also be very helpful to people who are already partners!

Build a relationship first. You meet someone at a Chamber event or other business mixer. They appear to have a thriving business. Talk to them about business, in general. Follow-up with an invitation to lunch or breakfast but don’t try to “sell” anything until you have connected, met and established common ground. Yes, this might take a while. Get to know them before you sell them.

Listen. Most prospective clients will be anxious to tell you what they want. Listen to them and then be prepared to tell them what they really need. Good listening skills are a critical part of selling.

Tell stories. Tell them success stories about the firm’s team members (including partners). Tell them how a specific team member has succeeded. Tell them success stories about how your firm has solved business challenges for clients. Tell them how you would like to help them (not how you want to sell them services).

You can also use these three steps to win clients via online activities.

Relationship: Use blogs, articles, news items, tax updates and other helpful information to build a relationship. That means you must have a website that is engaging – not something all about the firm. A site that people will visit often because it is helpful.

Listen: Make it easy for them to submit a question or make contact online. Make searching for how to make contact very easy. Offer a free initial consultation that can be done in person, via phone, via email or online video.

Stories: Use interesting bios about your people and how they have become successful. Tell success stories via tweets, Linkedin, Facebook even Instagram. Develop testimonials from some of your best clients and post them on your website. Testimonials are so powerful. The prospect might think, “Oh, Joe Smith uses this firm. His business seems to be growing like crazy!”

  • "Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world. "
  • Robert McKee

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016


“Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill

You work very hard. You care about your firm. You want things to get better and better.

To accomplish this, no matter what your title, you need to be an indefatigable person.

Indefatigable definition: persisting tirelessly.  Synonyms: tireless, untiring, unflagging, unwearied, determined, tenacious, industrious, hard-working, unswerving, unfaltering, unshakable, resolute, relentless and so on.

But my favorite description is persistent. You must persevere!

Don’t ever give up hope.

  • "Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Let Your Admin Do the E-file Tracking

sample-form-8879Sometimes, inside busy CPA firms, partners and managers do too much of what the admin team should be doing (led by a qualified firm administrator).

Sometimes, inside busy CPA firms, if you have the right admin team, they can do so much more than mindless, routine duties.

If you do not have the right admin team, that’s your fault.

E-filing (and tracking the e-filing) is a great example. When it is their responsibility, they take it very seriously and are sticklers for following policy.

Here’s what some experienced firm administrators had to say when asked about their e-file tracking process:

Sarah Galley, Firm Administrator, Pohlman & Talmage CPAs, Inc.

Our admin is responsible for this process. They ensure we receive the signed 8879 forms back and then they file the returns. We track these using GoFileRoom. If we are having trouble getting an 8879 form back they track the client down. We try to keep the partner out of it.

Tammy Boring, Firm Administrator, Snyder & Company

Our admin staff does all of our e-filing of both returns & extensions. We use GoFileRoom, so all of our due date monitoring is done through there.

Karen Farino, Firm Administrator, Pasquesi Sheppard, LLC

Efiling the tax returns is done by the partner. Extensions are e-filed by partners and staff. Our admin staff releases tax returns to e-file once 8879s are received, then they check for the acceptance. Extensions are also checked by admin staff for acceptance. Everything is tracked in CCH Practice. We rely on the information in CCH and have never had a problem. We also check the e-file system for rejections and any returns that are in the e-file system but haven’t been released just to make sure.

  • "Accuracy builds credibility."
  • Jim Rohn

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016


“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” – Vince Lombardi

Want a simple way to train and develop your people? Try repetition.

Think about how your new college recruits learn to become skilled accountants and CPAs. In many firms, it goes like this. You train them on basic auditing. You may send them to a 3-day training course sponsored by your firm association, state society or inside your own firm. You may do it online. But it is very focused.

Then they are assigned to engagement after engagement where they do the same thing over and over until they “get it.” Then they receive a more difficult task and they do it over and over until they become proficient, and so on. They become more and more skilled, they ask great questions and learn from others, they make mistakes and correct them and over time their confidence and skill become top notch.

People learn from repetition. It is much more effective than a one or two-day training session.

You expect your managers to bring in new business and they aren’t very good at it. This also applies to some partners, they are not able to do the basic function of a partner – perpetuate the firm. Why not apply repetition to teaching people in your firm how to sell.

You best rainmakers are the teachers. Ask them to always have a shadow (less experienced person) when they meet with a client. When they meet with a prospect. When they meet with a referral source. When they attend a business networking event. When they attend a charitable fund-raising function. When they attend a Chamber of Commerce meeting. You get the idea.

Expose them over and over again to business development situations. Have them try it on their own – over and over again. Repetition solidifies skills.

  • "Don't join an easy crowd. You won't grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform are achieve are igh."
  • Jim Rohn

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

A New Way to Look at Leadership Development

2494727126_c8e57ee712_m“It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

Many firms, in the CPA profession, are very generous with training dollars and do invest in sending future leaders to leadership development training outside the firm.

What if you are doing it all wrong? Training away from the firm just might be the wrong road to travel. How real is the “world away from the office” as compared to everyday life inside the firm?

Consider creating a culture where leadership training happens by example and by real-life, daily experiences at your firm.

In her article on the HBR site, Deborah Rowland explains, Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders.

Consider making your leadership training more experimental and influence future leaders’ “being,” not just their “doing.”

We just might need the educational equivalent of Sherpas, people able to carry part of the load in order to guide future leaders toward their personal and organizational summits.

Do you have some Sherpas already inside your firm? Take the time to read the article and apply it to your firm.

(Photo: ilker ender via Flickr Creative Commons)

  • "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."
  • J. K. Rowling

Monday, November 21st, 2016

I’m Too Busy

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” – Socrates

Last week during a partner retreat I was facilitating, the “busy” topic came up and was explored.

The participants all indicated that they truly felt they were too busy to focus on some of the important challenges facing the firm. They didn’t like feeling like that, but never the less, they did.

When you dig deep into why you are too busy it usually uncovers the fact that it is because of the choices you make.

Kids these days are scheduled almost 24/7. When do they have time to play outside, wade in a stream or collect beautiful colored leaves in the fall?

Adults have work that is filled with answering emails and attending meetings plus responsibilities on the home front, such as raising children. When do they have time to actually think, daydream, relax and examine the life they are living?

Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” What did he mean by that? Here’s an explanation:

Socrates‘ claim that the unexamined life is not worth living makes a satisfying climax for the deeply principled arguments that Socrates presents on behalf of the philosophical life. The claim is that only in striving to come to know ourselves and to understand ourselves do our lives have any meaning or value.

In your CPA work life, if you are always saying you are so busy or too busy, why would clients and referral sources refer others to you? Make it a rule to never say the “B” (busy) word in the office. Anyone caught saying BUSY must drop $1.00 into the money jar in the break room. Soon you will have enough for a great party!


  • "It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?"
  • Henry David Thoreau

Friday, November 18th, 2016

Solutions For CPA Firm Leaders Newsletter

My November newsletter went out yesterday afternoon. Here are the articles:

     Let Clients Know Your Expectations

     The Importance of Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

     Keller Services – Monthly Advisory Sessions

If you did not receive a copy and would like to be added to the listing, you can sign-up here.


Thursday, November 17th, 2016

What CPA Firm Partners Should Do

“Timid salespeople have skinny kids.” – Zig Ziglar

As I am wrapping up my retreat season, some things have been on my mind. When facilitating retreats, I often see the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

As your firm grows, be sure to free-up the managing partner and other partners from being responsible for management items. Hire people to build and maintain the management infrastructure and hold the partners accountable for partner-type activities.

CPAs were not and are not trained in HR, marketing, administration, technology… they are trained accountants and financial advisors. They should focus on what they are good at and do what the most skilled CPA partners do. That is, take care of clients, train and mentor younger accountants and bring in new business for the firm. Even if they are not strong rainmakers, they do have strong client relationships and should focus on increased services for current clients.


  • "If you are not taking care of your client, your competitor will."
  • Bob Hooey

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Are You Prepared For Feedback?

“Everything depends upon execution; having just a vision is no solution.” – Stephen Sondheim

We hear it all the time. Younger people want feedback and lots of it. They want feedback at the push of a button. They want recognition daily.

In accounting firms, many people will be receiving some feedback on their performance as the year closes out and we enter into busy season 2017.

When I was responsible for the performance of about twenty people, one person stands out in my mind. The one who was better prepared than I was!

If you will be talking about your performance with someone soon (and this applies to partners discussing their performance for 2016 with the managing partner), please be prepared. It’s so much more meaningful if it is a two-way conversation.

  1. Look over your goals and be prepared to discuss the ones you accomplished and the ones you did not.
  2. Think about your job description and your role in the firm. Are you meeting expectations? Have suggestions ready on what it will take to improve your skills (no matter how much experience you already have).
  3. Reflect upon your own performance. Do a self-evaluation.
  4. Be prepared with specific examples of where you did something really well and also where there is an example of something you could have done a lot better.
  5. Be sure to have some goals already identified for the coming months.
  6. Be prepared with a list of questions about things that have been on your mind.

Are you bored with the same old performance feedback system? Is it too labor intensive? Does the firm need to update the system? Don’t hesitate to give your opinion during the performance conversation. Maybe you can help the firm make changes to keep pace with current trends.

  • "I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen."
  • Frank Lloyd Wright