Those are just the first two conflicting statements I often address when working with CPAs in public practice. Here’s some more:
Managing an accounting firm means:
You have to be more flexible.
You have to have more structure.
You must be able to talk in a way that is inspiring and motivating.
Don’t do all the talking, it’s important to be a great listener.
You must inspire young people to stay with the firm.
You should draw upon the experience of older accountants and not rush them out the door.
You have to provide quick turnaround for your clients.
You should take your time, you can’t risk making mistakes.
You want the team to achieve lots of billable hours.
You want the team to achieve great realization.
You want young people to be able to take on more challenging work.
You allow managers to cling to the most challenging work.
You expect the entire team to follow all the policies and procedures
You, a leader, don’t set a good example by adhering to firm policies and procedures.
What I usually observe is that a great number of firms make it all too complicated. They spin their wheels, procrastinate, micro-manage, involve too many people in trivial decisions and make important decisions too slowly. They want the firm to grow and prosper by doing the same old things they have always done.
Make some changes now… before too much of 2015 passes by. Take some risk. It can be fun and exciting (and profitable).
Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Kristen Rampe, CPA. I am impressed with her down-to-earth, real-life approach to helping CPAs become better. Yes, better communicators but also better at so many of the other things that make accountants pursuing a career in public accounting successful.
I always enjoy talking with Kristen when our paths cross at conferences and meetings because she has actual, recent experience working in public accounting. She worked for the Big Four for 3 years, worked in industry and then 7 years at a regional firm. During her journey, she of course developed the accounting technical skills but she also developed and enjoyed the other important skills that a CPA needs to be a success in public accounting – the “success skills”! (Some call them “soft” skills.)
Here’s my interview with Kristen:
You have a lot of experience, what types of clients have you worked with in the past?
I’m fortunate to have a great mix of clients. I do leadership programs, training and practice consulting for CPA firms with 12 – 2,000 employees. I also enjoy sharing my work more broadly through industry news sources and associations by working with the AICPA and AccountingWeb, to name a few.
Why did you decide to launch a solo consulting practice for professional service firms?
Like any good GenX/Millenial (I was born in a grey area), I wanted to do what I loved. For me that was helping CPA firms build great teams and great clients.
My favorite part of working as a practice professional was creating dynamic and fun teams that had the happiest clients – the kind of teams that that shared an apartment in Paris for three weeks and had clients asking for us by name…five years later. I figured, why not bring that to the world rather than just the firm I was working at.
You do a lot of speaking, what is your favorite topic to address for CPAs?
Delegating Effectively. Most CPAs know they need to delegate in order to be successful at some level, but many have a hard time figuring out how or giving themselves permission to delegate. It can run in the face of billable hours, efficiency and quality…on the surface. But once we dive into the topic participants understand how delegating actually improves those metrics.
Watching my workshop participants come away from our time together feeling inspired to take their delegation further and understanding the benefits this has is one of my favorite moments. We also talk about Saying No when I cover this topic, and that’s a huge crowd-pleaser too.
What are some specific things you do to help CPAs build great teams?
We have fun together. In my workshops, we are out of our seats a lot, bouncing inflatable animal beach balls throughout the room, and laughing often. I even had one participant write “I’m not a fan of cheesy team exercises, but found some of the things we did fun.” If I can convince the haters that team-building is fun, I’ve done my job right.
One other huge benefit is that I give teams a chance to get together and use their minds in a space that’s free from the day-to-day stresses of client work. It’s amazing how little time teams get to work on themselves versus the project-at-hand. When teams get to work together in a way that develops their relationships, it makes communication and collaboration easier when they’re back to the grind.
What are some specific things you do to help CPAs build great clients?
I help them see that client service and brand is a true differentiator. Often this takes the form of a workshop where we explore the different touch-points a client has with a firm (e.g. engagement letters, document requests, issue resolution process, client gifts, etc.), how those touch-points are adding or detracting from the client relationship, and what CPAs can do about it as it relates to their organization’s goals.
There are so many opportunities to further client relationships, and not all require going out to lunch, though I am a huge fan of client lunches as part of the overall package!
What advice would you give a young, female accountant who wants to find a sponsor?
In finding a sponsor, look for someone who:
Knows you do great work and appreciates your contributions.
You respect and want to be associated with.
Has influence at your organization and can create opportunities for you.
If you’ve found someone like this:
Ask them for challenging opportunities and projects that are outside of your comfort zone.
Make your sponsor look good, they are putting their reputation on the line for you, you must come through.
If no one immediately comes to mind, think of the person who is closest candidate and up your game with them. Do better work, be more visible – once you knock their socks off a few times you should be able to convert a colleague to a sponsor with ease.
I heard you’re writing a book, tell me more about that.
I am! It’s a humor book for current and former CPAs called Accounting Dreams. Because what could be funnier than accounting dreams or dreams accountants have, right?! But really, it’s about the challenges CPAs have with clients, and vice versa – showcased in a series of photos with captions about what you would LOVE to hear your client say.
I was inspired to write the book because there’s I believe there’s always room for more laugher and fun in the world, and especially our profession. One of my favorite pages is a photo of a client meeting with the caption “Wow, great rates! Who knew accounting fees could be so reasonable.” Which, generally speaking, is never going to happen, but this page highlights a dreamy situation in which a client feels that way.
Curious and fun-loving CPAs can find details about release dates and upcoming sample pages on my website.
How are things going for the firm? – – Something I naturally ask when conversing with CPA firm leaders. I ask this question very often and direct it to various people working behind the scenes in CPA firms, not just partners.
Here’s the response I almost always receive. First, a big sigh followed by a lament on how busy they are.
“Sorry, I didn’t get back to you sooner, things are crazy here.”
“I didn’t get a chance to call you this morning, we were in a meeting and it ran over.”
“I can’t get all my vacation in this summer, I’m just too busy.”
“I won’t be going to the conference this year, I just can’t get away from the firm.
Here’s my advice: GET AWAY FROM THE FIRM!
Message to partners: Young people don’t want to become a partner in your firm because YOU are always TOO BUSY. You might even be scaring new clients away because you always appear SO busy. Some of your best clients hesitate to refer their friends to your firm because you are already TOO busy.
It’s catching and it spreads and soon you have a culture of BUSYNESS. If you don’t stay until 10:00p during tax season you might get frowned upon.
Focus on delegation and efficiency. I see a huge amount of time wasted inside CPA firms. Being too busy is often a reflection of personal choice.
Get a large jar or fish bowl and put it in the lunch room. Every time someone get’s caught SAYING the work BUSY they must deposit 25 cents into the jar. Maybe if you don’t say it all the time and talk about it all the time it won’t become a dark cloud that continually hangs over your head or a hurdle that blocks your way toward real progress.
Most of your firm’s clients probably fall into the category of “small business.” As you well know, these companies need lots of on-going support and guidance from their CPA.
The AICPA has launched a microsite: www.cpapowered.org to help these millions of small businesses around the country. The new site is FULL of valuable videos and resource guides beneficial to both new and experienced small business owners.
Be sure to check out the informational videos page. I especially like – Why a CPA! page.
Share this resource with your entire team and have them spread the word to your valuable clients.
If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.
When BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, evaluates potential stock purchases, its managers look at all the usual financial metrics. Guess what they also look at… something difficult to assess – employee sentiment.
If employees are happy a company seems the perform much better. No surprise there.
If YOUR employees are happy, they will take excellent care of your clients and your firm will thrive.
I can absolutely sense it when I visit firms. Sometimes, people seem very serious, rather gloomy. Think of Eeyore (Oh me, oh my…). In other firms, there is laughter, smiling, joking – – you can feel happiness and camaraderie.
This morning, do some MBWA (managing by wandering around). Try to capture a sense of how people feel. Sure, this time of year they will be very busy and somewhat stressed. How do they dispel that stress, through whining or through laughter?
To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.
After you read his column, take some action so that the same clients won’t abuse you next year. I always think about something David Maister stressed – – – Why would you work for clients you don’t even like? Many CPA firms continue to serve clients that make everyone in the office cringe.
In my experience, most partners are willing, and even eager, to “fire” clients…. but only those on the other partners’ list of clients. So, year after year partners talk about out-placing certain clients but never seem to get around to doing it.
Here’s an easy way to identify the clients who need to go – – ask all staff members to submit three client names that need to be fired. Compile the votes and out-place the top three. Do this every year.
Yes, some firms do fire high-revenue clients. They are not worth the risk or the headaches. And, in this time of talent wars, it’s not worth losing talented people because of clients behaving badly.
Jeffrey Gitomer focuses on sales. If you are a CPA, you are a salesperson! So, learn to be a great one! I hope you follow Gitomer and absorb just some of what he promotes!
I became acquainted with his stuff when, many years ago, I read his book, The Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude. I bought copies for my firm’s entire administrative team. Maybe you should, too.
I have read almost every one of his books since then. Sure, he’s “sales” but what he says certainly applies to CPA professionals and their teams.
I think this video is a great message for YOU.
How do you know when to give up on a prospective client? Do they fail to respond to your proposal?
Keep in mind that you are building a relationship, not just making a sale. Take JUST TWO MINUTES to listen to Gitomer. He’s talking about demonstrating value and about not being defensive when following-up – – be offensive.
Why do they want to buy? Are you just hoping?
You should already know when they want to buy, how much they want to pay and that you’re “their person!”
I hope you are wondering about what your clients think. Surveys tell us that CPA clients often state that they would like their CPA to be more proactive. Maybe they will be looking elsewhere for service later this year.
I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.
I talk a lot about processes and procedures, some people call them protocols; some call them systems. They are the guidelines established (after much research and discussion) inside your firm to efficiently get the work out the door.
Perhaps your systems are outdated or even ignored. They are very important. However, there is something much more important that drives the systems inside your CPA firm – it’s culture. I put it bluntly when talking with CPAs in public practice – – If your culture supports partners, or others, being exempt from following systems, to hide from change, to live in the days of “this is the way we have always done it!”, no amount of excellent systems will help you serve your clients (and your people) effectively. Your competition will leave you behind.
Tom Peters says: Forget the words culture, vision, stories, narratives. Skip the pseudo-technical language. Don’t call consultants or coaches. How about plain-vanilla-insanely-important-self-managed-Give-a-Shitism? Give-a-shit… about each other, about the work, about the community.
Have the leaders and followers inside your firm slipped into the dangerous rut of getting the work out the door and thinking that good is good enough? Have some lost site of a culture of urgency to serve the clients better than any other accounting firm?
One of the two core values instilled by Dr. William Mayo (Mayo Clinic) in 1910 was, effectively practicing team medicine. Designing the practice around the patient, or “patient-centered care,” as some call its rare manifestation today, was the other core value. At Mayo, upon occasion prominent M.D.s have been asked to leave because of their inability to fully grasp the team-practice concept.
If you have partners at your CPA firm who are never “on board,” who hide behind “Devil’s Advocate,” do you ask them to leave? Or, does the firm slowly sink into mediocrity?
In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. Pick a general direction and implement like hell.
This is one of those “back in the day” posts that perhaps younger people in the CPA profession tire of hearing. Yet, I still believe that some of the old ways might be the best ways.
I grew up in public accounting under the stewardship of a highly-professional, disciplined, intelligent, dictator-style managing partner, Luke Ware. Luke “grew-up” in a Big 8 firm and I am just assuming that many of his actions/procedures were developed there. Our firm was small then. It ranged from 11 to about 22 people while Luke was the boss.
Client service was the focus, yet the clients were trained. That’s what we called it. They were trained to be ready when our CPAs arrived for an audit or review. All of the business owners were 1040 clients. They knew when their appointment was each year (yes, they came into the office to meet with the partner/manager) and they brought their organizer and all their documents with them (well, most of their documents).
Notice I said, “trained.” We trained our clients via communicating their responsibilities as part of our relationship. What we really did was clearly communicate our expectations. I hope you are doing the same.
In a busy, growing accounting firm it is the manager’s duty (or the partner) to be sure the client is ready for the auditors when they arrive on the appointed day. It is their duty to be sure the client understands their commitments to the beneficial relationship.
Some steps you might use:
Set an appointment date when you expect their data to arrive
Teach them how you would like to receive the data
Provide reminders as the date nears
Talk about these steps with all new clients as you add them to your client list
We sent an appointment card with the organizer (the kind they could stick on their refrigerator). These days you can send an appointment invitation via email. Each 1040 client received a reminder call the day before the 1040 appointment to remind them of the appointment (much like your dentist or eye doctor does now). If they didn’t have “all their stuff,” we told them to come anyway and bring what they did have so we could get started on the return.
As our firm grew, we got away from some of this because of the “time” involved in meeting with the client and the convenience of just having them drop-off or send-in their information. We often use client service to hide the fact that we really want less time in the job. Meeting with a client, even just a 1040, face-to-face once a year often opened the door to additional services – that was part of the plan.
What’s your plan? Do you permit clients to sabotage your schedule? These days I recommend developing a commitment statement between the firm and the client outlining the expectations from both and making it a discussion tool early in the relationship.
I have always believed that clients are impressed by a CPA firm that appears very professional, has defined procedures, communicates effectively and is an example of how you run a highly-successful business.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'