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.'
A lot of CPA firms have now become more specialized. They have determined that if they are specialized and are actually experts in a certain niche, they will become well-known and more successful.
I believe that the majority of CPA firms continue to be generalists. I have even heard CPA partners joke about the fact that if, for example, an auto dealership inquires about their services and asks “Do you specialize in dealerships?” they can say, “Yes, we do.” because they have ONE dealership on the client list.
There are still a significant number of accounting firms that try to be all things to all people. Consider this from a post by Seth Godin:
“The chances that everyone is going to applaud you, never mind even become aware you exist, are virtually nil. Most brands and organizations and individuals that fail fall into the chasm of trying to be all things in order to please everyone, and end up reaching no one.”
CPA firms have all kinds of reasons why they are in the professional service business. We call it a mission, a vision, a purpose and some firm leaders spend a whole lot of time trying to define it with fancy words and catchy phrases.
I like to simplify, so I just refer to your mission in three words: Help clients succeed.
Helping clients is so much more than preparing an annual tax return or performing the annual audit. It is even more than helping them keep their books clean and up-to-date.
You, as a CPA, have a huge challenge – you sell something that no one wants! Who simply can’t wait to get their taxes prepared or what company loves it when the auditors come in?
What they do want is more of you…. more advice, a sounding-board, an idea person… someone they can go to when they have a question.
Are you proactive? Are you reading what they are reading? Do you know what trends “out there” you should be informing them about? Do you send them links to great articles that they should read?
Here’s a simple example… I recently became aware of a site that helps small business owners find the right software – FitSmallBusiness.com. The have free calculators, such as an SBA Loan Calculator, that you can embed or share with your clients.
Always be searching for ways you can Help Clients Succeed.
Spend a lot of time talking to customers face-to-face. You'd be amazed how many companies don't listen to their customers.
Accountants, for the most part, are not known for the expert selling skills. Most have not worked at honing those skills like a professional sales person has. You have a good excuse….. you did not go into accounting to be a sales person.
If you are in PUBLIC accounting, you are wrong. You provide business owners and individuals with professional services. In the good old days, CPA practitioners just “hung out a shingle” and waited. Not sure if you have noticed but our world is no longer a world where it pays off to wait.
So the next time you are facing that meeting with a potential client, do not allow that nervous fear to build-up inside you. You begin feeling that you are not good enough. They will see right through you. Your competitors are “smoother” and more convincing. Many CPAs have felt this way. You might even feel this way when you are talking to current clients. You hesitate to offer them more services. They won’t want to pay you more money. They don’t see the value and you don’t convey it very well.
You are wrong. You DO have what it takes. You DO provide value. Consider the specialized knowledge you have spent years developing and the amazing experiences you have had helping clients face financial challenges.
You have what it takes and you are worth it. Just do your best.