Archive for the ‘Crafting Your Career’ Category

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Show Me The Money

IMG_4817According to surveys over the many years I have been involved with the profession of public accounting, CPA firms are the most profitable businesses.

It’s nothing new but I think sometimes CPA firm owners don’t think much about it, probably because they are used to the profit margins.

I read about it again last week via Accounting Today “Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services are collectively the most profitable industry in the U.S., according to a new ranking.”

The information comes from Sageworks in its annual ranking of the most profitable industries in the U.S.

Most CPAs truly love the work they do. Sure, it involves some long hours, commitment and dedication to client service but being extremely profitable sure is a nice reward.

Share this information inside your firm. Perhaps it will inspire more talented, young CPAs to go down the future partner track.

In the past, some CPAs have actually said to me, if they know how profitable we are they will want more money. Maybe it is time to actually have that conversation.


  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
  • Thomas Edison

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Why People Stay

One of the answers I receive most often when I ask CPA firm team members why they stay with their firm is, “My work. I like the work that I do”

When I ask CPA firm team members what they would say to partners by finishing this sentence: “I wish you would (fill in the blank).” They say, “….give me more challenging work.”

Yet, in firm after firm I observe partners doing manager work, managers doing senior work and seniors looking for work.  Young, bright accountants progress in their careers by being assigned to more challenging engagements.

They won’t like their work if they continue doing the same engagements year after year. They won’t get more challenging work if partners and managers continue to hoard work.

To keep people at your firm, maybe it is time to revisit your scheduling system.

  • Share everything. Don't take things that aren't yours. Put things back where you found them.
  • Robert Fulghum

Monday, August 24th, 2015


Accountability is discussed often and written about frequently within the CPA profession. Partner accountability ranks as a top issue inside firms of all sizes, yet it continues to be one of those wishful thinking type issues. Most partner groups never come to terms with it.

You cannot hold people accountable if you don’t clearly spell-out the expectations. It even applies to something as basic as a firm courtesy policy. Sad to say, in this day and age, we have to set the expectations for basic good manners. The bottom line is that if you don’t spell out which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, you can’t hold people accountable for them.

For the partner group a partner commitment statement might be needed. For the entire firm, defining a courtesy policy, that applies to everyone, might be in order.

Here’s a sample:

CPA Firm Courtesy Policy
If you have a problem with someone, talk about the problem only with them and in private.

Use positive conversation.
Blame a system not a person.
Apologize and make restitution if someone is upset by your actions.
When you talk about a person who is not present, speak as if they are listening to your conversation. Use the person’s name in each sentence in which you refer to them.
Speak very politely using a person’s name – – ‘please’ & ‘thank-you’ as a minimum.
Greet and farewell everyone by name and with eye contact.
Tell the truth.

  • You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.
  • Albert Einstein

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Clients See Accountants As Reactive Rather Than Proactive

drewRead a good article by Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor on the JofA site: Competitive edge: The software vendors’ view.

For years we have been talking with practitioners about being proactive. Most tell us they are caught in the “reactive” trap because they are too busy to plan ahead. They are always putting out fires. Poor excuse.

Here’s an excerpt from the article.

Clients will be looking for help interpreting data and developing strategies for success—a view echoed in the most recent report by The Sleeter Group on what small and midsize businesses want from their CPAs, which found that the top reason clients leave their accounting firm is that it did not provide proactive advice. A recent poll of 393 small business leaders by hardware and software provider Wasp Barcode similarly showed that more than 4 in 10 complained that their accountants are more reactive than proactive.

  • You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
  • Carl Jung

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Put A Lid On It

lidPublic accounting has been long known as a profession where you will work a lot of hours, especially during January through April and during the fall “extension season.”

More and more firms are discovering that all of those long hours are not really necessary. My observation is that the more hours you require, the slower people work.

Studies have found that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours and it drops off so much after 55 hours that there’s no point in working any more. People who work as much as 70 hours per week actually get the same amount done as people who work 55 hours. The “extra” hours are wasted.

Reflect back on last “tax” season. How much time was wasted inside your firm? People arrive late because they know they will be staying late. People bring their breakfast with them and spend the first valuable productivity minutes of the day preparing and eating in the lunch room (and chatting with everyone who comes in to get coffee). Non-productive meetings happen during this busy time. The firm provides dinner so everyone will stay longer. Some people stay, just to eat, because they want to be seen.

Why would your younger accountants aspire to be a partner in the firm when they see partners working 60, 70 even 80 hours per week? Partners complain they have no bench-strength. Not a surprise. Times have changed – people work to live…. most do not want to live to work.

Put a cap on hours – no more than 50 to 55 per week. If you get them in during the week – no work on weekends. Some very successful people have proven that shutting down on weekends has immense benefits.

Read more about how successful people spend their weekends via Travis Bradberry on Forbes.

  • I decided to fly through the air and live in the sunlight and enjoy life as much as I could.
  • Evel Knievel

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Top Issue! – C O M M U N I C A T I O N

I do a lot of survey work for CPA firms. Whether I am surveying partners prior to a retreat, facilitating an employee engagement survey or an upward feedback survey for firm leaders, one topic always ranks at or near top:


Yes, you need to work on that issue and there are a lot of action steps to take during the process. However, for today, I am listing for you some of the best quotes about communication. I hope these inspire you do DO SOMETHING about the communication within your firm.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” – – William Shakespeare

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” – – Plato

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communicationn skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.”- – Jim Rohn

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – – George Bernard Shaw

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – – Peter Drucker

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – – Voltaire

“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and careeer success.” – – Paul J. Meyer

  • When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.
  • Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

It’s Okay To Make Mistakes

hands-typing-4In the world of public accounting, and in many other “worlds,” it is frowned upon when beginners make mistakes.

Managers and partners review the beginner’s work and gives them “review notes” that explain, specifically, what they did wrong. The beginner is expected to read the review notes, fix the mistake and respond. This exchange of information (a form of teaching) is almost always without any face-to-face contact or conversation.

I worked in a firm for many years, we used this system. One partner had the reputation of the review note King. He would document an enormous number of review notes (think 50 or 60)! Part of the official process was to have a face-to-face conversation about the review notes once the exchange of information had happened.

That part (the actual verbal discussion) usually was eliminated or forgotten because the “teacher” was too busy. Not just by one reviewer but by all reviewers.

Yes, review notes can be a teaching tool. However, it might be time to rethink how it actually occurs inside your firm. It doesn’t mean at the end of the process, you send them an email!

Do you have an educational culture that doesn’t deplore mistakes but uses them to encourage and explain what lesson has been learned from the experience? If not, it may be a process that needs to be updated, modernized and improved. Get busy.

  • I think someone should explain to the child that it's OK to make mistakes. That's how we learn. When we compete, we make mistakes.   
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Performance Management

The Importance of Developing & Retaining Team Members

CPA firms employ many new college graduates. The first two to three years are not easy for them. There is so much to learn that they did not learn in college. Some progress rapidly, some more slowly and some struggle.

The same three speeds often apply to the more experienced team members in your firm. Perhaps, an all-star has hit a plateau, stalled and may be in a decline.

It is a challenging situation for managers, partners and supervisors, wIMG_0972hen they feel like the team member has potential but it is going untapped. One important tool that can help illuminate upward movement in the person’s career path is the use of a specific Development Plan.

The Development Plan is not part of the normal goal-setting process. That needs to continue. The Development Plan is separate and distinct. It is the result of a candid discussion and outlines the steps that need to be taken. The manager and the team member, along with a third party (usually the firm administrator/COO, HR director or managing partner in smaller firms) meet with the team member for a very open and honest discussion that results in the firm committing to help the team members face obstacles and make forward progress.

August Aquila, Aquila Global Advisors, recently provided a sample Performance Development/Improvement Plan in his newsletter.

You can also see a sample of a Development Plan that I used when I was working at a growing firm.

  • There is always stuff to work on. You are never there.
  • Tiger Woods

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Always Carve Out Time to Think

With my clients, I continually stress the importance of taking time to THINK. I also blog about it often. I was inspired by the story of Thomas Watson, Chairman & CEO of IBM from 1914 until 1956.

This summer, please take your vacation, take an extended weekend to get away, or occasionally report to the office that you simply won’t be in today… better yet – do all three.

I enjoyed a recent article from Fast Company (by Laura VanderkamIMG_5547) about how to create your own mini-retreat. It’s the story of how an author carved out time for a mini-retreat so she could create, think and work without distractions.

Are you a key leader in a CPA firm? Are you an accountant (young or old) who wants to advance in their career and be a bigger contributor? Then, carve out some time in your busy life to think and create.

Honestly, I am very tired of hearing, “I’m too busy!” every time a great idea needs to be implemented in a growing accounting firm. You choose to be busy, sometimes to avoid the fact that things need to change.

When you carve out some time (even a few hours) here are some tips from the article:

Why? – – Getting away is great but without intention it’s a vacation, not a retreat. Ask yourself what you would like to achieve.

Claim Your Time – – Determine what needs to happen to make getting away for a short time possible. Who will pick up the kids and take care of other daily responsibilities? Mark your personal retreat time on your calendar in advance.

Choose your space – – Check into a hotel alone. Borrow a friend’s vacation house or simply go to a library or to Barnes & Noble for a morning. Maybe your could go fishing or walk on a beach and let your mind wander.

Discipline – – Don’t check your phone. Avoid being disturbed by social media, emails or calls.

Read the entire article here.

  • For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.
  • Lily Tomlin

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Keep Your Relationships Alive & Healthy

If you want to be successful in bringing business to your CPA firm, you must be a relationship-builder. It surprises me when I hear CPAs, working in public practice, say they won’t, can’t or don’t know how to bring new business to the firm. It is simply liking people and getting to know them and letting them get to know you. CPAs are smart, well-educated, and nice. You have amazing knowledge about tax, accounting, audit and business practices. People will be naturally drawn to you – – SO, put yourself out there!

If you are a partner and you are not able to bring in business, why are you a partner?

Here’s a real-life story of how maintaining relationships works:

DruckerSharon Drucker, used to work for the New Jersey Society of CPAs. We met when she was involved in coordinating an event where I was speaking. Over the next few years we stayed in touch via email and social media.

Recently, she contacted me (via LinkedIn) to let me know that she has a new job as Director of Business Development on the new Surgent team (formerly Surgent McCoy). She will be working with firms across the US to identify and meet their professional learning needs, through both live and digital CPE programs.

I’m sure you are aware of Surgent, it has been around for more than 30 years (like me!). Surgent, LLC, is the largest independent provider of continuing education in the United States, offering more webinar, self-study, and live event offerings than any competitor in the marketplace. Their clients include 250 of the top 300 firms nationwide.

The moral of the story: Sharon kept our relationship alive by contacting me. I was delighted because I want to keep my relationships alive and healthy. We will both benefit (and can help each other).

  • Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other is gold.
  • Proverb