Archive for the ‘Crafting Your Career’ Category

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Be Proactive

0 quote for blogIt has been discussed in CPA management circles for years and years….. CPAs are usually more reactive than proactive.

A client calls and you react. A client asks and you respond.

Being proactive means you make things happen, instead of waiting for things to happen.

How many things are you making happen for your clients? How many things are you making happen for your valued employees? How many things are you making happen for your firm (not for yourself alone)?

In his best selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey designated Habit 1: Be Proactive

Read more about Habit 1 here.

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.
  • Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Lighten-Up, It’s The Weekend – CPA Firms Aren’t The Only Ones With Dress Code Challenges.

As noted in the Washington Post this week, the 113th Congress (the group that departed in December, 2014) was pretty notorious for being bad at a lot of things. But now we can add another to the list: biggest slobs. Visit the Post site and you can see the ranking of the most sloppily dressed Congresses of the 21st century.

Now the 114th Congress is in place and John Boehner, on Wednesday, scolded them to stop bustling around the chamber during speeches, stop taking photos during House business, and stop being late to votes. He also reminded members of the importance of wearing “appropriate business attire during all sittings of the House, however brief their appearance on the floor might be.” You can watch his message here on the CBS news site. Boehner noted, “You know who you are” and everyone chuckled.

It has become necessary to frequently lecture Congress on how to act and how to dress. It is done rather routinely.

Sound familiar? Now, those of you who have more longevity in the CPA profession, don’t need to feel so alone. It is my observation that professional, business attire for CPAs has almost entirely disappeared. Times are changing and that’s okay. But, here’s one of my true stories:

I was guest speaker at a state society women’s award luncheon a couple of years ago. The female honorees were dressed in business attire (although it is more difficult to tell with women!). Many male supporters, colleagues, peers and bosses of the females were also in attendance.

I just observed the people (I love to do that… just watch and listen) as they entered the room, chatted and took their seats.

One gentleman who entered caught my eye immediately. He was of average height, weight and features but he was immaculately groomed. Expensive suit (you could just tell by looking), great tie, pressed shirt, polished shoes, good haircut and wonderful posture. I knew the names of the firms that were represented by the award winners. One of the firms was a very high-profile, successful, rapidly growing, large firm. I thought to myself, “I bet he’s with XXXXXX.” I did not know him but, as it turned out, he was the managing partner of the firm I described. He looked successful. Self-confidence shows.

I hope you take all of this lightly – times really are changing. So smile, but remember if you are a leader at your firm, your people watch you so they can judge how to behave (and dress).

Passing thought:  I was going to blog about the Llamas but I think that has been very adequately covered! Have a great weekend!

  • The only rule is don't be boring and dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in.
  • Paris Hilton

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

National Practice Management Conference 2015

AAA NPMC Brochure-1I hope, by now, you are aware of The Association for Accounting Administration. It is an organization founded over 30 years ago to assist the professionals inside a CPA firm that are responsible for management, administration, operations, technology, HR, marketing and all the other things that go on behind the scenes in a busy, proactive, growing firm.

I am continually amazed by the myriad of duties that are handled by a firm administrator in a firm of any size. I also am amazed that most of the time the partners are completely oblivious to the depth and breadth of the tasks handled by the firm administrator and the amount of time involved. This perception not only applies to the firm administrator/office manager but also to the tech person, marketing coordinator, etc.

If you want to enhance the role of your administrative go-to person and other management professionals, invest in their success and send them to the AAA National Practice Management Conference being held this summer in Orlando. This year the conference will be very different.

In June, three distinctive accounting organizations will come together to deliver unique programs within a complete learning experience. AICPA PractitionersTECH+, The Association for Accounting Administration and the Association for Accounting Marketing will host one, big conference with an amazing menu of choices for continuing education and networking with peers.

This is a perfect opportunity for the managing partner, firm administrator, marketing director and technology leader to attend together and really build some momentum for the firm.

I will be speaking on June 8th about The Roles and Responsibilities of the Practice Manager. If you are new to your role in firm management (or even if you are not), I hope you will join me for some back to basics of firm management.

For more information click here.

Click here to register.

  • Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.
  • Isaac Asimov

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Amazing Things Can Happen

I grew up in a hard-working family. Both of my parents worked so they could provide the type of life-style they thought was beneficial to our family and also enjoyable for them. When I observe how young families live now it seems very lavish compared to what I experienced as a child.

My parents just expected (no doubt about it) that when I got out of school, I would work hard and never take advantage of any employer.

Maybe that’s why it puzzles me when I hear accounting firm employees whine about, what I call, hard work. Mostly, I think they are whining about the longer hours necessary during certain times of the year. All professions have “busy” times

My personal story is a success story about hard work (and perseverance). I found a position, a job, a career that I loved and I worked hard to improve. It paid off. Simple as that.

If you are in the early part of your career in public accounting, it can be a glorious time – you are in demand! Firms are hiring. Firms are doing many great things to be sure they retain top talent. The work is challenging and interesting and becoming a CPA means you become “a most trusted advisor” to so many interesting businesses and people.

Think about this from Conan O’Brien:

“All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” – – Conan O’Brien

  • I just want to say to the kids out there watching. You can do anything you want in life. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it too.
  • Conan O'Brien

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Want A Strong Brand? – Your Culture Drives It

0 Avatar slide for blogLast week I wrote about how your processes and procedures (systems) are driven by your culture. There is another important thing about culture – – it is the engine behind your brand. In fact, I think culture and brand go hand-in-hand for growing CPA firms.

Want to assess your culture? Sit quietly in the next partner or management meeting and just listen. Bring your lunch and sit off to the side alone in the lunch room and just listen (pretend you are reading a book!). The next time your leadership team is discussing an important decision, just listen…. and assess how decisions are made.

As Shawn Parr, in a recent article noted, “A vibrant culture provides a cooperative and collaborative environment for a brand to thrive.” I like his comparison of Zappos (fast-growing, electric culture that’s inclusionary, encouraging and empowering) with American Apparel (a company with a well-documented and highly dysfunctional culture).

I have met so many accounting firms that fit into BOTH categories. I have been so encouraged by some progressive firms that are on the leading edge (not the bleeding edge). Their team members love working for the firm and realize what a great profession they are part of.

On the other hand, I have also talked with many firms that are struggling. Their experienced CPAs hide from confrontation. They love status quo. They wonder why they have turnover.

Building a vibrant and strong firm culture is not easy and it takes time. Leaders must believe the vision and live the values.

Rally your firm leaders and have them to commit to taking the first step. It’s an easy one, beginning this week, every boss (partners and managers) will set a great example! They must acknowledge that they are being watched and that it is their responsibility to earn their employees’ trust.


  • Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.
  • Albert Einstein

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Making Promotion Decisions Based On Technical Expertise

It is a very common occurrence in the CPA profession. You promote someone to “manager” because they have developed great technical skills and they have attained a certain level of seniority.

I’m sure you have heard of the Peter Principle – a person gets promoted to a level where they are truly incompetent. If a person is a great accountant, we assume they are ready to lead other people.

There’s a good article via Fast Company that suggests how to spot future leaders.

Look for:

The Advisor – People who are sought out by others for insight and advice.

The Fixer – An employee with a “never say die” attitude, who is always looking for solutions.

The Motivator – People who can inspire others toward a common cause.

The Listener – Someone who takes the time to “take in” what’s going on around them.

The Specialist – Someone who is a jack-of-all trades will likely never excel at any one thing. Leaders know their strengths and focus on those areas.

The Trainee – Leadership candidates need to be trainable.

The Prioritizer – They don’t spend their days putting out fires. They spend their time on what’s important in the long run.

I know you are aware of the big succession issues in the CPA profession. Begin this year to invest in the success of your firm’s managers. They need training and education on how to manage, nurture and mentor people – – not just how to efficiently prepare and/or review a tax return.

Take this challenge directly to your managers. Get them involved in developing an action plan that will help them grow and develop as managers of people.

If you are a manager….. take this challenge to your partners and offer to champion a leadership development program at your firm.


  • Growing other leaders from the ranks isn't just the duty of a leader, it's an obligation.
  • Warren Bennis

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Key CPA Firm Issue – Retention. Are You Doing The Right Things Or Just Things?

For years now, in the CPA profession, we have been doing all kinds of warm and fuzzy stuff for our employees.

  • Let’s use Starbucks coffee rather than the grocery store variety.
  • Let’s give them flex hours and core hours so they can sleep late or stay late – their choice.
  • Let’s give them really nice portfolios with the firm logo.
  • Let’s give them firm logo jackets, sweatshirts, t-shirts and coffee mugs.
  • Let’s give them an extra week of vacation.
  • Let’s subsidize their health club dues.
  • Let’s pay them for referral leads.
  • Let’s buy a real popcorn machine for the break room.

Get the picture? Sound all too familiar?

Want to truly engage your people? First step:  Observe, research and solicit information to determine what motivates your BEST performers.

Many studies tell us that engaging millennial employees it is simply being more inclusive. Millennial top performers want to be in the loop, they want transparency AND opportunity. Older, experienced employees in your accounting firm have become accustomed to all the mystery, secrecy and complacency.

Major change is difficult for some CPAs. I like to recommend taking baby steps to improve things inside your firm. It can be a small step but at least TAKE THAT SMALL STEP.

Do this: Take one of your high-profile engagements, one that is challenging and interesting, away from one of your long-time managers (who has had it for years) and assign it to a not-so-long-time millennial (that’s someone under 35 years of age).

That will do more to engage an up-and-comer than all the free bagels you can buy.


  • When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.
  • Simon Sinek

Friday, February 13th, 2015

First Female CEO of a Big Four Accounting Firm

I like the headline. To be honest, I had to chuckle when I read the opening line of the Accounting Today article, because they called one of the Big Four an accounting firm, something that the big 4 seem to shy away from. And, realistically, they are much more than accounting firms.

CathySMSeriously, I love what Cathy Engelbert, new CEO at Deloitte said about fostering women leaders in the accounting profession. I also definitely support her comments about taking risks. I find that women in accounting whine about being passed over for leadership positions, yet they shy away from taking risks, branching out and learning more.

Comments from Engelbert about making the most of experiences she was given:

“For me, this was about the experiences that I was given. I took some risks in my career to get a wider variety of experiences to be considered for a role like this, including sponsors, and partners who sat in rooms when there were deployment decisions being made on difference experiences. They would say, ‘Let’s let Cathy do this.”

We often talk about partner complacency at many successful accounting firms. I also believe that there is female manager complacency. They get promoted to manager, their earnings continually climb – – so why change?

You, as my audience, know how much importance I place on mentoring. Be sure to assess it inside your firm – work on making mentorship and sponsorship a larger part of your culture. Here’s Engelbert’s comments:

“Sometimes if you have a mentor who’s not in the room at the time they’re making decisions about the experiences you might be eligible for, you don’t get the development you want. Mentorship is really important for your own personal development, making sure that you’re seeking the right opportunities and then having the right people in the room when those decisions are being made about your deployment or the opportunities you might have.”

I urge you to read the Accounting Today article and share it with others inside your CPA firm. Be sure you take note of the comments about audit.


  • Our young people are excited that we're using technology in different ways to deliver the audit.
  • Cathy Engelbert

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

CPA Firm Leaders Does Not Mean Just Partners

MelindaThere are some very valuable professionals, not CPAs, working in all successful CPA firms. Sometimes we take them for granted. Sometimes we don’t acknowledge the influential and important role they fill. Sometimes we don’t invest in their success.

Last week, at Winning Is Everything, Melinda Guillemette shared with CPA firm marketers – Beyond Your Marketing Role, Leadership as a Differentiator.

I really like her comments on What Do Leaders Do? – – it applies to HR directors, firm administrators, tech leaders as well as marketers – professionals often doing amazing things behind the scenes in accounting firms.

What Do Leaders Do?

  • Leaders motivate and inspire, both by words and personal conduct
  • They take risks
  • They see and communicate the long view, both opportunities and risks
  • Leaders are truthful and optimistic
  • They sometimes sacrifice personal interest for a greater good
  • Leaders help others stretch their boundaries
  • They make others want to follow
  • They SERVE. This is good news for marketers-as-leaders because – – You are in your firms to help the organization as a whole meet its goals. You are in your firms to help individuals achieve their goals
  • Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.
  • Albert Schweitzer

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

This Post Is For Accounting Majors & Interns

Man DonkeyConsider your future. Don’t just let it happen because of various circumstances. Your professors and maybe even your parents are pushing you to take the job that pays the most money. They want you to work for a firm with great name recognition that will eventually look good on your resume down the road.

Is that how you want begin your career? Will that make YOU happy? Think about where and how you want to work. Not everyone is content with being a grinder. Many young people want to work where they have more freedom and a bigger voice in their workplace.

If you are an accounting major and interested in public accounting (I hope you are because there are great rewards in public accounting), be sure to explore all of your options.

If you are a top student and have a decent personality and work ethic – EVERY CPA firm wants you and will court you.

Be sure to consider, research and talk to small to mid-size firms. Contemplate what you want your day to look like. You’ll be spending a lot of hours at work.

You will need a lot of guidance and hand-holding during the first couple of years. Just being a good student with good grades won’t lead to success. You need help. Large national and huge regional firms have “universities” to train you. That’s nice and I am glad but sometimes you just feel like one of the herd. Look those firm over and determine if that fits YOU. Also, seek to find a firm that will help you, give you more personal attention, guide you… but not smother you nor pigeon-hole you.

My observation after many years working in and with CPA firms is that you will more quickly gain knowledge, experience, and expertise in a very wide range of duties/tasks/projects at a firm that is small to mid-size. You will get exposed to a broader view of how to serve SMEs.

If you are wondering about size of firms, here is how the AICPA classifies them for their Top Issues Survey:

  1. Sole Practitioners
  2. Firms with 2 to 5 professionals
  3. Firms with 6 to 10 professionals
  4. Firms with 11 to 20 professionals
  5. Firms with 21 or more professionals

I consider 1 thru 4 as small to mid-size. Just a qualifier, it’s not only size, it has a lot to do with the vision of the owners. I know 2 partner firms that are vibrant, exciting, growing and their small team loves it there. I know firms with 12 partners who are stuck in the past.

Do your home work before you accept an offer.

  • Work to become, not to acquire.
  • Elbert Hubbard