“Keep thy airspeed up, lest the earth come up and smite thee.” – William Kershner, pilot and author of numerous flight manuals between 1958 and 2002 that are regarded as “a must for any person learning to fly.
How are you doing at keeping your firm’s “airspeed” up? Some firms continually struggle with implementation. I almost always tell my audiences that what I am about to share with them is the same thing consultants have been sharing with them for about 20 years! There are some variations and of course some current trends but the basic concepts remain the same. Here are a few:
Treat your people well and they will take great care of your clients.
Hire the best, don’t settle for mediocre people. As Jack Welch says, “The team with the best players wins.”
Embrace practice development (marketing, sales, building relationships).
Get rid of the bad apples (they ruin the whole barrel) – – applies to clients and staff.
Hold partners accountable.
Your admin team can make you or break you.
Try things! Do things! Take action!
I want your firm to feel the exhilaration of flight. I don’t want “the earth to come up and smite thee”.
More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.
I work with CPAs and their firms. I visit many, many CPA firm websites on a continual basis. For many, it is definitely time to rebrand.
My clients and other CPAs I meet ask me, “What are other firms doing?” or “Can you give me a good example?”. Thanks to my friends at LBMC, headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, I can.
Here is a video about their new rebranding project.
LBMC is a very large firm and can afford to spend a lot more money than many other firms. That’s no excuse for you not to consider rebranding. You can do it! Establish a budget and go forward. It is one step in becoming a firm of the future.
If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.
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:
Sharon 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.
I was very fortunate to be speaking at the co-located AICPA PractTech, Association for Accounting Administration and Association for Accounting Marketing Conference in Orlando during June. One of the best things about it was that I got the chance to re-connect with many of my marketing friends and also attend some of the AAM sessions.
I was delighted to read a recent blog post by Lee Frederiksen of Hinge, professional services marketing, listing his five top observations on accounting marketing in 2015:
Content marketing is rapidly becoming the approach of choice.
Online marketing is more important than ever before and firms know it.
“The shopping experience is very different for women than men; the male shopper’s experience is still the default position for many, even most, firms. And yet it is an unimpeachable fact that women are the premier purchasers–of damn near everything. (My message: Wake-up-ASAP-and-smell-the-enormous-opportunity.)” – Tom Peters
Tom Peter’s weekly quote (I get it every Monday), made me think of CPAs working in public accounting, for a couple of reasons.
One, most male CPAs target their sales to male business owners. I have observed that selling to a female business owner is not their main focus. I have also observed that sometimes the male even feels, and acts, awkward in these situations.
Males: Study, research and read about how to sell to females, practice better listening, learn body language, etc. It will also help you in managing your workforce. Also, when you are selling to a male, remember that there is a woman behind him probably telling him who to hire as their CPA.
Two, most accounting graduates are female. You are hiring a lot of them. Begin educating, teaching, and coaching them immediately on how to develop a relationship with a business owner or decision maker. Once the relationship is established, they can ask for their business.
Females: Don’t hide from business development assignments. Ask to accompany partners on visits to clients and future clients. Schedule lunches with attorneys who also serve your clients. Network in your business community as much as possible.
Selling professional services is all about building relationships – virtually and in person. Women have natural talent in this area – capitalize on it.
You don't earn loyalty in a day; you earn loyalty day by day.
If you are a CPA firm in Ohio, southern Michigan, eastern Indiana, northern Kentucky, western Pennsylvania or West Virginia, the Association for Accounting Administration OHIO Chapter is providing a timely and affordable learning opportunity to leverage the power of LinkedIn for your firm. If you cannot attend, you should send at least one representative from your firm.
Here’s the information from the Chapter:
Leveraging LinkedIn to Grow Your Accounting Firms Business and Influence
LinkedIn is a powerful tool for sales and business development…when you know how to use it correctly! Both the inherent features of LinkedIn as well as the paid advertising features provide many options to help companies of all shapes and sizes generate new business leads. However, used incorrectly and you can find yourself banned from access to your most prized prospect pool or possibly kicked off LinkedIn all together.
The power of LinkedIn and leveraging everyone in the firm for visibility and business growth
Firm control and management of social media – i.e. policy and capture software
Building profiles for business development vs. job seeking
Increasing visibility to target market via status updates and other communications
Finding prospect opportunities an introduction away
The LinkedIn Company Page and Sponsored Status updates
It all comes down to knowing how to use the Right Strategy, at the Right Time, and in the Right Circumstance.
Date: July 17, 2015
9:00a Registration and Continental Breakfast
10:00 – 12:00 Presentation (2.0 CPE)
12:00 – 3:00 Lunch and Roundtable (the roundtable discussions are a wonderful benefit)
Location: Ohio Society of CPAs, 535 Metroplace South, Dublin, OH
At many firms, practice growth efforts run hot and cold. Most CPAs are not naturally drawn to practice development efforts. Some are fairly good at marketing but struggle with actually asking for business or closing a sale. That’s why I believe that marketing, sales and other practice growth activities should be instilled in every new team member, even the new college graduates entering your firm.
Too often, years down the road, a manager is told, “We want you to become a partner but you have to bring in business.” Sometimes, the need for managers and staff to be active in practice growth has never been communicated.
Your competition is marketing and selling to your clients and prospects.
You make more money
One of the most important reasons to embrace a practice growth culture is brought home by Allan Koltin’s quote, above. The talent wars are raging. If you want to attract the best people, your firm needs to be growing.
My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.
I always remember the story from management consulting guru David Maister about his early days at Harvard. He was young and inexperienced and was trying to find his path to success. His boss didn’t rush him or pressure him but finally one day asked a simple questions that led to success, “What do you want to be famous for?”
Maister classified partners in a CPA firm into 3 categories: Dynamos, Cruisers and a few Losers. He noted that you would expect accounting firms to be a hotbed of skill building. But in his observation, that is not the case.
When it comes to partners, he found only 10 – 20% could be labeled “Dynamos” – always working to learn something new, continually building their practices in new and challenging areas. The rest of the partners, except for a very few incompetents, are Cruisers who work hard, do good work and take care of their clients but they don’t stand out as special talents.
Where do you fit? Where do your partners fit? The managing partners needs to ask each individual partner, “What do you want to be famous for?” and work with them to get there.
Robert Raiola of O’Connor Davies is my favorite example. He’s famous for helping high net worth individuals in sports or entertainment deal with taxes. He began tweeting as @SportsTaxMan several years ago and now is often quoted by Sports Illustrated and appears on various television outlets. He’s become famous as a sports tax man. Click here to see his latest Yahoo News spot about Jordan Spieth and his Masters winnings.
Next, contemplate what you could be famous for. Maybe you are ContractorTaxMan, NonProfitAuditLady or DentistAccountingGuru.
The way you get rich is don't get sucked into doing dumb stuff for people you don't like.
As I have worked with CPAs around the country, all ages and in firms of various sizes, I often am saddened by the wasted opportunities I encounter.
It’s usually a communication issue and the willingness among partners to be absolutely open and honest. Someone might get their feelings hurt. There might be an uncomfortable feeling within the group for a while… but it doesn’t last if everyone is focused on “the good of the firm” and not on their own, personal agenda.
Here are some examples of where change is a roadblock to opportunity (these are fictional, gathered from various interactions over my 30+ years working in the CPA profession):
A capable, experienced, passionate managing partner is prohibited from making the firm future-ready because she is constantly dealing with bickering partners.
A firm located in a great market never capitalizes on growth opportunities because they have made several people a partner when these people do not market, do not sell, do not network in the business community and some have actually never-ever brought in a new client.
A firm has a great expansion opportunity in a not-too-distant market, it slips through their hands because no partner will commit to being the champion of that endeavor. They are too comfortable with status quo.
A great merger opportunity falls through because ONE of the partners in the firm being acquired kills the deal usually because he knows he wouldn’t measure-up in the new environment.
These are some fairly major change-is-needed examples, however, I see firms miss opportunity because of unwillingness to change some simple, day-to-day activities.
In these firms, partner meetings turn into repeat discussions of old issues and Opportunity moves on down the road.
The wheel of change moves on and those who were down go up and those who were up go down.