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.
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!”
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.”
There 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.
According to a recent article on Fast Company, 70% of today’s workforce is actively looking for another job or is open to hearing about a new job opportunity.
Another study tells us that a recent college graduate will hold between 15 to 20 jobs in their career. That means they are going to change jobs every three to four years. They will always be looking.
This certainly does not paint a rosy picture for CPA firm leaders. Growing firms hire extensively from the college campus and invest significant dollars in the first three years of their career in training and development. For them to leave at the end of three years is an expensive scenario. At three years, they are just at the point where they can be really productive.
Here are some trends:
Job boards are no longer the primary source used by job seekers. Job seekers, along with employers, are looking via social networking sites. Even the recruiters (the ones your firm has relied on) are finding their candidates via LinkedIn. According to a recent survey, 79% of recruiters said they found candidates via LinkedIn. 26% through Facebook and 14% via Twitter. Firm leaders are telling me that the recruiters are presenting to them the same people that they can find on LinkedIn themselves.
Here’s an important trend to follow for CPA firms. Employers will target marketing to job seekers. Accounting firms must invest in building an employer brand, just like they invest in building a brand to attract new tax and accounting clients. CPA firms can develop action steps for retention by surveying their people and talking to their people to determine what they need to do to become the CPA firm employer of choice in their market. What kind of impression does your website make on a potential new hire? It seems that the investment in, and focus on, building a unique career page on accounting firm websites no longer has the attention it had several years ago.
In-person networking is back. Since the social media space is so crowded, it’s now unique to network in person. Young people intent on building their careers and finding career opportunities are focused on building a base of “people they know.”
Do they know you and your firm? Are your people “out there” networking to identify future new hires as well as potential new clients?
In the world of public accounting it is all about the number of people you know. Using social media is key but so is face-to-face networking.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
On one page he uses a quote from Andre Agassi on how it feels to lose:
“But I don’t feel that Wimbledon changed me. I feel, in fact, as if I’ve been let in on a dirty little secret: winning changes nothing. Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something that very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad. Not even close.”
All of us avoid bad feelings. It’s harder to get a No than it is to get a Yes. That’s why so many CPAs avoid marketing, sales, practice development. What if they say No? What if they don’t like me? What if I say something wrong during that speech? What if someone gives me a Thumbs Down on Facebook? What if they disagree with my tweet about that tax issue?
As Godin states, “No wonder we don’t want to speak up or stand up or do anything much that matters. We’ve persuaded ourselves that good feelings aren’t even close to outweighing bad ones.
My advice? Get over it! The more you do the better you get. The more you risk (and it doesn’t have to be much), the more gratifying the rewards.
I used to be afraid, embarrassed, hesitant.. whatever, when it came to asking what I thought would be a dumb question. Wow, I have sure learned a lot over the years and one of the most important lessons is always ask if you don’t understand, if you don’t know, or if you want to know more. I subscribe to Tom Peter’s quote: I shall lead the league in asking dumb questions.
Don't be afraid to ask dumb questions. They're more easily handled than dumb mistakes.
One reason I think it is important to use pictures of your accounting firm team members on your website is the simple fact that it gives them exposure, makes them noteworthy to their friends and makes their family proud.
The argument I usually get from practitioners is… “If Suzy leaves then we have to change the website!” – – You should be continually updating and changing your website anyway – it is a living thing, not a history book.
In case you haven’t noticed, it is world filled with pictures now – yes, selfies and more! People like to see pictures of the real people working at your firm. Make sure your entire team is on your website. Your clients really do like to see the people they work with and prospects want reassurance you and your team are real.
Here’s an example of a best-place-to-work firm with pictures of real people – Santos Postal in Rockville, Maryland.
Also, just my opinion, if you have a LinkedIn account and don’t have your picture there – people think you must be weird!