Archive for the ‘Process’ Category

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Thinking of Suing a Client For Fees? – Read This

“The payment for certain sins can be delayed. But they can’t be avoided.” – Shawn Ryan

IMG_3046I was recently talking with a client about pursuing litigation to collect outstanding fees. It is a difficult topic and something CPAs usually avoid, at all costs.

My good friend, Stephen Vono of NAPLIA (North American Professional Liability Insurance Agency) reminded me of an excellent article on the NAPLIA website titled, “Suits for Fees – ways to avoid them and their liability.”

He, and I, recommend taking steps to reduce the potential for unpaid fees in the first place. It is your best defense.

In the article, it notes that there are three basic billing practices which, when implemented regularly and effectively, can dramatically reduce the number of collection problems your office will face.

Retainers – Retainers should be used on small engagements and on large engagements.

Bill Frequently – Never hesitate to progress bill. A few smaller bills are much better than hitting the client with one huge bill at the end of the engagement.

Payment on Delivery – The preparation of tax returns is a natural for asking for payment upon delivery. I have found that most clients who are new to the firm, actually expect to pay upon delivery.

Follow the link above to read the entire article on the NAPLIA website. Also, take note of the many other wonderful resources on the website. I love the Engagement Letter resource.

  • The time to save is now. When a dog gets a bone, he doesn't go out and make a down payment on a bigger bone. He buries the one he's got.
  • Will Rogers

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Increase Your Firm’s Value

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

There are some very basic things that CPA firm leaders need to do to continually increase the value of their firm. Of course, CPAs must be technically competent, good communicators and committed to client service. You are in a service business, just like a hotel or restaurant.

Beyond those basics, a couple more foundational items are needed to create firm value.

Culture – You (and your partners, if you have some) should devote your attention to creating a culture in which you want to work, providing your employees with a clear picture of acceptable behaviors that exemplify your core values. A culture built around consistent and strong core values will attract people with those same core values. If you discover employees who do not embrace your core values, they should be encouraged to go elsewhere.

Processes – Another foundational item thing you can do to increase the value of your firm is to implement processes, procedures and policies that are well-documented in writing.  This means the success of your firm is not solely on your shoulders and not dependent on just a few people. Having written processes and procedures ensures that you can easily get new employees up to speed quickly.

  • A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.
  • Charles Darwin

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

The Old Way Comes Back As The New Way

Many of you can remember when we had paper “in boxes” on our desks. We also had “out boxes”. Mail, memos, and other miscellaneous communication documents were placed in our in-box by our secretary (remember that word?). The same person emptied our out-box and distributed our notes, memos and job assignments to the proper person within the firm.

Often the in-box contained items that we would place in a “do it later pile.” That pile on our desk could attain dangerous heights.

Then, many of us learned how to handle each piece of paper that came into our office mostly via the in-box. The trick was to only handle it once – not to put it in a stack with other things we intended to deal with later. Concerning each document we were to Act, File, Delegate or Trash – no “deal with it later” labels were allowed.

Now we are in the age of handling the multitude of items that appear in our digital in-box. In a recent article via Fast Company, Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, sums up his email approach as “read, act, file or delete.” By limiting his options he is able to clear his in-box daily without the help of an assistant. Smith notes, “It requires real commitment.”

If the CEO of Intuit can master his in-box, I bet you can do it, too!

Another option is NOT TO SEND many emails and thus, you will receive fewer in reply.

Here’s another email comment from Simon Sinek. “A five minute call replaces the time it takes to read and reply to the original email and read and reply to their reply.. or replies. And I no longer spend 20+ minutes crafting the perfect email – no need to.”

To avoid phone tag, I always make telephone appointments with people who wish to discuss things with me.

 

  • Social media presents an opportunity for business people to connect and know each other prior to a phone call or email taking place.
  • Jeffrey Gitomer

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Cubicle Courtesy Guidelines

“The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with work.” – W. Edwards Deming

A long time ago, I did a blog post about tips for living in a cubicle. Many accountants who have their own office (like partners and managers) sometimes forget how cubicle life can sometimes be very frustrating.

Keep in mind, that some millennials like the open floor plan concept, but most people aspire to have a private office. I like to see cubicles arranged in quads so that four people can have their backs to each other yet are able to swing around to a centralized round table to confer with colleagues.

Working in a cube when you are a beginner is often very helpful in that you can overhear what others are learning and benefit from the conversations in the adjoining cubicle.

A big frustration, however, is the lack of privacy and the fact that associates and coworkers stop by whenever they want resulting in many interruptions.

To remedy that, how about establishing some Cubicle Courtesies to protect those working in cubes and those visiting them.

The following is a modified re-post of the cubicle post I did in 2008 – maybe it will help you design your own office cubicle and shared space protocol.

    • Keep your voice down. Be aware of how it projects, especially when laughing.
    • Don’t enter someone’s cubicle or stop to chat unless invited to do so.
    • Never take something from someone’s cubicle or desk without asking first.
    • Be respectful of those people passing your desk. Don’t assume they have time to chat.
    • If you don’t want to be interrupted, don’t make eye contact with those passing your desk.
    • Respect other’s work time and flow of concentration. If they look deep in thought, they probably are.
    • If the person is on the phone, do not interrupt.
    • Confidential information should not be discussed in an open setting. Move to one of the meeting rooms.
    • Avoid using speaker phones.
    • Do not read what is on someone elses desk or computer screen.
    • Reduce clutter in your desk area or cubicle.
    • Don’t leave food and trash at your desk.
    • Keep eating and snacking at your desk to a minimum. And avoid foods that smell up the office. (Some firms have a “no eating meals at your desk” policy.)
    • Return items to their proper place after using them.
    • Replace immediately anything you use up (paper, staples, etc.).
  • Other people's interruptions of your work are relatively insignificant compared with the countless times you interrupt yourself.
  • Brendan Francis

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Practice Management Software

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire

I often receive questions about the pros and cons of practice management software. Which one should we be using? Is one better than the rest? What’s the best one for a small firm? What’s the best one for a large firm?

Recently, Accounting Today published A Comparison Guide To Vendors’ Offerings.

Per the article accompanying the Guide…. Looking at the accompanying comparison chart, you will notice that different vendors have taken very different approaches with their application. That’s a good thing, as it offers a wider variety of capabilities that will hopefully sync up with your firm’s needs without providing lots of unneeded functionality.

You will find the article here and from it you can access the Comparison Guide.

  • No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.
  • Warren Buffett

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Show Appreciation by Utilizing Stay Interviews

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving forward.” – Albert Einstein

Some accounting firms have been utilizing stay interviews for a while. However, I have observed that there are still many firms that haven’t embraced this excellent tool.

Anytime you devote individualized attention to one of your team members, asking them for advice and feedback, it’s a positive exercise for both sides – management and staff.

Elizabeth (Bitsy) Watson, PHR, the HR Manager for Mahoney, Ulbrich, Christiansen & Russ shared the process they use for stay interviews. It would be a good best practice for you to emulate. Her comments follow:

BitsyWe started out with results from our recent engagement survey and identified about five areas where we wanted more insight, such as, if we felt our scores for recognition could be stronger or we wanted more insights into what aspects of compensation were most important to staff.

We then came up with some questions related to these areas and others (about 10 total). A few examples were:

  • What types of recognition are most meaningful to you?
  • What opportunities for development would you like that you may not be getting?
  • What type of work do you find most motivating or interesting?
  • Of the compensation and benefits we offer, what aspects are most important to you and what could be improved in this area?

We used a representative sample of our employees to participate in the stay interviews. I kept the names confidential. After the meetings were completed, our next steps were to summarize the overall themes and share the summary with the partners, not sharing names. I also included three recommendations for changes or new programs to implement. We’ll then share these new initiatives with the interview group. We want them to know that we really valued their opinions.

I tried to be as transparent as possible with everyone involved on what we were trying to accomplish and how valuable their feedback is. We received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the interviewees. They mentioned feeling like it was helpful to have a channel to be asked questions they might never have been asked. I think the most interesting thing that came from this was bringing to light some wrong assumptions we, as management, had been making.

Our plan is to do this annually utilizing a different group of employees each year.

  • Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
  • Thomas Edison

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Be Efficient With Your Email

“I’m really good at email.” – Elon Musk

It’s that old devil – the inbox! So many accounting firm citizens, from all levels inside the firm, lament how difficult it is to keep up with emails.

I have even heard partners talk about the number of emails they received in almost a bragging tone! “I get 100 emails a day!” “Well, I get almost 200!”

Don’t let email run your daily life. Don’t make it your default, open page on your desk top. Don’t feel compelled to reply immediately.

I have read lots of articles about how to deal with email and have shared several on this blog. I also practice what I learn! I do not continually check my email. I close my email window when I am getting real work done, etc.

AnthonyThis week I read a post by S. Anthony Iannarino, speaker and author about how he processes his email. I think you will find it very helpful.

He does not live in his inbox.

He works in 90 minute segments (without checking email).

He does a quick scan for anything urgent (that’s your challenge… what is urgent and what really isn’t urgent?)

There are really not very many emails that actually need an IMMEDIATE response. If you have one, then respond to it.

Every Wednesday morning he processes his email (he has five inboxes) and gets them all to zero.

I think you will enjoy reading his helpful, brief blog post. If you can’t give all of his tips a try at least try a few of his recommended actions.

If I let myself, I could sit and process email continually all day long! My method is to check email first thing in the morning, around noon and then again late afternoon. I rarely look at email after 5:00pm. My clients have top priority. I answer their emails first (but not always immediately).

Commit to a new practice for handling email and making your day more productive.

When you visit Anthony’s site, you might also learn some things to help with sales, after all Anthony’s site is thesalesblog.com.  And he has a book titled The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need. 

  • The perfect is the enemy of the good.
  • Voltaire

Monday, February 13th, 2017

“Do As I Say” Does Not Work

“Example is leadership.” – Albert Schweitzer

Your firm management group (includes partners, managers, and the firm administrator) works hard at defining and establishing the procedures that most efficiently enable the firm to provide excellent client service.

Your HR professional or firm administrator spends a significant amount of time and effort to update the firm handbook, the one that outlines the expected behaviors of all people working at the firm. It is approved by all partners.

You have job descriptions that document the duties of all levels of employees, including partners, at the firm.

At a staff meeting, the managing partner, speaking on behalf of all partners, explains a new policy or procedure and asks for everyone to get on board with implementation.

Do as I sayAll of this can be summed up as “Do as I say.” Then….

A couple of partners and a manager short-cut some of the documented processes or procedures.

Several leaders openly disregard a certain topic in the personnel handbook.

As far as job descriptions, we often find partners doing manager work and managers doing senior work.

Several partners procrastinate on visibly implementing the “new” procedure.

All of this completes the familiar saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

This phrase should not be part of your firm culture. The leaders’ actions are obvious to the employees and probably an on-going topic of conversation or even ridicule. What can you do about it now? What more can you do after April 15? Think about it.

  • A person always doing his or her best becomes a natural leader, just by example.
  • Joe DiMaggio

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Keep Fighting That Procrastination Habit

“Last year I joined a support group for procrastinators. We haven’t met yet.”

When I am speaking to CPA firm groups, I like to tell the story of the classic procrastination scenario inside of a busy CPA firm. It goes something like this:

It’s tax season, we can’t possibly take the time to update our performance feedback process. It’s April 16, we desperately need time to recover from tax season. I call this the after-tax-season coma that you are in for about two to four weeks. It’s late May, early June, we can’t possibly work on the performance system because it is time to begin this year’s reviews. Our process will last at least through July. It’s August, too many people are on vacation. It’s September, we have extensions. It’s October, we have extensions. It’s December, we have tax planning appointments. So, that means you have November to catch-up on all the initiatives and projects you have talked about for years.

Any of this sound familiar? Don’t procrastinate this year begin NOW. Take it in small steps and just keep moving forward with your initiatives even is you have a lot of various excuses not to.

  • A year from now you may wish you had started today.
  • Karen Lamb

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Focus On Your Destination

“You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.” – Jim Rohn

Think about this meaningful quote from Jim Rohn. Can you see how it applies to you and how you go about improving and growing your accounting firm?

For example, you finally agree that you need to be TRULY paperless and become a digital firm. – – That’s the destination.

You work with your people to develop a roadmap on how to get there. You start down that road. Something happens (I won’t use the other “S” word), but things do happen. You get delayed, you encounter an unexpected obstacle. Some of the things you planned don’t work well.

By all means, change your approach. Learn from those who have gone before you and adopt some different ways to arrive at your destination.

But, do not give up. Keep focused on results and reach your destination.

Then set a new destination!

  • I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.
  • Jimmy Dean