“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos
Last week, the Ohio Society of CPAs unveiled their new brand. I love the “Advancing the State of Business” focus and the video that talks about what CPAs in Ohio really do to help Ohio advance the state of business.
CPAs in all states are really doing the same thing.
I want to share the video and I hope you’ll take three minutes to watch it.
Is this the year that your firm needs to rebrand itself? Is your logo stale and out-dated? Winning client opportunities and attracting top talent is ALL about your brand. What are people in your business community saying about you?
Whether you do a rebrand or not, why don’t you do a similar video to help your clients understand how you can help them move their business forward. Put the video on your website and use social media to “drive” people to your website. Mention the video to current clients and ask them to share it with their business friends
If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.
Each year Vault.com, a company that provides in-depth intelligence on what it’s really like to work within an industry, company, or profession, unveils it’s Vault Accounting 50 – a listing of the 50 best firms to work for.
After busy season your thoughts will more strongly turn to your people. Of course, you continue to think about them and their well-being during busy season but probably won’t take action on any items until after April 15.
Here’s a couple of things that many progressive firms are doing:
Stand-up, Get Moving – – Standing desks reduce health risks, encourage more activity (and we all know that more activity is good for us). Accountants sit way too much! Does your firm offer to provide stand-up desks for everyone? Do you offer ways to be more active during tax season (yoga classes, Zumba, or an office basketball league)?
Here’s some tips for office workers to keep moving (from an article in the Dayton Daily News):
Use a printer or restroom on a different floor
Take the stairs
Leave the office for an afternoon stroll or coffee run (walk to the coffee shop!)
Set a notification on your computer that reminds you to move every 30 minutes
Get up to talk to a colleague instead of sending an email
Have a walking or standing meeting (these are very popular)
Stand while talking on the phone (I’ve seen a lot of partners do this one)
Pause and stretch
Take a quick walk during lunch break (I know a managing partner and firm administrator that often take a walk during lunch hour and talk about operational and HR topics.)
The second thing to consider, that many firms are providing, is closing the office on Fridays (or half-day on Fridays) from June through August. There are a lot of variations:
Close for the entire day on Friday (summer Fridays are fairly “dead” anyway)
Stay open but allow half the staff to be off one week and the other half the next week.
Establish 10 hour work days from Monday through Thursday so that 40 hours are still worked.
Close on Friday afternoons (this one does not eliminate commuting for a day which is a big issue).
Most firms tell me that their clients don’t mind at all if the firm closes on Fridays. Check out the website of Payne Nickles. Look on the left at their hours. “Fridays from May 1 through Labor Day we close at noon.”
The problem is not the problem. the problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?
Your workday is very long this time of year. For many accountants, your workday is long almost every time of year. While some people say they disconnect when they get home… most people do not. A recent study found that 50% of people check work email before and after work hours and throughout the weekend.
In accounting firms, I bet the percentage is even much higher. I have heard some partners brag that they are ALWAYS available to their clients – 24/7. Personally, I don’t think that is healthy and a recent study found that the expectation that people need to respond to emails during off-work hours produces a prolonged stress response.
In his article for Forbes, Travis Bradberry, notes that we need to establish some boundaries between personal and professional lives. When you don’t, your personal life and health can suffer.
If you are working in an accounting firm and the partners (or even clients) expect you to be connected 24/7, you may need to set some of those boundaries. Bradberry suggests that you need to take a proactive step and say no to your boss because if you don’t, you are giving away somethings that are very valuable, like:
Give it a try in order to keep your sanity during tax season – set some boundaries. Read more here.
There is some positive news on the topic of women partners. A year or so ago, the surveys told us that the percentage of female partners had declined.
New research from the AICPA has found that women more often attain CPA firm partnership status in smaller firms – those with 20 accounting professionals or fewer.
Women make up nearly half of all accounting graduates entering the profession, yet are regularly under-represented at the partnership level. The good news is that 24 percent of partners at firms are women, up from 19 percent in 2012.
Here’s the breakdown of female partnership levels from the AICPA CPA Firm Gender Survey:
Email is losing the communication battle. Most people want you to text them. Your incoming generation of employees do not use email. Your young clients do not use email.
Not so long ago, you had to be in the office, sitting at your computer to answer and send emails. Now, you carry a small mobile device that allows you immediate connection no matter where you are located.
Your clients know you are looking at your mobile device. They don’t care where you are when they need to ask you a question. So forget the auto-responder. It just fills-up the inbox of the person sending you the original email.
Do not use auto-reply telling people you’re out of the office (for the holidays or otherwise). Either respond, or let them sit until you return. If I send you an email, I don’t really care where you are or what you are doing.
Yes, email is declining but it is not going away completely. It is still appropriate for certain types of communication. I have known accountants who actually brag about how many emails they receive in a day. There is something wrong with that picture.
Because the mail never stops. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. There's never a letup, it's relentless.
I’ve done hundreds of presentations over the last 20 years and my material has definitely evolved. Yes, speaking to accountants, I sometimes still use bullet points. Hopefully, I am getting better each year.
For you, enlightening clients and potential clients, you have to do it right. Here’s a great slideshow by Seth Godin that he shared on SlideShare.
Accountants are trained in the art of being accurate… being right.
From day one, young accountants have their work reviewed and reviewed again. They receive multiple review notes about what to re-do and correct. Sadly, in many firms they don’t even know what they did wrong, their work is corrected by a reviewer and passed along the review and production pipeline to “get it out the door.” Eventually, they learn that they are making mistakes…. So, they adopt an “avoid risk and over-work the project” work style.
Yes, being accurate with client work is very important but it doesn’t apply to everything that is going on inside a CPA firm. Forming a supportive culture, embracing new ideas on efficiency, empowering your firm administrator, working in the Cloud, modifying HR policies, training people, hiring people are all initiatives that continually need to evolve and keep pace with trends.
Inject some excitement in your firm, try things…. Do things… If it proves unsatisfactory just change it again.
Changing things inside your firm feels very risky. Status quo feels very comfortable.
Get over it and remember: Being alive is a risk.
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
Many firms have long-time administrative people, good performers, and just because of their annual wage increases over many years they are significantly above the pay scale for administrative people in the firm’s geographic area.
Some firms only give cost of living increases. Some firms have even capped wages completely.
I do encounter this issue in many CPA firms. What I always ask is, “Are they doing more than they did last year?”
By more I mean something out of their routine assignments they have been performing for years. Have they read a book that could enhance their skills, have they tried and completed Microsoft Office User accreditation (Google MOS Certification to find more info), have they participated in cross-training and any other proactive activities?
If they are participating in goal-setting each year and achieving goals than some reward is appropriate. However, what I usually find is that these long-time administrative people are “protected.” Meaning that they have been with the firm so long and loyal to a partner so long, that they will never be pushed to step-up or step-out. In fact, many are sometimes still resisting all of the technology that is available.
Another goal you might consider is to ask administrative employees to join IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals) and attend local chapter meetings (of course the firm should support them by covering expenses). There is a certification available via IAAP, also.
After all of this rambling, I guess the short answer is, as their supervisor you should be aggressive in asking them to continually improve and do more or work more efficiently to earn a pay increase. Keep in mind you are running a business and keeping salaries “at market” is always something to strive for.
I strongly recommend always paying for performance. If an admin person or even a partner is simply doing what they have always done, not expending time and effort to gain new knowledge or skills, why should they get a pay increase?
Aren't we all striving to be overpaid for what we do?