Some of you might remember attending Accountants’ Bootcamp many years ago and learning many client service methods via Paul Dunn.
One thing that I remember and one thing that we immediately implemented at our firm was the practice of NOT interrogating people who called our firm. We stopped having the person who answered our main line always ask, “May I ask who is calling?”
These days many callers use your direct dial number or your mobile number. That’s a good thing. However, if you have clients and prospects calling your main number, please don’t have your director of first impressions give them the third degree!
What you are saying (what the caller is thinking) is “Are you important enough for me to put this call through to one of our partners or staff?”
For many years, I thought that asking who is calling was the proper thing to do. As our firm embraced the “not asking” method, it became so much more comfortable and made our firm seem so much more approachable.
Now when I call CPA firms (and I do it often), I just cringe when I get the third degree… May I ask who is calling? What is this about? It happened yesterday. Just to clarify, I do call many firms that do not ask, they put me right through to the person I ask for.
Just put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client – - don’t make them feel like you are important and they are not.
At your CPA firm, things are hectic. You have many priorities and you often find yourself running in circles.
I love this story that I learned from Tom Peters (you should follow his writings. Plus, he gives away so much great information for free!).
Here’s the story:
A man approached J.P. Morgan, held up an envelope, and said, “Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell you for $25,000.”
“Sir,” J.P. Morgan replied, “I do not know what is in the envelope, however if you show me, and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will pay you what you ask.”
The man agreed to the terms, and handed over the envelope. J.P. Morgan opened it, and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look, a mere glance, then handed the piece of paper back to the gent.
And paid him the agreed-upon $25,000 …
Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.
The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.
Do you get tired of hearing about the topic of partner compensation? Do you, as a firm leader, continue to read about it, talk about it, attend conferences about it, hire consultants to advise you about it and and yet never feel like you have the right partner compensation system in your firm?
Join the club. There are a bunch of you out there.
Who’s worth more, the partner who serves clients expertly, builds relationships and has above average technical knowledge or the partner who is best at pursuing prospective clients and landing them? The age old question continues.
As far as current trends for 2013, what I am hearing is pretty much what I have heard for many years. #1 – rainmaking, #2 – firm management and #3 – technical expertise.
As we move ahead into 2014 and beyond, I am desperately hoping that another HUGE factor becomes prevalent in CPA firm partner compensation – talent development. I have already heard about one, large, prominent firm that asks their partners: Who did you recruit to the firm? Who would say they are here because of you? How are you developing those people?
Many managing partners think that if they can learn how other firms are doing partner compensation then they can do the same thing and all their worries will disappear. Wrong.
Partner compensation and all CPA firm compensation is highly dependent on geographic location. Partner compensation depends on the wants, desires and opinions of ALL of your partners and the culture your particular partner group has adopted over the years.
If you are considering revamping, updating and revising your partner compensation (and many firms out there need to undertake such a journey), it means lots of discussion and investigation into what your own group of partners think and care about. Of course, you should also build in accountability – goal-setting for partners and rewards based upon achieving those goals. Firm after firm tells me, “we have no accountability.”
It really is tough for smaller CPA firms to attract the best and brightest accounting graduates. Even larger local and regional firms have a tough time competing on the college campus.
That’s why it is so important to help accounting majors learn more about some of the unique, challenging, supportive and career-building opportunities open to them inside, what I call, the bread and butter firms. So many of these small to mid-size firms really do offer a culture where “life if good.”
Recruiting on the college campus has changed over the years. Your firm founders might have visited the campus in the fall (September/October) to do on-site interviews with students entering their senior year. A few of the students interviewed made the cut and were invited to the office for a more in depth interview. Official offers, for full-time positions, went out just before Thanksgiving.
These days you can speed that up to about 200 miles per hour. Now, your firm recruiter always makes sure your firm is visible in the spring before the students depart (by hosting a mixer, attending the end of year awards banquets, etc.). In September, firm representatives are ready to go early to interview 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students looking for interns for the upcoming busy season that begins in January. These interns are usually hired by the end of September or very early October – no more waiting until Thanksgiving! In mid-April when they depart, many have received an offer to work for the firm upon graduation, even if it is two years out.
Allen Bolnick of Chicago-area firm Weltman Bernfield had an idea to help his smaller firm compete and four other Chicago-area firms joined in. Unlike the usual intern programs you see in public accounting firms, this program does not expect billable hours from their interns.
A female working at a large CPA firm asked me a great question a while back. Here’s the scenario:
Our firm involved a lot of people in deciding what to do and developing an outline for a Women’s Initiative. Many levels of people were involved and all seemed enthusiastic. When it came down to the FINAL approval from the partners, the males backed-off, postponed action, procrastinated. Why are males so hesitant to take action on this topic?
In my opinion, the answer is fairly simple. They do not know enough about it.
I have been doing presentations on the “women’s issues” for years. Men do not attend. I have even stood in the hallway at a break-out session for a firm association and recruited men into my session. A few obliged – most didn’t. It was like they were ashamed to be seen in a “women’s” session.
Retaining top talent in the CPA profession these days means retaining women. All the stats tell us that more women than men are graduating with accounting degrees and entering CPA firms. Men and women need to join forces and talk about the issues that cause women to drop out before they reach partner ranks.
Here’s a phrase from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg: We need to be able to talk about gender without people thinking we are crying for help, asking for special treatment, or about to sue.
The way male owners of CPA firms will better understand the issues is by attending presentations and discussions on this topic and by reading books on this topic. I hope that the AICPA, firm association and state societies begin to offer workshops, presentations and other educational sessions on women’s initiatives directed toward MEN.
Once again, I want to stress the importance of your CPA firm website.
I am still finding some less-than-attractive ones out there for accounting firms. Last week, I found one that was impressive, especially the career pages.
It is interesting how you can learn so many valuable things via social media. I found Watkins Meegan by tweeting. I was attending an Ohio Women’s Initiative Committee meeting and tweeted that fact. I had a reply to my tweet from Watkins Meegan, a CPA firm headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland saying, “We have a women’s initiative!”
So, I checked out their career page and was very impressed. I thought I would share it with all of you today so you can see an example of how to position your firm to compete for top talent. It is becoming more and more important with each passing day. Follow the link to the example and then click on the arrows and take their Campus Recruiting Tour.
I hope that one of the strategic initiatives you identified at your retreat this summer is making your firm a magnet for talent.
While a website helps, it takes a lot more than JUST a website. How’s your culture? How’s your brand? What does your team members REALLY say about the firm? How’s your recruiting program; does it need an update?
Don’t place your firm in the role of playing catch-up. Get busy, fall recruiting season is almost here!
Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.
It has been discussed over and over again at CPA MAP conferences, state society meetings, firm association meetings and at AICPA events. What is it? It’s the fact that a CPA firm is actually a very profitable business.
It means: CPAs need to run their accounting practice like a real business. I remember reading a comment by the media earlier this year: “Firms seem to be focused on profitability like never before. And they seem to be relying on only three strategies: 1) Timesheets. 2) Timesheets. 3) Timesheets.”
Here are a couple of business lessons:
Lesson #1: Your success is determined by the people you hire.
Make strategic hiring part of your culture. Rather than hiring fast and firing S-L-O-W-L-Y. Reverse it.
Lesson #2: A portion of everyone’s compensation should be based on the firm’s success.
Why do CPA firms annually give people (partners and team members) more than a cost-of-living pay increases when they do nothing new or additional from the year before? Did they attend more networking events? Did they write an article (or more articles) for the business newspaper or the firm newsletter? Did they bring new business to the firm? Did they bring top talent to the firm? Did they retain top talent at the firm? To me it’s simple pay for performance.
A tough lesson in life that one has to learn is that not everybody wishes you well.
Nothing helps lighten me up better than music. I love music of all types (classical to blue grass) and from different eras. I’m fairly familiar with songs from the decades you can hear on satellite radio. My parents loved the 40s music, my brother bought almost every 45 debuted in the 50s. I am a baby boomer so the 60s are especially familiar to me.
With her ending paragraph she quotes Helen Keller, “When one door closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” Wilson asks the question, “Are you and your firm’s leaders so busy looking at the old door that’s closing that you’re allowing your competitors to slip through the new door ahead of you?
This made me think of a 50s song that my brother used to play – Green Door.
Midnight one more night without sleepin’ – watchin’ til the morning comes creepin’ – green door what’s that secret you’re keepin’?
There’s an old piano and they play it hot behind the green door. Don’t know what they’re doin’ but they laugh a lot behind the green door. Wish they’d let me in so I could find out what’s behind the green door.
Knocked once, tried to tell ‘em I’ve been there. Door slammed, hospitality’s thin there. Wonder just what’s goin’ on in there.
Will that NEW door that Wilson references turn into a Green Door for your firm? Will you be shut-out of all the interesting, fun, progressive, enlightening things the cool firms are doing behind the Green Door?
When most people think of accountants, bookkeepers, CPAs, they think of them as numbers-people.
Wrong. If you own or are employed by an accounting firm, especially a CPA firm – you are in the PEOPLE business. It’s all about you, your peers, your employees and your clients.
I read a lot of Tom Peters’ stuff. I read his books, his blogs, even his slide presentations. Peters’ has been saying it for a long, long time:
It’s always about relationships. Always was. Always will be. Only connect.
Connect with others!
In his book, The Little BIG Things, Peters tells a story about General Dwight D. Eisenhower and how he did the impossible. No, not the D-Day landing per se. It was keeping the Yanks and the Brits from annihilating each other long enough to hit the beach and get on with the real job at hand.
Turns out Eisenhower, most keep professional observers agree, had a secret, which he in fact understood:
“Allied commands depend on mutual confidence; this confidence is gained, above all, through the development of friendships.”
That’s Eisenhower’s Success Tip #1 – Aggressively make friends.
In my consulting work with CPA firm partners, I find that when they “skip” their regularly scheduled partner meetings, rarely eat lunch together, never go out for coffee or a beer, “things” begin to go down hill. Suspicion and distrust slowly creeps into the relationship. That’s why I think the most important part of a partner retreat is simply time away from the office (and families) to just talk, debate, discuss, confront, agree, renew optimism, be openly honest with each other and mix in some laughter.
A passive approach to professional growth will leave you by the wayside.
Working inside a CPA firm, it is your busiest time of year and you are feeling stressed by your workload, deadlines, emails, client phone calls and maybe even by the performance of your employees or your peers.
Stress, like many other things, is somewhat misunderstood. Stress can actually cause instinctive physical responses that cause us to be more aroused and more focused and more ready to respond physically and mentally to whatever is coming our way.
According to an article from HBR, How You Can Benefit From All Your Stress, like many things it depends on your attitude. I think one reason that I survived 30 years in a high-performance, high-stress, fast-paced, every-changing culture in a CPA firm is because I actually enjoyed the busiest times and the demanding performance expectations. I looked at it as fun, challenging, interesting and never-boring.
According to research, your mindset about stress is the most important thing. There is the stress-is-debilitating mindset and the stress-is-enhancing mindset. A study of 400 employees of an international financial institution found that those employees who had the stress-is-enhancing mindset reported having better health, greater life satisfaction and superior work performance.