Friday, November 3rd, 2017

Be a Proactive Advisor

“Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them.” – W. Edwards Deming

Thanks so much to SageWorks for sponsoring my webinar yesterday: Women in Accounting – Thriving now and into the future and thanks to the hundreds of people who joined in. You are probably using ProfitCents in your accounting practice, if not, check it out.

At the end of my presentation, Colin Tierney of SageWorks shared some interesting points. I wanted to share some of them with you:

  • 25-40% of new business generated by top CPA firms comes from cross-selling to existing clients
  • 75% have changed firms because their CPAs are providing reactive services rather than proactive advice
  • 80% of the accounting market sees an immediate demand for advisory

I hope these numbers inspire you. Profession leaders are urging CPAs to move toward more advisory services. You are “the most trusted advisor.” Capitalize on that fact. Don’t compete on the price of your compliance services. Be more proactive and help your clients become more profitable.

  • "Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it."
  • Harper Lee

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Managers, Are You Ready?

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” – Peter Drucker

Being a manager in a CPA firm is often a thankless experience.

You are caught between the partners and the staff. You seem to be responsible for so many tasks and activities relating to both. Plus, you are responsible for your own productivity. On top of that, the partners want you to help market the firm and bring in new business.

You can only do all of this if you are performing as a true manager and not simply being a worker-bee producing billable work.

As next busy season approaches, are you ready to manage or will you simply be a firefighter putting out fires in reactionary mode, day after day?

Here are some steps to help you be a manager – that means getting things done through other people.

Work on your delegation skills. When a task comes you way, ask yourself, can someone at a lower billing rate do this task? Is there a team member with space on their schedule? Even if it might be difficult for them, let them try. Just because a partner delegates to you, it doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself. YOU have to just be sure it gets done properly.

Do not participate in upward delegation. When a team member has difficulty completing an assignment, for a variety of reasons, don’t take the work back! After assigning the task, check with them every day to see what progress they are making and be available to answer questions. As the deadline approaches, you will know where they stand and might even be able to allow them more time.

Train, communicate, coach and delegate continually. That is how people improve in a CPA firm. They learn by doing and even re-doing. Provide helpful and insightful review notes so they learn from their mistakes. Give them verbal feedback daily. Don’t save up feedback for a formal performance review.

Hold them accountable. How do you do this? By simply asking questions – “Are you having any difficulties with the Jones assignment?” “Are you going to be able to hit the established completion date coming up in three days?” “Do you have any questions for me?”

Being a manager involves so much more than these few things. You must help direct reports establish goals and achieve them. You must encourage them to hit their goals and review their progress frequently. You must be a constant source of encouragement to others. You must also work on your own goals and be a life-long learner.

 

  • "Success in management requires learning as fast as the world is changing."
  • Warren Bennis

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Men & Women Working In CPA Firms

“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” – Sheryl Sandberg

I believe accounting is a very female-friendly profession. When I began working in the CPA profession, I remember the Silent Generation managing partner telling me, “We now have a young lady who is taking the CPA exam.” He was very proud of that fact!

In my experience the profession has always been very female friendly and even years ago I felt flexibility was always there for working moms. It just wasn’t very flexible when it came to female partners!

Some of the friction I observe between male and females in CPA firms can be traced back to misunderstanding. Much like in a marriage, men and women are not always on the same wave-length. They approach things differently and think about solutions differently. Better understanding from both sides about some of these mysteries – Why did he do it that way? Why did she react that way? – can go along way to enjoying harmony at work.

Join me tomorrow – Thursday, November 2, 12:00-1:00 eastern to for a special webinar sponsored by SageWorks to learn why when women win, CPA firm win.

Register here.

  • "The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me."
  • Ayn Rand

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Make A Commitment

“If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” – Jeff Bezos

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, here is an example of a Mutual Commitment Statement that I often share. Simply customize it to fit your firm.

Our Mutual Commitment Statement

I, Sally Partner, and the entire team at (name of firm) want your experience with us to be the best it can be.  We offer the following commitments to you:

  • You will be respected and never taken for granted.
  • We will act with integrity, honesty and openness in everything we do for you and with you.
  • We will absolutely respect the confidentiality of our working relationship with you.
  • We will return phone calls and answer email within 24 hours.
  • We will meet the deadlines we set. In the case of circumstances beyond our control, we will notify you and discuss with you immediately.
  • Our services will rarely, if ever, be the least expensive. They will, though, always be of exceptional quality and designed to help you obtain significant value.
  • You have the right to know our fee structure in advance of any engagement.
  • You are the sole judge of our performance. If anything we do falls short of your expectations, we – without question – will respect your right to simply pay for whatever you feel the service was worth.

To facilitate our efforts in providing the highest level of service, we ask the following of you.

  • You will be open, frank and honest with us at all times. You will let us know immediately of any concerns you have about our work together.
  • You will give us all the information we need to complete our assignments.
  • You will meet mutually agreed upon deadlines. In the case of circumstances beyond your control, you will notify us immediately of the situation.
  • You will pay our fees per our engagement letter. If you cannot pay, you will call and talk to us immediately.
  • You will give consideration to referring us to at least one other business that might benefit from our services.

 

  • "If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself."
  • JW Marriott

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Guarantee Your Work

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates

It’s that time of year when most of us are beginning to receive the pre-Christmas deluge of catalogs. I actually enjoy them. I have my favorites that I order from, whether I receive a catalog or not, but the vast majority I just browse through and then recycle.

Yesterday, I was browsing through catalogs and found something that made me think of CPA firms – The Vermont Country Store Customer Bill of Rights – 100% Guaranteed Satisfaction:

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Some accounting firms offer their clients a guarantee. I hope you are making it a prominent part of your verbal and written communication with prospects and clients. The Vermont Country Store has it inside the cover page of their catalog.

I put mine in every engagement agreement:

Rita Keller’s services are unconditionally guaranteed. If the services do not meet your expectation, you may end the arrangement and pay only the value you deem acceptable.

I hope you also provide your clients with a commitment statement describing the way you provide service. I prefer a double commitment statement – what you, as a firm, commit to and what you expect from your client. I will share it in tomorrow’s blog post.

  • "Going above and beyond involves making customers feel special and helping them out even when it may not make sense."
  • Neil Patel

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Encouragement

“Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” – Goethe

When those young, accounting majors graduate and enter a CPA firm, they sometimes procrastinate on taking the CPA exam.

Often, firms let them procrastinate. Don’t do it!

Studies show that a huge factor in young people passing the CPA exam is encouragement. Tell them boldly, “We are a CPA firm. We need CPAs. We will help you.”

Then be sure you back-up your words with action. Revamp your CPA exam policy (if you have one). Be generous with monetary support. The firm pays for study aids and courses, all fees associated with the exam. Provide generous work time for study time.

When they actually pass the exam, celebrate! When they received their official certificate, have it professionally framed for them. Sometimes, little things make the biggest difference.

  • "Nine tenths of education is encouragement."
  • Anatole France

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Fear and Trust

 “The glue that holds all relationships together–including the relationship between the leader and the led–is trust, and trust is based on integrity.” –Brian Tracy

Some accounting firms continue to have an under-current of fear running through their culture. Many team members fear that if they provide their true feelings about the partners there will be repercussions.

The partners say, as a group, that there will never be negative repercussions if a team member provides honest feedback. Yet, people still fear that individual partners do not necessarily buy into that position.

Some accounting firms have purposely moved their culture, over time, to one of trust. Partners trust their team members to do good work. Team members trust that partners keep their word.

If your firm needs to move toward a culture of trust, begin now. Review your policies and determine if some of them are still old-school, making team members feel the lack of trust. Get people involved in the process and make the changes that need to be made. Trust is built and maintained by many small actions over a period of time – take baby steps if you must!

  • "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it."
  • Warren Buffett

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

Hard Driver Versus Non-Confrontational

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” – George Orwell

I have observed that CPA firms, over a period of many years, seem to develop cultures that encourage almost opposite behaviors.

As you probably know, I have been working in the CPA profession long enough to observe how changes in leadership drives culture.

I entered the profession when the Silent Generation was still in control. Traditionalists, known as the Silent Generation (because children of this generation were expected to be seen and not heard) were born during the mid-1920s to 1945. There are some (age over 72) still active in the profession but most have now retired.

The traditional era managing partner was a hard driver. He (and almost always it was a he) believed you make your own way through hard work which included long, grueling hours. Promotions and advancement was the result of tenure and proven productivity. They did not listen to the opinions of their staff before making decisions – it never occurred to them.

I observed that when this type of managing partner finally retired, the next generation (baby boomers) made a fairly significant swing towards not being hard on people. They avoided confrontation of any kind. They didn’t want to be the tyrant-type leader they had observed. Yet, they still believed that hard-work was the foundation of their culture.

Over time, baby boomers have mellowed and have realized that if you want to retain top talent you have to be flexible and willing to listen to the desires and needs of your employees.

Because they are still very non-confrontational they do not address situations that need to be addressed. Many retain employees that should have been out placed years ago. If one person complains about a new policy or procedure they almost panic and react too quickly. Some, to me, appear almost skittish.

I always suggest that you don’t want your CPA firm to be a sweat-shop culture nor do you want it to be a country club culture. Where do you fit?

  • "World War II brought the Greatest Generation together. Vietnam tore the Baby Boomers apart."
  • Jim Webb

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Who Has Your Back?

In so many successful firms, the managing partner has a strong, right-hand person. Sure, they have managers and staff to handle client work but they also have a professional firm administrator to handle daily operations and to bring timely trends and ideas (best practices) from other firms to the attention of the managing partner.

I have always seen the firm administrator role as one of influence rather than one of power. There are also other great influencer roles in CPA firms that are not partner roles.

Guy Gage recently did a great blog post – The Passenger Seat Matters – he explains that there are three roles that must be filled in order to be successful. The driver, the back-seat and the passenger seat – be sure to read it, I think you will really enjoy it.

  • "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
  • Henry Adams

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

Starting and Stopping

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” – John D. Rockefeller

In many firms, decisions, even some minor ones, are a full partner group activity. A  decision is discussed at a partner meeting and then deferred until later. It is a start and stop, do and don’t type of management culture.

As accounting firms grow, there is a need to empower management with more freedom to actually manage.

Allow your managing partner and firm administrator to take full control over the day-to-day operations of your firm. Develop a need-to-know policy. What specific things do all partners need to be involved in? If you have a competent, professional firm administrator, the managing partner does not have to even be involved in every little decision.

I have observed that when fully discussed, all partners actually need to be involved in very little. Of course, they need to be fully informed on a regular basis. That’s why monthly partner meetings are a must, especially for smaller and mid-size firms.

Where you order office supplies is not a topic for a partner meeting.

  • "Inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it."
  • Sigmund Freud