Archive for the ‘Process’ Category

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

Winter Weather

“It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy, we face the storm and defy it.” – Amelia Barr

It is only October but for those CPA firms in the winter weather advisory sections of the country, it means that ice and snow are just around the corner.

Many firms have snow days or inclement weather policies. I asked advice from several firms from across the country and, as I expected, most firms now expect people to work from home on those days. Firms provide remote access to all employees.

Some firms have made the leap to unlimited PTO and, of course, everyone gets paid for those days they are unable to get to the office. Other firms have put a cap on snow days, allowing one day’s pay.

I found that the firms in the areas where there is always significant snow, rarely close the office. All firms stress the safety of the employees and using common sense about tackling a rough commute.

Here’s my favorite system:

We are no longer closing our office for winter weather.  We let individuals decide if they can make it in and if they can’t they can work from home.  All members of the team have remote access.

 

  • Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.
  • John Ruskin

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Think Before You Automate

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau

Your firm is almost paperless. You have been working on it (that’s what many firm leaders tell me) but still some paper flows around the office as tax returns and other client projects are being prepared.

You find an appropriate accounting workflow software and commit to automating the way that work flows through your office. There are several vendors serving the CPA profession. Do your research and find out which one is best for your firm. Both of the prominent CPA profession software vendors have a product.

Then you are anxious to get it up and running so that you can digitally track the work flowing through the office. Move ahead cautiously. Take time to think. Are you planning to simply replicate your current process by using the software?

Before you automate, investigate and eliminate all of the inefficiencies in your current processes. The accounting software will just do what you tell it to do. Form a task force comprised of people from different levels and disciplines involved in the work and streamline the process before you automate it.

Accounting workflow software will help you take a huge step toward becoming a truly digital firm.

 

  • Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.
  • Peter Drucker

Friday, July 6th, 2018

Flashback Friday – Provide Guidance On How To Enter Time

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” – Albert Einstein

If you are a value pricing firm, disregard.  Good for you and I bet you have a lot of happy team members. I also imagine that you have well-trained managers who mentor and guide them through client engagements.

If you are not a value pricing firm, like most of the firms I talk to and work with, I bet you get the questions, “How do we enter our time for traveling to a client location? Is it chargeable or not?”

Here’s a flashback post to help you help your team.

  • No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.
  • Andrew Carnegie

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Client Acceptance

“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” – Nathaniel Branden

A potential new client calls and wants to meet you and possibly hire you and your firm. You are thrilled – a new client!

More and more potential clients are contacting you via your website to inquire about services. You are thrilled – a new client!

They come into the office for a complimentary first meeting. This is where you need to be careful and not be so thrilled.

They talk and talk. You talk and talk. Before you know it you have given them a couple hours of FREE consultation. Because you are a nice person and want to help people you have also probably given them valuable advice on their financial situation without them becoming a client.

Many people who contact you, are not a suitable client for your services. Don’t invest too much time upfront.

Yes, put the word out there that you offer a free one-hour consultation for prospective clients. But, establish a script for that first meeting to learn more about them so you can decide whether they are a suitable candidate for your firm. Don’t accept clients that do not fit your criteria for an “A” client. Your expertise is not a fit for everyone. Invest one hour, no more until they sign the engagement letter.

The establishment of a valid billing and collection policy begins with client acceptance.

  • Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there's got to be a way through it.
  • Michael J. Fox

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Incentive For New Business – Keep It Simple

“If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” – Steven Johnson

Many firms, in recent years, have adopted an incentive plan for bringing new business to the firm. It is usually a percentage of fees billed to the new client for the first year of service. Some firms pay a percentage for the first two or three years of service.

The most common ones that I am aware of are 10% of first-year fees or 5% of fees for the first one, two and/or three years.

Some firms require that a certain amount of fees must be billed and even that certain realization levels are accomplished. They also pay the incentive on a delayed schedule – after services are rendered and fees are billed (and collected, in some cases).

Why not be more generous? How motivational is it to make the effort to bring in new business when the reward comes way down the road with lots of stipulations.

At my firm, we paid 10% of first-year fees at the time the initial engagement letter was signed, based on the amount quoted in the engagement letter. We did not pay for individual income tax clients unless they were quoted a fee over $2,000.

The incentive was intended for business clients. If we quoted a range of fees, like many firms do, such as $3,000 – $4,000, we paid the team member 10% of the higher amount. If first-year fees ended up being more than the amount quoted in the engagement letter, we paid the make-up amount after the year-end. This policy did not apply to partners. All that was required is that the team member made the introduction and involved a partner.

Whatever your firm offers, keep it simple and provide more timely gratification to the team member.

Just FYI, we did not pay-out this incentive very often. It didn’t seem to motivate staff and admin very much.

  • You've got to change incentives for good behavior as opposed to just disincentivizing bad behavior.
  • Gavin Newsom

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Doing The Work

“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Have you examined how work is actually prepared, processed and completed inside your firm lately? You better put it on your list!

Lots of firms have embraced the Lean Six Sigma process and not only improved their workflow and efficiency but have also ignited more passion for the work in their team members.

So many people in CPA firms do things because “that’s the way Joe (partner) wants it” or “Rebecca wants it done this way.”

Today’s workforce wants to be challenged and not simply repeat the same work, the same way, year after year after year.

Managers, and sometimes even partners, cling to work that they have done for years because it’s easy for them and it helps them accumulate billable hours. Identify a less experienced team member and delegate that work. It might not be easy for them but it will help them grow in their career and that’s what builds a top performing team.

Read this great article via HBR – Why People Really Quit Their Jobs.

  • Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today.
  • Tim Fargo

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Year-End Tax Checklist

“Life is simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius

Well-managed CPA firms have, for a long time, supplied their individual income tax clients with some sort of year-end tax checklist. It is meant to be a helpful tool to encourage the clients to consider significant (and some insignificant) events that might affect their tax return.

At my firm, we used to include the tax checklist with the tax organizer. Many clients, as you can imagine, never bothered to look at their organizer, so they also missed the tax checklist. Then, we stopped providing tax organizers. Our default setting was “No organizer” unless a client specifically requested one. A few did.

Things are so much better now. You can simply send an email to your clients with a link to the annual tax checklist. They can quickly scan through the questions and provide you with information that affects their return.

Last week I received an email from one of my clients that included the year end tax checklist link (just because I am on their mailing list). It was quick to read, easy to review and made me think about pertinent information. That’s exactly how you want your clients to feel about how you provide services – quick, easy and pertinent!

Make 2018 a year when you become a proactive advisor to your clients and get away from always being in reactionary mode.

  • The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
  • Hans Hofmann

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Are You Using Technology To Do Things The Old Way?

“The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.” – Warren Bennis

I imagine that many of you have seen this quote from Bill Gates:

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” 

I believe that in many cases, inside CPA firms, you have simply taken the way that paper flowed through your office and replicated it into some wonderful, advanced software program.

For example, I was visiting with a firm recently that had simply taken the steps that they used for moving paper tax returns through the office and inserted the same exact steps into a software program that is capable of doing so much more, without even exploring all of the possible options and efficiencies now available to them.

I find this same scenario playing out in firms over and over again, year after year!

We all become comfortable with status quo, the familiar, the known. Take your firm to the next level – move out of the comfort zone – don’t be afraid! Stop settling for status quo because it is easy. As we get closer to wrapping up another year, look back, contemplate 2017. Has it been another year of just settling for status quo?

  • Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.
  • Edward de Bono

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

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