Archive for the ‘Services’ Category

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

A True Story About Launching A New Service

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein

Have you been thinking of launching a new service? Have you been thinking of how to better serve your clients via cloud accounting? I have observed that many CPA firm leaders are debating these topics during their partner meetings and management retreats.

sarahSarah Johnson Dobek of Inovautus Consulting posted a great feature story recently about how one firm launched a service around cloud accounting.

Highlights:

  • Clients were requesting better access to their books in real-time with mobility.
  • The old desktop versions of accounting software were a problem.
  • The firm wanted to offer more non-traditional services.
  • The growth has been higher than any other area of the firm.
  • The workflow is different than traditional tax and audit services.
  • Required a change in the pricing model.

Dobek advises:

  • Launching a new service can be daunting – develop a plan.
  • Be prepared for some things to not go as planned.
  • It always takes longer than you expect.
  • Define what success looks like.

Read this entire interesting story about launching a new service via Inovautus, here.

  • The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Most progressive CPA firms guarantee their work. Do You?

Firms are including a guarantee in the engagement letter or proposal.

Here’s what I put in my own Engagement Agreements:

Service Guarantee and Confidentiality

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. Confidentiality is extremely important. While Keller may serve other CPA firms in your market, absolutely no information about your firm will ever be discussed or disclosed. If I discover a best practice during my association with your firm, I may request permission to feature you and/or your firm on my blog.

 
Sometimes these guarantees are structured in the form of a Commitment Statement to the client that includes things like:

  • You will be respected and never taken for granted.
  • We absolutely respect the confidentiality of our working relationship with you.
  • We will return phone calls and answer email within 24 hours.
  • …. and so on.

Some even include asking the client for some commitments as a second part of the statement, such as:

  • You will give us all the information we need to complete the assignment.
  • 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.
  • … and so on.

Just something you might consider for your firm. It makes a bold and important statement to your clients.

Here’s a sample of a Client Commitment Statement.

  • The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.
  • Morgan Freeman

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Specialize

“Don’t try to make a product for everybody, because that is a product for nobody.” – Seth Godin

I can remember a time when the partners at a CPA firm would joke with each other about being a specialist. These conversations would happen at a CPA association meeting or inside a partner meeting.

If they had a chance to land a car dealership and their firm was already serving ONE dealership, they might convey to the prospective client that they had a lot of experience with dealerships. Same applied to franchises or excavation contractors and so on.

Those days are gone. Today’s most successful firms truly specialize and are deeply knowledgeable about their specialty. The firm has a champion (or niche leader) for the specialty. The leader speaks about the specialty area and writes articles for the specialty association newsletters. They attend conferences directed toward the specialty and continually read and educate themselves about that particular business. They hang-out with business owners in that segment or niche.

These CPAs “own” that specialty inside their firm and are held responsible for the success of the niche. They build a team around it. The niche leader’s compensation is tied to the niche. It is serious business and can help a firm achieve great success.

Here’s an example of a highly specialized firm – Wolcott & Associates.

  • A specialist is a man who knows more and more about less and less.
  • William J. Mayo

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Doing A Client Survey? Keep Calm & Carry On

Most progressive firms do client feedback surveys on a regular basis. Most firms, over all, do not. I don’t think you should do one every year but using a 3-year cycle makes sense.

If you ask too often, clients seem to find it a chore. Usually, your best clients will give you glowing remarks and you will always receive a response from those clients that have an issue – which is what you want to fish out.

When I talk to firm leaders about a client survey, it often takes them a long time to decide if they will do it and how they will do it. Often it becomes a major discussion topic among the partners and they worry about which clients they should include and which ones they should not. They fret about “what could possibly happen” way too much.

Keep it simple. Don’t worry so much. Just do it.

Have each partner select their “top” clients – whether they are easy to serve or difficult to serve. Most firms judge “top” by the amount of revenue the client (client group) brings to the firm.

Limit the number of top clients per partner to 20 or 30. If you have 10 partners that means 300 clients will be surveyed and should result in a good representation. Many partners only select around 20 and help urge those few to respond.

Again, don’t procrastinate and don’t worry about what replies you might uncover. I find that most clients have really honest and helpful feedback for the firm.

  • The most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
  • Bill Gates

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Let Your Clients Know Your Expectations

This is one of those “back in the day” posts that perhaps younger people in the CPA profession tire of hearing. Yet, I still believe that some of the old ways might be the best ways.

I grew up in public accounting under the stewardship of a highly professional, disciplined, intelligent, dictator-style managing partner, Luke Ware. Luke “grew-up” in a Big 8 firm and I am just assuming that many of his actions/procedures were developed there. Our firm was small then. It ranged from 11 to about 22 people while Luke was the boss.

Client service was the focus, yet the clients were trained. That’s what we called it. They were trained to be ready when our CPAs arrived for an audit or review. All of the business owners were 1040 clients. They knew when their appointment was each year (yes, they came into the office to meet with the partner/manager) and they brought their organizer and all their documents with them (well, most of their documents).

Notice I said, “trained.” We trained our clients via communicating their responsibilities as part of our relationship. What we really did was clearly communicate our expectations. I hope you are doing the same.

In a busy, growing accounting firm it is the manager’s duty (or the partner) to be sure the client is ready for the auditors when they arrive on the appointed day. It is their duty to be sure the client understands their commitments to the beneficial relationship.

Some steps you might use:

  • Set an appointment date when you expect their data to arrive
  • Teach them how you would like to receive the data
  • Provide reminders as the date nears
  • Talk about these steps with all new clients as you add them to your client list

We sent an appointment card with the organizer (the kind they could stick on their refrigerator). These days you can send an appointment invitation via email. Each 1040 client received a reminder call the day before the 1040 appointment to remind them of the appointment (much like your dentist or eye doctor does now). If they didn’t have “all their stuff,” we told them to come anyway and bring what they did have so we could get started on the return.

As our firm grew, we got away from some of this because of the “time” involved in meeting with the client and the convenience of just having them drop-off or send in their information. We often use client service to hide the fact that we really want less time in the job. Meeting with a client, even for just a 1040, face-to-face once a year often opened the door to additional services – that was part of the plan.

What’s your plan? Do you permit clients to sabotage your schedule? These days I recommend developing a commitment statement between the firm and the client outlining the expectations from both and making it a discussion tool early in the relationship.

I have always believed that clients are impressed by a CPA firm that appears very professional, has defined procedures, communicates effectively and is an example of how you run a highly-successful business.

 

  • I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'
  • Muhammad Ali

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Do You Have What It Takes?

Accountants, for the most part, are not known for the expert selling skills. Most have not worked at honing those skills like a professional sales person has. You have a good excuse….. you did not go into accounting to be a sales person.

If you are in PUBLIC accounting, you are wrong. You provide business owners and individuals with professional services. In the good old days, CPA practitioners just “hung out a shingle” and waited. Not sure if you have noticed but our world is no longer a world where it pays off to wait.

So the next time you are facing that meeting with a potential client, do not allow that nervous fear to build-up inside you. You begin feeling that you are not good enough. They will see right through you. Your competitors are “smoother” and more convincing. Many CPAs have felt this way. You might even feel this way when you are talking to current clients. You hesitate to offer them more services. They won’t want to pay you more money. They don’t see the value and you don’t convey it very well.

You are wrong. You DO have what it takes. You DO provide value. Consider the specialized knowledge you have spent years developing and the amazing experiences you have had helping clients face financial challenges.

You have what it takes and you are worth it. Just do your best.

This post was inspired by a newsletter from Chris Brogan.

 

  • You owe the universe a lot more than you have delivered so far.
  • Chris Brogan

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Preparing Your CPA Firm For The Future

I was delighted to be part of a special blog post on the SmartCenter Blog. Thanks to William Hamilton of SmartCenter for reaching out to me.

They asked 9 thought leaders one question:

“What do modern tax & accounting firms need to do to prepare for the future.”

It was very difficult to offer just one idea!

Click here to read all the great comments and download some very helpful tools from SmartCenter.

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  • Have you taken time to identify your ideal client?
  • Jason Blumer

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Better Client Service

HostetlerDustinLeanCPA-1023It just makes sense to me that the more efficient you are, the better service you can provide your clients. However, it is sometimes difficult for CPAs to get past the mindset that the faster you complete the engagement services the bigger the chance of doing something wrong.

Dustin Hostetler, the founder of Flowtivity and the lead consultant for Lean4CPAs by Flowtivity is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with extensive experience working inside a large regional CPA firm and has taken proven Lean techniques from the manufacturing floor and tailored them to bring value to public accounting firms.  Hostetler thoroughly addresses the issue of delivering better client service in a recent blog post and I wanted to share his remarks with all of you.

He notes two misconceptions about process improvement initiatives:

# 1 – You can’t be more efficient without negatively impacting quality

#2 – By undertaking a process improvement initiative, we could negatively be impacting our client service.

He explains client satisfaction via three different customer services “curves.” They are, Basic, Performance and Delighter services.

Read more about it here.

 

  • We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Are You Still Waiting To Be Paid For Work You Did in March?

Most of what I write about is based on real-life observation. This is one of those topics.

New clients, at many CPA firms, are accepted without a very specific conversation about fees. It seems the CPA partners (the people responsible for those upfront conversations) are afraid. CPAs afraid? Yes, definitely.

  • Afraid of scaring the prospective client off
  • Afraid the potential client won’t grasp the value of the services
  • Afraid of not being able to explain exactly why the services are so vital (and expensive)
  • Afraid of confrontation

Some of this fear is based upon the fact that CPAs are humble and quite often don’t even perceive the value of their knowledge and expertise. Comments like, “I can’t bill the client for that, it only took a few minutes.” Or, “I’m not sending an invoice for that advice, I knew the answer right away.”

I believe the upfront conversation could eliminate so many uncomfortable moments later on. As you work with clients it is very important to develop and practice “fee talk” skills as you advance in your accounting career..

A blog post that my friend and CPA consultant, Steve Erickson, did a few years back is still very helpful. It is right on target for what I witnessed over many years inside my firm. Here are the points about talking to your clients about fees:

Stop quoting fee ranges – This is a very common practice. CPAs will tell the client that their annual work will cost between $8,000 and $10,000. The client immediately thinks and expects $8,000 and the CPA is actually thinking $10,000 (or more).

Initiate the conversation about fees with all your clients – Provide a general letter about fees and share the Firm Credit Policy. I recommend a general “welcome” letter to new clients from the firm administrator or the CEO that includes a copy of the firm credit policy.

Negotiate the scope of work not your fees – If a client wants to pay less, explain the services you can provide for that amount – negotiate and provide examples of what many clients do that increase the fees (messy records, lack of response, etc.)

Stop extending excessive credit – get retainers (you won’t have to wait until August or later to get paid for work you did in March).

Call before sending an unexpected bill – I have seen partners shy away from a phone call that could save headaches down the road. If the work is expanding, stop and call the client before you have your staff proceed with the work.

Perhaps a better answer is to move to value pricing where you have the upfront conversation every year. Read my blog post about Pricing On Purpose.

  • There is no victory at bargain basement prices.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The Agony of Decisions Inside Your Accounting Firm

As CPA firms grow, things need to change.

When you have 2 – 5 partners (owners) and a firm administrator involved in the decision-making activities, these people become used to being involved in  every operational/management decision. You have probably heard the old example that has circulated in CPA management conferences for years about it taking 5 partners and several meetings to decide on what copier (or printer) to purchase.

I can even remember when we would form a committee with partners, staff people and administrative people to research and decide on the best copier to purchase!

Did all those people want to be involved?  Yes and no. Some owners want their stamp of approval on everything but most people just don’t want the blame for a poor decision falling on their shoulders alone. It’s almost comical and the old adage, “no decision, is a decision” applies.

Thank goodness those types of routine decisions about the operational side of the firm have been placed in the hands of a professional firm administrator who navigates the partner political waters efficiently.

But, there are an ever-increasing number of more complex decisions that face firms in the current, rapidly-changing business world. Technology is just one example.  There are still many firms, although they say they are a digital firm and all work is reviewed “on screen,” allow one or two partners to continue to operate “the old-fashioned” way.

Performing client engagements has moved so far beyond reviewing on screen (or not). Progressive firms are moving to virtual services. Auditors do not have to travel to a client site and sit in a conference room (or in some cases a store room) to perform the audit.

Going forward, it’s going to take experts in HR, technology and practice growth sitting at the decision-making table and a group of owners who will respect decisions made by others.

Check back tomorrow for more about making decisions.

  • I must have a prodigious amount of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up.
  • Mark Twain