Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

Fire Drill Clients

“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.” – Tom Robbins

September 15th is approaching rapidly. You are so unhappy with those clients that ignore all of your requests for their information. Once the fire drill is over, take time to review your client list and decide on the ones that simply must go.

According to Arvid Mostad, President of Mostad & Christensen, Inc., a well-known supplier of quality marketing materials to the CPA profession, here are the 15 habits of bad clients:
  1. Slow paying or non-payment of fees.
  2. Write-downs always exceed write-ups.
  3. Client frequently complains about billings.
  4. Client is unwilling to pay for added services.
  5. Not profitable when compared to other clients.
  6. Personality conflict with partners and staff.
  7. Client conduct makes staff uncomfortable.,
  8. Client is abusive to staff, even if civil to partners.
  9. Client fails to cooperate or provide information on a timely basis.
  10. Client doesn’t listen to advice given, then complains about results.
  11. Client projects are always on a crisis time schedule.
  12. Client expresses lack of trust in the firm’s work.
  13. Client is less than truthful.
  14. Client has taken on new ventures outside the firm’s area of expertise.
  15. Client’s activities expose the firm to liability.

Use this list to help identify the clients that need to be referred elsewhere.

  • "Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion . . . . I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. "
  • Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Establish An Email Policy

“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua J. Marine

Not sure why, but many CPAs seem to have a fascination with retaining emails. I have talked to some who admit that they have thousands in their inbox that might date back two or three years or more.

I like a comment in the article I featured last week about M&A and technology. An acquiring firm gets IT involved during due diligence to start educating the firm being acquired about retention policies. When your data comes over to the new system, all of your email older than six months will go away. You need to move client emails to the client file.

How would some of your partners feel about that? If you are a smaller firm and have not implemented these essential types of IT policies, start preparing now.

  • "When one door of happiness 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."
  • Helen Keller

Friday, August 31st, 2018

Flashback Friday – Keep Clients Coming Back

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that our strength lies.” – Mother Teresa

Why do clients keep coming back? Here’s a flashback post to help you be the kind of firm that people want to do business with.

Clients judge you on the little things!

  • "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."
  • John F. Kennedy

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

Silence

“Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Silence speaks it all.” – Disha Patani

During each day, you get an enormous amount of questions.

You are the firm administrator. It seems like people are lined up outside your office door continually as the day evolves.

You are the managing partner. A client calls and expects an answer on the spot. A partner stops you in the hall and asks a question. Your firm administrator needs an answer right away!

Partners and managers get questions from staff. Staff members get questions from each other. It seems everyone asking questions think YOU must have an easy and quick answer.

Try a little silence. In appropriate situations, just remain silent and the person asking the question just might answer it themselves.

If you are stopped in the hallway and asked a question say: “Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.” Often, people catch you off guard and it is much safer to deflect, think and then reply.

Delay doesn’t mean days or weeks, it means minutes or hours.

One of the main insights I receive from staff is that they often wait on answers from partners (mostly regarding client work) for days, weeks and sometimes months.

  • "He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words."
  • Elbert Hubbard

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

Working Remotely Works

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” – Joseph Campbell

I recently noticed a discussion on the CPAFMA discussion board. Someone wanted guidance on designing a remote work policy.  Some firms are really strict about having a documented agreement that outlines the do’s and don’ts of staff working remotely.

I thought a great reply was provided by my friend, Donna Marlarkey, Firm Administrator for KWC in Alexandria, Virginia. The firm doesn’t stress that working remotely is a privilege, it is something offered to everyone. Here is Donna’s reply to the question.

donnaWe have so many staff who work remotely… some even work from other states (we have them in NC, Colorado, North Dakota and Rhode Island). Our staff loves the flexibility of working from home when they need to. We try not to get wound up in whether it is a right or a privilege… as long as the employee is getting their work done.

The courtesy is extended to everyone… from Partners to our administrative staff (to the extent admin staff has work they can do remotely, like billing, setting up new clients, etc.). We are on a cloud and we are mostly paperless, so working from home is no different than working here at the office. We do ask that they update the EIO board to let us know when they intend to work from home so that we can plan for it (the EIO board “electronic in/out” status site that we use to know where our staff are and what their schedule is). 

I had lunch with someone the other day who used to be with BB&T and they worked under the presumption it was a privilege. They made staff sign annual statements that showed their kids were enrolled in daycare, and they had some kind of program that could tell by the lack of keystrokes whether someone was working or not… if someone was home “working” they were supposed to be working, not going to the store, doing laundry, etc.

Our firm takes the position that we want to be competitive, so we want our staff to have options to have work/life balance, so again, as long as the work is getting done, we let them control their schedule. It’s surprising how many of our young staff prefer to work at really odd hours… they will log in at 10:00 at night when they are most productive! 

I wish you all the best with coming up with an agreement that works for you and your firm.

I agree with Donna – I also wish you much success in offering remote work opportunities to your staff.

  • "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too."
  • Voltaire

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Emergencies

“Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.” – William James

I don’t often use a complete post by Seth Godin. However, this one hits so close to home for CPAs that I just had to share it right here – so you will read it!

Another important due date is approaching. So many of you tell me that much of the stress is caused by clients who fail to provide information. Then it becomes a fire drill to complete their tax return by the due date causing stress and frustration for the entire team. His first paragraph is exactly you. 

You must charge a significantly higher fee for emergencies. If those tardy clients won’t pay it then let them go elsewhere. Quit complaining about these clients and take steps to solve the situation.

Emergencies Cost Extra

If you work in a field where things need to be delivered by date certain, with zero defects, with high consequences if you make a mistake—then you need to charge a premium for exposing yourself to emergencies.

It doesn’t matter what something in a non-emergency situation costs. If someone wants the standard version, let them buy that.

The buyer is offered to pull it off the shelf, see if you like it. If it doesn’t satisfy you, take a different one.

Emergencies (or even the risk of emergencies) cost extra. Yelling at us costs extra. Panic costs extra.

Your entire organization (and your entire day) revolves around preventing the emergency or recovering from it when it occurs.

The reason custom work costs more is no longer a matter of production efficiency. Computers are happy to customize things.

Big companies that serve other big companies spend at least 80% of their overhead on being ready (or dealing with) meetings and emergencies.

The reason to charge more is all about ensurance, insurance and emotional wear and tear.

If that’s the sort of work you want to do, charge appropriately.

  • "History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside."
  • John F. Kennedy

Monday, August 27th, 2018

The Importance of Technology When Talking M&A

Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke

BoomerDuring the 2018 Boomer Technology Circles Summit, Jim Boomer moderated a panel discussion on best practices in mergers and acquisitions regarding technology. I know at my firm, the tech staff were involved early on in any merger discussions and often seemed to work magic.

Boomer has written a great summary of the discussions. THIS IS GREAT INFORMATION for anyone considering a merger. Be sure to read it!

Here are the questions that were explored:

How early does IT need to get involved in the due diligence process? And as an IT professional, how do you push to get involved?

We’ve counseled firms that the technology cost of acquiring a firm runs, on average, $10,000 per person. Is that consistent with your experience?

If there a time of year that’s best for making the integration fast and effective?

There’s a lot of talk about “rip and replace” strategy versus peeling off the bandage slowly. What’s the more effective method in your experience?

How long do you let legacy data ride? And what if the acquired firm’s technology spend wasn’t what you were told?

What are your top three priorities to have implemented on Day 1?

  • "The human spirit must prevail over technology."
  • Albert Einstein

Friday, August 24th, 2018

Flashback Friday – Keep Focused

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.” – Jim Rohn

As you become more experienced you might get distracted by various activities outside the firm. Don’t take your eye off the ball. 

Have a great week-end.

  • "If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse."
  • Jim Rohn

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

Fight Your Urge to Procrastinate

“Indecision and delays are the parents of failure.” – George Canning

You are working your way through some strategic planning with your partners. An item comes up that has been discussed on many occasions. One or more participants might say:

  • “Let’s put that one in the parking lot for later.”
  • “It is too late in the year to take that one on.”
  • “We can’t deal with that now, let’s wait until after tax season.”

It is the procrastination dance that many accountants know all too well.

From Psychology Today:

Everyone puts things off until the last minute sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day. “I don’t feel like it” takes precedence over goals; however, it then begets a downward spiral of negative emotions that deter future effort.

Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that’s their way of justifying putting things off. The bright side? It’s possible to overcome procrastination—with effort. Perfectionists are often procrastinators; it is psychologically more acceptable to never tackle a task than to face the possibility of falling short on performance.

I hope you quickly address items that need to be resolved. Either deal with it or take it off the table permanently.

  • "Procrastination is the bad habit of putting of until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday."
  • Napoleon Hill

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

Hold People Accountable

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

If your partners and managers do a poor job of giving feedback, a culture of accountability probably does not exist.

Many accountants (because they are nice people) are uncomfortable giving feedback even when it is needed desperately.

If you procrastinate on giving feedback when people don’t meet deadlines or are not punctual, others observe and assume deadlines can be pushed back a week and it’s okay to be late for a staff meeting.

The more feedback you give, the easier it becomes. Make it part of your daily MBWA (manage by wandering around).

This also applies to partners and managers. They must be accountable to those they supervise. I have always been fond of a partner commitment statement I learned from Sam Allred: “I will do what I say I will do, on time, without reminders.”

  • "Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders."
  • Tom Peters