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Using Busy Season to Motivate Staff and Clients


Busy season is a time when questions are extremely common and important as well. Clients and staff should be encouraged to ask questions but of equal importance is to ask the right questions of clients and staff. In order to motivate and gain actionable tactical intelligence, here are some very important busy season questions that Owners of CPA firms should pose:

Questions for your employees and associates:

  1. What would it take to make today better than yesterday?
  2. What accomplishments would make you proud?
  3. How will you reward yourself for success?
  4. How are you putting your owner status to best use?
  5. Do you see what benefits come from being an owner?
  6. Have you made a significant impact on a client this week or month?
  7. How do you show appreciation to your peers?

Questions for your clients and potential clients:

  1. What business/ financial thoughts keep you up at night?
  2. If you could get an hour of free time with us how would you use it?
  3. How do you define success for you and your employees?
  4. What would be the hardest thing for you to do in your business?
  5. What is the next change you would make in your business?
  6. What kind of impact do we make or should we make on your business?
  7. Would you work with us if you did not need a tax return or financials?

Generate progress for your firm by asking questions you can and will follow up on. Without the right kind of questions and answers, your clients and staff are underachieving assets. When the right questions are asked during busy season, the replies can make for a better season and a better practice year round.

The New Definition of the Right Kind of Client

Hardly a day goes by when CPAs aren’t hit by a headline on succession planning and or staffing – clearly important subject matter but neither one can be resolved quickly or easily. The frequency of headlines creates tension and huge frustration. I believe your attention needs to go where you can see more immediate results:  your clients and whether you have the ‘right’ kind of client. With the birth of a new tax season at hand, here are several guidelines to make sure your client base is driving firm success.

  1. At least of 25% of your revenues are coming from “A” clients and no less than 35% from “B” clients.
  2. 75% of your clients are making use of 75% of the services you offer.
  3. Retainers are received on all new clients and on new projects over a material $ threshold.
  4. Deadlines for receipt of tax information to prepare returns are set and enforced.
  5. New clients are required to document the top 3 needs that they are looking to satisfy by working with your firm.
  6. New clients and ongoing clients are evaluated for service worthiness by an agreed upon process.
  7. Minimum fees are the basis of all tax compliance-only engagements.
  8. Staff enjoys interacting with at least 50% of their clients.

Concentrate on the here and now and it will improve your bottom line, allow for greater quality of life and position you to be more appealing than others for the solutions to succession planning and staffing. Put this tax season to your maximum advantage!

Are you shopping for the right advantages for your firm?

For many firms, December not only brings spirit and celebrations, it also marks the beginning of the busy season.  Fun and success at this time of year are often tied to gift lists and shopping activities. Consider that you should have a shopping list for your firm too. Every Holiday list will include that Famous Senior accountant or Successor, but here are some other items/activities that should be on your firm list as well:

  1. An incentive compensation system that will motivate and actualize increased performance at all levels of your firm.
  2. An engaged collaboration with your state society to enhance the virtue of life at CPA firms and to develop alternative staff options.
  3. 5 ideas/actions that will make an impact in 2016 for your top clients.
  4. 5 changes that will make tax season better in the eyes of your staff, clients and family.
  5. Dialogue with 3 firms of different sizes about the pluses and minuses of joining forces.
  6. A client feedback program to evaluate your service delivery model and the viability of new services.
  7. Career highlights about opportunities at your firm that universities will circulate to their students.
  8. Clients who will broadcast the benefits of working with you and who will cooperate on a business referral program.
  9. 5 kinds of challenges that will excite your staff and motivate them to grow with you.
  10. A priority management system to coordinate firm and personal objectives.

As is the case with any shopping experience, some things are harder to find than others and timing and luck are factors as well. Be aggressive with your shopping and your benefits will not be seasonal!

Enjoy the holidays,


The Perfect Time to Raise the Heat on Your Firm's Potential


It’s the height of the summer vacation season and it is a perfect time to put the “status quo” in your practice management world on vacation as well. Change is not comfortable for many people and this is certainly true of the CPA industry. But as the demographics of the profession have evolved it is clear that change can be put to good use. While you and the rest of your team are in the mind for relaxation, now is the time to allow yourself to relax (and retire) some of the old status quo items and start thinking of making the following five things happen before another busy season takes control of your world.

  1. Grade clients and actually fire the “D” clients. Best to do it in tandem with the last bit of compliance this Fall or right after your real summer vacation so you can focus on the personnel needs that will then be appropriate and the new business that you would like to replace with the “D” clients.
  2. Communicate with clients that are no longer using your firm that you would like to have back. The best way to have fun in your practice is to work with the kind of clients you want. Circumstances which lead to a break in service may have changed and who better to use than you if you really want them and enjoy them?
  3. Reach out to referral sources that have dried up or diminished significantly. The more you can know about your firm and its reputation the better you can engineer your firm for excellence and reduce the aggravation factors. Weakened referrals are an indicator that can bring strategic intelligence.
  4. Contact former employees. The grass is not always greener elsewhere and the comfort that you have with a strong former employee can’t be overvalued. Reach out and stay in touch - staffing is the biggest challenge for all firms.
  5. Convert from a To Do list – to a Must do list. Pushing distractions and interferences away is always a goal but few of us concentrate enough on what we must do to achieve the right financial reward and professional gratification. Each week make it a priority to focus on 5- 10 must dos and see how you transform.

Practicing in a public accounting firm is not easy and taking the easy way out by continuing the same old ways will make things even more difficult. As the heat of summer takes hold, turn the flame up on change and progress.

Enjoy the dog days!


Ira Rosenbloom

Required Tact for M & A Dialogue


So many accountants and accounting firms sincerely want to be successful with a practice merger, purchase or transfer and yet so many of them fall into the same problematic behavior pattern. Here are three of the core cardinal rules we recommend for engaging in discussions with potential mates:

  1. Promote dialogue – resist the natural temptation to go right to the numbers and metrics and actually try to get to know each other and understand what drives the parties as individuals – hobbies, family, friends and other interests are real solid starters. Develop the right dialogue and when you get to play with numbers – you may be able to put your chemistry to good negotiating use.
  2. Encourage mutual pride – respectfully allow each other to highlight the successes of the firms. No one firm is the “best”. Every firm has plusses and minuses and no one firm generally gets all the work or the best work from a prominent referral source. Allow your metrics to speak for you in global terms - % of business, % of closed leads, level of client satisfaction and client longevity data are good ways to convey success without bragging.
  3. Prepare and be prepared – the parties involved should each do their homework on the background of the players at the table and the firms. The more familiarity with the parties the more impressed the parties will be and the better the discussion. In addition, put some thought into the competition for the players and where you may stack up.

Creating a successful CPA firm marriage - much like other marriages - requires dating. And the goal of dating is to keep the dating going as you learn about one another and make decisions along the way about your deeper feelings. In the same way, proper communication and relationship building is the key to CPA firm dating. Let the numbers and formulas come naturally- but start with the dating….

Hoping your summer is off to a great start!


Is it time for a new ownership model?


A common challenge for accounting firms no matter the size is optimizing human capital. The challenge incorporates retention, attracting, motivating and grooming. The challenge not only impacts the client service delivery channel it dramatically affects succession and practice continuity. There are many comprehensive options for addressing human capital and they will require significant commitments and patience. When it comes to practice continuity and succession, time may not be readily available and as a result changing the ownership model and the management platform may be a requirement. Here are some critical changes that should be seriously considered to gain better options and control of your succession:

  1. Open the field of ownership candidates – If your state permits non CPAs to become owners in a CPA firm then put that authorization to your best use. Many of your clients have diverse leadership and ownership - the same can be true for you and that does not mean tax experts, attest folks and consultants. It means marketing professionals, technology experts, operations experts and aligned consultants. Owners of CPA firms need to make strong entrepreneurial decisions and to have solid management aptitude in addition to solid technical skills.  Many non CPA professionals that do not handle traditional accounting have the skills and interest to be outstanding in business and the more they can play a role the less dependent you will be on the number of accountants that are available and interested to be an owner.
  2. Centralize Administration and Support – The less administrative responsibility that is vested in your accounting staff the healthier your firm will be. Scheduling resources, billing, collections, fringe benefits, firm accounting, employee relations, career development and all clerical and data management should be the domain of skilled non CPAs or client service accountants. The more time available to your staff to handle clients the more they will produce and the more gratifying their career will be.
  3. Institutionalize an Owners Perspective – The best way to groom future owners is to give them ownership practice. Routinely role play with your staff and ask them to critique and recommend actions that would make sense to them if they were owners. Create a curriculum for business judgement exercise and use outside coaches and clients to introduce your personnel to the mindset of diverse thoughts on leadership. Create a management book club and have a weekly lunch and learn program for all employees on business decision making.

Accountants cope with regulatory, financial and tax changes very effectively – the time has come for the CPA world to change their own paradigm and optimize human capital – as with other areas of the practice  they may have no choice.

The Right Diagnostics For Your Practice

Most folks are accustomed to seeing their doctor for an annual physical. Businesses benefit from a regular diagnostic much like people. Accounting firms will typically attempt to self-evaluate right after busy season and will use a retreat and consultations to perform some type of diagnostic. As you delve into your own assessments here are some important readings to take in tandem with your retreat or consultations:

  1. Staff perspectives and motivation – productivity and realization, which have long been the bell weather of staff contribution, are no longer adequate yardsticks. Hard working and efficient people leave firms routinely because the challenges are not appealing and the communication processes are failing. There are a host of reasons people consider leaving firms. Delve into the concerns of your personnel with a confidential focus group and a separate staff retreat or consultation.
  2. Referral Source Energy – tracking referral volume is only a part of the assessment of referral results. Frequency of referral, nature of fees, achieved referral vs projected referral, feedback and cooperative endorsement as well as scaling your referrals by caliber of opportunities are all components of the energy of your referral source engine. Set standards and monitor the performance of your referral sources so that you can maximize the rewards and the longevity of relationship.
  3. Client commitment – the longevity of a relationship and the timeliness of fee payments are weak measurements of client commitment. Client referral and client initiative are clear statements on client commitment and comfort. As part of the grading of your client and the description of your “model client” you must be aware of the right benchmarks for client commitment and happiness. It is a good thing to hear a client say they are not cheap but they are worth it when they make referrals.
  4. Owner Compatibility – the common goals of quality work product and solid bottom line are routine basics – the true level of compatibility comes with acceptance of roles and contributions. A goals and accountability plan for the owners should be in place and updated at a minimum every two years.

Now that busy season has passed it is time to diagnose the health and longevity of your practice. Putting your firm under the microscope and taking a comprehensive look will yield benefits that will be long lasting.

Are You Reading the Signs in Your Practice?

CPAs are well primed to delve into data and to create intriguing financial models and dashboards. Many CPAs and CPA firms will appropriately use metrics and data to dissect and improve their own firms after the busy season. But tax season is the perfect time to go beyond the metrics and to make sure you are reading the true signs in your practice. Knowing how you are performing when your engine is in high gear is critical to assessing your future needs. As you enter the most intense timelines of the busy season, here are the kind of questions that you should be asking to make sure you have the right read on your practice:

  1. Are you getting the right amount of support and performance from your admin group? Are there tasks that they are not being asked to do that they should? Would there be a benefit in upgrading the job descriptions of your admin personnel and adding a firm administrator if you don’t have one or a better one if you do?
  2. Who are the heroes of this tax season? Which accountants can do better and how? What improvements can be made in performance before the season ends? Who should be slated for dismissal and when?
  3. Which clients should be dismissed? Are there clients who should be strongly encouraged to go on extension? Will you be better off with more extensions or less?
  4. Where are we excelling and how can we do more of it?
  5. How strong is the inbound referral flow from existing clients?
  6. Has the website and social media made a positive impact on the practice?
  7. What would be different if we merge, acquire or sell? 

For all of the time and challenge that comes with tax season – you should get maximum return on your efforts. Be alert to the conditions in your practice, including the metrics, and you will be well on your way to maximizing your return and having the kind of business you deserve.  Good Luck with crunch time!

What Kind Of Year Will 2015 Be For Your Firm?

Hopefully 2014 was a strong year for you and your practice. As you launch into 2015 it is the right time for you to ask yourself the same question that your clients ask of you - What kind of year will 2015 be? In order to heighten the probability for strong results in 2015 here are 5 questions to keep in mind as you plan for success:
1. What keeps you up at night? If you don't know what will get in the way of your success you don't stand a chance of having strong results. Every firm has issues and concerns. Keep a priority list in play and mind it frequently.
2. What interferes with your goals? Clients, Staff, Partners, Family, Friends and life all vie for places in your agenda. Prioritize your weekly top 5-10 matters and see what it takes to get your goals achieved.
\3. Are you controlling non-productive time? Investing and maintaining your business is a necessity for prosperity. Budget for the various levels of non-chargeable time and make sure you have made time for the productive non-chargeables like coaching, business development and M&A options to name a few. Hire strong admins to handle admin - they are usually much more productive.
4. How accountable are your clients to you and you to your clients? Rules and consequences are essential to creating optimum results. Consequences for poor timeline compliance and work product should be part of the operating system at your firm.
5. Are you aware of the conditions in your market? M&A is no longer a post-tax season encounter; it is 10 months out of the year and those months include January and part of February.
Money can't buy happiness but quality of earnings can bring quality of life. Start the year off committing to your business and keeping these 5 questions at the forefront. With the right answers you'll be well on your way to a strong 2015. Happy New Year and best of success!

Keys To Turn December Into A Windfall For Revenue Generation

December is always an action-packed month for accountants. Tax projections, year-end staff reviews, holiday parties, inventory, CPE, and family time are just some of the December realities impacting CPAs, each year. While being busy is normal for this time of year, it’s important to reap the rewards that come from investing your time in these activities. Here are five ways to make this month a “December to Remember:”
1. Optimize Year-End Meetings.
On a selective basis, include the client’s business attorney in your year-end meeting so that the meeting has the potential to go beyond the traditional tax conversation. Anticipate client needs for the New Year and the impact these concerns will have on their tax and financial planning. Expanding the agenda can lead to increased client fees right now, with the potential for additional work in the following year. Including the attorney in the meeting, with your client’s permission, is a positive sign for both your client and his or her attorney (who could also be a source for more business).
2.Broadcast the Expected and Actual IRS Handicaps.
Funding for the IRS continues to be cut and, as a result, business as usual can easily turn into disaster as usual. Create a briefing process to keep your referral sources in the loop about these bureaucratic nightmares, and to suggest some of the solutions you are employing. The briefing should be by invitation only and the invited parties should receive their invitations electronically. Holiday parties provide great opportunities to issue invitations and to tell invitees why they have been selected.
3.Go Beyond Holiday Cards.
Send selected clients a New Year’s letter thanking them for the specific number of years you have been working together. A milestone of five years or more would be a good benchmark for the right audience, with a reminder of the milestone reached, in the last year. Clients want to know that they matter, and that they are not just a revenue item. The more the client feels appreciated, the more likely he/she will be to refer a friend.
4.Turn Staff Reviews into Incentive Achievement Plans.
Intellectual advancement is a must in professional service businesses, but technical growth must generate revenue enhancement, as well. Provide your team members with clearly defined tax season goals that will create more revenue for the firm. Establish a system that rewards them through a specific bonus plan for their achievements. Individual and team bonuses should be considered, as long as the results are based on a win-win.
5.Package Your Tax Compliance Services.
Much like other businesses, accounting firm revenues can vary by season, and by the package of services that clients select and use. Minimum fees for all tax compliance work should be in effect, and updated. Pricing should reflect your preference for workflow, and should clearly define and include the terms of services. Projections can also be a great way to convert clients to a minimum fee plan, and to place all new clients on such a plan, as well.
Make this month a “December to Remember” for you, your firm, your clients, your friends, and your family!
Happy Holidays!!