10 Tips to Gain 10 Minutes a Day During Busy Season

Every position has a busy season.  In my current role, my busiest months are June and July as every aspect is in full swing.  When the summer comes for me, or the first two weeks in April come for you, there will still only be 168 hours in a week, however utilizing just a few quick tricks before and during busy season can feel like you’ve somehow managed to squeeze out a couple extra hours.  Even if one of these tricks, such as speeding up how you open your most frequented folder, only saves you ten brief seconds every time you open it, if you open that folder ten times a day you could save three hours during tax season just in folder-opening time alone.  Imagine the potential if you learned even just a few tricks like that!  Here are a few tips like folder-opening that I utilize to prepare for a busy season.

blog imagePLAN AHEAD

  1. Create Templates – You already know many types of messages you’re probably going to have to send in April: “It appears that your Tax Organizer is missing a couple of documents.  Please submit these documents by [deadline] so we can process your return in a timeline manner.”  There are also probably particularly long client names that you have to type frequently.  So why not write those canned phrases out while your head is clear and re-use instead of re-think them every time you need to call upon it? These template phrases or paragraphs are called “Quick Parts” in Outlook and in Word.  To create a new Quick Part, type out your canned phrase.  Select it, then go to the Insert tab > Quick Parts > Save Selection.  When you need to insert that phrase or paragraph into one of your emails, simply go back to the Quick Parts button and click on it to insert. To make insertions even faster, you can right click the Quick Parts button and “Add to Quick Access Toolbar” at the top of your window so it’s always handy.  Also, in Outlook, try naming your Quick Part as the first few words you usually type in when using that phrase, so when you start typing, Outlook will even guess you want to enter that pre-set text and all you have to do is click Enter and it appears on your page!Templates1
  2. Keep your favorites at your fingertips – Instead of wasting time navigating to or trying to remember where you stored that form template or important spreadsheet, keep your most frequently used documents always within reach.  On your taskbar, right click your Word or Excel icon, and click the “pin” next to a recent document to have it always show in that list.  Then anytime you need it, simply right click on the icon and open your document without having to navigate around to find it or having to close any windows to get to it on your desktop.
  3. Set up your Favorites Folders – If there are certain folders you look in frequently that are embedded in other folders, save time by only having to click and think once rather than dig through sub folders.  In Windows Explorer, find a folder you often navigate to, then click and drag that folder into the left navigation pane and drop it onto the yellow star called Favorites.  You can then rename and reorder your favorite folders to make it easier for you to get to quickly.Favorites
  4. Clear your desk – Research studies indicate that our minds pay attention to everything we can see, even if it’s just slowly working in the background.  Help yourself focus on one task at a time by moving all the piles on your desk to outside your peripheral view so when you look at your computer screen all your mind can see is the task at hand.  One trick I use is to add the project that piece of paper represented to my To-Do list, then file the papers away.  My list will remind me to do it at the appropriate time, and I won’t waste my time thinking about it every time I step up to my desk just because it’s sitting there demanding attention.
  5. Space it out – In launching into our busy season at my last position, my supervisor and I used to set a day aside for planning.  We would brainstorm all we wanted to get done in the upcoming season, then order them based on priority, then I would sit down with my calendar and estimate how long it would take to do each project and pop them onto my calendar starting with the most important project until I ran out of calendar.  Spacing projects out ahead of time helps set mini deadlines so you can regularly monitor if you are on track and stay focused on your goals, and have forewarning if you need to adjust your plan to delegate or drop any projects.

STAY FOCUSED

  1. Set your day’s goals – In busy season, our lists are so long sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. I usually write the items that have to get done that day on a dry erase board or in a different color on my To-Do List each morning so as emergencies come up throughout the day trying to turn my attention elsewhere, I can clearly stay focused on what the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’s Time Management Matrix encourages: the important, not the urgent.
  2. Break projects into bite-sized chunks – One trick that’s suggested by popular time-management method Getting things done is to write out the steps necessary to accomplish a project and focus on them one at a time.  So instead of writing on your To-Do list “Johnson Audit,” perhaps for that day you might write “Clear review notes.”  Breaking it down into manageable tasks, you don’t have to remember every time you look at it where you are and what to do next, and it feels less overwhelming so you are more likely to start the project rather than put it off.  Additionally, it helps me to see a verb/action rather than a noun/item on my To-Do list such as “Clear review notes” instead of just “Review notes.”
  3. Save it for later – Another trick from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done is if a task will take you less than two minutes, it’s better to take care of it right then.  If it takes longer than that, don’t stop your train of thought; add it to your To-Do list and take care of it when you choose to not when it comes onto your desk.
  4. Schedule email time – On a similar note, just because John emails you at 11:43 a.m. doesn’t mean you have to drop what you’re working on and respond right then.  As your company’s customer response-time policy allows, select a particular time to respond to emails, such as once in the morning, at lunch, and in the afternoon.  Mind Tool’s Time Management Training suggests it takes approximately 10 minutes to get re-focused; stopping every time an email comes in may never allow us the time necessary to accomplish a particular project.
  5. Set an alarm – Not surprisingly, “Pick up the house” is an item I often avoid on my mental home To- Do list as it doesn’t feel accomplishable and takes an undefined and increasingly greater amount of time as I go.  However, selecting a small task like cleaning the dishes, then setting an alarm for how much time I think it should take, turns the task into something accomplishable and measurable.  A variation on the Multiple Put Down Technique, setting an alarm for a manageable increment such as 20 minutes helps you keep focused on one project until it is complete.

What productivity techniques do you use?  Please feel free to share in the comments section below.  Best of luck in busy season.

Kaylen Saunders, Member Services Manager for CPAmerica International, holds a masters in Curriculum and Instruction and has experience as a professional development trainer. Saunders is responsible for scheduling and hosting webinars, administering CPE, maintaining the members-only website, and coordinating the CPAConnect Roundtable.

 

A Look into CPAmerica’s VIP

CPAmerica has just crossed the half way mark in their goal of all member firms hosting a Visitation Improvement Program (VIP) event by the end of 2016 with 41 of our 74 firms having participated.

 

Three years ago, the update to our strategic plan validated our primary purpose of “Improving through Sharing.” The planning group searched for programs that would enhance our members’ ability to share and the VIP offering was started with five beta visits in 2012.

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The program is designed to bring two leading partners of fellow member firms to visit a third CPAmerica firm. In preparation for the visit, partners in the host firm complete surveys of their firm and participate in pre-meeting conference calls outlining expectations and providing background.

 

The actual visit is over two and a half days and usually starts with a dinner of the two visitors and the host leading partner. In this dinner, any last minute discussions are conducted and a general plan is confirmed. Interviews with partners, senior staff and support staff are conducted on the first full day. Lunch is often with the partner group and visiting leading partners.

 

After sharing their observations with each other, the visiting leading partners formulate a common observation and summarize it into four to five major discussion points. Day two begins with a short briefing to the host leading partner followed by a detailed discussion of the observations with the entire partner group.

 

This process has been proven to be helpful in confirming host firm partner plans and directions, as well as providing insight from the perspective of trusted friends. The visiting leading partners also take best practices home from their visit to be shared with their own partner group. All the participants win.

 

One best practice that has evolved from the VIP events have been timing of the visit and the host member partner retreat. Though coincidence, a partner retreat was scheduled for the following week after the VIP event. The host firm found that observations that rose from the visiting leading partners were a great starting point for their own firm retreat.

 

CPAmerica pays the cost of travel for the visiting leading partners as well as meal expenses during the two and a half day event.

 

The Visitation Improvement Program is yet another way that CPAmerica firms “Improve through Sharing.”

 

 

Alan Deichler is the president of CPAmerica International. Since joining the organization in September 2009, he has overseen the transition of the national association of local accounting firms to an emphasis on service to its members. Recent accomplishments include implementation of the Visitation Improvement Program (VIP), the Next Generation Conference, tax and auditing/accounting webinars, and development of the Large Firm, New Leading Partners and International groups.

 

5 Things I Learned My First Year in a CPA Firm

My name is David Milligan, and I am a staff accountant at Brickley DeLong. As my one year anniversary here at Brickley DeLong approaches, I wanted to offer some insight into five lessons I learned in my first year at a CPA firm.

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1.    Tax season does not stop for bad weather

The weather no longer closes work like it did in college. My first day at Brickley DeLong, PC, was one of the worst ice/snow storms of 2014. Needless to say, it was a stressful drive; but, if I could make it on that day, then the rest of the tax season would be a breeze. The weather is a significant factor when you are driving toward the lakeshore in the middle of winter.

2.    You must experience your first tax season to understand it

Tax season is nothing like what I thought it would be like in college. During my entire time at Grand Valley State University, I only had to prepare a single 1040 for a class. That was definitely not the case once January approached. Learning everything there was about tax made for a quick study on the whole tax side.

3.    Tax returns have a “feel” and “smell”

Partners and managers have a “feel” and “smell” when preparing tax returns. As stated earlier, I had only prepared a single return through college. When I began preparing returns for clients, I would be asked if the return “smelled” or “felt” right. Over the first couple weeks, you get to know exactly what those smells and feelings are. They develop without any conscious thought; and, before long, I could see the input and know what was supposed to be showing up on the return.

4.    Audit and tax are very different

Audits and tax are not similar in any way, well at least 1040s and audits. Learning how to do both at once was, in my opinion, like jumping off the proverbial deep end.  While this was difficult, it also got me acclimated quicker.  I am so thankful for all of the experience I got at the time. Learning to manage both and overcome the stresses made me a stronger person than if I had eased into it.

5.    Workplace culture is important

The final thing I learned is that the people you work with make all the difference in the world. The feel and culture at Brickley DeLong is amazing. Having people who care about your learning and education are key to your success in your future career. So, thank you to all who have helped me learn so far, and those who will help me learn in the future.

 

David Milligan is a staff accountant at Brickley DeLong, a full-service public accounting and business consulting firm serving the West Michigan community with offices in Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and Hart. Brickley DeLong has been a member of CPAmerica International since 2004.

For more information about Brickley DeLong, please visit our website at www.brickleydelong.com or contact Christine Dill at (231) 726-5835.

6 Tips for Conducting a Successful Client Satisfaction Survey

Client satisfaction surveys are an effective, timely and cost-efficient tool that can easily help you identify your business’ strengths and weaknesses. Sounds great, right? The only pressure is you have to get it right! A bad survey can annoy customers, or even worse, scar your brand.

Below are 6 tips to consider when developing a client satisfaction survey:

1. Purpose

Before you begin, it’s important to identify clear objectives. What do you want to get out of this survey? Are you looking to improve your business, compete with top companies, etc.? Once you have set clear objectives, you’ll be writing questions with ease.

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2. Narrative

Have you ever opened a survey to find a full page of text and immediately closed it saying, I’ll visit that later, or worse, I would NEVER complete that? Most people don’t have time. Surveys must be short and they must be simple, otherwise you’ll lose potential feedback. Questions, based on your objectives, should be stated in logical order and can be open-ended or closed-ended (a mix is recommended). Lastly, avoid using leading questions. They’re pointless, you will not gather useful insights from leading questions.

3. Timing

CPAmerica International certainly wouldn’t conduct a client satisfaction survey in the thick of tax season. For you, what time of year would be an optimal time for you to survey? Also, clearly state the closing date of the survey and send a reminder a few days before. Don’t leave too much time for respondents to complete, otherwise your survey will be long forgotten.

4. Branding

If you haven’t thought about how this survey fits with your branding, don’t do it! Just like everything else, surveys are a piece of marketing. Just as a poorly constructed survey can really hurt your brand, a poorly branded survey can hurt your brand!

5. Pre-Test

Before you press send, test your survey. Then test it again. A survey that has a glitch, big or small, will make all of your hard work pointless. Be especially careful if you plan to use question skip logic (more about skip logic http://support2.constantcontact.com/articles/FAQ/2138).

6. Action

Now that you have all the data, start analyzing and reporting. Make sure to share your game plan with your clients. Tell them what you plan to do now that you have these survey results.

 

Sarah Coulson is the Marketing Communications Specialist for CPAmerica International. She manages the association’s external communication, including branding, social media, press releases, event marketing collateral and the website for CPAmerica and CPAConnect.

Ever Wish You Could Take That Email Back?

It wouldn’t hurt any of us to hesitate a second and review our emails before hitting the “send” button.

 

Some people have learned that the hard way. And, boy, have there been some whoppers.

 

Can you imagine accidentally emailing:

  1. Confidential salary information – to the entire company
  2. A nasty comment about your supervisor – to your supervisor
  3. A job offer – to the wrong applicant
  4. A derogatory email about a customer – to the customer
  5. A job application – to your current boss
  6. Confidential information about a client – to another client
  7. Price information meant for a vendor – to a customer

ImageThose are just a few of the embarrassing blunders reported by 250 executives across the country in a survey by the Robert Half consulting firm.

 

In fact, 78 percent of those executives themselves say they have mistakenly emailed someone the wrong message or copied someone on a message without intending to.

 

Not surprisingly, some of the email gaffes above resulted in the termination of the employee.

 

And, in other cases, breaches of email etiquette can adversely affect the sender’s career prospects.

 

Three of four of the executives surveyed said technology etiquette breaches could somewhat (61 percent) or greatly (15 percent) hurt the employee’s career. One quarter said, “Not at all.”

 

In Business Etiquette: The new rules in the digital age, the Robert Half staffing firm addresses some of the fine points of email etiquette:

  1. Be kind. It is commonly known that using all CAPS is “cybershouting.” But emailing critical, negative or bad news is also a no-no. Negative news should be handled face-to-face or by phone.
  2. Be considerate. Succinctly summarize your email request. Don’t expect the recipient to read through a long thread of previous emails.
  3. Be clear. Always, always include a subject line and immediately let the recipient know if you need something or if the email is just FYI.
  4. Be concise. The less you write and send, the more your emails will be read. Be cordial, but get to the point. Use bullets, which are easier to read than long blocks of type. Consider zipping large attachments to ensure they reach the intended      recipient.
  5. Be timely. Respond to all messages in a timely manner and within 24 hours at most. If you say you’ll answer more fully later, be sure to follow up. If you are away from the office or email, be sure to put on an out-of-office message so people don’t wonder why you haven’t responded.
  6. Be humble. Is your email really so important it needs a red flag? Or are you just being impatient? And is it really necessary to “reply to all”? Bad “reply to all” threads run rampant in many organizations.
  7. Be careful. The list of painful examples at the top should be warning enough. Always review your distribution list before hitting the “send” button and reply with care.

 

Judy Moore, publications director of CPAmerica International, holds an M.A. in journalism from University of Florida. She is a former business editor of a large metropolitan daily, journalism professor and author of hundreds of business articles that have been published in regional and national magazines.

The Auditor’s Responsibility for Compliance with Laws and Regulations: Where to Stop

It’s long been said that CPAs should not assume the rule of legal counsel. That is true regardless of the level or type of service being provided. One place in particular is the professional requirements for CPAs in the AU-C 250: “Consideration of Laws and Regulations in an Audit of Financial Statements.” And yes, before going further, there are requirements within professional standards in which the auditor must consider, including the specific governmental engagements to test and report on compliance with laws or regulations. For the brief time here, I want to offer my thoughts on the requirements when performing an audit of financial statements. This applies to any audit of any financial statements.

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We need to start with the premise directly from AU-C 250: “It is the responsibility of management and those charged with governance offering oversight, to ensure that the entity’s operations are conducted in accordance with the provisions of laws and regulations, including compliance with the provisions of laws and regulations that determine the reported amounts and disclosures in an entity’s financial statements.”

 

The auditor “is responsible for obtaining reasonable assurance that the financial statements as a whole are free from material misstatement, whether caused by fraud or error. In the audit, the auditor takes into account the applicable legal and regulatory framework.” The auditor is not responsible for preventing noncompliance and cannot be expected to detect noncompliance with all laws and regulations. That too, is from AU-C 250.

 

As an experienced auditor, that does seem to have its share of contradictions, but no more than the auditor’s overall objectives when conducting an audit. The use of materiality, performance measurement and professional judgment are just as applicable here as they are in other AU sections. The requirements do provide two categories to distinguish compliance with laws and regulations:

  1. The provisions of laws and regulations generally recognized to have a direct effect on the determination of material amounts and disclosures, such as tax and pension laws and regulations.
  2. The provisions of other laws and regulations that have a direct effect on the amounts and disclosures but compliance may be fundamental to the operating aspects of the business, fundamental to an entity’s ability to continue its business, or necessary for the entity to avoid material penalties such terms as an operating license, regulatory solvency or environmental regulations.

 

In carrying out responsibilities, an auditor has to obtain an understanding of the environment which includes the legal and regulatory framework of the entity, including how the entity is complying with that framework. To do so, an auditor can use specialists, including tax professionals within their audit firm, and management representations and specialists. They can also request and inspect correspondence with licensing or regulatory authorities. Ultimately, auditors must remain alert throughout the audit procedures which may bring instances of noncompliance or suspected noncompliance with laws and regulations.

 

In the absence of identified or suspected noncompliance, the auditor is not required to perform audit procedures other than those discussed previously.

 

The challenge of the auditor as outlined above is indeed great. To determine those laws and regulations that have an effect on the material amounts and disclosures is surely difficult. For example, the specific considerations of environmental laws and regulations, the Affordable Care Act, OSHA and ERISA requirements, wage and hour rules…the list goes on and on. We need to stop somewhere and making the professional judgment of where is difficult to determine.

 

With that said, I cannot think of any other considerations that must be taken into account for an auditor to consider in regards to “obtain[ing] reasonable assurance that the financial statements as a whole are free from material misstatement, whether caused by fraud or error.”

 

 

Art Winstead is the Director of Accounting and Auditing Services for CPAmerica International. He has over 30 years of experience with DMJ & Co. PLLC. He manages technical resources, engagement support, audit practice matters, reviews A&A publications for CPAmerica and is a part of the Expert Services team.

Why You Need to Segment Your Clients

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by Nate Biddick, CFP®, Manager, Practice Consulting, 1st Global

Every business in the world runs into the same problem: limited resources. The choices businesses make in applying those resources are paramount to determining the level of success you can reach in your business.

 

When it comes to running a successful CPA firm or wealth management practice, effectively segmenting your client base is a crucial first step in maximizing the resources and efficiencies of your operation.

 

Many advisors we’ve worked with prickle a bit at the idea of judging clients. Segmentation is not judging the person or simply looking at your long-time relationships only as dollar signs. Segmenting your client base is the exercise of choosing a set of client characteristics and then targeting service specifically to that group. While segmentation does indeed allow a firm to manage its resources, it also allows the clients to benefit by having their expectations set for the client service they would like to experience from your firm. When service standards are clearly agreed upon and consistently delivered, everybody wins.

 

Why Segmenting is Important

As a CPA or financial advisor, you have a certain number of clients who naturally require more attention than others. Many clients have needs for multiple solutions and will demand more of your time for this reason. By effectively segmenting your clients, you are able to not only help them find the appropriate solutions they are looking for, but also provide the level of service that higher value clients deserve and require.

 

Segmenting also helps to establish clear service expectations with your clients. When you have properly identified the needs of a particular client segment, you are in a better position to tell them how you are able to serve them. Take review meetings, for example. For higher value clients with multiple planning needs, setting the expectation that they will only have two review meetings a year may not be in line with the complexity of the solutions they need monitored. This is probably more of an appropriate number for clients with simpler problems to solve. In general, the more complicated clients’ problems are, the more you will need to meet with them. Segmenting helps you determine which clients fall into which category early on in your relationship.

 

Ultimately, there are a limited number of hours in the day and it’s important that you know how to prioritize clients in terms of your access and expertise. When done correctly, this process helps you delegate tasks among your staff and determine who has access to the advisor. If you’re a senior advisor and you’re spending time answering simple questions that an associate advisor could easily handle, then you’re taking time away from the higher value clients. Write down everything you’ve done for the past two weeks, then take out a highlighter and mark your highest value work. How many of those tasks were services for client segments that an associate advisor, paraplanner or administrator could service as well as (or better) than you?

 

Everyone deserves to be treated well, but treating people equally is different than treating people fairly. As a business owner it’s in your best interest to make decisions that balance these two ideals. If you don’t make client decisions proactively, then they will get made for you and then the snowball rolls: client needs begin to dictate how your firm operates. Not being proactive in your segments and service is a recipe for having your business run you – not the other way around.

 

Get Started

There are many different ways to segment your clients, and most advisors only create categories based on the the client’s financial value to the firm. A better way is to consider the client’s value from both a quantitative and qualitative standpoint. The quantitative view means determining the client’s financial value of the relationship to your firm. The qualitative view is determining if the client is a fit with your firm culturally. Are your investment philosophies aligned? Do the clients recognize the value you bring to the relationship? Do you generally enjoy working with them? We believe that a client’s qualitative attributes are as important as his or her quantitative attributes. As stated above, there are limited hours in the day – with whom do you want to spend your most precious resource?

 

While they may take a lot of work initially, segmentation projects are well worth the time and energy you invest in them because they lead to increased efficiencies in the long term and allow you to take better care of your higher value clients. When you effectively segment your client base, you are essentially building a moat around these valued relationships and working toward ensuring their loyalty down the road. You are providing the highest value relationships with your highest level of service.

 

We work with many of our advisors to help them effectively segment their roster of clients. When this exercise is complete, advisors are empowered because they have taken the first step in taking control of their business. For a more detailed discussion and specific advice on how to segment clients, give us a call today.

 

Posted in Practice Consulting on December 3, 2013

Nate Biddick is manager of 1st Global’s Practice Consulting group. Nate’s primary objective is to empower advisors to advance to the next level within their financial services practice by serving clients better and more completely.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP (with flame logo), which it awards to individuals who successfully complete initial and ongoing certification requirements.

1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 12750 Merit Drive, Suite 1200, in Dallas, Texas 75251; 214-294-5000. Additional information about 1st Global is available at www.1stGlobal.com.

Want to read more from 1st Global? Follow us on Twitter @1stGlobal or on LinkedIn. You can also watch videos on the company’s YouTube Channel.

 

Success and Being Emotionally Rewarded is Made Up of All the Little Things Along the Way

Each year, one of the most important parts of my job is the planning and attending of the Leading Partner Retreat and Firm Administration Roundtable. Believe it or not, we start planning next year’s meeting soon after the conference is over. From planning calls, committees, speakers, facilitators, hot topics, and last but not least, logistics. These events do not happen without a village. We are lucky at CPAmerica that our staff work together seamlessly, and are also lucky to have members that are very willing to participate and help contribute to the success of the event.

 

With that being said, you can imagine my dismay when I became ill right before I was due to get on an airplane for Portland. It seemed like a bad dream and surely not truly happening – obviously, those meds were kicking in and making me hallucinate. My initial plan was to postpone my trip and just miss the first couple of days of the conference. My main goal was to not get anyone else sick, but believe me, if I could have guaranteed that small aspect, you all would have been acquainted with one sick pup.

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Jack Savage, CF & Co., and Ernie Gelpi, Kushner LaGraize (Left to Right)

As I was home feeling pretty bad for myself, the most amazing thing happened. I started to receive several emails and calls from members that I’ve established great relationships with over the last three years. I can’t tell you how rewarding that was. I wasn’t at the meeting, and members felt the need to let me know I was missed. It confirmed to me that it’s not necessarily the special event, vacation or graduation that you should look forward to, but the fact that success and being emotionally rewarded is made up of all the little things along the way: your experiences, relationships you’ve made and your impact on those associates, and friends and loved ones that you deal with on a daily basis. Throughout the year I reach out to members to provide guidance with member services, website training, event planning and to reinforce the familiarity of the relationship where when we do talk, you are not just talking to an associate, but a friend as well. When it comes time to see each other face to face at any of our conferences, your overall experience should be one that is not offered with any other association. CPAmerica is the catalyst for the unique, close relationships among our member CPA firms. It is our job in member services to help facilitate that process.

 

Long story short – best possible scenario would have been to not get sick and be able to attend the conference that I worked so hard on. In reality – I missed the event but because of many of you reaching out, I felt a part of it in spirit and hopefully through the relationship building and contact we have had throughout the year, my mark was evident with the overall success of the meeting.

 

Joyce Arthur, Senior Member Services Manager at CPAmerica International. Arthur was previously a Firm Administrator and has worked in the accounting profession for over 20 years. In her role within the Member Services team, she is responsible for the sharing calls, orientations, member communications and is a valuable resource for member firms.

 

The Importance of Career Coaches for New Business People

When I was early in my career with IBM, I had a sales manager and coach that made a significant impact on my business life. He was able to have the rare combination of being respected and liked.  He often went to lunch with us sales people and occasionally played golf, but all of us knew he was the boss.

 

Coaches are terribly important and especially to new business people. Despite the knowledge I thought I had and the “vast” resources I was going to “allow” IBM to tap for their benefit, I really had no idea of even the simplest of business protocols.

 

I was working in a small southern city that was a long way from New York. We took great advantage of the dress code in effect at IBM in the 70s, stretching what they must have had to wear in New York. Looking back, I may have even stepped over even the loose code in our office.

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I had a lime green suit I just loved. I wore it at least once a week.  (Remember, it was the 70s) It wasn’t just the light green look, but the material was just right and it fit perfectly. You know the feel when a piece of your wardrobe fits just right. It makes your whole day.

 

I always wore a white shirt and my tie was very conservative, so I figured I was safe.  For the 70s, it wasn’t that dramatic. It was not a bright or loud suit. Even to this day, I would say it was a quiet green.

 

One day, my boss called me in to his office. I had my favorite suit on. He was smiling brightly and I knew this was not going to be a “bad” visit.

 

After a bit of chit-chat, he asked me, “You really love that green suit, don’t you?” It was said in a nearly admiring way or at a minimum, in the manner of an upcoming compliment.

 

“Yes,” I said, expecting a quick follow up of “it looks good on you” or the like.

 

My coach told me the following, and I will never forget the following words, “You know what you should do? You should build yourself a good sized fire…and burn that suit. I never want to see it again.” My coach continued, “From now on, I expect to see you in grey, grey pinstripe, navy blue or navy blue pinstripe.”

 

I was crushed, but I was listening and never again wore the suit or a suit that was not in the greys and blues as suggested. It was not the “feel good” coaching we expect today. Could I have been upset and mad? Sure, but that would have been awfully shortsighted as my coach was not only looking out for me, but was also one of the key people that would help me earn a promotion.

 

That sales manager helped me understand my environment and put myself in the best position possible to make a sale. With his help, I would never give a prospective customer any reason to dislike me or not buy from me.

 

Coaches are very important to all of us in the business world. It’s our job to be both that coach when appropriate and to be listening when it’s our turn to be coached.

 

Alan Deichler is the president of CPAmerica International and oversees the association’s growth and development. Prior to being named CPAmerica president, Deichler was most recently chief marketing officer at talent management software provider HRsmart in Richardson, Texas, where he headed worldwide sales and marketing efforts. Deichler has more than 35 years of corporate experience, having held previous management and executive positions with Capital Formation Counselors, Inc., IBM and Ernst & Young, LLP.

A Key Ingredient to Your Business Development Plan: Lunch?

Generating new business in a CPA firm is a long and difficult process.  It requires a forever-fluid mixing of complex elements, including strategic marketing, research, and relationship networks as well as leveraging good old fashion sales techniques.  These days, successful organizations talk about thought leadership, the power of the internet and customer-driven solutions.  What they really mean is that people like to buy, but they do not like to be sold. Most important, it means that the informed buyer now perceives themselves to be in control of the sales process.  While this is not necessarily so, it places greater pressure on the professional to develop new skills. CPAs who are great at attracting new business today have a talent for asking good questions to the right people at the right time, and developing a keen sense of identifying (and resolving) pain.

Busy coffee break

While it may be true that not every partner in a CPA firm is comfortable or even capable of being a business development star, every professional in the firm can contribute to the firm’s growth. How? Simply by leveraging everyone’s lunch time as an opportunity to talk to clients, referral sources and prospects.

 

Everybody does lunch, so why not make lunch a strategic part of the firm’s growth strategy? With five opportunities each business week (six during tax season), every owner has hundreds of potential appointments that can be made without impacting much at all on their billable hour routine.

 

Of course, thinking (and acting) strategically is the key.  Getting everyone is on board is vital. However, dedication to the task will require a great list of potential lunch prospects, some mutually acceptable talking points and a list of goals and next steps that are acceptable outcomes from the lunching effort.

 

Just having lunch with a buddy is not enough.  A strategic lunch is with someone who is a prospect, referral resource or client that can advance the practice somehow. Acceptable outcomes can range from getting a referral to uncovering a previously unmet need that a client reveals during your time together.  Also acceptable is a lunch that introduces you to a new person that may be useful to building your business.

 

Investing time in a client lunch reveals more than opportunities, it reveals weaknesses that need to be addressed.  It also is a terrific opportunity introduce other partners, managers and up and coming staff members to important clients in a less structured manner.  In this respect, the partners can mentor the younger team members on how to develop a successful client relationship, or coach them on how to handle a temperamental client.   At the same time, lunch with a client is the perfect way to help another partner into the relationship, providing another key ownership level contact that the client might be able to rely upon in the future.

 

The same can be said for referral resources.  Many of us don’t think of the transferrable value we have in our relationships, and how we can help others who may not have a deep rolodex (or Outlook Contacts database for everyone under 40) of bankers and attorneys to touch base with on a regular basis.  If you bring a manager or supervisor to lunch with a referral source, ask them to bring a younger member of their team to help develop the next generation of leadership for both organizations.  Such small investments over time pay off immensely.

 

If it can be measured, it can be improved, so keeping track of your strategic lunch program is also important.  If a CRM (Client Relationship Management) system is not in place, a simple Excel sheet will do the trick.  Routine meetings to discuss outcomes help encourage others and let everyone share learned experiences.

 

Over the course of a year, a strategic lunch program can yield thousands of conversations, hundreds of leads and dozens of engagements.  The only downside is that your team may need some gym time to offset the extra calories acquired during the year.

 

Larry Feld is the Director of Marketing at Hunter Group CPA. He has 30 years of experience in the marketing of services. He’s written hundreds of articles, brochures, speeches and websites, and has planned, managed and staffed trade shows exhibits both large and small and managed advertising budgets of several million dollars. He’s also planned and executed integrated public relations plans, facilitated meetings, parties and seminars; orchestrated focus groups and overseen complex print runs. Additionally, he has coached professionals in speaking and networking and acted as both media relations point person and interview coordinator to help professionals through the media interview process.