The "Inside Health" Of Your CPA Firm: 3 Important Vital Signs Most CPA Firms Are Unaware Of
Let the Doctor help you diagnose the Inside Health of Your CPA firm. Join Rita Keller, CPA Firm Management Expert, as she shares the three important vital signs of a healthy CPA firm.
In this episode, we discuss
+ How to increase employee engagement
+ Determine the “Inside Health” of your Firm
+ How to focus and increase team buy in
+ How to scale your back office
+ and so much more…
Background: Why Listen To Rita?
Rita Keller has spent nearly 40 years of her career studying growing and successful CPA firms. For the first 30 years of her career, she worked at a transforming CPA firm.
Now she has advised many more firms across the country on improving important aspects to their practice such as partner issues, management, marketing, human resources, technology, governance, and administration.
Rita is the President of Keller Advisors and Co-Founder of SurveyCPA and has been recognized each year since 2005 as the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting.
When the inside health of a CPA firm is good, so is the outside health of the firm. And so what goes on behind the black curtain of any successful, growing, and healthy CPA firm? Come find out.
The “heart and soul” of any CPA firm is its people. The inside health of a CPA firm has happy people who are working well together and well for your clients.
They are proud of the work they do. They are passionate. Lastly, they are well trained to provide quality results for your clients.
To take a temperature read of the inside health of a CPA firm, you should focus on the vital signs.
Vital Sign #1: Expectation
What is the vision of your firm? What is your strategy for growth? How can your firm follow through with meeting its goals? The way you set expectations can address these considerations.
Your processes, procedures, and internal training and education are key in delivering on the vision of your firm. And Rita says that your firm administrators are the unsung heroes in bringing it all together.
To grow your firm, reinvent and reposition your service offerings. Add new clients and maximize the value of current clients. But as you grow, be cognizant of the “growing pains and danger when you don’t have buy-in from the whole firm,” says Rita
Rita asks if you are a One Firm Firm or a Siloed Firm. Either firm model can work for the business you desire. There is “not one correct answer,” Rita notes, although as the larger the firm grows in number of staff, the more the Siloed Firm structure is at risk.
In a Siloed Firm, partners or owners operate independently from one another. Staff is hired for each partner, and each partner conducts business in their own way, at times leading to duplicate efforts and communication breakdown.
In a One Firm, the firm serves the client together. Business efforts are collaborative and organized and the workflow is streamlined and cost effective.
The culture of a Big Four firm is quite different from the small firm culture and making that transition from big firm to small firm has residual effects, Rita believes.
“When they drop out of the Big Four, sometimes they are so tired or overworked,” Rita observes. Usually these accountants “won’t give a smaller firm a chance – they just leave public accounting all together.”
Also Rita thinks those with a few years experience at a Big Four firm may have limited, non-diversified exposure compared to those first starting out at a smaller firm who gain a broad, diversified work responsibilities earlier.
But for those coming from the Big Four firms who have chosen a smaller firm for their next career step, they must be able to “embrace the fact that it’s a different environment. They won’t have all of the resources or the staff.”
Adjusting to the small firm “takes patience and time” especially at the partner level. “It is a bigger challenge the higher you go.” When onboarding new team members from a large firm, Rita suggests to “treat them with a certain level of respect but keep in mind, they have experience.”
Vital Sign #2: Communication
Great communication establishes the One Firm feeling that we’re all in it together.
Communication is important. It lets everyone feel as if they are part the team. It gives context to business developments. It educates.
A consistent issue for any firm “no matter what size” is communication, Rita has found from her work across the board. Communication breakdowns occur:
- When working with new or existing clients
- Among partners
- With unhappy people
- Between senior and junior staff
- During interviews
- In laying out the vision of the firm
Any challenge can be traced back to communication. “Accountants are known to be more introverts. Often they don’t communicate very clearly at all, ” Rita tells.
She knows that communication is critical especially to the millennial generation and future CPA firm leaders. “Millennials are in a hurry and on a fast track. They want to succeed quickly and know how can they learn quickly at the new firm.”
“Partners will meet often. Managers meet. What happens to the juniors? They are out of the communication stream. [Senior leadership talks] so much within their own circle, they don’t realize that others don’t know what’s going on,” Rita reports.
For its good inside health, the firm needs to be inclusive of all generations in the firm including admins. “Inclusiveness is important,” stresses Rita.
Communicate and share opportunities for those to be creative and involved. “Get input from bottom-up. Young people like to get a forum to be heard,” notes Rita. She says to survey the firm about what topics should be discussed at a firm retreat. Provide ways for everyone at the firm to get fresh ideas and an outlook into the thought process of the leadership.
Communicate often. “Say it over and over if you have to. Say it two or three times. It will stick. Over communicate is the advice to firms of all size,” Rita recommends.
Communicate everything within the firm:
- Technology updates
- Celebrate new clients
- Major milestones
- Updates on clients
- New findings
In fostering good communication, Rita suggests using a number of different avenues.
- Redesign – Create office area spaces that encourage socializing and collaboration. Tear down cubical walls and add roundtable areas.
- Tweet – Create a private twitter account for the firm. Have senior partners tweet meeting updates and other news bits to the internal office audience. Embrace the communication styles and modes of the younger people.
- Blog – Write often about industry updates and firm findings to share with and educate the teams
- Website – Create a clean, informative, helpful website. Put your best foot forward when communicating your firm to the outside world.
Vital Sign #3: Collaboration
Any CPA firm that has good inside health is one that has a collaborative organization. And key way to bring together partners and organize work is through a Firm Administrator.
Rita says that when the CPA firm has between 10 and 15 people on the team, the next critical hire should be the firm administrator. “This role can be so powerful in a growing firm.”
A firm administrator’s function is to make the work flow more efficiently through the firm. The firm administrator helps partners organize and streamline the process.
“Accountants love accounting, ” says Rita. However, when they become a partner, they have to act differently in ways such as being more strategic thinking and focusing on building the client relationship.
Therefore, partners need to delegate more administration work to the Firm Administrator. In return, this person is the filter position, sort of like the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States. They control two-way information flow, handle what they can handle themselves, and pass on important information to the managing partners.
Rita says the Association for Accounting Administration can be a great resource for anyone thinking about making a career around firm administration.
To have a good inside health for your CPA firm, it’s all about having good expectation, communication, and collaboration and you will be poised to grow your firm.