Want to see how one independent CPA firm has succeeded in winning business, recruiting and retaining the right talent, and growing into a larger organization? Join us today as we talk with Paula Allgood of Beaird Harris to learn the simple 3-step process to transform your CPA firm into a profitable powerhouse.
In this interview you will explore the evolution of an independent accounting firm from its start as a small, local firm, to growing into a larger, unique organization:
- By evaluating and recruiting the right client and talent
- By retaining talented employees
- And by rethinking the office structure
Click Below to Listen to the Interview:
The Background: The Appeal of the Small, Independent Firm
Paula was one of the earliest members to join the practice, first as an intern and then upon graduation from Texas A&M. As she described her tenured, 25-year career with the firm, she was “home grown.”
Then, graduates entering the CPA world had only two types of options: Work at the Big 6 accounting firms or go small and local.
For Paula, going small and local appealed to her. She saw the business environment at the local firm as one of independence, creativity, and entrepreneurialism. Paula enjoyed helping clients one on one with business challenges and issues, and she developed a personal connectivity to them. Admittedly, Paula could not see these opportunities and experiences at the big firms.
The team at Beaird Harris then consisted of six people – two founding partners, a receptionist, staff and interns. One of the founding partners came from a Big 6 firm and the other from a micro-firm.
This small CPA firm gave Paula the opportunity to work with “smart, neat business owners” on tax and consulting projects and drive solutions with a nuanced understanding.
At a small and local firm, you become the “jack-of-all-trades” to the client. At this firm, you are the department, says Paula. And when challenges arise, Paula approaches each one with the view: “I don’t know how to do it but I’m going to figure it out and get it done.”
Expanding the Business to a Larger Organization
Now 25 years later, the Beaird Harris team has grown to 45 people purely by their organic growth model and by making no acquisitions.
They have expanded by design, deciding to serve their clients in a unique way. The foundation of their practice is providing the opportunity to help clients, to target their needs, and to operate with integrity.
Paula believes her team is at the right size to provide the depth of services and technical skills to address tax and financial challenges, while being able to maintain close relationships with their clients to help them achieve their financial goals.
The growth of the small, independent firm is predicated on the cohesive culture of the team. In Paula firm’s case, they have been able to attract those who get a charge out of doing the work and growing with the organization. It is a “win-win” for the employee and for the clients as the relationship develops and thrives, says Paula.
On the flip side, as a small firm grows, retaining the culture can be a challenge. The risk to the firm growing larger is that the firm may become just another “cookie-cutter” in the industry and lose its unique positioning. Paula says that she and her team realize this shortcoming and every day try to discuss, identify, and work on mitigating this possibility.
Step 1: Recruiting the Right Client and the Right Talent
In meeting client needs, Paula says it is important “to be able to have different folks on your team service all the different elements of [clients’] growth.” Her firm attracts clients in the service-oriented, closely held, customer-driven industries such as in the medical and dental fields, management service organizations, attorneys, restaurateurs and others.
Paula says when hiring, focus on skill sets that are client-centered. While the firm cannot be everything to everyone, find those common denominators and build your services around them. Refer the rest of what you cannot meet to outside partners and resources you trust.
We “want to say to clients – here’s what we do; here’s what we are like; here’s the way we do it; here’s our approach our business; here’s our team,” says Paula. She suggests having prospective clients come into the office to meet the staff so they can “gel”.
The same goes for recruiting for the firm. When meeting with candidates, explain what your firm stands for, what are its core tenants, and what makes the firm tick. In providing a clear picture of who you are, and your hires will forge a better and longer-term relationships, according to Paula.
Their end result is creating a team that is:
- diverse in expertise
- works well together
- builds alignments
- and communicates openly
Step 2: Evaluating and Retaining Talented Employees
Pick the right members that would fit your team dynamic. For Paula and her team, she says her firm administers team and personality tests during and after the hiring process. These tests explore and implement the interpersonal and technical skills that her firm believes are important for success.
Two tests that Paula knows work well for her team when paired together are:
- Kolbe Assessment – the test lasts 20 minutes and results are immediate. The assessment quantifies work style and traits using a scaling system
- StrengthsFinder Assessment – identifies and describes the natural talents of individuals
These tests enable self-realization and personal growth for individuals. When the tests are combined, Paula sees how the work environment is able to better understand each other and improve the ways they work together.
Picking the right talent for your company culture and identifying how best to work together are two ways to keep talent at your firm and put you on a path to transform your small firm into a profitable powerhouse.
A third way to retain talent is to help enrich their career and foster personal growth.
Paula and her team are providing an enriching environment through CPE trainings. She and a few of the younger team members have formed a Training Committee that meets frequently and determines great ways to help those obtain their CPE credits.
Some of these initiatives include:
- Webinars for technical training watched together as a group and discussed together upon completion
- Speaker Series of business people outside of the CPA world they work with on a day-to-day basis including commercial insurance brokers, pension firm managers, and attorneys for example.
- Half day or full day training sessions supplemented with a reading program
- Ongoing professional development with the focus on growing the next generation of CPAs “who can carry the torch with the excitement and enthusiasm”
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Step 3: Rethinking the Office Environment Structure
Paula has found that creating an office environment that works for the team has produced effective results for the firm. She and her team re-evaluate frequently how they can improve.
Here are some of Paula’s findings
1. Connectivity and embracing the cloud
While face time in the office is important, Paula says the team loves work location flexibility, and it is achievable through good connectivity. Her team uses Skype for Business for those working away from the office that day. Seeing each other on the screen compared to hearing them on the speakerphone helps one another read facial expressions, understand tone, and better connect with one another through engagement.
Paula’s firm offers their staff the opportunity to work from home one day a week during off-season and two days a week during busy season. Working from home provides peace of mind, saves time by avoiding the commute, and provides work flexibility.
2. Office remodel of the common area
Paula’s firm created a true employee lounge last year that has couches and TVs and four standing work stations
She found that the lounge strengthens culture and creates a casual environment. Employees can take mental break and get a change of pace for the day, especially during busy season.
3. Promote the family and personal life
Promoting work flexibility helps on the home front, Paula says. A happy employee that has a sufficient work-life balance creates a happy firm and results in happy clients.
Paula calls this initiative a “home run”. “Although it is not without challenges and it’s not perfect”, this way works when you have an established culture of trust and accountability, says Paula.
Knowing your firm culture and its competitive positioning; hiring the right team and retaining this talent for the long run of your business are great ways to transform your CPA firm into a profitable powerhouse.