Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Four Winning Strategies for the New Year

How to succeed in 2010. What to expect for the New Year: Join the survey; see the results.

December 14, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Some savvy accounting firms are finding a few silver linings inside the recessionary clouds by focusing on a few fundamental laws of practice management and seizing new opportunities when they can.

In this business downturn, firms and finance organizations that now appear best positioned to enter an uncertain New Year are the ones that, in 2009, saw the deteriorating situation correctly and reacted swiftly. Today we’re going to hear more from the three CPAs we met last week who are guiding their firms into the choppy waters of 2010 and the strategies they’re using.

Strategy 1: Optimize operations.

Clearly, 2009 provided abundant lessons in reminding firms to get the most of what they have.

Forecast 2010

What to expect. How to get ready.

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For example, Bruce Malott, managing partner at Meyners & Co., in Albuquerque, N.M., has been looking closely at non-billable time. Some estimates put the typical CPA staffer at only 50-percent chargeable. “I know what they’re doing with the billable time, they’re making money. But the real opportunity is in the non-billable time.” For that, he wants staffers to be honing their skills in CPE.

Other firms have put staffers on projects like scanning years of records while going paperless or on business development.

At Barfield Murphy Shank & Smith in Birmingham, Ala., the firm is using staffers’ downtime for reviewing last year’s returns, both to spot new opportunities and to sharpen their skills going into tax season, according to Managing Partner Don Murphy.

Strategy 2: Focus staff energy on the positive.

Keeping spirits up is also the job of these firm leaders.

At FittsRoberts & Co. in Houston, they have a “Cheer Team” to organize fun activities, according to tax partner and IT Chief Kay Parker.

Malott personally sings Happy Birthday to a staffer on their birthday. (Although how much a treat you think that is, depends on what you think of his singing.)

At Barfield Murphy, they bring in a massage therapist once a month and provide a personal valet to handle the sundry household chores that can pull a billable staffer away from work. The valet can handle tasks as mundane as picking up dry cleaning or handling a car repair. The one thing the valet cannot do is transport anyone’s kids — due to obvious liability issues.

“One thing that has changed,” said Malott, talking about his staffers, “is that they’re not getting distracted with three or more phone calls a day anymore from recruiters trying to hire them away to another firm.” And the staffers have noticed too, so they’re more focused on the job at hand, he added.

Strategy 3: Keep growing.

And still, none of the firms has abandoned efforts to gain new business.

For new clients, FittsRoberts is mining the comprehensive lists of leading companies produced by the local business journal. Malott is expanding his CFO Academy, a free CPE program for local finance executives (whether they are clients or not), into the not-for-profit market. And Murphy is helping high-net-worth (HNW) clients with the kind of questions that “keep you up at night” — estate and succession planning, for instance. Murphy has also hired a training coordinator for the first time and is thinking about hiring the firm’s first professional sales person.

Strategy 4: Accept the new normal.

But despite their positive outlooks, the firms and their leaders may have changed permanently. Some things may never be the same.

Malott said his partner meetings are no longer catered. These days, they order sandwiches from Subway.

SOUND OFF: What to expect for the New Year: Join the survey; see the results.

COMMENTS: Rants, raves, questions, ideas? E-mail Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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