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Sometimes in life, you have to do the hard things. It’s human nature to want to do those things that come easy, or push things to the back-burner because you know they will be challenging, or simply avoid doing anything that elevates your blood pressure or pushes you out of your comfort zone. But it’s when you do those very things that you actually discover new strengths, growing personally or professionally, which ultimately leads to your own version of “success.” I recently read a great article entitled, “4 Tips for Leaving Your Comfort Zone” by Marshall Martin and would like to share theses inspirational thoughts with you:

1. Find your “zone of courage.”
Your zone of courage lies just outside your comfort zone. If you’re not ready to take a big leap, take a baby step. You’ve got to start somewhere. The zone of courage contains much less predictability than your comfort zone, but it could also contain opportunities for personal and professional growth. The thought of leaving home and family and entering a much smaller company in a field I had no experience in was almost terrifying. But I knew that the role would prepare me for much bigger roles in the future, and the timing was right in my life to make a change.

2. Avoid the “zone of terror.”
Beyond your zone of courage lies another zone: the zone of terror, which is overwhelming and a place you want to avoid. The key to success is finding that area outside your comfort zone and outside the terror zone. It’s the sweet spot that allows you to move forward at a pace that allows you to grow but doesn’t paralyze you with fear. If I had thought any of the changes I made in my life were truly terrifying, I would have been frozen and they never would have happened.

3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
You can play it safe and always do the predictable thing, or you can push the envelope a bit and go for maximal growth. Moving out of your comfort zone is bound to make you feel a little exposed and that’s a crucial part of the process. You’re going to feel afraid. But moving forward—even while knowing that failure is a possibility—helps you set new and higher bars for your goals and move into your zone of courage at the same time.

4. Take it one step at a time.
You might think that sounds less than ambitious, but trust me, moving out of your comfort zone doesn’t happen all at once. With every move you make, take time to evaluate where you are and plan where you want to go next. Then take your next step in your new direction. That’s how you develop momentum and keep yourself moving on to greater opportunities, and further out of your comfort zone. We often start the day surrounded by the familiar comforts of home and family. It’s our job as humans to walk out the front door, shake it up a bit and grow.

You have to do the hard things. The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on. Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.

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As we get into full throttle here in busy season, a message about being positive is in order! Positive people, those who choose a good mood over a bad day, have a powerful advantage over negative thinkers. While some people allow life’s problems to get them down, optimistic people remind themselves that bad times are only temporary. They find ways to practice positivity, and with a sunny outlook on life, their energy is wildly infectious.

As it pertains to leadership, the power of positive thinking is vital for success, be it that of a team, a department, an office or an entire company. You can have two professionals in a leadership role who are equal in experience and skill, heading up the same group of team members. But one has a positive, optimistic attitude; the other has a generally negative demeanor. The positive leader will prevail every time with a more vibrant, productive team whose energy permeates the workplace. Negativity only leads to reduced productivity and engagement, and allowing it to fester is much more costly and damaging to an organization’s bottom line than confronting or possibly replacing a single toxic staff person.

Creating a positive and healthy culture for your team rests on a few major principles. The qualities of a positive workplace culture boils down to these Super Seven essential characteristics:

  1. Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.
  2. Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.
  3. Avoiding blame and forgive mistakes.
  4. Fostering open communication, and avoiding gossip and back-stabbing.
  5. Inspiring one another at work.
  6. Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.
  7. Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

Positive thinking can set you up for success in every area of your life. You can be healthier, happier, and more successful just by changing your thoughts. If you want to be happy, and not just for one day, focus on the things that will help you remain positive over time. Because a positive attitude can do more than just make you feel good—it could also change your life. You can train your mind to embrace the bright side of things. Here are a few positive quotes I recently received in an email, to get you in the right frame of mind:

  • “A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results.” —Wade Boggs
  • “Virtually nothing is impossible in this world if you just put your mind to it and maintain a positive attitude.” —Lou Holtz
  • “It’s actually cool to be positive and optimistic and idealistic. It’s cool to see yourself doing beautiful, great things.” —Tom DeLonge
  • “There is little difference in people but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.” —W. Clement Stone
  • “It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.” —Robert H. Schuller

I hope you enjoyed today’s message. Have an absolutely positive week!

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I once had a younger team member ask me, “What can I do to make sure I have a successful tax season”? Aside from having the technical knowledge needed to do our jobs, the essence of a successful tax season is effective communication, whether internally to our peers or supervisors, or externally to clients. Some clients prefer we only send emails; others need us to spend time on the phone; most effective is to meet in person. Regardless of our clients’ preferred mode of contact, keep in mind the following tips on being an effective communicator. In addition, effective communication with fellow engagement team members will improve the efficiency of the engagement and enhance “world class client service.”

  • First, you have to remember that good communication starts with being a good listener. Always be prepared to patiently listen to your client or teammate and never interrupt them. A simple way to be sure you understand their point or questions is to rephrase it and ask them to confirm that you didn’t misunderstand him or her.
  • Second, try to focus on being self-confident and positive. By projecting the right attitude, your words also become more positive – affirmation and encouragement will help get the best out of people, and clients will get more from the conversation. A good tip in this regard is to smile even while you are speaking on the phone and can’t be seen. This helps project a positive tone.
  • Third, understand who your audience is. When speaking with clients, it generally is not necessary to be technical in nature. Tax clients don’t really care what the code section is that allows the deduction; they only care that they can take advantage of it. Be sure to speak in your clients’ terms.
  • And lastly, you don’t always have to be right – sometimes it is better to “let it go.” There will be times during tax season when conflict with a client or fellow team member will occur. It’s generally best to hear each other out and allow time to cool off before addressing it. Remember that there is normally a compromise that is possible, and you just need to approach the conflict with a cool and rational state of mind. If you do make a mistake or find your previous position on a subject is no longer accurate, your clients and colleagues are likely to be forgiving when you are honest and up front about it.

Always feel free to seek advice from your peers or supervisor if you are not clear on something. Not only will it help you work more productively, it will minimize any potential pitfalls with our clients, particularly during this stressful time of year.

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Ed Mendlowitz is one of our valued partners here at Withum, and likely one of the most prolific writers I know, having authored 18 books for the profession. He also has a popular blog read and shared by thousands of accountants across the country, and is a regular contributor to AccountingToday.com. A recently published article of his was of particular interest to me, and I want to share it with you today: Art of Accounting – A Typical Day.

Last month through the New Jersey Society of CPAs, Ed was scheduled to speak to two high school classes about public accounting as a career path. He asked Karen Koch, a CPA and supervisor with just under five years’ experience, to join him. She put together some notes to describe her typical day at Withum, and Ed decided to share these notes as an article.

What Karen immediately notes is this: “There truly is no typical day in the field of accounting. Instead, each day I wake up excited to go to work—whether my office, the client’s premises, or working from home—and each day is filled with unique and challenging experiences.” She continues on with her story, outlining her full day of various client projects and even participating in her office’s “fun committee.” Pretty cool.

Karen’s story supported the message I delivered at the State of the Firm and reminded me of the many opportunities Withum has to offer our team members… of every level, in every department. It is my goal as managing partner to ensure that Withum continues to offer great learning experiences for our professionals, keeping them intellectually challenged and allowing them to grow both personally and professionally. Our firm has always been entrepreneurial and a people-oriented place to work. As the Withum Way describes, we work hard and play hard, embracing the family spirit and offering the flexibility to allow all of our professionals to be well rounded people in and out of the office, and not just focused on work and the accounting profession.

As Karen’s story suggests, Withum breaks the stereotype of boring accountants who “only do taxes and are holed away somewhere over a calculator” (exactly what our latest video describes!). We strive to offer the best career opportunities right here at Withum. All we each need to do is take advantage of it.

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Part of my job as Managing Partner is to be out and about in the business community, shaking hands and telling people about the great things going on at Withum. Networking is an important aspect of building our pipeline of new business opportunities. Many of us have client and referral source relationships spanning over 25 years, having started with a fortuitous meeting and handshake at a local event or business dinner. While we are in the midst of ‘marketing busy season’ when events and conferences and networking dinners are filling up our calendars, I thought I’d share a Top 10 Networking Tips list I recently received from a colleague; it’s worth a read:

    1. Get in the right state, not “in a right state.”
      Keep in mind that you want to gain some value and benefit from the time you are committing to attending the networking event. You’ll need to look friendly and relaxed – versus panicky and nervous – if you want people to be comfortable talking to you.
    2. You will be more interesting if you are more interested.
      We have two ears and one mouth so we should aim to listen for twice as long as we speak. The people you meet will be more comfortable talking about themselves than listening to you.
    3. Networking is about building relationships not about ‘getting work’.
      People buy professional services from people they know, like and trust. You’re unlikely to meet someone who just happens to need your services that day. The magic happens when you keep in touch and demonstrate a sincere interest in them both personally and professionally.
    4. “What do you do?”
      Don’t pigeon hole yourself as any ole ordinary accountant, “I’m a CPA”. Practice answering the question in such a way that ensures you are remembered specifically and distinctly from all of the rest. This is called your ‘elevator pitch.’ Instead, you can say something simple like, “I’m an accountant with WithumSmith+Brown, one of the top accounting firms in the country. Have you heard of us? I specialize in . We work with many great clients in this area.” That’s a basic good ice-breaking introduction which you can follow up by asking questions about the person with whom you are speaking.
    5. Focus on a niche, not a list.
      Even those new acquaintances who are genuinely interested in you will quickly switch off if you try to identify all of the things you do or could do for clients. Equally, they won’t remember the list so you’ll be in danger of making yourself more forgettable. In the example above, you need to focus on a key area or topic no matter how broad your expertise and experience. People want to know more go-to people who have an expertise.
    6. Flirt as you network. Ok, not in way you are thinking, but by following these simple gestures to make you appear more likable:
      F is for FUN;
      L is for LAUGHTER or at least having a smile on your face;
      I is being INTERESTED in what other people have to say;
      R is RESPONDING to what other people are saying through conversation;
      T is TALKING appropriately not extensively about yourself.
    7. You’re not alone if you feel alone.
      There will always be someone else standing alone who will be so pleased and relieved if you go over and start a conversation with them. The chances of rejection are tiny. Simply introduce yourself, ask them their name and what do they do.
    8. Listen to what people say; don’t try to sell.
      You can only solve people’s problems or help them make the most of opportunities if you know what these are. That means listening and absorbing, not talking. If you listen well, they’ll trust you and if you ask the right questions, you’ll uncover all the clues you’ll need in order to decide if you have something to offer them.
    9. Get the other person’s name and business card.
      You can politely ask for someone’s card without seeming pushy, or wait until they offer their card to you. If you didn’t catch their name when first introduced, ask again. No one objects to repeating their name to someone who evidently wants to remember them.
    10. Follow up afterwards.
      Having given up your time to attend the event, make sure it is worthwhile by keeping a promise to follow up with each of the people you meet. Even if you think they may not be the most valuable contact, remember that you don’t know who they know who could be interested in what you do. Follow up with an email or supply some valuable information in the next day or so after meeting. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Then ensure you keep in touch thereafter.

I hope these tips will help you be more successful in your networking endeavors. By being subtle and polite, you come from a position of strength to follow up with your new-found friends/colleagues/potential clients to begin a lasting and meaningful relationship. So get out there and network!

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With several big filing deadlines now behind us, this time of year serves as a good reminder that our clients are the core reason why we are a thriving professional services firm. They need and require the services we provide, but choose to remain Withum clients. CCH published an Accounting Firm Client Survey which provided a list of top client responses as to why they chose to no longer work with their current service provider. I think it is a good list to review, although fortunately a few of the points are not applicable to Withum. But overall, it reflects what generally matters most to clients.

The Top 10 Reasons Clients Leave:

  1. The firm did not regularly check with me on my changing needs.
  2. Staff were not able to efficiently find the information needed to deliver the services I needed.
  3. I believe the firm was charging more than the value I was receiving. (note this is a PERCEPTION that we need to avoid by demonstrating value time after time)
  4. It became apparent that the firm was not leveraging technology to deliver the best services possible.
  5. The firm did not keep me up-to-date on regulations that directly affected me.
  6. I became concerned about the firm’s financial stability.
  7. The firm no longer specialized in the types of services I needed.
  8. I lost trust in the ability to deliver the quality services I needed.
  9. It became apparent to me that the firm was not acting as efficiently as it should.
  10. The firm had difficulty recruiting or retaining talented employees.

At Withum, we make every effort to do our part in the client retention process: by hiring the best and brightest talent possible; by providing education and training to our staff to keep them current on tax laws, regulations and industry knowledge; by implementing cutting-edge technology to provide world-class client service and client communications; and by conducting annual client surveys to keep a pulse on their needs. But the rest is up to you… the individual professional.

Regardless of how much pressure we are under to meet client deadlines, please be respectful of the valued relationships we have developed and nurtured with them, so that they continue to be clients of ours for many years to come. And in the event I can ever assist with a client relationship by meeting with them personally, please feel free to reach out to me.

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I am always excited to share about Withum’s rankings in the many prestigious lists where you will see our firm’s name. Today is no exception. The Vault Accounting 50 for 2017 was recently released. Vault is a highly respected “career intelligence” website which surveys employees to determine the results of the rankings. Scores are weighted in the areas of satisfaction, business outlook and firm culture. You will see that Withum is ‘trending up’ in the Accounting 50 list from 17 last year to 13 this year.

Notably, there were 6 categories in which our firm appeared in the top three spots:

  • Withum ranked #1 in “Philanthropy” – Wow! We are thrilled that initiatives such as Withum Week of Caring, $5 Jeans Days, and the Staff Hardship Relief Fund truly resonate with our staff.
  • Withum ranked #2 in another two – “Travel Requirements” and the “Benefits” categories.
  • Withum ranked #3 in three categories – “Compensation,” “Culture” and “Firm Leadership.”

For the first time in our history of being listed in Vault, Withum ranked in a Practice Area: #23 in Forensic Accounting! What a great testimony to our skillful Forensic and Valuation Services team!

The Withum Way spirit is alive and well. I cannot say ‘thank you’ enough for the continued support demonstrated by all of our staff who are truly the cornerstone of our firm’s success, dedicating themselves to our clients, to our communities and to each other.

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