Posts Tagged ‘accountants’

I’d like to continue expanding upon the ten traits described in the Withum Way, all of which define our culture and the behaviors which best exemplify our people.  Today we will cover point four:

  1. Maintain a Cooperative Attitude. Possessing a willingness to help, to solve any problem, to ‘make it happen’, is an attribute that is appreciated tenfold by others, and you are perceived as a team player.

There’s an old adage which states, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This means that a team can accomplish more together than if the individuals of that team went out on their own. The importance of being a team player is to contribute to that whole through leadership, cooperation and participation. I often hear stories about our professionals going above and beyond to help a client meet a deadline or solve a problem – sacrificing sleep, hustling to get many small details together, traveling great distances or making calls to the right people who have answers when we don’t, all in the effort to get the job done right for that client.  Taking these extra measures means the world to our clients and contributes to turning our relationships with them from a client/accountant one to that of the trusted professional. This also means a lot to your colleagues who are working alongside you.

Whether with your clients, co-workers, or even your own family or circle of friends, demonstrating a positive, cooperative attitude goes a long way in strengthening relationships when everyone feels they are working together.

Thanks and have a great week!


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We just passed a big deadline and what I always consider the mid-point of tax season, with the passing of the corporate deadline I felt it would be a good time to share an email I’ve sent previously on having a successful tax season:

I had a younger staff 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 when you are speaking on the phone and can’t be seen. This helps project a positive attitude.
  • 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.

Thanks and have a great week!

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We call tax season “busy season” for a reason – everyone in the firm is exceptionally busy, especially this week, as we come to the corporate deadline, churning out the tax returns for our valued clients. However, be mindful that busy season can also present additional marketing opportunities that will lead to new business after busy season.

  • Value Add. This is a good time to work on becoming our client’s trusted advisors. Make value added recommendations while we are at their offices. Ask them what the 5-year plan is for their business’ growth and development. Ask them what keeps them up at night, or what issues have been plaguing them lately. With this information, we can help them achieve their goals and solve their problems. We should get client contacts signed up for applicable firm newsletters, tax tips, seminars, etc. This will provide contacts you’re working with information that will help them beyond tax season.
  • Ask for the referral. Once you have a great client relationship, let them know you enjoy doing their work. Clients are your best sales people – they already believe in our firm and our abilities.
  • Don’t forget referral sources. Call a couple of your top referral sources to touch base and say hello. Mention there might be clients they have whom you’d like to meet and vice versa. Set up a lunch to talk about co-business development efforts. Hey, everyone needs to eat no matter how busy they are! They will be impressed you took the time to call them during busy season. Remember, you are helping them as much as they are helping you.
  • Client Service. Nurture our client relationships and let them know how important they are to our firm. Don’t just assume they know this – tell When appropriate, ask them if there are things we could be doing better. Client service and strong relationships with our clients are critical to the future of our firm.

It is so important (and easy) to stay in front of clients and prospects during these next few months. With just a little time each week, it is possible to turn busy season into marketing season!

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Let’s face it.  As service providers in the accounting profession, not only are we expected to deliver world-class service to our clients, but it is imperative that we bring in new business to propel growth.  We work in a very competitive marketplace, thus we need to spend a lot of time and energy visiting prospects and pitching our services. When I hear that we lost an opportunity due to fees, I can’t help but wonder if we just didn’t sell our value well enough.  There will always be someone offering the same services for lower fees… sometimes much lower fees.

“Selling value” means having the ability to clearly explain how we can solve those problems which plague these prospects at that time. In order to establish the value or worth of our services and solutions, we first need to learn about the problem they are facing and how it affects the performance of their company. This can be expressed in terms of sales, profits, employee turnover, order accuracy, customer retention or satisfaction, time to market, market share, etc. Learn to ask tough, high-value questions that will help you understand the impact of the problem. Most people are uncomfortable asking deep, probing questions because they believe that the prospect will think that they are prying. However, personal experience has taught me that most key decision makers respect professionals who ask tough questions. Once we are in front of a prospect, you can ask questions such as:

  • “What are your long term goals?”
  • “Do you have a succession plan?”
  • “What is keeping you up at night?”
  • “How good are your controls?…..over cash receipts?…..cash disbursements?”
  • “How is that affecting…?”
  • “What impact is that having on customer loyalty, market share, etc.?”
  • “What is that costing you in terms of lost sales, profitability, etc.?”
  • “How important is this compared to other projects you have on your plate right now?”
  • “If we had an appropriate solution, what would that mean to your company or you personally?”

After you have determined the importance and the impact of a particular problem, you can then demonstrate the worth or value of our services to the prospect. What value do Withum professionals have to offer?

  1. We solve problems. Remember the pitch to a potential client is all about them and their pain. If we ask questions similar to those listed above and we successfully uncover why they are even entertaining us for the work, we need to demonstrate how we can provide a solution to their problem. This could include an offer to review past tax returns for free (we would charge to implement suggestions) or send out one of our internal controls people for a day to do a review of key controls (again, we would charge to implement suggestions). This will demonstrate to the potential client that we care about their business and that we are there to partner with them in making their business more successful, of course always being within the bounds of maintaining independence where necessary.
  1. We offer world-class client service. The purpose behind most everything we do at our firm revolves around the betterment of our relationships with our clients. This is the impetus behind providing ‘world-class client service.’ We fully appreciate that our clients need accounting services, but choose to work with our firm.
  1. We have deep industry expertise. We believe that to put our clients in a position of strength, we need to be at the heart of their industry. Focused industry expertise is a core attribute of our talent. Our partners and managers specialize in key lines of business to provide the best possible service, taking the time to intimately understand what drives their market — and their success.
  1. We have many long-term relationships. Our stability has permitted us to develop long-term relationships in the banking, legal and financial services fields.  With strong roots in the business community, we have built relationships which afford our clients with referrals to the finest services available in these areas. As for our clients, we have many who have been with us for nearly four decades.
  1. We offer the Withum Way Culture. Our people are smart, passionate, loyal and dedicated. We respect and care for each other, both personally and professionally. You are not just another client; you are a friend of the firm; a member of the Withum family. And we are there for our clients as a strategic partner in helping them succeed.

Please refer to our Firm brochure if you are looking for more ammunition on our value.  It’s a great tool.

Remember, if you have not fully uncovered your prospect’s problem and determined exactly how our services can help them solve a particular business issue, then our fees will always seem too high unless we happen to be the lowest priced bid. There is a significant difference between cost and worth.  And working with the talented professionals at our firm is worth the extra fees in the short-term, with the prospective client reaping the benefits of our expertise in the long-term.

Thanks and have a great week.

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As you heard through that very kind email from Andy Vitale last week, I recently celebrated a 35 year milestone with the firm. Thank you all for your well wishes that followed and blew up my inbox.

Reaching a milestone like this has made me reflective upon the last three-and-a-half decades. When I was offered the opportunity to join WithumSmith+Brown, it was sold to me as a unique firm that was growing and progressive. I accepted the position here, with a hopeful expectation of it providing a great learning experience and intellectual challenge, as well as an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Clearly the firm provided this to me… and so much more.

When I look back, I think about how I envisioned my career when I graduated college – oh so many years ago – and I have exceeded those expectations exponentially. The profession and our firm have provided me opportunities to travel far beyond what I could have imagined, while also helping me provide a comfortable standard of living for my family, and even helping my children get a leg up on life as they launch their careers. And as icing on the cake, many of you – my colleagues at the firm – as well as clients and referral sources, have become true friends, rewardingly intertwining both personal and business relationships.

Yes, there were times throughout my career when I was approached with opportunities from other firms, forcing me to reassess my position at Withum. But I always concluded that the best opportunity was right here in front of me, and I have never regretted the repeated decision to continue my career here. 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.

When I joined Withum in 1980, I could have never predicted I’d be here for 35 years. Yet, here I am… and I am truly thankful every day for the people who work for this fine firm and make the experience not only interesting, but also very enjoyable. I share all of this with everyone today, not only to thank you for your support of our great firm, but to remind each and every person here about the opportunities that WithumSmith+Brown provides all of us… to enjoy an intellectually stimulating, satisfying career with phenomenal upside for personal reward and achievement.

The best career opportunity is right here at Withum. All we each need to do is take advantage of it.

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In today’s MP Message, we will be covering the second topic from Jack & Suzy Welch’s book, The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, which is: You Gotta Have Growth.

The only thing that is constant is change, as the old adage states. Moving forward and staying competitive requires constant adaptability, development and growth.  We continually see many changes in our firm, be it the addition of new staff at every level, new titles within departments, new software being implemented… all done in the spirit of accommodating growth and staying on top of our game. Growth is great because it is what gives people job security, pays for a child’s college tuition, buys a home and all the while builds meaningful careers. Growth is a huge part of what makes business fun.

The Real Life MBA shares these six levers which have proven to be effective catalysts for growth:

  1. Eyes Wide Open (or ‘fresh eyes’) – If you want growth, no matter the size of a company or where you sit in it, be it a leading niche or department, don’t be afraid of a new pair (or more!) of fresh eyes on your team.  And by that, we refer to the newly hired people we bring in. As a firm, we are excited to recruit the best and brightest in the profession from other firms, or merge in smaller firms. These professionals are always willing to integrate into our culture and ways of doing things, of course. But remember to tap into the value they bring with their experience and new perspective on the current way we do things here. The fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know. So a fresh point of view can help recharge a team or help spark ideas on new growth initiatives.
  1. Concentrate, Don’t Dilute – When allocating budget resources, sprinkling a little here or a little there tends to be ineffective, particularly with growth initiatives. Focus on what will make the most impact and go with that. Quoting Jack Welch, “If you want growth, don’t hedge your bets. Go big to get big.” As we all know, we keep a close eye on our spending as a firm and can’t offer enough money for every last growth initiative. When looking at department or niche budget allocations, spend what you have to, spend what you can. Just no sprinkling. Concentrate on a few things for bigger impact.
  1. All Hands on Deck – In business, we hear the word ‘innovate’ frequently within the scope of growth. And maybe epic inventors such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates comes to mind immediately, leaving you feeling a bit intimidated when asked to contribute to the innovation within a team. Don’t be! Innovation in business is likely to occur when it is defined to mean incremental improvements that are held to everyone’s job. It can and should be a mindset that has everyone saying everyday as they walk through the door, “I’m going to find a better way to do my job today.” Amazing ideas can be born when done collectively as a team.
  1. Match Talent to the Task – If you want growth, you have to staff the engines of growth with your best. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is a point that is oftentimes overlooked because of time constraints or lack of resources. Assign projects to the right people. Growth doesn’t lead itself.
  1. Keep Compensation Fresh – Measure and compensate your people for their performance accordingly. According to the book, “Performance and compensation systems go stale with time… So you may think your organization measures people for the right things, and pays them for the right things, but such thinking could be more wishful than accurate.” As a firm, we have looked and continue to look at how our professionals are compensated to keep them motivated and satisfied. We encourage you to be very mindful of evaluations and niche member ratings, as these are the basis of raises, bonuses and promotions.
  1. The Competition… Inside – You know the ones… jealous, petty resisters who moan and groan about new ideas or processes or people. And their subterfuge can take a real toll on the psyche of team members. I’ve seen it first hand: talented, bright staff who get turned off completely by this type of nonsense. If you are aware of it, I ask you to let me know immediately, or at least let your PIC know. There’s enough competition going on outside of our firm; we won’t allow for this type of influence within the firm.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of the thought leadership coming from The Real Life MBA.

Have a great week!

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Happy New Year to everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah.

As shared in previous posts, I enjoy reading books and articles on leadership and business topics as part of my own professional development. They often serve as inspiration for many ideas and initiatives which are currently established here at the firm. I recently read The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, authored by Jack & Suzy Welch. Jack Welch, as you may know, is the legendary former-CEO of General Electric who was named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine in 2000. His wife, Suzy Welch, is a bestselling author, television commentary and noted business journalist. The book is chock full of sound business advice, with six key learning opportunities which I felt are most applicable to every professional in our firm, relating to Team Alignment, Growth, Leadership, Marketing B2B, Building a Winning Team and Getting Unstuck in Your Career.  I’d like to share a little about each through this and five additional future messages.

Let’s start with Team Alignment, which means more than simply a group of people who are in agreement. Alignment reflects an active ownership on the part of the team members, with each individual understanding and contributing to the goals, vision, and solution of top challenges. And Leadership is the driver to galvanizing the kind of alignment that takes the grind out of work.  Here are a few points the Welch’s share to get your teams successfully aligned:

  1. Getting into everyone’s skincaring passionately about your people and understanding what makes them tick. If you want to inspire even more good stuff happening within your team, you need to truly get to know and care about your people as individuals. Your people give their days (and sometimes their nights) to you. They give their hands, brains and hearts. Sure, they are paid a salary to do so. But as a leader, you need to fill their souls. As a firm, we are more than happy to reimburse expenses related to lunches or activities with your staff with the intent to build stronger relationships.
  2. Serving as the Chief Meaningful Officer – using words and deeds to give your team’s work context and purpose. Remember, your people spend more than 40 hours a week working. If you’re not helping them make meaning of that investment, you’re wasting their time and their lives. Be aspirational in your tone with your team members. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
  3. Removing blockages – clearing bureaucracy and other nonsense out of the way of your team’s path to results. A leader’s job is to sweep away those things which stand in the way of a team reaching its target. That includes people, too: the action blockers, the change resistors, the process obsessives. There’s always a way to create work-arounds for most anything so your team members can achieve their goals. And there are certainly plenty of people within our firm with a wealth of “people experience” to assist you in this area if needed.
  4. Demonstrating the generosity gene – going over-the-top in your desire and effort to reward people for great performance, using money, promotions and praise. One of my favorite things about the State of the Firm event is to recognize talented, loyal staff with our Strength Awards and Milestone Awards, also giving them a monetary gift. But remember, a simple ‘thank you’ or an announcement during a team meeting sharing praise about a job well done is free and goes a long way. And don’t forget about the Gotcha Awards!
  5. Making sure the work is fun – creating an environment of enjoyment and celebration. “Work Hard-Play Hard” is part of the Withum Way culture, and I think we do a pretty good job of having a good time while also providing the world-class service our clients expect. We embrace humor and candor; we do things outside of the office to build camaraderie; we do our best to adhere to our ‘no jerk’ policy and maintain a familial atmosphere. Every leader in our firm should help nurture this very important behavior.

I hope you enjoyed this first installment of the thought leadership coming from The Real Life MBA.

Have a great week!

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