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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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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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It’s hard to believe we have only a few days left in 2015.  What a great year it has been!  As the last message of the year, I would like to take this opportunity to share my gratitude and appreciation for the hard work, enthusiasm and continued support that has been demonstrated by the entire staff.  Everyone in all departments – from our Professional Staff (Staff 1’s to the PICs) to the IT Department, Finance, Collections, Human Resources and Marketing – have been running on all cylinders and putting forth best efforts, keeping our firm on a positive trajectory towards even greater heights in 2016.

Our clients, communities and the influencers in our profession are noticing, giving Withum high rankings in prestigious lists such as Accounting Today’s Best Accounting Firms to Work For; NJBIZ’s Best Places to Work in New Jersey for the eleventh consecutive year; Crain’s Best Places to Work in New York City for a third year in a row; Best Places to Work for in New York State for a third year; Inside Public Accounting’s Top 50 Firms ranking #28 in the country and #6 in the Northeast; Vault Accounting 50 ranking #15; and for a fourth year, New Jersey Law Journal’s “The Best of” Reader Polls winning in three different categories in 2015. Our philanthropic initiatives have also been recognized, being named a “Great Oak Awards Finalist” by New Jersey Monthly honoring the state’s most generous companies; winning a Philadelphia Business Journal Corporate Giving Award in its “Hands On Initiative” category for Withum Week of Caring; and being a finalist in CIANJ’s Companies that Care program. I sincerely thank you for your outstanding efforts.

The cornerstone of our success is truly the loyal and talented professionals who work here every day.  At Withum, our culture and commitment to providing a great work environment allows our professionals to grow and thrive in their careers, and also having some fun while doing so.  The Withum Way philosophy is indeed alive and well.  I hope you are looking forward to the big things ahead being launched at our State of the Firm event on January 11th as much as I am. There will be plenty of good things to share and celebrate, demonstrating why our firm continues to be one of the best places to work in the profession.

I wish you a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2016!

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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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In today’s MP Message, we will be covering the third 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: What to Make of Marketing.

In the book, the Welch’s really nail it when covering the WHY in strategic marketing. “In recent years, business-to-business marketing (or B2B) has undergone just as much change as business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, for much the same reasons. More technology. Savvier global buyers and suppliers. Increased competitiveness. Heightened transparency.” Indeed, our clients and prospects are continually doing their homework and have higher expectations with regards to client service. The book shares two guiding principles which aptly apply to our profession:

  1. Companies need to do everything in their power to keep the B2B relationship very, very personal. Like our own personal relationships, professional relationships have to be built on trust with both sides feeling like they’re a win-win situation. You have to really know them, and they have to really know you. As it pertains to our clients, it’s worth sharing these tips again, which absolutely apply to that hot prospect you are pursuing, as well:
  • Respond to client calls or emails as quickly as possible.  A timely response makes them feel they are top priority to you, and everyone likes to feel that way.
  • Take the time to actually speak with them at least once a month, if not more often.  Pick up the phone and make a call.  Or arrange a time to stop by their offices just to see how things are.
  • Take clients out to breakfast or lunch (I call this a “meeting without an agenda”). Aside from getting to know our clients better, personally use this time to discuss what is keeping them up at night, and see if you can help find a solution. We have a deep well of talent of expertise at our firm, as well as a vast network of resources of those services we do not directly provide (insurance, investments, payroll, etc.).  We can likely help solve any problematic issue they have. Be a problem solver for our clients and elevate yourself to a trusted professional.
  • Make it a point to let our client know you value their business, and are genuinely interested in their business. Check out their website on a regular basis to see what they are up to. Share an article you just read that pertains to their industry. Let them know you truly care.
  • Don’t be afraid to get to know our clients on a personal level. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn how much you have in common.  Ask about their family; ask about their interests.  Consider sending a note on their birthday or a gift when a new grandbaby has arrived. Be a friend in business.
  1. Everything you do in B2B marketing today has to be driven by a careful analysis of industry.  What that means to us is to stay on top of the industry trends and issues that are most relevant to our clients’ businesses. Roughly five years ago, we embraced a niche-focused marketing model, as has most of the profession. It encourages us to be more strategic in our marketing efforts, helping us gain a competitive edge within industry verticals by demonstrating our expertise and putting our strongest people – our Niche Practice and Team Leaders – out to the forefront of their respective industries. We also demonstrate our expertise through our powerful website and content marketing strategy, our enhanced proposals, and our presence within industry associations as exhibitors at tradeshows, presenters at conferences and authors in their publications.

With business-to-business marketing, there’s a building of relationships in order to a) minimize clients going out to bid and b) ensure new business for the future. Buttress this with strategic thinking about capabilities, expertise and our competition… and you have a winning marketing mix.

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

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