Nov 9th 2013
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By Lisa Tierney
I had the pleasure of attending a panel discussion among a small group of young CPA professionals at the 2013 Practitioners Symposium and Tech+ Conference in partnership with the Association for Accounting Marketing Summit. One of the most interesting things revealed during the discussion was how many in attendance (mostly young CPA professionals, fortyish and younger) are defining success by reimagining and recreating the traditional CPA firm. Some innovative approaches were revealed, including a strong trend among this up and coming generation of CPAs who find it beneficial to use a professional business coach to help grow their practice.
Eric Larson, CPA/ABV, ASA, CBA, CMA, CFE, is a partner with the Grand Rapids–based CPA firm Beene Garter LLP. Larson offers expertise in the areas of forensic, valuation, and litigation services concerning disputes and/or business transactions. His practice has grown exponentially over the last few years while he has been working with a coach. When asked how using a coach helped him improve as a professional, Larson replied, "The area I have improved the most has been in creating structure and focus around business development. I was always active and doing the 'right things.' But the added structure and focus really helped me become more efficient and spend time in those areas and on those activities that really mattered."
Jon Moll, CPA, provides financial expertise and education for nonprofit organizations and is a shareholder at the Delaware-based CPA firm of Belfint Lyons & Shuman, P.A. Moll's practice area has thrived over the last year while he has been working with a coach. When asked how using a coach helped him improve as a professional, Moll said, "Coaching gave me a better awareness of the importance of branding myself as an individual and how that benefits not only me but also the firm. It also instilled in me a more disciplined approach to making practice development a priority."
What's the Most Valuable Aspect of Using a Coach?
"The most valuable aspect of working with a coach is the third-person perspective you receive," says Larson. He added, "The coach sees you and your firm in a different way than you can. The coach can give you honest feedback and point you in directions you were not aware of before. The coach gives you a much more comprehensive view that really helps you use your best traits and helps develop those areas that need improvement. The coach provides a plan and structure, rather than just a scattershot approach."
Gabrielle Luoma, CPA, CGMA, is the chief executive officer and visionary of Gabrielle M. Luoma, CPA, PLLC, located in Tuscon, which she started nearly ten years ago. Luoma says that coaching helped her to improve her leadership skills and plan more strategically. "Coaching helped me with direction and focus," she says. "I learned I can go after what I want and that if I set specific goals, I can take baby steps and reach them."
"I think there are two incredibly valuable aspects," offers Moll. "The first is that you have access to a different type of thought process. Accountants are trained to analyze data and people in a very methodical and facts-based approach. My coach helped me to analyze relationships, situations, and thought processes and how each affects the process of decision making or influencing. Secondly, coaching gives you motivation to achieve tasks outside your comfort zone. CPAs have a tendency (absent imminent deadlines) to prioritize based on what they are good at or comfortable with achieving. Some practice development items, such as speeches, written articles, and asking our clients for more work, are sometimes viewed as not important at the present time." Moll also noted that a coach establishes a sense of accountability in making sure the items get accomplished in a timely basis.
When asked if coaching at work trickled over in other aspects of their lives, all agreed that it had. Moll offered, "I spend more time 'building' relationships with people rather than letting established relationships go stale.
Larson agreed. "Coaching has reaffirmed that a big part of life is all about developing real, personal relationships with people. When you make those great connections, personally and professionally, it is very enriching."
Luoma says, "Coaching made me be more balanced and recognize that my life wasn't all about the business. It was about family and personal well-being too."
"Success or failure will be determined by whether or not you buy in to the program and how much effort you put in," says Moll. "The CPA is in the driver's seat. The coach is only holding the map."
Luoma explained what surprised her about working with a coach. "I learned from their experiences and was able to apply that to my own life and business, which I didn't expect."
Larson said the most surprising thing about working with his coach was that he had developed a great friendship with his coach.
These CPAs have come to work with a coach because of different circumstances. Luoma met her coach through her involvement with a networking group, BNI (Business Networking International). Moll's CPA firm initiated a professional development coaching program a few years ago. "The program's objective was to help develop personal marketing plans for the firm's future leaders (positions supervisor through director). I was included in the second wave of participants after the first group had extremely positive feedback. I volunteered to be included in the group." Larson's firm decided to bring on business coaching to augment the firm's current business development function.
Among this group of CPAs who are near or under forty years of age, the consensus is that coaching is a very effective means by which to grow your particular practice or service area and also a great way to improve your overall professional – and personal – experience.
About the author:
Lisa Tierney, CLSC, is a certified professional life coach who works predominantly with CPA professionals, assisting them with growing their practice, developing their leadership abilities, effectively managing their relationships, and finding graceful exists around succession planning. Lisa is the founder of TIERNEY Coaching & Consulting, Inc. Learn more at www.CPAMarketingConsultant.com.