Key Things Firms Ignore Every Day but Shouldn’tby
Running the day-to-day of your firm, regardless of size, is challenging enough, and practice development guru Michelle Long says there's things everyone ignores that should be a part of their everyday routine.
Long is all about success for firms; she’s even bothered to put that into the title of her business, and in her view, there’s always “big picture” items that should be addressed that firms don’t often find the time to do. However, she reveals that whether you are just starting a new practice or have been doing it for more than 20 years, there are basic items everyone needs to just stop and think about concerning the direction of their practice and what they want out of it.
Strategic planning. This isn’t to say you need to strategically plan every day, but not having one at all can be a detriment to any practice.
“I started my practice 20 years ago and you take anything early on, but along the way you need to reevaluate and focus on maybe specializing, what type of clients you want to work with, look at where you can grow, and if you need to hire more people to do the job,” says Long. “I realized that even if I hire some people to do things like tax, I have to manage that, and I decided I don’t like it and didn’t want it as a part of my practice. What I do like is accounting and advising, so I went in that direction.”
She added that firms just need to try and stop and ask themselves what they want to be doing in the next three to five years and work toward that.
“We get so busy working in our business that we forget to work on it. We help our clients so much and don’t stop to think about our direction, keeping up with technology, and working more efficiently,” says Long.
Client evaluation (aka, knowing your A, B, C, Ds). Knowing what kinds of clients you want to work with is half the battle for practitioners. The other is knowing exactly who you are working with to ensure they are who you want to be working with. As Long explains, there are A and B clients, and C and D clients. Know who they are and how to handle them.
“I advise that you have to replace those C and D clients and nurture the As and Bs. Think of it this way, you are not getting rid, you are replacing,” says Long. “In general, As and Bs value what you do, value your services, they listen to advice, pay us on time, and provide documents on a timely basis or as requested.”
She defines C and D clients as those who “always complain” or you have to “chase them down for documents and information.” They also complain about or push back on fees and, at times, “you actually cringe when they call you.”
Client training. Long firmly believes that even type-C clients can become Bs and even As with proper training. This doesn’t mean through courses or white papers, but through simply being clear on what firms want and expect from them every day.
“You have to be straight with clients. Tell them ‘this is how it’s to be done, these are my expectations.’ They may have never worked with anyone that way, and they will likely want to keep working with you,” says Long. “Tell them the best ways to contact you and work with you. It’s not about just giving contact information and saying ‘whenever you want.’ We need to communicate expectations. You can move these middle-of-the-road clients along to be better that way. Also, assert yourself; tell your clients when you need something and how. Think you can’t afford to lose a client? Well, maybe you should.”
Keeping up with the profession. “It’s true, we may think we don’t always have time to keep up with everything, but make the time. Look at blogs, community sites, and publications,” says Long. “Especially with the technology and how fast things are changing, if you aren’t keeping up, you will be left behind; it’s no longer a maybe. More and more things are automated, and if you built your practice around data entry, you will go by the wayside. Moreover, if you’re not up on what is out there, you are at a disadvantage.”
Networking with peers. Long believes this is one of the most commonly overlooked and underpracticed activities among accountants. “You may see some of your fellow practitioners as competition, but things have become so complex it’s difficult to be an expert in everything, so you need to specialize and network around that, as well as the everyday issues you face in your firm,” says Long. “Chances are, someone else is or has gone through the same already.”
Michelle Long has regularly advised on growth and practice management strategies through her firm, Long for Success LLC. She is a well-known speaker and QuickBooks ProAdvisor, guiding firms about the product along with regular business coaching and training. Long will be speaking in two sessions entitled Key Steps in the ProAdvisor’s Journey to Professional Greatness at the Scaling New Heights conference June 21-24, 2015. Please visit this link for more information and event details.