[IMGCAP(1)]As a young accountant, I remember asking a manager how to make more money in public accounting.
His answer, along with the response of many others that I have spoken with, was simple: bill more time to your clients. More hours, seriously? I already thought I worked too many hours—anything over 50 is too many. So the question stands: How can I make more money working less (or the same number of) hours?
I found what I truly believe to be the answer in this quote by Bob Burg. In the book The Go Giver, he writes, "Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them." It makes perfect sense, but I had another question as a result. How can I add extra value to the services I already provide my clients?
When I was a staff member asking my manager how to make more money, I was stuck in the middle of preparing tax returns, preparing financial statements, trying to meet skinny budgets, and not having much fun toiling in the depths of endless cubicles. There seemed to be no meaning to any of my work, let alone value to the client.
My narrow perspective and experience of the accounting world was telling me there were very few opportunities to enhance the value of the service I could provide my clients. It ultimately pushed me away from the industry and into a Masters in Leadership Studies program. I decided to study some of the best regional accounting firms with true industry leaders to identify how they got past Preparers Hell and into a financially and personally beneficial career. (The following responses are adapted from a thesis that I wrote on the leading CPA.)
1. Become a Problem Solver
Every client you work with has a problem. It varies from an annual tax return to a pressing need for a succession plan. Get to know your client, understand what their real problems are, understand where they want to be, and help them get there. The solution will not always be a debit or credit; in fact, the debit or credit is almost never the solution. Solving your client's problems enhances their life. And if that’s not enough motivation, after you solve one problem, the client will be more likely to come back to you the next time. It doesn’t take more hours in the work-day, it just takes compassion to learn about the work they actually want to pay you for.
2. Be a Role Model
In case you didn’t already know, or if you haven’t heard the saying, nobody is perfect! You aren’t perfect, your clients aren’t perfect, and your staff isn’t perfect either. With that being said, as a CPA, you have the opportunity to “model the way” of a better life. Often, clients will come to us expecting a model for financial stability. If clients admire the way you manage your business and your personal life, there is a good chance the client is looking at your other tendencies too (for example, charitable giving or community involvement). Think of this as an unstated expectation rather than a new set of morals and values. You’re probably doing this and don’t even realize it, but by discussing your best practices and personal choices with clients, you’re promoting a better life that results in better client service.
3. Be Objective
Don’t be a “yes” man. It’s easy to tell somebody what to do, make sure they take that advice and follow up on results. It’s more difficult to challenge your client to do and be better. If your clients wanted a “yes-man,” they could pay anyone on the street with any type of credentials a few bucks to get the response that they seek. What truly provides value is questioning your clients, providing them with alternative solutions, and projecting the potential results of each solution. John Wooden said it best: “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who'll argue with you.” Be the person who helps your clients not by agreeing with them but by challenging them.
4. Be a Team Leader
It doesn’t matter what kind of personality you have; you have the ability to lead a team. Leading a team is invaluable in creating new value for your client. Use the power of collaboration to push others beyond their individual limits to create new and added value for your clients. Speak up about process improvements, alternative solutions, new ideas, altered strategies and creative communications, about any and all factions of your client. To lead is to use the skills you have developed outside of the accounting practice and apply them to your career.
Not only will creating more value out of your work be beneficial for your clients, but it is an opportunity for you as a CPA to put your personal touch on the project. The process of looking at adding value opportunities will open door after door. And even if there is no door immediately, with time you will find it.
In the end, clients want someone who will help them be better- and you are sitting on the edge waiting to guide them with you new outlook. Want to make more money as a CPA? Bob Burg concluded, “Your compensation is directly proportional to how many lives you touch.” Get out of your office and touch your client!
Adam Blitz, CPA, is a manager at Wiebe Hinton Hambalek LLP in Fresno, Calif.