I am getting weary about writing about Andersen/Enron, so I thought this column would be about a rather simple self-help exercise that you might find beneficial.
First, let me say what you might already know and that is, I love self-help books. What better way to improve? I do, however, have one important rule when reading these books: If I am asked to do something to gain insight, it better be easy.
With that in mind, here is what I have to offer. Make believe that you are a prospective client. Be creative and invent a scenario as to why you are looking for an accountant.
Go to a fellow practitioner's site on the Internet and see if it would motivate you to call for an appointment. Be critical, but also look at three or four other sites of accounting firms that are of similar size to you in your same geographic area. Which have the crispest professional looks? Which showcases services best? Which allows for easy navigation? And, which portrays well the professional expertise of the firm members. On those sites, try to find the contact info, check for an e-mail option, look for the telephone number, the firm's location, Are there directions on how to get to the firm's office? Believe me I have often done this when I am looking for potential interviewees and I am sorry to say I often experienced a lot of frustration and many times, I quickly exited the site.
An alternative approach is to act as a potential client walking into an office for an exploratory meeting. Sit in the reception area for about five minutes, look around, and listen. Do the same thing in your own office, but remember to sit down where the potential client would be. What do you see? I was in a doctor's office once and I saw a drug interaction reference book that was over six years old. Did that instill confidence in me for that doctor? Likewise, if the only copy of the Internal Revenue Code in your bookcase is from two years ago, you might get some visitors nervous.
Other professionals are using this approach, too. Some medical schools that are affiliated with hospitals have second or third-year students check in the hospital for a series of tests. They eat the hospital food, get awakened in the middle of the night for a temperature and blood pressure check, and are poked repeatedly by some medical professional searching for a vein. They really get a good idea of what the patients go through. So, maybe changing places and acting like a client isn't such a bad idea. At least you won't have to get dressed up in a short gown that doesn't fit and has to tie in the back.
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