For me, January signals two things: the credit card billsfrom the holiday shopping season begin trickling in and the accountingconference season officially kicks off.

Weekends also begin the grid of unwatchable cold weathersports like the Winter X Games and ice dancing, but that's fodder for anothercolumn.

As in past years, 2010 for me began with the Winning isEverything confab, held last week at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

The conference was, like previous ones, replete with practicemanagement strategies and motivational keynotes to maintain growth andprofitability in what often seems like a Sisyphean task in this economicclimate.

Somehow I associated the operations and routines of thisgargantuan hotel with running a successful CPA firm.

Or, more accurately, what not to do.

During my three-night stay, my room was inexplicably keptat a safe distance from the housekeeping staff, while during a rare all-daydownpour in this desert venue, I discovered that my windows were about aswatertight as the Titanic.

Apparently, there were other aquatic trouble spots at theornate lodge, evidenced by the number of tactically placed garbage cans thatfunctioned as collecting bins for impromptu ceiling waterfalls.

I shuddered to think about how this hotel would havefared in say, Seattle or Miami.

But I digress.

I also noticed the carpeting in the hallways was bothworn and discolored, and thought of the sour impression that it would make onguests, especially those visiting Sin City for the first time, or others likemy wife, who would immediately notice a decorative faux pas such as that.

(With the glaring exception of myself, I have alwaysmaintained that she has excellent taste).

But I didn't need to be a host of a show on House andGarden TV to know that the hotel was several years past needing a top-downremodel.

While CPA firms obviously don't need - nor should theyhave - the superfluous glitz of a Las Vegas hotel, remind me again of thataxiom regarding first impressions.

Does your firm make that often-elusive good firstimpression with an understated, yet pleasing décor, and a client waiting areathat doesn't remind visitors of the motor vehicle department? Is that firmassociate that initially greets them as they enter emblematic of your firmculture and commitment to client excellence or one that watches the clock andtakes more breaks than a government employee?

Beyond the reception area, does your staff reflect thechanging demographics of today, boasting an equitable mix of Boomers, Gen X,and Millennials, or does it look like a meeting of the Kiwanis Club circa 1961?

A fitness fanatic I once knew said that he could walkinto a new gym and within 30 seconds know whether he would enjoy working outthere.

I'm sure it's not all that different with prospectiveclients, or even current ones when walking into a CPA firm.

And if on a rainy day, you find yourself needing a supplyof garbage cans, you'll need help quicker than you think.

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