"Marketing is one of the most important strategies your firm can undertake -- possibly the most important -- and needs to be treated as such," writes Charles A. Maddock, principal of Altman Weil Inc., in their October 2004 "Report to Legal Management." While Maddock wrote his column for the legal profession, his words resonante equally as well in the accounting world. We all know that modern technology has enabled business owners, chief executive officers and other managing executives to work with a CPA firm that is around the corner or around the world. We also know that successful CPAs are more effective because they have an understanding of the dynamics of their clients' business, an awareness of the trends and issues in the clients' industry, and they offer a wide range of technical skills to address the client's ever increasing business challenges -- all within the guidelines of today's regulatory environment. How do these firms distinguish themselves, gain a competitive edge, and demonstrate value to their clients and prospects if not through their marketing initiatives? Comments like Maddock's are repeated in accounting firms of all sizes, yet not much is being done to prepare accounting students regarding how important practice development will be to them when they are CPAs. The current college curriculum for accounting majors focuses primarily on developing the skills and competencies that will be necessary for a career in public and private accounting. There is little attention paid to introducing the concept of business development, yet we all agree that firms must have a commitment to a disciplined marketing approach. When is a good time to let these students know that, if they want to succeed, they will need to understand the concepts of professional services marketing? Some representatives of the accounting profession and the accounting press have begun to discuss the possibility of including a module or a course on professional services marketing as an integral component to the educational process. By integrating this course into the program, marketing will no longer be seen as something that is done apart from the normal activities of an accounting firm, but rather as something that is a part of the firm's normal activities. It needs to be made clear that the definition of marketing isn't limited to the institutional activities that firms engage in, such as sending newsletters, maintaining a Web site, or launching a branding campaign. Just as essential, if not more essential, are the individuals' personal marketing activities. Young accountants should understand their own role in practice development. Eventually they will be asked to take responsibility for contributing to the firm's growth by building a useful network, enhancing personal relationships, joining boards, and becoming involved in appropriate business or trade organizations. Their role will be even more critical as the predicted transitions take place within middle-market businesses in the private sector. This next generation of accountant represents one way to ensure retention of clients when the next generation assumes leadership. Their age and common interests will make these young accountants a key to sustaining meaningful relationships with the firm's future clients. With all this in mind, we should be raising awareness regarding the importance of taking ownership for personal marketing for them to succeed on their chosen career path. Changing or adapting the accounting curriculum in colleges across the country is something that will not occur quickly nor easily, but if the discussion does not take place, action will never occur at all.
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