From time to time, I am asked to speak on various aspects of public accounting. No matter what the subject of my speech, I always try to incorporate my definition of a great accounting firm.

I believe there are four basic components to a great accounting firm:

1. The leadership --No matter how many bright partners and staff members there are, the tone at the top, the strategic initiatives, and the compensation plans developed by the firm leadership are the keys to the long-term success, of the firm, both in terms of practice growth and staff retention. Consistent growth can only be achieved with leadership that understands and practices this.

2. A shared vision --When all firm members know and share a common understanding of what makes the firm unique, everyone is rowing in the same direction, walking the same walk, and presenting the same consistent message about the firm to the public.

3. Ability to promote and distinguish itself from the competition --There are many good accounting firms out there whose belief is their work speaks for itself and the quality of the firm. That works very well for client retention, but does very little for generating business from new clients. When you see a great firm, it is readily apparent how it differentiates itself from other firms. There is a certain confidence seen, and often the advice given shows it is heads above the firms with which it competes.

4. Providing quality professional service --The most important aspect of a great firm is the level at which it performs professional services. That is what brought the firm to the dance. Without this, the other three components are worthless in the long run. The interesting thing is that providing quality professional service is really the baseline of performance for all accounting firms. A danger I see is that firms sometimes, in their search for greatness, lose sight of this fourth component a bit, and sometimes even sacrifice it for growth.

There are many great firms out there and I salute each and every one of them.

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