[IMGCAP(1)]Capital One Credit Card has had a successful ad campaign for several years featuring some lovable but clumsy Vikings in humorous situations.

When things go amiss and they have to pay for some items that they broke in a store, as they pull out their Capital One card they turn to the camera to ask us, “What’s inside your wallet?”

Other than Halloween or at the Metrodome during a Minnesota Vikings football game, I don’t think you’ll find too many accountants dressed up as Vikings. But yet clients, prospects or centers of influence of accountants may take a page out of the Capital One Vikings playbook and in so many words ask their accountants, “What’s inside your firm?”

When asked, “What’s inside your firm?” do you begin to wonder how the marketplace really perceives your firm? And more importantly how do all the professionals within the walls of the firm actually feel about their own firm?  After all, converting a perception into a reality can be challenging.

So while you may be asked, “What’s inside your firm?” the answer may very well be what people don’t see that will show up to others the most. 

Morale. Attitude. Culture: The quickest way to kill any growth goals is to have an atmosphere within a firm that is less than enjoyable to work in. Nobody sets out when starting up a firm or as a firm expands to create a sweatshop environment. However as deadlines need to be met, frustration can build about internal communications not being returned, shorthanded staff, long hours and professionals working on many projects at once. Things can begin to get testy.

While no firm will ever have 100 percent harmony all the time, with everybody singing Kumbaya around the campfire, pausing now and then to make sure your relationship with your colleagues is on solid ground may not be a bad idea. You probably spend more waking hours with your business family than your own personal family. Why not make it as positive as you can?

When you enter the door in your firm and it has a positive feeling, you, the firm, clients, prospects, referral sources and everyone else will benefit. Leadership in any organization will set the tone. It comes from the top down. If the leaders are upbeat, positive and encouraging, it will not be hard for the rest of the organization to follow.

Hal F. Rosenbluth penned an interesting book, “The Customer Comes Second, Put Your People First.” His point is pretty simple and direct: Treat your people well, respect them, and they will go to the wall for the organization and their clients. If leadership defines a happy employee by the fact they are getting a paycheck and all the #2 lead pencils they need, they may need to read the book. This is that “soft stuff” that can throw many for a loop, but without the “soft stuff,” things can become pretty hard inside a firm.

Innovation or Procrastination. The easiest way not to grow a firm is not to do anything to help your firm grow. Just by saying your firm needs more revenues, even if leadership begins with a “please,” saying it won’t make it happen alone. Yep, you’ll have the same old clients. You’ll do the same work for them each year until they find another accountant that offers more than the work you provide them. Unfortunately your defense of “We have been with you for years. We are always on time. You never told us we were not doing a good job” will not hold up.

Today’s client wants more than just their numbers. Businesses are seeking advice from people they trust. They may not always take the advice, but one thing will always be true: They will always appreciate the effort. Talk. Talk to clients and prospects. Take the first step and contact them. Don’t sell them. Educate them. Help them run their business with best practice examples that you know from other businesses, articles related and pertaining to their industry, and/or invitations to seminars and other events that are relevant to running their business.

If you don’t want to bother them or feel you would be a pest by contacting them, I hope you have comfortable shoes when you hit the pavement looking for new clients to replace those clients you didn’t want to bother. Given the last two-plus years of the economy, your client probably wants to be bothered by someone who will help them with their business. The question is, will it be you or your competitor that bothers them?

You always need balance in any business: taking care of the immediate daily needs that are actually your business and also looking down the road to how you are going to grow your business. Accounting firms have it nailed in taking care of the day-to-day stuff. However, in order to grow, firms must also look at the horizon. Look up from the day-to-day work and also plan forward for the future.

Be realistic when looking into the crystal ball of the future. Don’t set unrealistic goals. One year, maybe two years, down the road, be ready to adjust according to your market conditions and landscape, and set your sights on how you want your firm to look tomorrow.

Today is already coming into sight in the rearview mirror. Will the really successful firms be less like an archeologist who only looks back, or more like an astronomer who gazes out to the future?

Nicholas D. Keseric Jr. is the director of practice growth with Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co, a Chicago-area middle-market CPA firm, and a partner with MPS Capital Advisors-Mergers & Acquisitions.

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