Art of Accounting: Must-read books on managing a practice

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No one can ever know everything they need to know about any topic. I find that most business people do not take advantage of the experiences of others to better themselves and their businesses.

Management of an accounting practice (MAP) articles and books offer a wealth of information, shared experiences, best practices and hard-learned secret sauces yet they are not taken advantage of by a large majority of accountants.

Two books with a ton of tips that I consider must-reads are "The New Fundamentals : Practical Guidance for Today’s Accounting Firms" by Steven Sacks and "The Relentless CPA : The New 21st-Century System for Driving Success at Tax and Accounting Firms" by Frank Stitely.

I have known Steve Sacks for over 20 years. I don’t know Frank Stitely at all, but we’ve “met,” so to speak, by comments we have made on each other’s posts. Actually, about eight or nine years ago, I posted a column on the practice management value of timesheets and received about 60 negative comments. Some were almost like hate mail, and Frank was a strong defender of what I wrote. That is how I “met” him.

Running an accounting business is not easy. Actually, running any business is not easy and I am almost sure that every accountant at one time or another recommended their clients read a business leadership or management book. It was probably one that they had read. They must have liked it since they recommended it. I read novels, some of them pretty stupid, for relaxation. I read business and MAP books for ideas and to learn how to make more money, service clients better, and have more fun. I enjoy reading them, but I am looking to grab some ideas from them. I even take notes and then review the notes afterwards, trying to isolate one idea that I could implement almost immediately. If you read a lot of these books, you know what I mean. If you don’t but read a few and have gotten ideas, just imagine if you read more of these types of books.

I have a modest goal, and it sometimes frustrates me. My goal is to implement one new idea a month. The frustrating part is that I usually get dozens of ideas, such as I did from each of Steve’s and Frank’s books, and that I cannot do all of them. It is too overwhelming and, as I said, frustrating. But I do one new thing a month. I limit it to something that I know I could do. Even doing two new things at the same time might be too much, but one, I can do. And so can you. A less modest venture is to read one such book every three months and take one idea from each book. That means you will be doing four new things a year and 20 new things over the next five years This is less than my one idea a month, but do this and I guarantee it will lead to you servicing clients better, making more money and having more fun. And a good start is these two books.

By the way, regarding timesheets, I do not think the “enemies” of timesheets are as strongly organized as they were, or perhaps the issues have been widely vetted and people have made up their minds, so I do not get the strong negative feedback I used to get when I suggest using them. However, a month ago I was reading Steve’s book when I posted a blog about a situation where time-based billing for a specific project worked for one client and not for two other clients. I explained all the circumstances, but I still received a pretty negative comment. Frank responded to that comment in my defense, which I appreciated. Since I was reading Steve’s book and liked it and was thinking about writing about it, I decided that I would check out Frank’s book, which I did not have, and perhaps write about both books in one column. I got a copy and loved it and am writing here about both books.

These two books have completely different focuses, but together they cover the gamut of practice management. Steve’s book deals with interpersonal relations and emphasizes the importance of not losing sight of the timeless fundamental approaches to running a business. He covers a wide range of practice management issues, including staff management, leadership, governance, communication, operations and business development.

Frank’s book focuses on project management, workflow, staff issues, driving profitability, client retention and effective pricing. He leads off the book with an excellent illustration of value pricing and billing methods, which is a “don’t miss” for any accountant interested in pricing their services more effectively.

Steve’s book has short chapters, each with morsels of practice advice or best practices. Frank’s has longer chapters that cover one topic thoroughly and is written in a one-on-one, talking to the reader style. I’ve gotten my “one thing to do” from each of them, and will be returning to these books for quite a while afterward for the next one thing to do and then the next one thing to do afterward.

Even skimming these books or merely turning each page as quickly as you can while looking at the pages will transfer countless ideas and techniques to you. I do know one thing for sure — osmosis doesn’t work, so buying the books and intending to, but not getting around to, reading them won’t help you in any manner.

Both books should be read and then referred to when a specific issue arises. Steve and Frank both did good with these books, and added to the knowledge base for colleagues to draw against.

The books can be purchased from www.CPATrendlines.com and if you use discount code "EdSentMe" you will get a 25 percent discount on any purchase from them, not just my books.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People list. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Practice management Value pricing Ed Mendlowitz