Art of Accounting: ‘This is the last time I will bother you’

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Last week, a friend told me his firm was going to have an all-day weekend partner meeting. All six of the partners would go and it was the first time this well-established and profitable 30-person firm was having a day-long partner meeting. He was excited about it, but also apprehensive about what it would accomplish.

I happened to run into another partner the next day and he also told me about the meeting. It was a big deal and I congratulated him on taking what I felt was a major step in their business life.

I thought about it and called them a couple of days before the meeting. I asked them what the agenda was and who prepared it. They both told me there was no agenda, that the senior-most partner would probably run it and that they had a lot to talk about. The older partner of the two that I spoke with told me there were big staffing, billing and collection, and problem client issues. The younger partner told me that he was concerned about the future growth of the practice, their ability to handle it and whether they would have the right structure to deal with it. Both partners also expressed concern there could be eventual partner buyout issues.

Knowing them both very well and in the effort to help them, I started barraging them with emails containing blogs and columns I wrote, as well as chapters in some of my books. It got to a point where I realized that, while I thought I was helping them, I also could have been making a pest of myself, so I concluded my last email with the heading to this column.

What I was trying to tell them was that they would be having an eight-hour meeting with six people who had an average billing rate of $400. That meant they were committing almost $20,000 of time to this meeting. I wanted them to realize that and then resolve to get at least that much value from their meeting. I suggested that a day of dealing with day-to-day issues could not provide that much value. While each of those issues is very important, none would have a long-term or lasting effect on the practice, compared to deciding to develop a plan for future growth, sure to double volume in seven to eight years, and how they could manage it, coinciding with possible senior partner buyouts. It seems to me the latter would create a more lasting benefit than current staffing, billing and client issues (which are important, but not in solidifying the firm’s future).

One of the things I suggested is for each of them, and also the other four partners, to prepare an agenda and distribute it the Friday before the meeting. This would give them some time to consider how they wanted to spend the $20,000 of time the next day. My next suggestion was that they start the meeting by discussing how they wanted to spend the day and develop an agenda based on the suggested topics that were distributed and understand that they might end up with a completely different agenda than any of those that were submitted.

My last email begins here:

Here is my last thing — and I won’t bother you again this week.

Make your meeting this Saturday about issues that would affect the future of your practice — not items that need to be handled day to day, such as billing and individual staff. Where will the firm be in five years and do you have the infrastructure to get there and handle it? In five years, with no special growth, your volume will be at least 60 percent greater and with more staff. What revenue will existing services generate and what new services will you be instituting? Who will spearhead the new services? Will your top five clients today still be your top five clients in five years, or if not, who will be? Who were your top five clients five years ago? What type of staff do you have and what is the turnover, and if people leave, why?

If you were forced to downsize half of your staff, who would you absolutely keep and who would be first to be let go? Have each of your partners grown professionally in the last five years? Who hasn’t? Are they a younger partner or an older partner? Where did the last five major clients (over $25,000 in fees) come from?

There are many more things that can be looked at. My point is to not waste the time of six people in a room for eight hours talking about bad clients and bad staff and drafty windows. You have a substantial successful business — run it deliberately and not by default!

Hopefully you will get some ideas about forward planning from this column. If you want to discuss it, contact me.

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Partnerships Practice management Practice structure Partnership buyouts Strategic plans Strategic planning Ed Mendlowitz