The Joys of Being a Generalist 

    by Bob Goldfarb, CPA, CGMA, PFS, CFE, CFP 

    The Joys of Being a GeneralistPractice development has long been a tough area for many CPAs, because while we have strong technical skills, marketing is not really our favorite pastime.  At our firm, we’ve found that it’s possible to attract new clients without changing our inherent technical nature.  We’ve done well simply by striving to be the best at client service.

    We are a traditional, old-line CPA firm.  We don’t specialize in any one area but rather we’re generalists, providing attest, tax, estate planning and some litigation services.  The firm is over 52 years old and the two founding partners are still active.  We have many clients who have been with us for 30 to 40 years.  Our success comes from the service we provide our clients and the staff who work with them.
     
    Treating staff like family.  Our staff are, in many ways, the secret to our success.  We have very little turnover and we believe this is partly because our firm emphasizes the importance of family, flexibility and work/ life balance.  Our newest professional staff member has been with our firm for six years, and we have other employees who’ve been here as long as 30 years.  They all started with us as young professionals, so they’ve really had a chance to get to know the clients over the years and build strong relationships with them.  Seeing familiar faces is important to clients as they expect and deserve personal attention and communication with people they know and trust.

    Gaining visibility.  We don’t market in the traditional sense.  We do a great deal of pro bono work in the community which gives us some visibility and we also act as discussion leaders for CPE courses, which provides the opportunity to network with other CPAs who may ask for advice on certain client situations.  I am also very active with PCPS, the National Conference of CPA Practitioners, the New York State Board of Public Accountancy and other professional organizations.  I have also been the chairperson of the Long Island Tax Professionals Symposium for the last nine years.  Because we’ve developed a good reputation through these avenues, we receive many word-of-mouth referrals from other CPAs, attorneys, and others in our community.  Our colleagues in smaller CPA firms also refer work to us when they don’t have the bandwidth to accommodate in-house.
     
    Navigating downturns.  The fact that we don’t specialize has protected us from downturns in certain industries, but it has prevented us from growing when certain industries flourish.  However, we believe this is a positive aspect of being a more generalist firm.  While specializing works quite well for some firms, we are in a great position to assist our clients and provide a range of hands-on services and insights in a variety of different service areas that our clients need.  As we navigate the ups and downs of the economy, clients are continuously turning to our firm with questions and needing customized advice when they’re uncertain about their financial state.
     
    Being honest.  What’s a surefire way to hang on to current clients and build the kind of reputation that will attract new ones?  We’re always open with clients.  If we make a mistake, we tell them and we always have a solution ready.  As a result, they know they can trust us and that has enhanced our relationships with them over time.
     
    Bob Goldfarb, CPA, CGMA, PFS, CFE, CFP, is the managing partner of Schoenfeld, Mendelsohn, Goldfarb, LLP, CPAs, a medium firm in Woodbury, New York.

     

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