My solo practice, which consists of three full-time staff, one part-timer, one seasonal person and one sub-contractor, has found a way to enhance our practice development simply by picking the right people to work for us and motivating them to participate in practice growth. We also ensure that all employees understand that the cornerstone of this practice is commitment to excellence and work quality. This is paramount and we empower everyone to contribute to this goal, no matter how small or difficult the client. The theory is that great work and treating the client with respect is rewarding to all, makes for a great office environment and leads to referrals.
Finding employees who are committed to growing my practice doesn’t mean I recruit people with strong marketing experience. Instead, in addition to seeking staff with strong technical skills and good communication skills, I look for CPAs who are responsible people with a caring attitude and personality. I use several different sources for new hires.
- A free local unemployment office. My last two CPAs came from this office and they are the two best CPAs I’ve hired in the last 15 years.
- The Wisconsin Society of CPAs database. I obtained a strong CPA from this source and for $320 per month, I have access to their permanent database of existing resumes and receive real-time e-mails for all those newly posted.
- Other CPA firms. I participate in a regular lunch meeting with members of local CPA firms. Once, when I told the group I was in need of additional assistance, they spread the word and I hired a four-year degreed accountant who was referred by another firm.
Focus on Excellence, the Clients Will Follow
My number one source of practice growth is client referrals. My practice is successful simply because of the way we treat clients, employees and vendors. I didn’t fully appreciate how rare this was until my three most recent hires. The importance that all three place on client service cannot be understated and they all take it upon themselves to make sure each other maintains this standard of excellence. At my firm, we show our commitment to clients in many different ways. For example, we meet face to face with over 90% of our clients. Staff members are involved in the meeting and are expected to work directly with the client to manage the return and the relationship. As another example, I have four CPAs in the firm and at least two of them review virtually every return as we believe the increase in quality far exceeds the cost. They each use a checklist that is updated throughout tax season as we see fit. This process ensures greater accuracy and makes it more likely that we’ll be able to spot great planning opportunities. We also make sure employees are aware of the extra value we add and are prepared to articulate this value to our clientele. To further encourage relationship building, we added a financial incentive for both clients and employees. Clients receive $25 for each referral and employees receive 20% of new business on April 16 of the following year.
Play to Your Strengths
My new hires really helped me realize that our commitment to clients set us apart, so we have changed our marketing direction to talk more about our commitment to service. To make sure we’re offering the best service, we put together a very simple client satisfaction survey. We post the results on a wall in our office, so that clients can see the negative comments along with the positive ones. I think that demonstrating our interest in their opinion—and being transparent about all of the comments we receive—builds a sense of comfort that makes clients feel they can trust us.
Practice growth is a matter of a commitment to excellence and treating everyone with respect. It also is a matter of employee empowerment, recognition and participation in maximizing the firm’s strengths and providing employees with incentive to spread the word. It’s a pretty simple formula that has been very successful for my firm and makes work rewarding and fun.
Eric Hjortness, CPA, is President/Owner of Hjortness & Associates, CPAs SC, a solo practice in Menasha, Wisconsin.