Embed Business Development into Busy Season or Bust 

by Anthony J. Caleca, CPA, CGMA 
Published January 27, 2016

I took over as managing partner of Brown Smith Wallace on January 1, 2016, after leading the firm’s audit practice for 10 years. We have three offices in the St. Louis area and a total head count of 280 and growing.

We serve private companies with traditional audit, accounting and tax services and provide many of the St. Louis area’s largest private and public companies with employee benefit plan audits, captive insurance company services, insurance consulting, internal audit, IT audit, cybersecurity and other related risk services, litigation support, valuation and transaction advisory services, outsourced accounting and specialty tax services.

As managing partner, my top priority for this busy season and beyond is enabling growth through development of new service opportunities and improved processes, taking care of our people and continuing to increase our presence in the marketplace.

New Service Opportunities

Our work as CPAs gives us built-in access to our clients. How many businesses have the opportunity over the next 10 or 12 weeks to spend time with every one of their significant customers? Identifying and following up on new client service opportunities in the midst of busy season can be overwhelming if you view it as incremental to your responsibilities. We embed business development in our daily activities and it’s everyone’s job. Each partner has the responsibility to generate new business. We do this through the following:

Face time. We plan our engagements so that we’re spending as much time as possible working at the client’s office. We want face time with our clients. Chargeability for our partners is probably a little less than the industry norm because we place so much importance on building client relationships.

Firm perspective. Each of our practices operate as separate business units. But when it comes to opportunities, we want to ensure that everyone is looking at the capabilities and goals of the firm as a whole. Every Monday morning at 8 o'clock all managers and above in the firm are in a meeting dedicated to business development activity that spurns conversations and creates a firm perspective on winning business. Chances are, and with our range of services, someone in the room can solve the client’s or prospect’s issue.

Pipeline. We’ve been working on creating a more institutionalized pipeline process to manage leads across the firm. The idea is that leads meeting certain criteria should be addressed at the firm level. I will manage this process. Ultimately we want to make sure that the individual who fielded the call works with the right people from our team to make the firm successful in winning the business.

Work-life Balance

Work-life balance has been a clear focus of the leadership of our firm as demonstrated by our low turnover rate and numerous best-place-to-work awards. As we continue to grow, my challenge is to continue the focus on work-life balance and improve upon it wherever possible.

We achieve work-life balance in multiple ways. This busy season, we’ll provide dinner two nights a week to any employee working late. We’ll provide breakfast on Saturdays. We’ll shut the firm down early for planned social events, typically around some milestones from a delivery perspective, to relax and enjoy each other’s company. But food and drinks at work isn’t the most important part. We expect staff to go to their kids’ school Valentine’s Day party.

We evaluate each individual on a regular basis against firm performance standards. But each individual is evaluated on his or her own merits. This is important because we offer full-time flexible or adjusted-time flexible work schedules.

We have several individuals within our firm who are wildly successful but don't work the traditional public accounting hours. That's totally fine. If you're providing manager-quality work, you'll be promoted to manager. Last year we made a partner in our firm who works an adjusted schedule. She's a full-fledged partner with significant client and staff responsibility and does a great job.

Process Improvement

Every year in November we go through a practice planning process where each practice is required to adopt at least two items geared toward operational excellence.

This year, because we serve many small businesses, we’re making some changes as a result of SSARS No. 21. We think it provides a bright line between the accounting and reporting services that we offer. We're looking to recalibrate our accounting services into the cloud-based paperless environment, which we expect will even the playing field between us and non-CPA groups offering similar services.

We’re aiming to increase the value we offer to clients who require that level of service. When you go away from saying "no assurance is provided" to "the financial statement preparation was provided by Brown Smith Wallace under professional standards,” that's an opportunity for us. All of those statements that we had no attachment to, we now have some attachment to in the marketplace.

Conclusion

The diversity of our firm means we have “busy seasons” throughout the year.  Regardless of when the busy season is, if we’re missing growth opportunities during those seasons, we know that business development is not sufficiently engrained in our processes. If we limit work-life balance opportunities during busy season, we have not truly embraced a work-life balance culture. If we’re having workflow problems during busy season, we haven’t adequately planned our processes. I’m fortunate to have stepped into the managing partner role in a firm where we do these things quite well. But there’s always room for improvement.

Anthony J. Caleca is managing partner of Brown Smith Wallace in St. Louis. He started as an intern at the firm in 1991.

 

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