Harvest the gold in your firm

by Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA

June 3, 2019

Back when I ran a six-person firm, I remember getting a call from a tax client whose father was in assisted living. Although the family was wealthy, the money the father had expected to pay for end-of-life care was starting to run out. We talked through the steps the family would need to take to address the issue, including looking back at the gifting of the equity from the sale of the family home to a relative. These are the kinds of conversations CPAs have every day with clients who reach out to them for help beyond the usual compliance work.

When CPAs think about expanding their practices, they too often imagine a complicated process to start a new niche from scratch. But you actually already have all or much of what you need to deliver additional services. The only thing you may need to do is recognize what you have to offer and broaden the way you talk about your own abilities. Now that busy season is over, this is a great time to identify the opportunities for new services and begin to make the most of them. Here are a couple of examples:

Client accounting services. Many firms already perform outsourced controller work or business advisory services for clients. If you’re not sure this leap is right for your firm, start by breaking down what’s involved to see how it relates to your current offerings. For example, CPA firms have always performed writeup work for clients but client accounting services (CAS) take the basics of that assignment and add an additional layer of value. While writeup can help record and manage client dealings, with CAS you analyze transactions and report where the client stands and how they are doing. You focus on critical key performance indicators that clients can use to spot weaknesses and new opportunities and make significant decisions. These are all steps that small CPA firms are equipped to take right now. And clients need and appreciate this information. They want to know how they can run their businesses better and you can supply the answers to that question.  You can also enhance your skills and set your firm apart by earning the AICPA Client Accounting Advisory Services certificate.

Personal financial planning. Whether a client comes to us for tax returns, financial statements or both, we typically have a solid understanding of their personal finances. We may already be helping them make calculations for retirement or planning for their children’s education. To kick off a personal financial planning service, brainstorm all the ways you help or advise individuals with their personal finances, then package and market all your efforts as a new personal financial planning niche. For information, tools and guidance in this niche, CPAs should be aware of the resources available to them through the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Section.

Industry or specialty consulting. Our firm focused on real estate-related businesses, so we had a great deal of specialized knowledge in that area. What are your firm’s specialties? Whatever they are, if you have a significant concentration of clients in a certain industry or practice area, you may be able to expand beyond the compliance work you’re doing for them and into new consulting arenas.

Seize the opportunities

This is a great time to start rolling out your new services because:

  • You have developed strong relationships with your clients over the years. Set up a meeting or ask them to lunch free of charge to educate them about all the additional ways you can help. You may be surprised at how receptive they are to your additional services.
  • Technology makes it easy to interact with clients in a different way, adding even more value to your new services. Software solutions can help you gain a better understanding of clients’ situations and provide them with options such as a personalized dashboard that delivers their data in real-time. Harnessing technology is also a great way to benefit from and engage your younger staff. You can capitalize on their ideas for advancing the firm by implementing the technology tools that they have grown up with. Younger clients will also appreciate your fresh take on services and the technology that can make them easier to access.
  • There are useful resources available to you. In addition to the resources listed previously, the PCPS Trusted Client Adviser Toolbox, for example, can help you assess and implement services that tackle the issues keeping your clients up at night.

A different perspective

The services I’ve described here don’t represent a brand new niche. Instead, it’s just a matter of marketing your existing skills in new ways. Take the time now to harvest existing gold in your practice. You’ll be glad you did!

Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA is the Association’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests. Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at carl.peterson@aicpa-cima.com or 651-252-4618. And be sure to sign up for Carl’s Small Firm Update webcasts. The next one will take place on June 27 at 2:00 to 3:00 PM ET.