Pump up your firm’s entrepreneurial spirit

December 2, 2019

With busy season looming ahead, you may be thinking about the practice development steps you can take during or after the season to expand the work you do for current clients and bring in new ones. Are you also considering how you can find people with the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that will help enhance the practice, or how to inspire your existing team members to get more involved in practice development? Here are some tips to help you get the entrepreneurs on your team up and running.

Go back to school. Numerous colleges and universities have entrepreneurship programs. In many cases they may be certificate programs rather than a major or minor, but they can be great places to recruit budding businesspeople. Reach out to schools that have them to see if you can do a presentation on entrepreneurship in the profession, bring in a student as an intern or identify students who could be possible recruits when you’re hiring. In addition, check out your state CPA society to see if they have groups for young professionals. Consider sponsoring an event for these groups or encouraging your promising staff members to join one.

Include targeted questions when hiring. Entrepreneurs are leaders who take the initiative to create something new or find business from new sources, so in your questions, ask candidates about ways in which they have shown leadership or initiative. If they are students, their examples may include leading outstanding fundraising efforts or starting a tutoring or other volunteer program or building an online business or a successful dog-walking service. All of them can be signs of a self-starter who enjoys seeking and following up on new opportunities. 

Give them some one-on-one time. It’s worth investing your time in a talented staff person with entrepreneurial spirit, so consider mentoring the people with most potential. The staff member will learn from your real-world experience and better understand what you expect from them. How can you be sure that the person is ready to represent your firm in dealings with clients or contacts? As you get to know the person, you should also feel more comfortable giving them some autonomy in their entrepreneurial efforts and have a chance to monitor their behavior and offer insights and ideas. 

Address the financial side. Your coaching or mentoring should include helping the staff member understand the firm’s value proposition, since it is critical that they are able to communicate it to current and potential clients. Can they articulate what makes your firm stand out and the value it adds to clients’ financial lives? You don’t have to share firm financial data if you don’t want to, but your discussion of the value proposition should include your billing practices and philosophy. Without that understanding, it will hard for them to build client relationships. The PCPS YOU Are the Value Workshop can help you and your people explain your firm’s many advantages.

When it comes to rewarding the employee, some firms offer staff members referral fees for bringing in new business. Another approach is to incorporate client development in their annual review, including setting benchmarks and key performance indicators for them to meet. This can be done informally if your reviews are done on an ad hoc basis, which was the case in my six-person firm. You can also encourage those who aren’t rainmakers to introduce new processes or ideas that will make the firm more productive or profitable by recognizing these efforts in a review or more informally.

Use your mentoring sessions to discuss the goals you set and work with the staff member to understand how to meet them. This approach can offer you the chance to encourage them to be truly entrepreneurial. Beyond bringing in new clients, you’ll also be asking them to be mindful of the firm’s strategic goals.

Develop firm ambassadors. If the process sounds daunting, consider getting a start by cultivating a sense of advocacy for the firm in all your people. Make sure they’re aware of the important role the firm plays in your clients’ lives and through your volunteer or other engagement in your community. Discuss the expertise you have in your firm and what distinguishes you from other practices. This is a good morale booster, but it may also motivate team members to share their pride in the firm and all it does. If some of them show a passion for doing so, then you may have identified some nascent entrepreneurs. 

This will be the last edition of Small Firm Solutions until May, as we take a hiatus during busy season. I wish you happy and healthy holidays and great success in the new year!

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 December 12 at 2:00 to 3:00 PM ET.