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In our fast paced, multitasking world where we are constantly inundated with information and competing priorities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with things that need to be taken care of. You cannot do it all and you certainly can’t do it all well.
There is a lot of great content and advice on how to be more productive. I have read a lot of it and implemented in varying degrees. As we all know it is a work in process!
One thing that sticks with me is to have a shorter To Do list. I think it is great to pick 3-5 strategic priorities for the year. However, you must have 1 main focus/priority per quarter or month (depending on scope)! The key here is to schedule time to work on the project.
Here are a few great reminders:
- Pretend your Internet access is down! Email and social media can be a distraction and we are often operating in the important and not urgent quadrant.
- Imagine yourself at December 31 and what is the one thing you need accomplished to make it a double thumbs up year!
- Just because you can do it does NOT mean you should!
What items on your to do list are urgent and which can wait? We’d love to hear what methods work for you.
How does a partner move up the value chain and spend less time on prospective clients that aren’t a fit for the firm?
A hot topic that is brought up quite frequently is “How does a partner move up the value chain and spend less time on prospective clients that aren’t a fit for the firm?”
Let’s address each matter separately.
*Moving up the Value Chain. My interpretation of this is, “How do I work with higher value/bigger clients?” It is simple. As a part of your Pareto analysis, it is imperative that you assign every client in your firm a “Client Manager.” The assignment can be based on service, industry and revenue. The Client Manager is responsible for Client Service, Communication and Profitability related to the Client. It is critically important that you send the Client a note and let them know who their Client Manager is and what role they play. This is analogous to the Loan Officer who gets promoted to Bank Manager and lets you know he/she will no longer be your first point of contact but he/she will be there for you as needed.
*Prospective Client Triage. I recommend that you have your “Director of Operations” handle the first touch so that he/she becomes proficient at directing the prospect to the right place in your firm.
Here are some sample questions your DOO could ask:
We value your time. To ensure the highest quality service, we would like to connect you with the best person to assist you in our firm. Is it okay if I ask you a few questions? Also, please note our minimum price for individuals is $500 and businesses is $1000. Have your DOO pause….i.e. if they hang up on you know they aren’t a great fit for your firm.
*How did you hear about us?
*Are you an individual or business?
*If a business: How long have you been in business?
*Who is your current CPA? If they aren’t currently using a CPA, the likely next step is not a Partner.
*Why are you contacting us today?
These simple questions, if handled appropriately, will help your firm leverage its resources more effectively!
Lastly, here is a firm in San Jose, CA that asks its prospects to complete questionnaires prior to a meeting. Please have a look.
Firms are focused on assessing how they are ending the year financially and how next year is going to look. One key variable in the assessment to help determine where your firm is (and where you are going) is to perform a Pareto Analysis. I’m surprised at how many firms DO NOT perform the analysis.
Let’s start out with a few definitions:
Underperforming clients: Clients that are below your target average hourly charge rate ($175 is a good number to target) or Gross Profit Percentage (75%). Please note that high realization doesn’t mean profitable. It means high realization. Put another way, if your charge rates are low relative to the cost of your labor you could still have high realization and generate very little profit. Many firms utilize much of their capacity servicing clients with high fees but low profitability (as measured by Average Hourly Charge Rate or Gross Profit).
Best clients: Clients where you are achieving your target average hourly charge rate/Gross Profit or higher. The clients provide you and your team with challenging work, value what you do, they are growing and refer more business (like them) to you.
Our suggestion is you perform a Pareto Analysis (smart guy check him out on Wikipedia) to see where you are generating above average profit and where you are “just busy.” Please don’t confuse busy with profitable (many firms do).
Here’s how you do it:
Export your client list with respective Revenue, Profit, Cost and Average Hourly Charge Rate and sort away.
The premise is simple, 20% of your clients generate 80% of your profits. Sometimes the numbers are astonishing. Two recent cases come to mind – 2% of revenue coming from 49% of clients. And, another way of looking at things in a separate firm, 2% of revenue generated by 270 clients! The problem is, the true cost of servicing those lower priced clients is almost always higher than you think. In most firms we find it’s around 30/70. Nonetheless, still a sizeable number that has all kinds of business model implications. Business model implications meaning clients drive costs (including driving qualified team members out of the profession).
You will find it very enlightening to view your firm in this way. It’s always eye opening to see that some clients are generating $300 per hour and others $100. The question is why and what can you do about it?
The next step is to start looking at ways to upgrade your clients. We personally aren’t big advocates of firing clients straight away. We believe you should give them a chance to stay with the firm on your terms. As an aside, we find far too many firms let their clients dictate the terms of the relationship.
Further, Partners should only be handling A and B class clients. In most cases if A class clients are being properly serviced they will realize at least $25K in fees each year. So you should limit to around 20 A class clients per partner.
Incidentally, when you are talking with potential A class clients (who may be either existing B class clients or brand new clients to the firm) partners have found it very helpful to position themselves well by indicating that ‘I only work with a small number of clients in this intensive way at any point in time and I am very particular about who I take on.’
Pareto in Action
Here are the key numbers of a Partner in a firm we work with:
500 # of Clients
118 # of Clients with a Gross Profit of greater than 70%
The result of having a number of underperforming clients is you have made a choice to have increased overhead (team members to support the clients) and working increased hours for less profit. The opportunity cost is less time to pursue better clients, spend time with A clients or spend time on leisure activities.
As explained, the Pareto is a very powerful exercise to perform and action with your team. The worst thing that can happen is you find out where you are making money? Isn’t that what you should be doing as an accountant after all?
You may have heard me quote Ron Baker, “Do not let your bad customers drive out your good customers”. That statement is still relevant today.
We now need to be extremely mindful and action oriented that we do not allow bad customers to drive out good team members.
Let me explain.
The past 4 business days I have been contacted by 4 firms where the Partner asked me for advice regarding a team member who came to them after 9/16 (word on the street is it was very painful) and said, “Mr. or Mrs. Partner. I can’t work the hours anymore.”
Here are key variables: Read More…
This is what I often hear at this time of year:
“I can’t get it all done.”
“I can’t get anything done.”
“The day seems to slip away.”
The issue is NOT time management. The issue is priority management. You don’t want to get more done. You want to get more of the right things done. Priority management trumps time management. We all have 24 hours in the day. We choose to do different things with the time.
What does it mean? We need to focus on the right things. Read More…
Hello and Congratulations on the end of tax season!
I know many of you are planning a tax season debrief with your team. The outcomes are typically two-fold:
- Let your team get some things off their chest.
- Develop an action item list.
Of course, the session needs to be constructive and do not let the team focus on the negative. In order, to keep it positive always ask what went well with the function and ask that your team be constructive.
Here are some questions that you can ask. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. It will get the conversation moving and you need to customize for your firm. Read More…
Hello. Be sure to be using Agenda’s for all of your tax appointments (for efficiency and effectiveness).
Here is a high level sample agenda.
- Personal Update
- 2012 Financial and Tax Review (diagnosis)
- 2013 Look Ahead
Be sure to use an upfront agenda on the outcomes and length of the meeting.
- To succeed in the future we need to start to re-think the sacred cows (the old way to profitability is more hours and face time).
- If one of our biggest issues is time why do we continue to work on unprofitable clients (the ones where we don’t achieve our target Average Hourly Charge Rates or Gross Profit Margins).
- Your ideal firm will be easier to run than the one you are running today.
- The difference between where you are today and where you can be in the future is discipline.
- We are our own worst negotiator.
- The fish stinks from the head down.
- Real Value is in the form of communication (goals, objectives, emotions not financials or tax returns).
- Do not take what you know for granted (i.e. it isn’t basic and do not under-sell it).
- Working remotely is not diluted work. It is working. Drop the word remote.
- Team members do things for their reasons not ours.
- Perspective is hard to obtain in the office.
- The traditional ownership model is becoming obsolete.
- Partners need to stop owning the relationship.
- Need to stop viewing confrontation as negative.
- We need to evaluate where we are inconveniencing our clients.
- Clients pay dearly for what they value dearly.
As we ramp up for sales season I want to remind us all that success is a habit. I have sat in on some calls/debriefed many and I still believe we have room for improvement on the fundamentals.
Here are a few tips for the upcoming sales season: Read More…
I have the privilege of working with firms and people from many different areas of the country with extremely diverse backgrounds. I often get the question, “Would you refer me to a prospect? How do I advance my career?”
When I receive these questions the things that float through my mind are, “What would it say about me if I attached my name to this firm or person?” Put another way, is this firm or professional referable. Unfortunately, in some cases the answer is no.
Here is my list of absolute musts if you or your firm wants to be referable: Read More…