'Know your clients' concerns before they do'
Think skill sets: I'm best known as that lucky CPA who gets to work with fashion and jewelry. Early in my career, I worked with partners and at firms that had large apparel accounts. Looking to expand my practice, I considered which industries use the skill sets I had acquired—import and distribution of consumer and industrial products. I decided to add the specialty areas of jewelry and food.
Pursue your interests: If a specialty area particularly interests you, you can build it from scratch by acquiring solid expertise. Ask to work with related clients. Go to trade shows and join boards. Get involved in the area's favorite charities. Build a business plan. Then you can approach prospective clients from a knowledge perspective rather than a generic perspective.
Immerse yourself: Each industry has its own nuances. I immerse myself in what's important to my clients. I read trade and many other publications. I helped form the Fashion Service Network, a group of industry service providers, which includes attorneys, M&A experts, bankers, alternative lenders, and ad agencies. We meet monthly to discuss ways our clients can expand and strengthen their businesses. These meetings tell me what my clients should be concerned about, the next challenge they are going to face. Clients are focused on their businesses, so a vital part of my role is to bring a broad perspective that helps them deal with rapid changes in the industry.
Clients value our relationship: Clients have come to expect that in addition to the audit, tax, and consulting work that CPAs provide, we will be their trusted advisers. I meet with clients for coffee once a month or at least call them. I ask them to describe the problems they are facing and what they are worrying about so that I can assist with solutions that help their businesses run better.
New CPAs love this way of working: I am so proud of our young CPAs and have a lot of confidence in them. They are smarter and harder working than we were and more interested in being part of their communities. Every day someone asks me how to get involved in charities, be a referral source, or serve their clients better. They are very ambitious and want to be very successful.
Now for the perks: Working in fashion and jewelry specialty areas brings me opportunities I'd never otherwise have. When I visit a jewelry company, I ask to see their most valuable stone. I've seen stones worth many millions of dollars. I also get close to creativity by seeing fashion shows featuring emerging stars in the design world. And every day I do work that I truly enjoy. I am the luckiest person in the world!
—As told to Amy Krasnyanskaya, J.D., a freelance writer in Cary, N.C.