'Our product is our knowledge'
Developing expertise: When I joined the firm in 1993, we didn't have expertise in serving homebuilders and construction contractors. I was around a lot of people socially that were in this field, and I made the decision to gain expertise in this area. I started one client at a time. I had to be humble in knowing that I'm not going to know everything. Every year, religiously, I'd attend [the] AICPA national construction industry conference; I'd read a lot; and I'd talk to a lot of experts. The next thing I knew, I had many clients, and our firm had this expertise in our offices. I thought it would be a good service industry to add, and it's been very successful. We've continued to grow that industry, even during the Great Recession — that's when our expertise became even more valuable.
The importance of specialization: It's extremely important to have a specialty. Clients nowadays are much more educated. When they come in to meet with you for the first time, they are more informed. They're looking for an expert in their field or in their industry. Clients want peace of mind that the latest research they might have read is something that I've already read, and that I'm practiced and well-versed in it.
Focusing on business development: I led the "Gimme Five" initiative at our firm. It's designed to develop a culture of business development. We all have a toy figure on our desks — he looks kind of like the Michelin Man — and he has his hand out and he says, "Gimme 5." It's a reminder that each week we each need to do five simple things to connect with a client or prospect. These could include lunch or a golf outing, or perhaps an email or phone call with a client or prospect. Or it might be something like doing a presentation, or sending an article that we think the client or prospect might enjoy reading.
Staff development: Our people are our greatest asset, and we mean it when we say that. For example, we were one of the first CPA firms in the country to implement a student loan repayment program. All regular, full-time team members are eligible for this program 30 days after they begin employment. The employee must make his or her regular monthly student loan payment, and the firm will match that payment, up to $100 per month for up to 50 months or until the loan is paid off. It's about getting our people trained, coached, and making sure they have the experience and the tools to do their jobs. Our product is our knowledge, and so it's very important for our people to have as much knowledge as possible. It allows the firm to thrive and our people to develop and thrive. It allows our clients to have a better experience with the firm.
— As told to Lea Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org), a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.