As the sun rises and CPAs make their way to the office, they know that new situations may arise and new challenges await.
So what questions do they ask themselves daily, not only to improve their own work, but also to keep their practices and offices running smoothly?
We asked nine CPAs for the questions they contemplate before their work day begins:
How can we better serve clients and keep them happy? David Nguyen, CPA, of David V. Nguyen PC, CPA, in Houston, reflects on this topic often. "When you are constantly seeking better ways to service your clients, you will have happy clients and ultimately a successful practice," he said. "I try to put myself in my clients' position to understand their passion, concerns, and objective. If I had their business, what would be important to me?" This sentiment is echoed by Raymond Young, CPA, of Raymond Young CPA, an Accty Corp., in Fremont, Calif. "Keeping the clients happy is the first priority," he said. "Happy doesn't mean ecstatically happy. It means balancing the needs of clients in their favor, while also keeping employees and the IRS happy."
How do we attract and retain quality personnel? James Albert, CPA, partner at Auerbach Albert & Gold, L.C., in Dallas, said that "finding and retaining quality staff is a significant challenge," so he focuses on this issue frequently. "We try to attract and retain quality personnel by offering a competitive salary and fringe benefits package along with an opportunity to grow within the firm," he said. His professional staff also gets a chance to work with a diversified client base and broaden their knowledge, which he believes offers his midsize firm a competitive advantage. [Editor's note: Attracting and retaining quality personnel is one of the top issues facing most CPA firms, as this article illustrates.]
How can we keep up with regulatory changes? Stephen Gentile, CPA, of Stephen T. Gentile, CPA, Ltd., in Warwick, R.I., asks this question daily because of the sheer number of changes in laws and rules. "I have not seen a profession that requires such a diverse amount of knowledge, and changes to tax laws and accounting rules make it difficult to know when and what has changed," he noted. So throughout the year he selects self-study annual update CPE courses in auditing and accounting and attends seminars on entities and individual taxation. In addition, he has been asked to join a group of practice owners "who meet monthly to discuss issues and concerns about running a small firm," he said. The group addresses topics such as tax, auditing, accounting, and technology.
How do we become more efficient and improve workflow processes? Albert said one of his firm's objectives is to complete projects in a timely manner without compromising quality, so he also asks himself this question. "It seems that on a daily basis we address ways in which to complete a project that is cost-effective to us and our client," he noted. As a result, his firm continually examines ways to best use technological tools such as spreadsheets and workflow procedures to accomplish its objective.
How can we stay current with technology? Similarly, this question is posed daily by David Chopp, CPA, of David E. Chopp CPA in Pleasanton, Calif. He specifically asks himself how he can "improve technology-wise to build efficiencies within our practice, to make our jobs easier and quicker," he said. He advised reading accounting-focused journals and articles and watching free webinars about products offered by software and application creators. "There is always something new, but it takes time to get used to it, and get the client and staff used to it," he added.
Are we giving clients value for their fees? This question is asked often by David Sivcovich, CPA, owner of David Sivcovich CPA PC in Fenton, Mo. "If not," he said, "what else can we do, or what can we stop doing? What can we do to help our clients get ahead of their tax and financial situations?" By asking these questions, it keeps him "in the client's shoes," he added. "It reminds me that the information and service I provide must be relevant and useful to them."
What are your "purple chips"? Angela Dunlap, CPA, a partner in the assurance practice of Grant Thornton LLP in Houston, asks herself this question daily, since the idea of purple chips is rooted in the culture of her firm, which uses purple as its logo color. "The concept of purple chips reinforces the notion of taking the time to achieve a clear understanding of what is important," she said. "By focusing on our purple chips, we can choose activities that will help us achieve our goals and objectives, even when we're not thinking clearly." A purple chip can be a goal or step, and represents your priorities. The chips can include things like serving clients well, growing the business, or developing staff. "I ask myself this question because it enables me to focus my efforts on those activities that will have a positive impact on my clients, a positive impact on our people, and allows me to choose those activities that will help me — and our firm — achieve our goals and objectives," she added.
How can we better convey information to clients? This is a matter pondered often by David Glucksman, CPA, owner of David A. Glucksman, CPA in Calabasas, Calif., who noted that CPAs often must repeat instructions to clients about deductions and other information. "We always ask, 'How can we better communicate with our clients so they know where to go for information, and how can they be better prepared when they come in to do their taxes?'" he said. Glucksman handles this problem by meeting with clients in person or talking with them via phone about how their tax decisions could impact them. "A perfect example is what is going on now with the new tax laws … and showing them step by step what the changes are and how they will be affected," he said.
What can I learn today? Rick Reisig, CPA and shareholder with Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co., P.C., in Great Falls, Mont., starts each day reading accounting and leadership publications so he can learn something new and use that information to help not only the firm but also himself. "I ask myself that question because I'm addicted to learning, and our profession is fertile ground for such activity," he said. "The more we know, the better the product will be that we can offer our clients, and the more successful we and our clients become."
Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters for the JofA at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.