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6 Tips to Tackle Your Firm’s Top Issues

Word cloud 2Throughout the year, I talk with practitioners from around the country to understand their pain points. They’re often relieved to hear that other firms are grappling with similar issues and the challenges they face are among the top concerns for the profession as a whole. These discussions help inspire the solutions my team -- the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) -- creates for our firm members. Another important source of information for practitioners and the AICPA is the PCPS 2015 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, which gathers information from practitioners nationwide to identify the concerns at the top of firm leaders’ agendas.

The results of this year’s survey were released on June 9 at the AICPA Practitioners Symposium & TECH+ & Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) Summit in Orlando, Fla. The survey responses are organized by practice size, with top five lists for each of the following sized firms:

  • Sole practitioners,
  • 2 to 5 professionals,  
  • 6 to 10 professionals,
  • 11 to 20 professionals and
  • 21 or more professionals.

The 2015 findings indicate that staffing has become a key concern again for firms now that they are benefitting from the economic recovery and enjoying sufficient demand for services. A focus on issues such as succession and the future of their practices also shows they’re considering how best to ensure their firms’ continued success. Those are both positive signs for the profession.

For many years, firms of virtually all sizes cited staffing concerns as their most pressing issue. That changed during the recession, when getting and keeping clients dominated top issues lists. While firms of each size have a unique perspective, in 2015, a significant number of the problems cited by firms of all sizes revolve around one core issue: finding and keeping talented people who can perform high-quality services and carry the firms’ success into the future. Given this is a perennial problem, this year’s survey can inspire practitioners to try new approaches and begin to reinvent the way they practice. Another concern that might provoke firms of all sizes to rethink how they handle their practice is workload compression. Historically a concern for firms of smaller sizes, compression rose to the top five list for firms of every size this year. After seeing shortened busy seasons year-over-year, firms may be feeling increased pressure to evaluate creative ways of juggling a large volume of work in a tighter timeframe.

What are your firm’s first steps to solving your key issues? Below are six ideas and the appropriate PCPS tools and resources to help you get started.

1. Get a big picture view. To map out your firm’s future, create a strategic plan. As part of your brainstorming, consider creative new ways to work with clients, including potential new service offerings that can be performed throughout the year. To navigate trends and new developments, use the PCPS Firm inMotion e-Toolkit, which highlights innovative best practices regarding firm culture and strategy, staff development, use of technology and serving clients.

2. Streamline your client roster to avoid workload compression. This will allow you to devote valuable time only to the clients who best suit your firm—and lower your stress significantly. Among the PCPS team’s strategy and planning resources is a client evaluation tool that allows firms to use criteria such as profitability, referral source, additional potential services and payment timeliness to assess their most valuable clients and identify ones that may be adding more distractions -- and eating up staff time -- without offering commensurate benefits.

3. Develop new ways to recruit. Use an interactive online career fair) to find experienced talent without leaving the office. Or you can build a free profile on Accountingfly’s online job board, designed for interns and recent college grads.  PCPS firms even get additional concierge support to build a dynamic profile and job postings.

4. Define owner expectations. The Human Capital Center houses a number of resources for PCPS members to use to help clarify roles and responsibilities across the firm and create a definitive career path that will reassure the most promising professionals about their future prospects. Use the PCPS Partner Accountability Guide to help set realistic goals for each owner, encourage a team (rather than a silo) approach and identify rewards and consequences. The Firm Competency Model might also help you set expectations for staff members.

5. Create or update a succession plan. Are you or your partners nearing the transition into retirement? For tools you can use, turn to the PCPS Succession Planning Resource Center which includes a practice continuation agreement template and two newly added tools – a succession readiness assessment and a succession timing calculator, just to name a few

6. Concentrate on growth. Even though many of the top issues relate to staffing, bringing in new clients is a constant agenda item for firms. CPAs can turn to the PCPS Practice Growth and Client Service Center for tools to help ignite their practice development efforts.

Is it time for your firm to find innovative answers to nagging questions? Check out the survey and the related resources and get inspired to find new solutions. The AICPA Private Companies Practice Section webpage is a great place to get started.

Natasha V. Schamberger, CPA, Associate Director - Firm Services, American Institute of CPAs. 

Word Cloud via www.abcya.com


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