CPA.com Blog

Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

Move your brand to a professional level

These days many CPAs and their firms are looking for solutions that will put their company on the map and help them compete professionally. Naturally branding plays a key role in a firm’s overall perception and credibility.

Over time investments are made in finding the right office space, creating a memorable logo design or even serving clients the perfect cup of coffee.

An area often overlooked within this effort is the firm’s email address. As the firm has moved forward professionally, it can have a hard time letting go of its outdated or irrelevant technology.

This could be for many reasons:

  • It was good enough to use in college – why not now?
  • Too complicated to migrate
  • Not certain what domain to use or even how to get one
  • No one pays attention to it anyway

The reality is that your email address is a reflection of you and your firm. In fact the 2014 GoDaddy Survey found that customers are 9 times more likely to choose a company with a professional email address.

By holding on to a consumer grade email client, many clients may question the firm’s legitimacy. It’s also worth noting that consumer workflow is considerably different than business. Your current email client may not be up for the challenge.

Building your brand requires constant attention -- always identifying new opportunities to promote your firm to both clients and prospects. With email as your core communication vehicle, every message you send should reinforce your dedication to your clients and your practice. Visit www.cpa.com/email to learn about a CPA branded email address.

Andy Childs

VP of Marketing, Paychex

The Next Generation of Business Owners Has Arrived

According to a recent study, 67% of business owners are expected to retire in the next 10 years. Baby Boomer owners are selling their businesses at a record rate, leaving the door open for a new generation of business owners to take shape. This crop of new entrepreneurs is drastically different and dramatically changing the small business landscape.

Here’s a look at this new group of entrepreneurs – younger and more diverse than ever before:

  • Millennials Shaking Things Up

    Research indicates 70% of Millennials say they’d reject traditional business to work independently. Those Millennials who have taken the leap and started their own ventures have experienced significant success. In fact, 47% of Millennial-led businesses exceeded revenue goals last year, as opposed to 21% of Boomer-led enterprises.

    These are the leaders of small business entrepreneurship in the future, at least according to 66% of current small business owners surveyed.

  • Women Emerging as Entrepreneurs

    Millennials aren’t the only group making their mark on the small business landscape. Recent years have seen a surge in women entrepreneurs as the daily average number of businesses started by women has doubled in the last three years. In fact, the number of women-owned small businesses in the U.S. has increased 50% faster than the overall number of small businesses since 2014.

    In addition to the obvious tangible needs, starting a business takes vision, drive, and the ability to juggle many things at once. These are areas in which many women tend to excel. Research shows that 30% of U.S. small businesses are owned by women, which is a number that’s likely to increase as more and more women choose this path.

  • The Changing Face of Business

    We know Boomers are selling their businesses at a record pace and younger entrepreneurs are taking them over or starting anew. Not only are those entrepreneurs younger, but they’re coming from more diverse backgrounds. The U.S. is a melting pot, and the small business landscape is not unlike that national makeup.

    Of those interested buyers of Boomer businesses, 19% were of Asian/Pacific Island decent, 15% were Hispanic, and 12% African American. When it comes to startup ventures, Latino-owned new businesses increased from 11% in 2001 to 23% in 2011.

    As you can imagine, diversity in business and other sectors of American society will increase as America trends toward what the U.S. Census Bureau dubs a “plurality nation.”

  • Veterans Assuming a Different Role

    Entering the business world with varied experiences in the military, veterans increasingly seek to start and run a business of their own. As they look to transition from the life of an active service member to a member of the civilian workforce, veterans offer an inherent leadership quality. They excel at teamwork and are used to leading a group of people to accomplish a common goal. A strong work ethic and the ability to self-direct make veterans a natural fit for running a business.

    More and more veterans are starting down that path after service. According to the Small Business Administration, many are going down the road of entrepreneurship. In fiscal year 2015, loans to veterans rose 101% in the total dollar amount and 45% in the number of loans from the previous year.

 

In the time it took to write this post, it’s pretty likely that at least one U.S. business opened its doors for the first time. If research is any indication, chances are that owner is young, diverse, and ready to put his or her stamp on American commerce.

To learn more about the next generation of business owners, click here.

Andy Childs is the vice president of Marketing at Paychex, a leading provider of human capital management solutions for payroll, HR, retirement, and insurance services.

John Engels

Founder and President, Leadership Coaching

Fear and Succession Planning

I have been doing some deeper exploration of the hidden ways in which fear affects functioning.

This is an important topic for firm partners because fear-based decisions are not always obvious yet frequently produce negative personal and organizational outcomes.

The challenge of succession planning illustrates the subtle and powerful ways in which fear influences important decisions.

Family business succession

Most experienced CPAs have observed their share of succession planning nightmares among family business clients.

In that setting, succession offers an intense mix of emotional factors that can easily freeze the thinking capacity of its members. Questions pop up everywhere: Are my kids qualified to lead the business? If I favor one of my children for leadership, how will the others feel? What if there’s tension or philosophical differences between the generations or between the successor siblings?

When such uncomfortable questions arise, the path of least resistance is avoidance.

I often get calls from firm partners who complain that their family business clients won’t plan for leadership succession.

“Even when we agree on a process for a path forward, the important conversations with the next generation just don’t happen,” partners say. “If they do, it typically doesn’t go well.”

Accounting firm succession

It’s easy to, pick on family businesses, yet the same lack of traction occurs in accounting firms. Even though it’s in the financial interest of soon-to-be-retiring partners to plan for succession, they tend to move slowly and uncomfortably – or not at all – in developing younger partners.

For example, opportunities routinely get overlooked to introduce and transition younger partners to long-time clients. Instead of encouraging emerging leaders to make their mark, established leaders often leave them out.

The commonly-cited excuses are time problems (“I’ve been so busy…”) and perceived skill limitations (“I’m not quite sure how to go about this.”). Those might be legitimate impediments to succession planning, but the big one rarely gets mentioned: “legacy jitters.”

Deeper fears

The succession procrastination of firm partners likely reveals an unconscious fear of losing their standing as key influencers. Deeper fears lurk under the surface:

Fear of losing status.

Fear of losing satisfaction and meaning.

Fear of moving on, into an “unknown” lifestyle.

Fear of death.

It would be good if these fears could be named, accepted and managed. An unfortunate irony is that most of us are afraid of fear itself. We don’t want to feel it, we don’t want to think about it, and we don’t want to address it.

Our reactive fear of fear makes it difficult to find our way out of this emotional maze.

One starting point might be to deepen our understanding of fear.

Understanding fear

The fear-driving mechanisms of humans have a purpose: to protect us from real threats. If we couldn’t feel fear, we would routinely take stupid risks. Healthy fear stops us from speeding past a railroad crossing or jumping off a cliff. Less dramatically, fear helps us keep doctor appointments and motivates us to research an investment before we commit.

That makes fear a vital asset.

But there’s a problem.

When humans fail to regulate their fear, it gets out of control. Unregulated anxiety, worry and fear disables our ability to distinguish real threat from fake threat. Now, we over-estimate a threat, or imagine threat where it doesn’t exist.

For example, we see a terrorist beheading on the internet and unthinkingly become more protective of our kids. In response, their anxiety ratchets up. They grow more wary than trusting, and become more concerned with safety than adventure. We want our kids to possess confidence and courage, yet our fear-driven parenting can have the opposite effect.

A fearful response to imagined threat generally produces low-maturity outcomes.

“No lion in the bushes”

Few of us can think straight when we get scared. Instead, we react instinctively, as if a lion was lunging at us from the bushes.

In the case of succession planning, “there’s no lion in the bushes.” Although we can slip into imagining succession as a threat, it’s actually developmentally appropriate. A time arrives when a founder or partner moves on because it makes sense to do so. Though it comes with understandable trepidation, letting go and moving on is not “unfortunate” or “a problem.” It’s healthy and necessary.

What gets us in trouble is the fear-driven resistance to the false threat of succession.

Is there a way to discover that there is no lion in the bushes?

Self-observing and reflecting

The trick is to cultivate the discipline of self-observing and reflecting.

The challenge to grow a succession mindset depends on our ability to observe ourselves in a reactive mode: “I’m feeling worried and fearful right now, and I need to check out the accuracy of my threat-perception. What’s really going on here?”

Sober thinking informs us that succession is more a mindset than a strategy.

Reflection enables us to recognize a fact of human history: Preparing the next generation to function at a high level has always defined parenting and leadership. It’s simply what we do.

Taking time to recognize what we are feeling and experiencing, and to assess the reality of our perceived threats, helps us become better observers of ourselves. Reflection becomes our path to reducing fear.

Smart leaders tune in to what’s really going on so they can act more out of intention and less out of fear.

John Engels founded Leadership Coaching, Inc. in 1996, based on the integration of three cutting-edge research disciplines: neuroscience, Bowen Family Systems Theory, and the evolution of leadership in non-human species. Under John’s guidance, his consulting team continues to draw on decades of learning with family researchers and with accomplished scientists who study the leadership behavior of wolves, elephants, chimpanzees, and other animals. Currently, John spends much of his professional life as a mentor to executive coaches and family business consultants. He recently developed the “Leadership Skills That Change Firms” program for accounting professionals.

Tom Bachmann

Master Leadership Trainer, Paychex, Inc.

Leading Virtual Work Teams

Virtual teams are emerging as the basic unit for conducting business of all types. Studies show that over 80% of workers today are involved in some way with team members who are not physically located in the same office. Virtual communication networks have made virtual teams possible, while globalization has made them a necessity.

Leading virtual teams presents new challenges to leaders and managers because you have a decreased line of sight that can impact your capacity to build and maintain relationships and engagement, and manage performance and communication. There is a greater tendency for remote employees to make assumptions, feel isolated and disconnected, not understand how their work fits into the bigger picture, and not share their frustrations or concerns. The following actions can help you overcome these challenges so you can lead your remote employees and teams more effectively:

  • Do a face-to-face team building event at least once a year.
  • Determine communication ground-rules that enable successful working relationships: respond to feedback requests within the requested timeframe (avoid virtual silence); avoid multi-tasking during meetings; when you disagree, seek to understand more before seeking to be understood; discuss sensitive information via phone not email; agree on acceptable hours for communication, how to reach one another outside of normal working hours and emergencies, and when, how, and who to inform if coming in late, leaving early, or taking time off.
  • Work with your team to create the team’s purpose, vision, brand/logo, team theme, and song.
  • Invite members to share personal stories of recent events at the start of your staff meetings.
  • Have a recognition program.
  • Be very accessible and responsive. Be accommodating to employees who work in different time zones than you.
  • Set expectation that employees need to proactively raise concerns to you. It is hard to be a mind reader from afar especially when you don’t have any visual cues.
  • Maintain a consistent schedule of 1:1 meetings. Ask direct questions during 1:1 meetings: What else do you need from me? How do you feel about your current contribution to our team?
  • Broker networking opportunities for remote employees by connecting them with peer groups or mentors in their location.

For more information on leadership skills and management tools necessary to thrive and succeed in a virtual environment, don’t’ miss the Leading Virtual Work Teams session at AICPA Practitioner’s Symposium and TECH+ Conference, Monday June 6, 1:55pm – 3:10pm at the Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, NV.

John Engels

Founder and President, Leadership Coaching

Firm leaders: Self-management strategies that make a difference

Most firm leaders are so focused on projects, tasks and supervising others that they forget to keep their eyes on self-management – the skills and strategies that anchor personal and professional growth.

That’s an understandable yet costly mistake.

To help reset your leadership compass so that it points to “True North” – your management of yourself – I’m suggesting four powerful yet under-appreciated strategies.

If you keep his brief list handy, review it regularly and heed its wisdom, you’ll be making high-impact strides in how you lead others, both in your firm and in your family.

Strategy #1: Stop avoiding discomfort

Consider these situations:

A wise decision certain to bring pain in the short term gets delayed and delayed.

There’s an important conversation waiting to happen, but it’s uncomfortable.

You were inappropriate and you owe an apology, but it doesn’t happen.

Good decisions, important conversations and relationship-building apologies are examples of situations when we don’t do what we know makes sense because it’s emotionally uncomfortable.

It’s a case of comfort over progress.

Most of the discomfort-avoidance that happens in firms stems from the “approval virus.”

If firm leaders could learn to regulate their allergy to discomfort, they would care less about approval and perfection and make better decisions.

This is more challenging than it sounds. I wish I had a dollar for every decision I see leaders make that is driven by their need to be liked.

The odd thing is that leaders who make acceptance a priority are rarely respected in the long run. Another way to say it: Caving in to the fear of rejection often leads to rejection.

Strategy #2: Engage “the enemy”

I coach my accounting firm clients and children to learn how to deal with people they don’t like.

One of my parenting quips is: “By the time we get rid of all the people you don’t like, there won’t be anybody left.”

I often hear firm leaders perpetrating an “eliminate the enemy” mindset when referring to business competitors, “problem” employees or “difficult” siblings.

I have two main beefs with seeing those folks as enemies. The first is that such an attitude guarantees a highly anxious relationship. Anxious relationships are much more prone to impulsive decisions and destructive consequences.

The second problem with an enemy mindset is that it feeds my own irresponsibility. As long as the other is the problem, I don’t have to look at myself.

One way to shield myself from responsibility is to make the other the bad guy.

Instead of hyper-focusing on enemies, take a good hard look at your response to the enemies.

Notice what happens when the only attitude that changes is your own

Strategy #3: Value (and appoint) a devil’s advocate

Staff members widely believe that they cannot communicate difficult messages to partners—“because I could get fired.” In 99 percent of the cases, that’s a cop out.

When I talk to firm partners they commonly say: “The most valuable people who work for me are those who will tell me the truth as they see it. That includes their feedback to me, about me.”

Not all leaders are that open. But all leaders should make such transparency their goal.

One idea is to encourage others in the firm to speak directly and candidly when they have a problem with one of the firm leaders.

Timid employees play a big part in ivory-tower leadership. Staff complain that partners are clueless, but they often won’t take the risk to communicate their observations. Protecting leaders from grass roots feedback harms the firm.

Any top leader who’s not getting honest feedback from below should consider appointing a “devil’s advocate” for one year. The job of the devil’s advocate is to report uncomfortable messages, contrary opinions and unflattering feedback to partners. This can happen one-on-one or in a group, depending on the feedback.

A good devil’s advocate sifts important information from hearsay, gossip and whining. And they frame their feedback as personal perception only (“I’ve noticed ...”)

To avoid favoritism, the “devil’s advocate” could be a rotating role with a one-year term limit.

Strategy #4: Shoot for deeper connections

The most common problem I see in accounting firm leaders is their inability to connect at a deeper level with their spouses, children, partners and staff. Much of the distance and conflict that occurs in families and businesses could be greatly eased if leaders learned how to forge deeper conversations.

Leaders I interact with want to do this, but deeper conversations are out of their comfort zones, and they haven’t developed what I call connection capacities.

Connection capacities include emotional awareness, humility (“seeing oneself as one really is”), the willingness to reveal self to others, genuine curiosity about the other, an appreciation for what the other is up against, and the ability to listen.

These capacities are learned neither easily nor perfectly. Progress in these areas requires focus. Many leaders spend too much time doing what they like and are good at - solving problems, giving advice and cutting deals.

A steady commitment to prioritize connection can shift the tenor of even the most troubled relationships. It’s tough to connect with someone if you are not on the road to knowing yourself.

The good news about the four strategies above is this: because the focus is on self-management, firm leaders can exert a high level of control over the outcomes.

So let’s get to work.

John Engels founded Leadership Coaching, Inc. in 1996, based on the integration of three cutting-edge research disciplines: neuroscience, Bowen Family Systems Theory, and the evolution of leadership in non-human species. Under John’s guidance, his consulting team continues to draw on decades of learning with family researchers and with accomplished scientists who study the leadership behavior of wolves, elephants, chimpanzees, and other animals. Currently, John spends much of his professional life as a mentor to executive coaches and family business consultants. He recently developed the “Leadership Skills That Change Firms” program for accounting professionals.

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