Why CPAs Can't Ignore the M&A and Partner Talent Markets
Why would you want your CPA firm to be active in the M & A and partner talent markets?
The main reason is that organic growth is going to be very slow for the next several years. So, CPA firms seeking growth are: (1) making strategic mergers or acquisitions, or (2) bringing in new partners-or groups of partners-with strong books of business.
But how do you position your firm to be desirable to merger partners or new talent?
What it really comes down to is having a very attractive name and reputation so that the potential mergee or partner would say, “We’d like to be with a winner, we’d like to be part of their team.”
So how do you go about positioning yourself to be that desirable firm? First, you will need consensus among the partner group. Without it, I would not go any further. But, with consensus, your next step is to find a champion: a partner in the firm who is well regarded, influential, or important. This is the person who will be given the responsibility and will be held accountable for making sure that the strategy gets executed. This person, as well as the full partner group, should be involved in identifying the strengths of the firm and making sure the strengths are being properly highlighted. This person will be leading the firm in identifying and correcting, or perhaps even eliminating obvious weaknesses in the firm. If they are obvious to you, they are probably obvious to potential merger partners or talent candidates.
Next, make sure that your public image is up to date. Your website should be current, containing more than just the basic information but, make sure good content is present as well. You want to be viewed in the outside world as having a position of leadership in your chosen field. For instance, consider posting white papers on industry groups that you’re already involved with. Wouldn’t it be great if outsiders said to themselves: “You know these guys are really with it, and they’re on top of their game?”
Social media presence gets a lot of press. Sometimes I think it’s overdone, and in other cases I find that a lot of CPA firms really don’t know what to do or how to do it. Social media is not complicated. Just watch how others do it. Find those firms in your geographic area and speak to them. Find out what’s been successful and implement what seems good to you.
Your marketing material needs to be very current, modern, and technologically up-to-date. Old-fashioned printed hard-copy collateral material is not nearly as important as it used to be. Today you need something short and sweet, maybe a “one sheet” that outlines all your firm’s capabilities and clearly highlights your uniqueness in the market.
Next you want your partners, staff and support team to understand and embrace this new strategy. That means communicating with them, and maybe offering robust rewards for identifying a potential new merger partner or someone with a book of business. With the champion partner in charge, consider an internal “strategic growth” committee, made up of another partner, a manager, and some staff, to spearhead new opportunities.
And, don’t overlook the plethora of awards programs than can help position your firm as a great place to do business, i.e. XYZ firm was names a “great place to work,” “working-mother” friendly, “30 under 30.” Maybe you don’t think this is really “you”, but it doesn’t hurt your firm to obtain the recognition.
At the same time, you want to cultivate relationships with external intermediaries, such as the major M&A brokers and executive search consultants in your area. Meet with them, point out all of your value propositions, and listen to what they have to say. And when it’s time to choose one or more in each category, be clear in your goals and accountabilities. Without clear objectives and deliverables on both sides, it could be an exercise in futility. If you cultivate a face-to-face relationship over time, demonstrating a progressive attitude and smooth decision-making, then you could be one of their first calls when a new opportunity pops up.
Don’t overlook the value of being active in your trade associations and professional societies. There is a lot to be said for sitting around the table with your peers, sharing, learning and knowing what’s going on. Perhaps one of those people with whom you’ve shared breakfast or lunch will call unexpectedly, suggesting your firm could be the one with the solution to their strategic merger or talent issue.
There is much to consider here and I certainly know it’s “easier said than done” But, if you want to be in the forefront of these very viable growth strategies, then you need to get started.
There is a real art to positioning your firm as one that others might consider for their strategic options. But, the results can be more than rewarding. They can be transformational!
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Robert Fligel, CPA
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