Spring Cleaning for CPAs

April 2008

Another beautiful Spring day! Having lived in New York more than 30 years, I feel qualified to remark about how unusual this weather is.  Springtime in New York usually conjures up memories of one or two nice days and quite a few rainy or almost cold days.

What’s the point, you may fairly ask.

The first and simplest point is to try and enjoy this nice stretch of weather. “Sneak” out of your office a few minutes early if you can. Surprise your spouse or children by suggesting a walk after dinner or going out for ice cream. I must confess that I cannot help myself from sounding a bit corny, having grown up in North Carolina during an era like the old television show “The Wonder Years.”

The second—and more serious point—is to suggest you consider some very focused business spring cleaning. Most of the CPA firms I work with do some of this already. But I am suggesting something a bit more comprehensive.

1. Client list. You have heard it all before, I am sure. But have you really done much about it? Have you analyzed client profitability? Have you spoken to lower profitability clients about increasing the fee? Have you honestly considered terminating the clients that truly are a thorn in your side? All of my clients who do these things are quite happy they did. 

2. Personnel. Busy season is over and undoubtedly there are tax returns on extension that need to be finished, other work you couldn’t get to during peak season and your regular recurring work. And, yes for most firms there is a labor shortage. So, why am I suggesting a hard evaluation of your staff? The reason is simple. As an example, if you have staff that are very high maintenance or have weak technical skills resulting in work being redone and fee write-offs, then are you really better off keeping them? I have certainly heard from many CPA firm owners that something is better than nothing. I am not so sure about that, given what I always find, which is that these weak links either quit or get fired anyway. I personally think it’s better if you have to do a good deal more work pending a good new hire versus the headaches of a bad staffer

3. Projects and the future.  If you are like every other business owner, you are very happy to get the work (and invoices) out the door and to have some time left over for family and downtime. Believe me: I am in favor of all of the above and especially the quality of life. But, my advice for today is to try—simply try—to carve out the planning time for the most critical projects on your plate. This may include your internal systems, such as tax or accounting software, email or internet issues, paperless concerns, succession of your business or marketing. If you can make the time to at least map out a plan for some of these issues, then take the second step, which is to outline the activity steps that need to be done to put it in motion. And, if you are really sincere about getting some of these projects moving, put something on your calendar even if it’s just an hour per week to start attacking the action steps.

I recognize that it’s hard for most CPA firm owners to execute all these suggestions, given time constraints and their being a little out of their comfort zone. But, in the words of that immortal philosopher, Phil Knight the founder of Nike, “Just do it” and start.

Robert Fligel

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