With Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson of ConvergenceCoaching joins Randy on Episode 94 of The Unique CPA. Jennifer is a champion of right-sizing your accounting firm, which sometimes means difficult decisions for the sake of your employees, up to and including firing bad clients in order to, as Jennifer puts it, to “bring hope to the troops.” She shares some strategies for how to get to the right size, with a reminder that it’s the best path to prime your firm for growth.
Hi, this is Randy Crabtree, your host of The Unique CPA podcast. We’re participating in Accounting High’s ABC March Appness, the Accounting Bracket Challenge, and we need your support to make The Unique CPA a winner. You can nominate and vote for The Unique CPA by going to bracket.accountinghigh.com, or you can text ABC to 33339. Thank you for your support, and enjoy the show.
Today our guest is Jennifer Wilson. Jennifer has—I can read a book of accolades, and I think I did last time she was on the show, and I’m going to try to truncate that a little—just realize that Jennifer’s on every list of most important, most influential, most recommended that is out there. And I’m not kidding, she is on every list.
But obviously, I think she’ll probably say the best recognition she ever received—I can’t keep a straight face—was being a guest on Episode 10 of The Unique CPA back about two and a half years ago, which I had a lot of fun when we talked the last time, and I expect to again. So Jen, welcome back to The Unique CPA.
Randy, thank you for having me, and I had a great time too. And I can’t believe it’s been two years, or more than two years. Gosh, that’s shocking.
Yeah, it was interesting, I actually went back and listened to it a little this morning, and I don’t really listen to the shows, but when I went back and listened, I think I heard we recorded like, February of 2020. So really before everything “changed,” I guess. But when I listened to what we talked about, things haven’t changed! The topics we talked about two and a half years ago have just become amplified in the last two and a half years, and so it was an interesting listen, for sure.
Before we get into today’s topics—whatever they’re going to be, which we’ll find out—I introduced you but I didn’t introduce your business, ConvergenceCoaching. Do you want to give us a little background on what that is?
Sure. We’re a leadership and management coaching and consulting company, and we help leaders in the profession become better leaders, more strategic leaders, and we do a lot of young leader development, but a lot of strategic leader development as well, and trying to help those folks make the shifts necessary to run a business that next gen clients want to be part of, and that next gen talent want to be part of
Alright, and that’s and you’ve been, I think at this point, 22 years in business?
Alright. So let’s get into some topics today, because I love talking to you, as I mentioned already, once I’m going to mention that multiple times. And you always have a lot to say, very good information on a lot of topics. You and I, even before today, started talking about, you know, I had mentioned, I think the great resignation. And you had said, “Well, really I look at this more as the great migration, because people aren’t quitting work. They’re just going somewhere else.” I think that was the whole thing. So that was one of the topics we talked about two and a half years ago, was just getting people into the profession: hiring people, retaining people, attracting people. Even when we do that now, people are leaving. So what do you see, and how are you helping firms with what is going on with just people issues?
Yeah. Well, the great migration is a term that Josh Burson from Burson Consulting, maybe—I’m not sure what his current entity’s name is—but he’s a great, fabulous HR thought leader. And it’s his term and he basically said that people are migrating, not resigning. They’re migrating from what he called “crummy” firms, or “crummy” companies, to great companies or destination workplaces. And I loved it. You know, I love the idea. And whenever I talk to audiences or to individual firms about this, you know, they’re like, “What, now we’re going to be Fiji? Instead of just having the you know, the pool table or whatever we have, the video games, we’ve also got to have hammocks and sand and, you know, the ocean? Like, what does “destination workplace” look like?”
And, you know, it looks like whatever it is that your talent would tell you that they feel like it needs to be for them to want to not only continue to stay there but to own it. You want some number of these people to ascend into leadership and ownership of this organization, and it has to be an organization that brings them joy, that they love, that they’re proud of, doing work that they want to do with clients they want to serve. It has to make sense. And there are many things about the firms in our profession that don’t make sense to next gen leaders anymore.
Yeah, and that kind of goes to maybe one point you and I were talking about right before we started recording, is that this whole attracting—being the destination workplace—there is just not enough people to go around right now, and what happens is people are just working themselves crazy, and probably working with clients they shouldn’t be working with. And so the topic that we thought would be pretty interesting to talk about today was really “right-sizing” your firm. And so what does “right-sizing” mean in your mind, and how do we go about it?
Well, it means a bunch of things. You know, essentially, we have more work in our firms than we have capacity, or people, or hours or, you know, “human capital,” or whatever you want to call it, to serve. You know, the number of humans it would take to get the work done, doesn’t exist. And so what most firms are doing is they’re saying, “Well, you know, we’re going to do more with less.” You know, and I love that idea—if it were valid, right?
So, you know, and “Yes, oh, yes, hey, you know, of course, we can automate. And yes, that will allow us more throughput.” So automate everything you can, that’s a right-sizing strategy. But if we’re practical, you know, like if firms outstripped on capacity going deep into fall busy season, and looking down the barrel of spring, the chances of them significantly automating anything that will make a big difference in the lives of their people isn’t very great. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but it’s less possible.
So instead, to me right now, this minute—like the number one message I have for every firm in this country, and I haven’t found a firm where it hasn’t applied yet—is we’ve got to right-size the client base. We have to reduce the number of yeses that we’ve said, shift some of those to noes, so that our people have a reasonable workload, so that they can deliver quality work and feel good about their work without sacrificing their family life or their health.
Yeah. That’s a scary idea, I think, to a lot of people, because, in general, I think as CPAs, as people in the profession, we want to help everybody. We have this ideal that we need to help everybody. And we just can’t. So how do you go about right-sizing? One, get past the mindset that I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this—and then implement it.
Right. Well, so you know, we have to stop the circular argument, or the fallacy sort of stories we’re telling ourselves, that like, you know, “I have to help everyone.” But what I’m doing by saying that is I’m not helping anyone very well. So that’s the first problem. And so like, you know, I know our profession, we pride ourselves on client relationships. I get we love client continuity. I know that we dearly want to love our clients. But if I dig in with most firms, the depth of relationship is nowhere that it needs to be.
And the quality of work that we’re delivering this minute is at risk. And I don’t mean just like, you know, following standards. I’m talking about the quality of relationship, the looking deeper, the asking the material questions that could save the client’s money, or it could find those problems that they have, with their audit data and details and processes, or that could help them really materially organize in a way that would make more sense—we’re just not delivering the depth and quality of service, I think, that we’re all committed to.
And it’s causing this, you know, feeling of hopelessness, almost, to set in with a lot of professionals where they’re thinking, “Gosh, you know, I came into this because I wanted to make a difference for people. But what I’m really doing is working on a conveyor belt, and I’m trying to push this stuff through as fast as I can—I’m trying to keep us from blowing deadlines. I’m trying to like, just stay alive. And almost like the carnival game whack-a-rat or something, I’m just trying to get, get the stuff done and get it out. And the people behind the stuff I’m getting done and out, I’m not paying that much attention to—only enough that I have to—mostly in email.”
You know, the client meetings and, and, you know, doing video meetings or meetings of any depth. Most practitioners are like, “I wish I could do more of them, but I’m not. I’m just trying to move the work. And I’m barely getting it done.” And so that’s just not the kind of—that’s not what we’re committed to as a profession. And so we have to shift it.
Yeah, no, that makes sense. And one thing you said there and we touched on this, you and I, earlier is we’re not paying attention to the people we’re working with, because we’re just trying to pump out work. And I think there’s—I think, one, that’s going to lead to people leaving, which we don’t need, but two, it’s going to—and you kind of implied this—it’s going to, you know, people are having issues with burnout. And that’s going to cause them to leave, and unfortunately, burnout—you know, we have stress, everybody has stress, stress can become burnout. Burnout, we probably have all experienced that in this profession. And then uncontrolled burnout can even get worse into mental health issues. And that’s something that I don’t think we’re paying enough attention to.
So I guess the answer then is we just need to right-size. We need to look at our client base and we need to get rid of it, which you could expand on that. But let’s talk about the mental health part of it, because I love that discussion. I’m guessing you have some insights into it as well.
Yeah, well, so you and I both spent a lot of time with one of the associations in the profession that, you know, is near and dear to our hearts. And I was with a group of tax practitioners, talking about this issue of right-sizing the client base and figuring out how to keep our people. And we got on this subject where they were like, “Well, what sort of people program should we put out there to hold our people to us, you know? Stay bonuses, send goodie baskets, you know, offer a free massage, if they’ll come to the office, you know, like concierge dry cleaning,” you know?
And one guy stood up in the middle of the room and kind of got a little “yelly,” and he said, “Hey, great ideas, except none of them will work because your people already know you don’t care about them, because you won’t right-size the work. The way you show you care about them is you get their jobs winnable. Give them winning jobs, then that other stuff will add value and can be ‘wow’ factors. But the basic relationship called, ‘you’re supposed to give me a job I can do and win at,’ we’re not doing, and as a result, we look uncaring.”
And when people don’t feel like their leaders care about them, then they quit. People don’t quit their company, they quit their boss. They quit their boss because their boss doesn’t care about them. That’s what the story is.
And so the way we show we care is we say “Hey, our current capacity is totally outstripped from our commitments, and we’re going to have to right-size things.” And the minute that you say it—and saying it is not doing it, so we have to say it and then do it—the minute we do that, it’s to me, it’s the fastest bring hope strategy I know. Bring hope to the troops strategy, this is it. It’s called “fire some clients.” Not “fire all clients.” It’s not “go hog wild on firing.” But it is making a big enough dent that your people believe you care about them, that you’re willing to do hard and ugly things, in order to make the work winnable.
And you know, you bring that hope, Randy—hope is like penicillin to strep, hope is to burnout.
It is! I mean, it’s like a medicine for burnout, because burnout is hopelessness. It’s, “I’m doing the same thing over and over again, it’s not winning, and I see no end in sight, and no strategies to help us.” And that is, you know—and firm leaders, I’m just gonna say one more thing here and you jump in—
—No, no, you’re good.
But related to this firm leader thing, firm leaders make it even more hopeless. Listen to this line. It’s on my list, I’ve got a list of the top ten things never to say ever again, and this is one of them. “We can’t find good people. Sorry, we’re trying, but we can’t find good people.” You know, “I’m a good person. You found me.” But also, if you want to bring me hope, don’t tell me, “We’ve tried everything, and there’s no help on the way.”
Yeah, that’s an issue.
Yeah, the least hopeful thing I know.
Yeah. I have a firm that wanted me to come out and talk about mental health issues with them—and I’m not naming names, so I can say this—there was a concern that if I talk about burnout, they’re gonna have people leave. And I’m like, “You can’t be afraid of something that exists. You have to address it.” And that’s this whole, “We’ve done everything we can, so let’s just keep going.” No, you can’t do that. So I agree with you.
Alright, let’s just talk a little more about right-sizing, then. Is there a game plan? Do you say “Okay, we got to cut the bottom 20%,” is there a number? Is there a niche? Is there… How do you advise people to go about doing this?
Well, so all year long. So all of 2022, everywhere anybody would allow me to have a microphone, I would say, “You raise staff salaries an average of 10%, and then you’re gonna have to cull at least 10% of the clients, okay? At least.” And, you know, not optional, and 10 might not be enough, and you can’t say sort of ratably across all departments. We might have one department that the capacity’s solid, and we’re going to cut 3% or something, and another that we need, you know the capacity, is way out of whack, and we have to remove 23%. I don’t know what the numbers are, but any sort of good resource planning could tell us roughly what we need to do.
Now, you know, I’m going to tell you, there’s no perfect way to decide who to cut. But there are some low hanging fruit. Ready? No pay. I call clients that don’t pay, “not clients” already. They quit us when they quit paying, because the definition of client is they pay. So no pay, very easy,
Slow pay. And so some people are like, “If I cut them when they didn’t pay, then they’ll never pay.” And I’m like, “Well, prepare to write it off.” But you can also tie any message to, “We will help you transition all this work once you bring your bill current.” I mean, there are ways to sort of incentivize the client to help get the monies. But who cares? It’s good money after bad. No pay, gone. Slow pay, questionable, doesn’t value us.
Nickel and dimers. Anybody who really hassles us about billing, doesn’t like our rates, complains, spends our people’s energy on value of our bills, that’s a client that doesn’t value us. So those are really easy.
And then, these are hard, but super easy: People who are mean to us—they’re demeaning, diminishing, punishing, ugly to our people. Whoever those clients are, I don’t care how big they are. I don’t care how big they are. In fact, I hope you have a big, mean client, that we could help you fire as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of enormous hope and respect and trust of your people.
That’s what I was just thinking. The hope will be there with that.
Yeah! What will happen? “I care about you more than I care about the money. Because I care about your mental health, I care about your dignity, I care about you being respected way more than I care about that stuff.” It doesn’t matter how big the client is. And so that’s the low hanging place to start.
Now, some firms will say, “Hey, give us your list of all the clients you hate working at,” to the staff, or to the managers or something. I say, be careful. Because I’ve seen this done a hundred thousand times. Then the firm gets the list, and the partners refuse to fire the clients. And then the staff is demoralized. Not only is it “I was hopeless before,” but now “I’m hopeless and disgusted.”
And so that’s a bad place to stand. So be careful getting the staff involved in this discussion.
But I will say to you—Renee, my partner, and I taught a class recently, a web-based class, on how to fire clients, or how to cull clients, and the entire class, that’s all it was. And there was somebody who posted in the chat a young man, not a partner at his firm. And he said, “So we came up with a list and we came up with this set of criteria, like how fun was the client? And you know, how in line with our ideal target definition? And did they value our services? And how closely do they mirror our niche strategies? Or are they kind of off track with that?”
They had four or five criteria, they rated them based on that, and of course, the demeaning-diminishing factor, and they came up with a list of clients to fire that just didn’t rate, if you will, on those criteria. And he said, “Here’s what I did when I first took the list to the partners. I brought it in an Excel with no partner names and no client names, and I showed them the ratings, and I showed them, you know, the fees over time, and realization.” Now a lot of firms are like, “Let’s cut all low realization.” I hate that because realization can be cheated, and it is regularly cheated. So I feel like it can be faked, and you could accidentally cut a low realization client to save some higher realization clients where the time wasn’t booked. And so that’s kind of—I don’t love it.
But anyway, he says, “We take the spreadsheet, and then we show it to him with no names. So there’s no selfish interest at the table. Nobody knows ‘how many of these clients are mine,’ or I don’t know their names, so I can’t be like, you know, sort of triggered or hooked by that.” And he said it was unanimously approved.
And then he said in the chat, “Next step, add the names,” and he said, “I predict half of the number that I had approved will get fired.” But he said it’s going to be almost impossible for them not to fire at least half. Because, you know, “by their own analysis, they saw how poor these clients work for us, and we have to cut them to show that our people we care.”
So anyway, I just thought that was a great story and a great way of sort of doing it because it does take selfish interests out of it.
I agree. I like that a lot. I’d like to know what the final outcome was. How long ago was this? Have you heard yet?
Yeah, it was a month ago maybe, and I need to follow up with him. You know, I don’t know that—we declared at our company, we were starting a social media campaign and, and promoting “National Fire Some Clients Day” in public accounting. I mean, that’s what we are declaring because at Convergence, we just see every single firm needs to do it. And so you know, most clients—our CPA firm clients—we can’t really follow up to say “what did you do?” till they get past the fall filing. But you know, after that he and I’ll talk and I’ll find out how it went. And he knows about National Fire Clients Day, because we’ve been, you know, we’ve been promoting it and talking about it everywhere, and trying to get firms to see, you know, like, there’s all these objections to it. Tons of objections to it.
One of them is like, “Well, wait, I have to get paid first if we do the fall filings, and I have to get paid, okay?” So I’m like, “Yeah, then you’ll wait to get paid, then they won’t pay you, then there’ll be the holidays, and it’s hard to fire people over the holidays, then wait a minute, it’s uncool to fire them in January as we’re starting the spring cycle. And then as we end the spring cycle, you’ll tell me, you know, blah, blah, blah,” right?
So forget it. There’s never a good time to do it. Even if you just filed for them, you say, “Look, we’ll transition your files to your new practitioner, but you got to pay us first.”
You just tell them you’re going, and so, there’s no good time. That’s one thing people will try to say this isn’t a good time. Well, there’s never a good time. Next, “Wait a minute, my comp is based upon my book of business or my comp is based upon my bill run,” you know, “So forget it, I’m not going to fire him, if he’s not firing him.”
Well, firms just need to make a commitment that they are going to calculate comp excluding whatever’s fired. Whoever fires it, they’re not going to take that into account. So we’ll get added back for whatever calculations, because you were woman or man enough to do what we need to do to save our people, and to save our sanity. And so we are not going to hit your comp because you did that. That needs to be like, at comp committees and executive committees around the country—listen up.
Next, “My buyout is predicated on my bill run.” Let’s negotiate those buyouts if they’re close, freeze them now, I don’t care, figure it out, let the clients go. Do not let that be the inhibitor please. That’s a goofy one.
And then by the way, the best time to fire a client ever is at retirement. So there’s a ton of people retiring, and they’re trying to transition these client bases inside their practice. And the client is about to get a piece of bad news called, “Hey, your longtime provider is leaving.” And that’s like, sad, we’re already going to kind of punch them in the gut, and why not just do a one-two punch and say, “And by the way, we can’t serve you anymore.”
Yeah, that’s great.
You’re already delivering bad news. So just do that. And by the way, almost every retiree has maybe a few sweetheart clients, and a bunch of stinkers. Stop trying to save all those.
And Randy, listen to this insanity. We’re seeing firms that have so many tax clients that they have to transfer from retirees, and that they’ve oversold into that department. And as retirees are leaving, they’re trying to take those tax clients and give them to auditors. Auditors who’ve never done tax. And they’re saying, “Well, our people are going to become multidisciplinary now.” And I’m like, “Ah, they’re gonna quit,” you know? I mean, that’s what they’re gonna do. They’re not—they didn’t want to be multidisciplinary. They wanted to be auditors. And so, like, just woman up and man up and send these clients to other firms and other providers who for them, these clients would be ideal.
So the whole time we’re talking about this, which I don’t know if it’s the right mindset to have anyways, because now I’m thinking the way I say you shouldn’t think is, well, “Who’s going to help these people now?” Because eventually, somewhere down the line, there’s not enough people preparing tax returns doing accounting to handle everybody. And so I guess that shouldn’t be our concern. I know it shouldn’t, and I’m just doing what I said not to do, but I’m like, somebody has to help them.
And somebody will. I mean, this is the free market economy, Randy. I mean, trust, trust, the free market economy—it will rise up to serve the market demand. So the big, big box providers on the tax side will get in there and do that, or some tiny little guys will bounce out of their firms or they already bounced out and they’re barely eating, and they’re trying to figure out how to run their own business and all of a sudden clients will fall from the sky and they’ll be able to do it.
And in fact, listen to this. Listen to this. Out there in social media on LinkedIn is a great firm out of Austin, and their managing partner has a picture where she is standing with another person on her team with her arm around this woman, and she says, “She just quit and she’s going out to start her own small tax practice, small company, an individual tax practice and we’re referring clients to her.” And I was like, “Yeah!” You know, somebody who totally gets it, totally gets it at that firm. And they were helping that person go out, because she wants to do her own entrepreneurial thing. And she wants to serve the small stuff. And they’re gonna fire that stuff. And boom, she’s going to have a ready-made practice, and they’re going to have somebody to give on their firing letter.
And by the way, anybody listening to this, we have all sorts of resources—templates, you know, sample letters, language of how to say what, you know, that we can’t serve you anymore, and how to handle the objections, and all kinds of stuff for you, if you want to email me or hit me up in social, I will send it your way, willingly, gladly, because we want to do everything we can to support this.
And we’ll get your contact information at the end.
That kind of stuff. When I see posts like that, and I see people who get it, Randy, it gives me hope.
I think that’s a great story, and I appreciate that. You and I could go for two more hours, which we can’t, unfortunately. But let’s talk, because there’s another option too: as we’re right-sizing, which has to happen—at least it sounds like that has to happen—there’s also the ability to bring in staff that maybe isn’t a CPA: non-traditional staff, or even, you know, I don’t know what you call it, outsourcing or offshoring opportunities. But what’s your thoughts on that as a way to help us to be more efficient and less stressed out in our workplace?
So yeah. I mean, just firing clients, you know, a lot of people are listening to that, and they’re thinking, you know, “Great, so I can’t grow at all? I right-size, you know, capacity. But the traditional model is broken, and we’re not pumping out CPAs like we used to, and, you know, accounting grads are down, and those sitting for the exam are down, and you know, I’m hopeless, I can’t grow this thing.” No. That’s not what we would say. We would say, you can grow this thing, and we just have to change the way that we view the business model.
We have to drop our attachment to something that we would call “tradition,” which I can almost spit when I say the word, I’m so against it. I really am. I mean, if somebody says it’s our tradition, I’m like, “Kill it!” I mean, just automatically on that tradition. So and you know, there are a few traditions I’m fine with, like quality client service, and real lasting relationships with depth and care, right? Profit? Love it. That’s a good tradition. Almost everything else, questionable tradition.
And why is it questionable? Because next-gen people aren’t bought into it. And so it is not an okay tradition to say, “Well, traditionally, we use CPAs or CPA candidates to do all this work, and so that’s what we’re looking for.” Well, great, good luck with that—there aren’t enough of them. So if you want to grow, you’ve got to think non-traditionally, and you know, we have to think about offshore, because there are more CPAs offshore, and there are countries, you know—South Africa, the Philippines, Mexico, India, Poland—a whole bunch of different places that are really producing a decent number of available CPAs for work.
And there are entities that are making hay, causing those people to have material impacts for firms. And the big four, and, you know, the top 50 firms of the country, maybe top 30, at least, have been offshoring for a long time. They have wholly owned entities over there. I mean, they understand the labor model, and they have the tapping into it. But the rest of us have to let go of a whole bunch of objections, which are too many to say in this podcast—but I can counter them all, by the way. You have to go offshore.
That’s your lowest cost option to get CPA and accounting labor. And you’ve got to work with a reputable outfit. And you’ve got to, you know, do 7216 disclosures for your tax people, and there’s a whole bunch of stuff you have to do. This isn’t a podcast on offshoring—but it is an absolute must pilot, must try, must talk to all your buddies out there in the profession, inside your associations and things, and find out who’s doing it. And most of the people who are doing it are super generous to share how they’re doing it, and who they tried that didn’t work, and all that stuff. And we have ideas too, because we have clients that are having success. And so offshoring—definite capacity expansion idea.
Outsourcing, which is more domestic outsourcing, using, you know, some of the domestic outsourcers, some of the big guys in accounting that are doing it. And then also there are a bunch of fractional outsourcers that can provide you with fractional labor available, like you dedicate, you say, “I need three-quarters of a tax senior manager that can do, you know, partnership reviews, three-quarters of their time for you know, February 1 through April 30” or whatever. And you buy that fraction of that person and you pay probably a premium rate to a domestic fractional provider—and there are some really good ones out there. We certainly have been recommending and working with them. So firms out there are doing that. That’s another, you know, the local domestic outsourcing.
And then, you know, other fractional ideas: There’s this old fashioned concept called “finding a stay at home mom,” and retirees not from your own firm, by the way, that have, you know, have left for a period of time, but it’s like fractional work, and they would gladly contract back with your organization or even become a part-time employee over time. Those things are totally viable, and being out there trawling for those, there’s some fantastic mom websites, I mean, incredible—literally mom for hire websites, where you can find some fantastic fractional or part-time, or completely remote and full time accounting and tax experts and advisory.
So those are all possibilities for sure on the non-traditional capacity. I have another one Randy, that’s actually my favorite. And it’s the most maybe that firms kind of bump into and resist at first, but man, once they hit it, and they start going, it’s amazing. And that’s non-accounting grads, no five year degree, nobody on the path, please, operational administrative resources at a high level, next-gen level probably, very technology adept, super process-based, really client service focused, so you can find them working in customer service rep positions, you can find them in hospitality, especially in the depressed hospitality market. You can find these folks—some of them are in insurance companies, because they’re pretty good with numbers and forms and things like that. And you can bring these folks in and they become part of your workflow. They become—you strip away, and we say to firms, “Everything that doesn’t require a five year accounting degree, those people aren’t allowed to do anymore,” and that includes emails to clients, phone calls to follow up to say, “Hey, here are the things we’re still missing before we can start your work.” Participating in prospect calls, writing a follow up recaps, sending out the engagement letters, then onboarding the client, telling them how things work, teaching them the portal, helping them to get their stuff on the portal, opening up their stuff to make sure it’s the right stuff, telling the the accounting person, “Hey, all this stuff’s loaded, I looked at it, it’s ready.” Opening up binders on the audit side, I mean, there’s so many things that they can do, they can build, you know, they can do the billing, for crying out loud. There are so many things we could take out of the hands of our super overburdened accounting practitioners, and give to these bright operational people.
And you can set them up by level. So you can give them an associate level set of duties and senior and supervisor and manager. And these people can grow right alongside our accountants, they can be part of our team forever. And they go to our department meetings, you know, they attend our service line meetings, they’re part of the service side—they’re not part of some separate admin group that, you know, gets treated like they come in and go out, and we sort of delegate a little bit to them. These people are part of service delivery. And it’s amazing when firms do it, I mean, absolutely life-changing. They cost less than a five year accounting grad, they are less attached to tradition and “the way it was done.” And they are of service and they come in and they are of service to these people. And boy, does it bring help.
Nice. So all is not lost, we have the ability to become a more efficient firm by right-sizing, we can still grow by the non-traditional, and we can probably make a much better work environment that we’re going to be able to attract the people we need, retain the people we need, and just be that—what did you call it—the destination workplace, correct?
Yeah, Bursin called it that. I’ve just been repeating his brilliance.
Oh, well, I borrow from a lot of people.
Well, I’m attributing, that’s for sure. And I always would.
You know, there’s so much that we can make better and smarter about our business in public accounting. I am so excited about it. Like I’m sort of disgusted with our apathy toward this capacity problem, and our apathy toward our people’s very real struggle with hope, and with belief, and with trust, that this is the right kind of profession to be in. That bothers me that we’re not solving that. But I know it is—I know how smart a firm we could run. And it isn’t just the capacity stuff. You and I are talking about what I’m going to call the emergency strategies.
Like, “do this right now in the next seven months.” And then we can talk about like, “Now, what are your Wow factors that make you a real destination workplace?” Because guess what, not being hopeless doesn’t make you a destination workplace, it just makes you not a crummy one. Right? It moves you a little bit on the meter, but then there are some super cool things firms are doing—super cool that they’re doing—like getting rid of the timesheets, you know, pricing and billing ahead, flexible work, really remote, real remote work truly remote and hybrid teams, building incredible workspaces where people can meet not necessarily for the nine to five, Monday through Friday, but getting together and having real, meaningful collaboration and fun. And, gosh, there’s just so much happening and we need to go there. We need to go there quickly. But we won’t have anybody with us if we don’t solve capacity.
Alright. So I think that’s version two, or part two of this podcast. We will have to schedule another one, where we solve the immediate issue—or you gave great advice on the immediate issue now and how to get past this and how to triage the firm—and now, let’s talk the next time about now let’s build this wow factor, this destination. Hopefully you would love to come back, because I’d love to have you—even if you would just like to come back, I would love to have you come back.
You know I would love to come back. I love talking with you about this stuff. And I pray, I pray—I’m praying that firms will jump on this and go. And the faster they do it, you know, the more secure our profession, really.
Alright. So I think that’s the game plan. I appreciate you being on today. We’re going to finish with two things. One, we’ll get your contact information. But before we do that, we did this last time around, and I think I found out—I think at that time, just going off memory, what I normally ask people is tell me what you do outside of work, what’s your passions outside of work. I know running is probably what we discussed last time, And I know that is a passion of yours. We can talk about that again. But are there other things that are your outside of work passions as well?
Yes, I mean, certainly, one of my passions has to be—and it’s my number one passion—my husband and my kids. So I’m married 34 years and with Brian for 40. My very best friend, and we’re just starting the beginning of “empty nest.” Although, you know, I don’t really believe I’m going to have an empty nest because the kids were already back this past weekend, and we’ll have to just see how that works. We’re not there yet. But he’s my best friend, and I have three daughters, and they’re all very different and into a bunch of different things—young adulthood. And so I’m certainly spending a lot of time trying to be of support to them and figure out, you know, how to build friendships, a little less parenting, a little more friendship-ing with them. And that’s awesome.
I also am an avid gardener. And this has been one of the hardest garden summers of my life because of the heat and the drought. But I also am having the best vegetable garden I’ve ever had, and really fantastic flowers. And it’s a tribute to you know, possible later, somebody will hate me for this because we’ve been watering, you know, and taking good care of those plants. Not just I have been watering, but my husband has helped keep them alive, and my girlfriend Chelsea who takes care of it when I’m gone, because I travel a lot. But I’m a ridiculous gardener. I love flowers, and I love growing vegetables for sure.
Wow, your story sounds exactly like my story. My wife and I are 40 plus years since we first started dating, we’ve been, this fall we’ll be 36 years of marriage. We technically became empty nesters about two weeks ago, and the kids though both live within a half hour, you know, they’re basically in Chicago, we’re in the suburbs, so we see them quite a bit still, so.
And the gardening as well. We have two gardens, one in our backyard and one in the park district, which is actually just down the block, where we get to garden. Our vegetables are not great, but we are getting a decent amount of at least tomatoes this year.
I have the most smoking hot peppers of every kind you can imagine and I love to make homemade salsa. But I have to be like cool about how much pepper I put in there to keep people from burning alive eating it. But it’s a good salsa season for sure.
Alright. Well, Jen, this was, again, a pleasure having you on. I always enjoy the conversation, whether we’re conversing, or whether I just get to watch you present, which I enjoy doing as well. If anybody—and I know you have a ton of resources that you had mentioned—if anybody wants to get a hold of you or find out about the resources or find out more, where would they look you, or the company, up?
Just email me, Jen@ConvergenceCoaching.com, or call (402) 933-2900.
Oh yes. I post on Linkedin, Insta, everywhere, all of it. So yeah, for sure connect with me on the social nets. That’s a very fast way to get resources if you want to DM me in socials, tweet me.
Alright. Well, good. Thanks. And I want to thank everybody for listening today. And please stay tuned because you heard it: Jen’s committing to episode two of this podcast. We’ll get that scheduled as soon as we can.
Thank you, Randy. And thanks, everybody.
About the Guest
Jennifer Wilson is the co-founder of and partner at ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a national consulting firm for CPAs. Jennifer has been named to Accounting Today’s list of the Top 10 and Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, IPA’s Top 10 Most Recommended Consultants and CPA Practice Advisor’s Top 25 Thought Leaders and the Most Powerful Women in Accounting lists.
A frequent speaker, teacher, facilitator, and writer within the CPA profession, Jennifer is also a member of the AICPA, the Association for Accounting Marketing, the CPA Firm Management Association, the American Marketing Association, the International Coach Federation, the New Horizon Group and CPA Consultants’ Alliance. Through ConvergenceCoaching, she specializes in leadership development, driving change, Next Gen, succession planning, strategic planning, leadership, management consulting, talent development, training and development, coaching, consulting, distance learning, marketing, social media, business development, and organizational development for CPA and IT firms and the channel-based organizations who support CPA and IT firms.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.