insight magazine

Firm Journey | Fall 2020

What Makes Great Firms Great?

The profound and simple recipe for an outstanding firm—from the perspective of a 7-year-old.
Tim Jipping, CPA, CGMA Owner, Journey Advisors & CPAs

From time to time, I try to step back and revisit the building blocks of what makes a great firm. Not the urgent tasks on my to-do list, the latest technology, or my dream clients, but the basics of how to succeed. To get to the heart of this question, I went to a highly respected advisor: my 7-year-old daughter.

My daughter knows almost nothing about what we CPAs do. When asked, she said, “You help people who need help.” She pretty much nailed it. Let us never forget that at our core we are people helping people.

To start our discussion, I gave my daughter a promotion: she’s the head of my firm for the next 45 minutes. Her first task is to determine how she would run a company that works directly with people—a service firm. I asked her questions like: How would you make your customers happy? How would you ensure your customers had an awesome experience? How would you find more customers?

I had plenty of follow-up questions as we explored how she would run a great firm, and I made sure I did not lead the witness or correct her reasoning. I just listened, took notes, and then pondered what she said. It struck me how deep the simplicity of children can be, and what we can learn from the basic principles and core elements of high-quality service. The following summarizes her key themes:

"Help People Really Good—Like, Better Than Others"

It should go without saying that quality of service should be our top priority—even a 7-yearold understands that. But as humans we tend to relax and slip up from time to time. To maintain a consistent high quality of service, we should not only build in quality assurance protocols, but also revisit them regularly to ensure that high standards continue to be met.

To elevate performance further, we must also have our antennas up, scanning the landscape to see what peer firms are doing. This doesn’t mean you should do whatever the firm next door does, but it helps you assess where you stand, and it can help generate new ideas to progress and improve.

This is the foundation of any great firm: reliably performing work of the highest quality for our clients, giving them strategic insight, and helping them get ahead.

“Make Sure You Have the Right People Working With You and Get More of Them"

This is truer now than ever considering the many recent disruptions in our industry and world. Reevaluate your team, adjust if necessary, and then invest, invest, invest. While difficult for some penny-pinching CPAs to do, there is no investment that will provide a greater return.

And right now is a fantastic time to find great people to join your team. The economic landscape is tumultuous and uncertain, but one positive for you is that many innovative, talented, and hard-working people are looking for something new. Adding some amazing people with new skill sets to the team will help your firm thrive through the hard times and exponentially grow when the economy rebounds. A quote often attributed to Warren Buffet comes to mind: “Be fearful when others are greedy; be greedy when others are fearful.”

While high-quality service may be the foundation of a great firm, it’s simply not possible without high-quality workers who are happy to deliver it. Really invest in the right people.

“Do More Than People Ask or Expect”

The old cliché “above and beyond” came to mind as my 7-year-old was describing how she would deliver micro-surprises to keep her customers uniquely happy. This does not mean that every task or project needs a cherry on top, but building in regular surprises that delight your clients and staff will position you for success and elevate your reputation beyond your wildest dreams.

For the great firms, this doesn’t necessarily mean a gift basket, but it does mean adding strategic value. As CPAs, we have both the nitty-gritty details and the bird’s eye perspective on our clients’ businesses. Going above and beyond means helping them succeed—there’s nothing they’ll appreciate more.

"Sing Happy Birthday and Put up Decorations"

At first it sounded childish, but the more I thought about it I realized she was hitting on one of the most important ingredients of any great firm: care. Whether it be clients or colleagues, everyone feels cared for when you go the extra mile. Maybe it isn’t singing a song or putting up streamers, but maybe it is! Add the creative, personal touch when others won’t take the time.

After all, each colleague and client is a human being, and humans thrive on connection. Remembering birthdays and anniversaries and showing appreciation for their work or their business builds that connection. Great firms treat their people with care and gratitude, and thus have solid relationships that last for years.

At the end of the conversation with my new 7-year-old CEO, she dropped the mic: “If you did these things, who wouldn’t want to work with you?”

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