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
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
“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
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
"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?”