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I share my experiences with these columns but bring them to the present time and in many cases push some ideas for tomorrow. While the accounting and business world was completely different when I started than it is today, there are more similarities than one might imagine.

The techniques we use are completely different. When I started, I used a slide rule to get percentages. Today, they are almost automatic with the software we use. When I first started it was a big thrill to receive a new pad of accounting paper with a brand new sheet of never used pencil carbon paper. Today neither exists, and pencils are also a relic (unless you do crossword puzzles and make sure you have a good eraser on them).

However, the underlying business principles are still the same. Here are the top 10 principles that have been consistent since the beginning of my career, and probably for many years before that:

  1. Be courteous: Respect the point of view of others. Listen to them. Let them express themselves. Listening does not mean agreeing with them, but listening to them. I also have a simple rule that the more you let others talk to you, the smarter they think you are. Also, follow the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. It may be a cliché, but it’s an important way to relate to others.
  2. Customers pay your salary: The mantra of sales is that the customer is always right, except when they want you to compromise your values, or when they hire you to help them go in a different direction and then insist on going the old ways they he is comfortable. You are committed to speaking your mind and clearly articulating what you want to say that will elicit positive action, so do it!
  3. Customers pay your salary redux: They can’t pay your salary if you don’t bill promptly or ask for payment when your bills slip into the overdue area. Customers also need a clear understanding of what you would and would not do and the price. Open pricing is unclear, leaves doubt, puts you in a possible battle position every time an invoice is received by your customer, or causes a customer to hold their call because they imagine that interaction is moderate by a cash register.
  4. Staff create leverage so you can grow: Staff must be trained and understand how they can evolve. Given this opportunity, they need to buy into your culture of superior customer service, be held accountable for poor performance, be noticed and feel appreciated for superior performance, and be paid fairly. They should also be proud of their growth and your business.
  5. Your practice needs to grow: Growth comes from three sources: new clients, services added to existing clients and the acquisition of other firms. Satisfied customers come to your business for additional services and refer new customers. Everything else requires additional marketing efforts, which divert energies that could be better applied to existing customers. If your business has a model that includes adding practices, this is a different strategy and pushes your practice into an “enterprise” mode. Know what you want and go for it, but I don’t think all three can be done simultaneously by too many companies.
  6. Develop a strategic plan: Figure out where you want to be in five years and compare it to where you would probably be if you didn’t make any changes. For me, this is the beginning of your strategic plan.
  7. Meet all due dates: Due dates are promises. Do not lie. Keep your promises. If you don’t think you can meet a due date, tell the client (or the person you made the promise to) before, not after.
  8. Strengthen your brand: You have a mark whether you realize it or not. Articulate it in everything you do, and how you represent your business and not just how you want to reach out to strangers, but how you operate with each other.
  9. You are in business: Businesses need clear leadership, management, direction, processes and systems, and clear profitability. Your actions must align with this. It also means partner buy-in and no separate systems or procedures for some partners.
  10. Availablity: Be available for your customers. Quickly respond to their calls, emails, and texts, and initiate calls, recordings, and meetings. Good responses to crises are great, and avoiding crises doesn’t get you extra credit, but a continued pattern of calm under your watch will elevate you to trusted advisor status.

Nothing here is new, but these are as relevant and important today as they ever were. If you agree with me, try adopting some or all of these as your best principles.
Do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] with your questions about practice management or assignments you may not be able to complete.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on Accounting Today’s list of the 100 most influential people. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns”, co-authored with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition”. He also writes a blog twice a week dealing with customer issues on www.partners-network.com as well as the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. He is an adjunct professor in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MBA program and teaches end-user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is an ongoing series where he shares autobiographical experiences with advice he hopes his colleagues can adopt. He welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or [email protected]