The importance of showing up — and growing up
Being available is essential for maintaining and strengthening relationships with clients … and everyone else you interact with professionally. Yet I know many colleagues who do not understand this and when I ask them why not, they always have an excuse.
Either it is summer and too hot, or too many people are on vacations, or they take off Fridays or leave early. In the winter it is too cold, or it might snow, or people are away on cruises. In fall and spring I get similar responses. And of course, accountants can’t take the time during tax season, or for that matter during the mini-tax season in September and October, because of the extended returns they need to get done. This reminds me of the song in “Camelot”: “If ever I would leave you, it wouldn’t be in summer … it couldn’t be in autumn … ” and so forth. There is always an excuse.
I work hard to “prove” my availability. I continuously call clients, drop in at their office or factory, send things, and find excuses to see them. I realized early on in my career that clients like to know you are thinking of them and are available should they need you. I think availability is one of the most important traits to solidify a relationship, elicit confidence, and get referrals. One story that shows the importance of this is when we landed a very large client because they got the PCPS membership directory from the American Institute of CPAS. What actually happened is the client retrieved a copy of our peer review report prepared by another CPA firm in our area who also got the same call. The client later told us he would have used them since they “must be better than you since you used them for your peer review.” However, they never returned the call! Sometimes showing up makes the difference.
Two historic figures who also believed this were George Washington and Niccolo Machiavelli. Soon after Washington became president, he visited every state to create a bond with the people to show the “availability” of the president under the new constitution. Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince,” a “textbook” on leadership, about the importance of the leader’s visibility and availability. I have been around a long time and still do whatever it takes to have clients understand my availability and I make sure of it. My suggestion to colleagues, and particularly my young friends, is to be available. Show up!
Many colleagues and clients get tangled in the daily merry-go-round that consumes much of their time while pushing aside creative, innovative and big-picture thinking about their business, how they got there, and where they are going.
This was strongly indicated to me recently when a colleague called. He is a partner in a substantial, profitable practice that wanted to grow even more. They decided that hiring a marketing consultant would be the way to go. He asked for my views and suggestions about where they could look. I asked him a few questions and found out there was no plan other than that they wanted to grow the business. After chatting a while, he asked me for the best way to find a part-time marketing person. Part-time? I explained why his thinking was misguided. He either needed to engage a professional marketing consultant, or hire a full-time employee. Actually, even if they engaged a consultant, they would need an in-house person to provide support and liaison. They had a significant business, and needed to recognize that and do things accordingly, on the scale of the business presently and where they want to be going. Their thinking was where they were … early on. They needed to grow up.
It seems to me that many businesses are in a time warp somewhere between where they were and where they are. Starting up and obtaining a critical mass is one of the most difficult stages for a business. Once a maturity of sorts is reached, many businesses seem to settle in, resting on their laurels, cashing in on the profits, and reducing their propensity for risk-taking — thus leveling off.
Nevertheless, sometimes an owner needs a wake-up call to overcome their lethargy, and it usually comes from the firm’s independent accountant. We take a less myopic view with broader thoughts of possibilities since we are not mired in that organization’s daily activities or in the collective history of where they came from. It is up to the client to consider our thoughts and make the decisions on how to proceed. Many times it starts with a push from us.
When values, goals and sights are shown higher limits, along with an appreciation of what’s been accomplished, there can be even further accomplishments. This is not something just for clients and colleagues, but also for yourself. Take a good look at your own practice. Many of us accountants are great as advisors to others, often neglecting our No. 1 client: ourselves. Grow up! AT
Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner at Top 100 Firm Withumsmith+brown and the author of 24 books and a twice-a-week blog. Reach him at (732) 964-9329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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