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Leading your CPA firm during crisis

· 8 minute read

· 8 minute read

Accounting firm advisors are showcasing their skills while answering the question: what can leaders do in a time of chaos or uncertainty?

Our world pivoted, but under these new conditions is a developmental opportunity in leading your CPA firm during crisis.

In this episode of Pulse of Practice “Leadership in crisis with Sandra Wiley”, Paul Miller, CPA from Business by Design, Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., and I discuss leading your CPA firm through crisis, learning how to not always be perfect, and how attacking challenges with a growth mindset as opposed to a fear mindset will set your business up for success in the new normal.

The three stages of leading your CPA firm during crisis

There are only a few times in our lives where we truly get tested with something that is completely outside the norm. Most of us were very excited about 2020, being ahead of the game with clients, revenue, and new deals. What happened next was something nobody could have expected. How, as advisors, can we lead a firm in such uncertainty?

Sandra Wiley found that she can categorize her clients (mostly leaders at CPA firms) into three levels or “stages” of people. The first stage is what she calls “turtling”. These are the leaders that are ducking down, hoping nothing hits them too hard. They are retreating into their shell and stepping backwards. The second stage is in the middle. The firm leader does not know what is going to happen, so they are putting themselves in a hold. They aren’t going backwards, but they aren’t moving forward either.


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“Then, you’ve got another group of people who are quite frankly my favorite,” Sandra says of her final stage of clients. “They are in that growth zone. They are saying, you know what, I’m not only going to survive this, I am going to thrive within this. So will my clients. So will my people.”

This quality is what Sandra, in her position, looks for in future leaders- people who see crisis as a growth zone. The individuals that show positivity and take advantage of any difficult situation are going to be the ones who stand out and thrive.

It is advisory’s time to shine

Paul Miller’s personal definition of being a trusted advisor is predicting the future through leading people and telling them what may expect to happen. In leading your CPA firm during a crisis, this is exactly what advisors must become.

“I’ve talked to so many firms who have put their head down and stay busy with taxes,” notes Paul. “We completely shut down all tax work to pivot, because I could see this tsunami coming our way of questions and wanted to stay ahead of it.”

“We have been called the trusted advisors ever since I started working in this profession, and I never really believed it,” Sandra adds. “I don’t mean that to be negative to the people that work in our profession, but we have not had to turn the corner from compliance work to advisory. The compliance has always been there, and it has never really changed.”

“But now, open your eyes and look around. This is the time that you can truly start using your advisory skills. You already have the knowledge to do it, but you must change your behaviors.”

Leading your CPA firm during crisis is an opportunity to build your brand

This is the time to start communicating externally more than ever. Many firms are too willing to sit back and wait for their clients to reach out to them. This is not proactive, and it is the opposite of acting as a trusted advisor.

Granted, some firms, such as Paul’s, have 650-700 businesses to contact, and it is not realistic to reach out to each one individually. Paul beats this obstacle by creating frequent mass communication (for example: video messages and town hall meetings). These simple acts position your company as ahead of the competitive and allow your client to feel valued. This is an incredible opportunity to build your brand as a firm.

“A lot of accounting firms are more insistent on being right than getting something done sometimes,” notes Paul. “This is a time we can’t be right because the sands are shifty every day. There is something different to be learned. And so, some action is better than no action.

“I would say the amazing firms, the growth firms…marketing is the most important piece of your business right now,” Sandra points out. “Your marketing people must get the word out, talk to clients, get your name out there, show you off.”

“And you can’t wait for it all to be perfect either,” adds Sandra. “We think we want everything to be perfect. We must have a plan, and we must have a perfect wording. And you know what, getting it out there is more important that writing it perfect.”

Great leaders allow the rising stars to take off

We are seeing those individuals leading your CPA firm during crisis with that growth mindset rising to the top. What can firm leaders do to support those exhibiting great leadership?

“You see a shooting star that is one of the team members who is really excited about things and coming to the table with new ideas,” says Sandra. “I think the great leaders are unleashing them to do the work well. They’ve taken off the constraints and said go for it.”

“Truly great entrepreneurial people, people that have new, exciting ideas, they are the people who truly thrive in this kind of environment,” adds Sandra. “It’s a challenge, but they love a challenge, so you’re really going to see some amazing shooting stars pop up right now.”

Paul points out that to truly see these emerging leaders, you may have to bypass the hierarchy that is set up in your firm. Reach out to every employee for ideas without letting those ideas be filtered by employment status or age. Let people be free to figure out what their unique abilities are and let them use them.

“I’ve seen a lot of young people in leadership academies. They’re on fire to get out there and develop businesses and services and do some amazing things,” says Sandra about new talent. “They try the new thing and the firm slaps them on the hand. They leave and either go to another firm that is more progressive or they start their own business. And that is easier than ever now with as much technology we have in the cloud. We should take a lesson from that as people that are the leaders in our firms today.”

However, when the dust settles of 2020, or within any other crisis we may face ahead, what part of this change is going to stick with firms permanently? Will firms navigate back to where they were before?

“I don’t think we will ever go back to normal,” says Sandra. “My personal prediction is that those firms that try to go back to the model they’ve always had will be massive losers in this game that we play in business. I think we’re going into a new normal, and that doesn’t mean it is going to be that scary.”

“I think we are going to see less people in offices, more people working from home. I think we’re going to less office space and much more getting out and visiting with your clients. It’s going to change our entire world. I don’t think this is ever going back to normal, but I do think we will have a new normal when all is said and done.”

Listen to the “Leadership in crisis with Sandra Wiley” episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform (Google Play, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher) or here.



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