Job 1 for The Practice Owner: Client Management

The 8 critical ways CPA firm owners must manage clients.

By Bill Reeb and Dominic Cingoranelli

Whether you simply desire to improve your firm’s operations or identify and implement a new long-term strategy, you need to be clear about the role that the owners, partners or shareholders should be playing in your firm.

To be sure, the roles and responsibilities of a CPA firm owner or owners is something that will vary from firm to firm, based on that firm’s needs and circumstances, and you need to adapt any recommendations to fit your firm’s situation.

That said, here is a quick summary of the roles and responsibilities normally expected of someone in an ownership position at a CPA firm:

1. Partners are responsible for client account management, including:

  • Maintaining client satisfaction with, and loyalty to, the firm,
  • Continuously updating their understanding of client’s priorities,
  • Meeting with “A” clients at least four times a year and with “B” clients at least twice a year,
  • Identifying additional services that would be beneficial to those clients,
  • Providing a high-level oversight of the work performed for those clients, and
  • Billing and collecting fees

2. Passing down the regular contact, together with billing and collection responsibilities of “C” clients and potentially some low level “B” clients to managers

3. Maintaining a constant connection with key referral sources by meeting with them periodically similar to your meetings with your key clients

4. Leveraging the work being performed for the clients you manage. (Partners should be doing client management first, managers should be doing project management first, and staff generally should be doing the detail work.)

5. Focusing on developing all your people and building a right-side-up pyramid

6. Pricing projects above firm established minimum levels of realization

7. Moving “D” clients up or out, and stop clogging the firm with bad work

8. Actively promoting and complying with firm-wide initiatives

Clearly, in order to live up to this role, partners have to spend time meeting with, listening to and trying to understand what keeps their top clients awake at night (i.e., understanding the concerns and opportunities they are trying to address at this time). It’s not so much about selling services (which you will), and it’s not about pushing specific services your firm offers (which will happen). What it really entails is acting as your clients’ sounding board and helping them uncover issues they should address, regardless of whether or not you are able to resolve them.

The great news here is that simply by understanding the needs of your clients, you can live up to our profession’s mantra of being your clients’ most trusted business advisor. You become the first point of contact when your client has a business problem. Most CPAs are already the first point of contact regarding a financial or tax problem, but that is far different from being your client’s most trusted business advisor.

By understanding what is keeping your clients awake at night, you position yourself and your firm as having the most potential to

1) help them,

2) refer other professionals to help them or

3) just be supportive of them.

All of this builds stronger client loyalty as well as higher satisfaction.

More about Bill Reeb here.