Berntson Porter & Company can claim bragging rights in being one of the largest CPA firm in the Puget Sound Region (15 principals and over 75 total employees), all while growing organically since only 1985. I think you’ll love this interview specifically because of Greg’s philosophy about running their firm like a ‘real business’. To him this means hiring people for specific roles (HR, marketing, sales, etc.), instead of having everyone in the company try to do everything.
Firm: Greg Porter of Berntson Porter & Company, PLLC
Highlights of his website: They have a list of specialized services on the front page and an industries tab at the top, allowing them to narrow in on their audience right away. They also have construction specific blog that’s still updated regularly, remember if you’re not going to update it after the first few posts, then just take it down.
What are your top three time-management tips?
- Try to group CRM related activities together. Our firm has gotten more away from the one-on-one meals and we try to participate in larger activities, events or within organizations. For example, we’ll try to attend events where we know lots of our clients will be instead of trying to engage with them individually, which takes more time and money.
- Identify early on whether someone is truly a qualified lead. You can spend a lot of time chasing people who will never hire you. We always try and determine several factors when we’re talking to a potential lead: are we speaking with a decision maker, do you they have money to pay for our services, is their business size congruent to our firm’s services, how many other people are they interviewing, and do we have the expertise to deal with them.
We also try to work with the professionals that our clients are already using (i.e. financial advisors, lawyers, etc.). That way the other professionals know the level of service we provide, through that mutual client and likewise with us. It’s much easier to give and get quality referrals this way.
- Don’t get bogged down with unnecessary emails. I get as many as 100 emails today so to manage that many, I unsubscribe from everything that is unnecessary.
What’s something you wish you had known when you started your CPA practice?
My partner and I started our firm when they were 26 and 25, respectively. We didn’t have any mentors and made a lot of avoidable mistakes. It also took us a while to figure that there are a lot of different types of businesses and that each has different needs. I would suggest seeking out a mentor early on and meeting with them periodically. We eventually joined an international CPA organization that includes programs and resources that you can learn from.
Do you have any suggestions for hiring the best CPAs to work at your firm?
You must find people that are smart AND emotionally intelligent, not those with just a high GPA. We use tests, specifically skill tests to measure measure math, verbal, typing, data entry, office software proficiency, etc. and personality tests that describe an individual’s personal characteristics and their relationship to job satisfaction and performance. Together these tests give a good indicator of a potential hire’s competence as an accountant and whether they will they fit into the firm’s culture.
How would you advise people to work ‘on their practice’ better, rather than working ‘in their practice’?
It’s easy to get bogged down in all the day to day stuff and can be very hard to work on the business. My best advice is to block out time in your schedule, set out a day or half a day once a week. Also create a good executive committee, comprised of people that are forward thinkers to make decisions.
Is there any changes you have made around the office since you started to make it run more efficiently?
CPA firms are notoriously poorly managed with a high turnover because:
- Staff are not always hired properly, by not taking into consideration technical competence and social skills.
- CPA firms are managed by CPAs, who are not trained to be good managers and leaders of businesses.
We decided to scrap the model of traditional CPA firm structure where everyone is everything (sales, accountant, admin) and run it like a business. I like to always ask our staff, what would we do if we were a real business (jokingly of course!)? We have a president, marketing director, CFO, HR manager and sales reps, and try to find the best people for each role. Essentially it’s structured like a real business should be.
What are your best time-tracking secrets?
- Record your time everyday, before you forget. It’s not fair to yourselves or the client if you’re not recording it properly because someone’s going to lose out.
- Bill with less information. CPAs agonize over bills way more than the client, the clients don’t scrutinize as much. We don’t provide detailed billing unless they ask, otherwise they’re more likely to question everything. This works well as long as the client got the value they expected.
Are there any great software products you use around the office that you’d recommend?
We would recommend:
- Prosystem Practice Management
- Smaller GL products: Quickbooks, Peachtree
- Larger GL /CRM: Axapta (a Microsoft product and one of the few that have the Chinese language capability)
- Frx Forecaster for budgeting