Interview Series with Successful CPA Firms – Part 3 with Keith Barfield of Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, PC

The third interview in our interview series at Email Stopwatch, Run Your CPA Firm Like A Business, is with Keith Barfield of Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, PC.

I chose to interview Keith because of his firm’s great track record. They’ve been around for over 20 years, growing from the three initial partners Don Murphy, Keith Barfield, and John Shank to over 100 employees and over 2000 clients.

BMSS ranks in the Top 10 in size of public accounting firms and is one of the largest locally-owned firms in Alabama. They also have a high level of employee satisfaction and low turnover, indicated by their recent win of the #2 Best Accounting Firm to Work For from Accounting Today.

Firm: Kieth Barfield of Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, PC
Highlights of his website: The long list of speciality niches listed under the Industries tab and the Latest News section featuring seminars and training classes BMSS is offering (if you’re not sure why these are so great, check out this report on how to improve your CPA website).

What are your top three time-management tips?

  1. The book Getting Things Done by David Allen and Zen to Done by Leo Babauta have really helped me to get organized and become more productive. More specifically, they helped me realize that I needed to chose one location to organize all the information I receive throughout the day. This can be done with your phone, calendar, inbox, etc., however it is important to only have one to-do list. Another rule I set for myself is categorizing every task into one I can do in less than 10 minutes or more than 10 minute. If it’s less than 10 I do it right away, if it’s more than I schedule it.
  2. Do not multi-task! Moving from one task to another requires re-focusing every time and only slows you down. There’s now a lot of literature out there agreeing with this and you can see we do too from this post.
  3. I create a triage checklist of how I process the common tasks in the office. This allows me to go an autopilot when I get into the office for tasks that need to get done and in what order. My personal list is:
    • Cell phone voice mail
    • Cell phone missed calls
    • Text messages
    • BMSS voice mails
    • BMSS scan emails
    • Desktop cleanup
    • Phone call category of to do list
    • Next action category of to do list

What’s something you wish you had known when you started your CPA practice?
I wish I had spent more time defining my target market and developing some specialty niches much more deeply and quickly. Currently my largest niche is construction companies, which I’ve spent years building up by getting involved in local construction company organizations. However, when the economy changed and the housing market suffered, most of my clients were affected and 5-6 even went bankrupt.

Keith’s advice to prevent this is to always look to the future of business. Understand what fields are growing and diversify your client base with a few different niches, and that way if one is suffering, you’ll still have others. Currently, a couple options you may not be focused on right now that hold promise in the current economy are technology, robotics, genetics, health care, alternative energy, and nanotechnology.

Do you have any suggestions for hiring the best CPAs to work at your firm?
Personality tests have helped us tremendously, specifically the DISC personality profile system and the Wonderlic test.

Since starting our firm, my partners and I have realized that personalities are very important in hiring. The DISC personality test allows us to see what kind of personality each potential candidate has and allows us to see whether the job they’re applying for would be a good fit. For instance, rule based personalities work better on tax returns and result oriented personalities work better on audit work. We have worked very hard to match the personality types to the job.

The Wonderlic test is a unique IQ test with a corresponding chart that gives suggested occupations chart for each results. Essentially it indicates the professional level someone can function at. The general consensus for low scoring wonderlic test scores is that they have lower problem solving skills, as well as lack the ability to read, interpret and apply knowledge. Keith suggests not hiring low scoring candidates on the Wonderlic test.

Lastly, pay very close attention to the character of the candidate and be sure they fit the firm culture. Attitude, people skills and even a sense of humor are key elements to success in our firm for the best CPA’s.

How would you advise people to work ‘on their practice’ better, rather than working ‘in their practice’?
There are three keys that I focus on to improve the business:

  1. When working on your practice set up your key performance indicators (chargeable hours per day, etc.) first and monitor those every day.
  2. Develop well documented practices of handling everything in the business from tax returns to financial statements (quality control, Doc plus, routing sheets, etc.).
  3. Most importantly, locate the best technology and “make it work for you”. By that I mean, keep up with changing technology and find the right pieces that are going to improve the workflow of your office. We’ve always been on the forefront of technology in accounting by testing out anything that might be useful to us by dealing with the technology directly instead of outsourcing it. One of the partners is always responsible for researching, purchasing and testing new technology so we know what will and won’t work for our office.

Are there any changes you have made around the office since you started to make it run more efficiently?
Change management is a critical concept and it is constant in our firm. Every process and procedure is questioned periodically to dissect it and ask the question if there is a better way to do it.

For instance, every May after tax season, we create committee of three people to evaluate problems during tax season while it’s fresh on all our minds. We review the procedures used to process returns and let staff voice their concerns about past practices. This allows us to become more efficient and lets the staff know we’re always open to suggestions and improvements.

We also recognize that technology plays an important part of change and new technology is evaluated constantly to see if it can work for us productively.

What are your best time-tracking secrets?

  1. Best time tracking secret is to turn in your time every day by the end of the day while your memory is still fresh.
  2. Use your calendar appointments first to fill out the important client meetings you did.
  3. As a safety net to catch the really important things you did for clients, review your sent items emails to fill in the gaps.

Are there any great software products you use around the office that you’d recommend?
For this question, Keith actually sent me a couple blog posts he wrote over on their firms site, which has some really great content.

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