Let’s talk about satisfaction in our firms. This might be good timing as many tax preparers are feeling the weight of the next few months.
When I started my post-secondary education, I wanted to be an architect. However, after a few business classes, I was hooked on learning the diverse skills to succeed in business.
After landing on business, I decided to major in accounting. I was told that accounting was the language of business.
Without fully understanding my end goal, I started in public accounting at a Big4 firm after graduating.
Side note: My dad has been a CPA firm owner since before I was born. He still runs his small firm today, at 73 years old.
At one point during high school, I was in his office updating his mind-numbing tax research binders with the latest guidance. After watching his experience and stress levels, I promised myself I would never be a CPA in public accounting.
15 years later, I started my CPA firm.
In 2020, something hit me. Maybe it was the uncertainty of the pandemic, but satisfaction became a priority for me. I allowed myself to say that I was not happy. I didn’t want to repeat my dad’s experience.
When I acknowledged the elephant in the room, that I was unhappy despite the stable income, I was able to change for the better.
Weather vs. Climate
Weather: This is the day-to-day temperature we experience. The weather fluctuates, but overall it’s predictable. At times, the weather can be colder, hotter, or wetter than usual, but after a few days, it’s back to normal.
There may be rainy days in the summer, but they will pass.
Climate: This is the almost permanent foundation of the environment. It dictates the temperature and weather. As much as you may want it, you’ll never enjoy wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the Arctic climate. It’s impossible.
Why do I bring this up?
At times, we are overwhelmed and unhappy in our firms. If you look deeply at the cause, you’ll see if it is the weather or the climate.
We’re all going to have bad weather. These are hiccups along the way – mistakes we’ve made, team delays, or urgent client needs. These are inevitable and they quickly pass. These events should make up a small portion of your work.
If the climate is the issue, the stress and dissatisfaction are constant. Problems persist, and you become stuck.
Most people start in public accounting by entering into a crappy + toxic climate. After a start period, they get accustomed to the tension and long hours.
Many firm owners will unknowingly carry this same climate into their firms. It’s not their fault. It is learned behavior.
The key to finding satisfaction is improving your firm’s climate and minimizing the bad weather.
Control What You Do
The first step to improving satisfaction is creating a sustainable climate.
A sustainable climate keeps partners AND team members AND clients happy. For too long, unsustainable climates have been the norm – many small firm owners are not happy and their teams are not engaged.
A firm’s climate is most influenced by the type of work the firm does.
Most firms offer a mix of services. That’s what I did in my firm at first.
However, I push firm owners to focus their services. Focused services are the most underrated approach we can take. It generates high levels of profit and satisfaction for you, and it delivers business-transforming value to clients.
However, firms that offer numerous service struggle to find a sustainable climate. Pricing pressure and competition is turning generalist firms into commodities that have to race to reduce prices and costs. This turns into grinding yourself and your team, eliminating all satisfaction.
It is impossible to avoid the grind entirely, but creating a climate that minimizes it for you and your team has to be a priority.
If you don’t remember anything else from this week’s newsletter, remember this:
Your default for new client requests should be NO, unless the request fits clearly within your intentionally set prices and services.
The Flow State
Once you create that sustainable climate, you will want to reduce the bad weather.
Interruptions, recurring problems, and leaderless team members are the primary sources of bad weather. We cannot get into the Flow State without actively reducing these distractions.
The Flow what? you might be asking.
There is a lot of research around Flow Theory, started by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The studies show that when we are fully absorbed in an activity that is difficult and involves risk, and complete it successfully, we experience happiness and fulfilment.
The studies show that the flow state occurs more during work than in free time. If the activity stretches the person’s capacity, there are higher levels of enjoyment.
Creating an environment where you and your team can do deep work and ‘get in the zone’ will result in higher quality output and higher levels of satisfaction.
If you are happier and more productive in the Flow State, it’s worth the investment.
Here are some suggestions to create more opportunities for you and your team to get into the flow state.
- As a leader, try to designate a time every day when all meetings (both client and internal) are not allowed. Create a recurring meeting in everyone’s calendar that stops disruptions and fosters concentration and focus.
- Apart from other perks, working from home offers a greater chance of getting in a flow state daily. Not every team member is a morning person. Some people can complete more work from 9 pm to 11 pm than from 8 am to 12 pm. If you want flow, flexibility has to be considered.
- The more things you manage, the less time you have to get into the flow state. Decentralize decision-making in your firm. Allow team members to be the point of contact for clients.
Tools + Apps
Actively build a firm wiki, so questions only have to be answered once. Each client should have a living document that gets updated.
Use videos to work through non-standard workflows. Your firm knowledge base will save 100s of hours as your time groups.
Restrict when your emails hit your inbox. This took some time for me to learn (I still struggle with it at times), but now I only check emails at 11 am and 3 pm.
Satisfaction in your firm will not come from a secret hack. It takes an honest view of your firm’s macro approach and micro activities and then deciding what you want.
Build The Firm You Want!