Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Emily Alexandria Burns: 2011 Rookie of the Year

Emily Alexandria Burns, e-Marketing and Communications Specialist at Freed Maxick & Battaglia CPAs in Buffalo, New York was awarded the 2011 Association for Accounting Marketing Rookie of the Year Award at the Annual Summit in Chicago, Illinois.

Emily has been with Freed Maxick & Battaglia for the past one and a half years. She comes to them after working in the PR departments of several beauty and fashion companies including Avon Products, Christian Dior Couture, Giorgio Armani and Jones Apparel Group where Emily immersed herself within the women’s apparel accessories and beauty markets, including learning strategic PR tactics. Emily’s education is from the Fashion Institute of Technology. This is another interesting background for someone who winds up in accounting marketing. Emily’s last position in New York City was corporate communications manager for ID Media, the largest direct response and digital media services company in the United States. Emily became familiar with the latest media tactics in DRTV online and emerging media. She also helped increase the company’s awareness within the industry and generated a substantial boost in press coverage in national advertising and media trade publications. Then, Emily found her way back to Buffalo and to Freed Maxick & Battaglia and to the Association for Accounting Marketing. Emily, welcome, and how does it feel to be Rookie of the Year?

Emily Burns: It feels awesome. It is so surprising because I was up against so many quality nominees and, at the end of the day, I just feel so incredibly rewarded. It’s such an honour to get that from my peers within the accounting marketing industry. It makes me feel like after this last year and a half I have done a good job and I’m very proud of that. So it makes me feel great.

Jean Caragher: Well, you should be proud of that because I know you and your team are doing a fabulous job for your firm. What factors do you think enable you to be successful at your firm?

Emily Burns: Well, first and foremost, I have a phenomenal mentor in my manager,
Eric Majchrzak. He’s fairly well-known within the accounting marketing industry – does a lot of interviews and sits on panels and takes part in discussion groups and so forth. He’s been a big part in encouraging me and driving me to use the education and the talents that I have here at Freed Maxick, always willing to listen to new ideas and get me excited about doing the job that I do. He really trusts me to take the lead on a lot of our projects and initiatives because he knows that I have that creativity. He knows that I have the ability and the experience to do it. Having somebody who really trusts you to do things correctly and execute really big programs and strategies, it makes you feel good. It makes you want to do well. Also, of course, the directors here are really supportive and they certainly recognize the value and the quality of having good marketing and public relations. I think they also really value all of the marketing team members.

Jean Caragher: I imagine that that is just part of your culture because, as we know, not all CPAs embrace marketing. But if you have a marketing culture, that must help the relationship between the marketers and the partners and your ability to be creative and to implement new ideas.

Emily Burns: I definitely think so. One of the most important things for us to do is show value, especially when a lot of the directors or professional staff may not completely understand what it is that we do. When we’re able to show value or show that something worked or show that there were positive results, and it’s not always being able to quantify it by saying that we gained new business, but perhaps it’s just telling the story of a new relationship that was created or a great press opportunity. When we’re able to show our value that definitely helps them be very supportive of us.

Jean Caragher: Do you report that value on a regular basis? How do you inform them about what’s going on in marketing?

Emily Burns: Oh, I definitely take my past experience working for ID Media as a corporate communications manager and publicizing all of the great things that we do, all of the success that we’ve had, the positive things that we’ve done in the community or with different campaigns internally so that people are kept up to date and know what we’re up to. So that’s maybe an e-mail blast that goes out to all of our three offices or maybe a great press release is posted on our internet. Maybe it’s just sitting in one of our update meetings and talking about something exciting that happened or something positive that we saw come out of a campaign. Keeping everybody informed as to what we’re up to so that they know and so that, perhaps, if somebody asks them about something that they saw, they can speak intelligently about it and know a little bit about what the marketing department is doing.

Jean Caragher: What is your most surprising discovery about accounting marketing? You come from the fashion industry. You come from a media company in New York City. What’s been the most surprising thing?

Emily Burns: I think the most surprising thing is that here at our firm the culture is very accepting of new technology and trying new things, thinking outside of the box, being creative. I really never would have expected that. And, again, I think that comes a lot with showing value and having the people within our department in places that are very, very good at what they do. I never really would have expected a CPA firm to be into mobile or into social networking or open to doing things very creatively. When I first got into it, just looking around, I saw a lot of the same things. So that was very surprising to me here and I think that’s probably why I’m really enjoying what I’m doing because it is that very positive culture here.

Jean Caragher: What intrigued you about interviewing at a CPA firm?

Emily Burns: Well, to be honest, I didn’t. It was one of those situations where I was a passive jobseeker. Before this position with Freed Maxick I worked with our local Chamber of Commerce organization. That organization, of course, supports all of the businesses regionally here in Buffalo Niagara, advocates for them in Albany and does a lot of professional development networking type things, as well. I had a relationship with Freed Maxick as one of the members of the organization. It so happened that they were looking for somebody that needed to have a unique blend of both very traditional marketing experience, a bit of public relations, somebody who is aware of social media tools and how to use them effectively within the business environment. I was just interested to see what they had to say, what the opportunity was going to look like and what they were looking for somebody to do here. Being intrigued with it and wanting to see what the opportunity was exactly brought me in.

Jean Caragher: Well, Eric tells me that when you interviewed, you actually interviewed him more than he interviewed you. Is that true?

Emily Burns: I probably did. I lived down in New York for a long time and I spent most of my adult life there, all of my friendships were there and it was very, very scary for me to move back to Buffalo because I was leaving everybody that I knew, and, yes, I was coming back home to my family and what was comfortable, but I was very scared because the job market here is quite different than it is in a large city. I was afraid that maybe I would come back and I would not have that job security, or I wouldn’t like what I was doing and would be limited to what I could do. I think that’s probably why I was asking so many questions, because I wanted to make sure that it was something that I was going to like. I was going to be able to do well. I was going to have some job security because making that big life change for me was a huge, big deal. And luckily everything has, so far, worked out very well.

Jean Caragher: It sounds like it is. What is your biggest challenge in what you do now?

Emily Burns: I think the biggest challenge is staying on top of what’s new and what tools are out there. I think that we have done such a great job positioning ourselves as thought leaders within the industry. However, that really puts the onus on us to continue to be aware of what’s available, whatever tools are new, how we can implement them here internally; doing a lot of reading, participating in different events, talking to people outside of our industry to see what they’re doing as well. I think that’s a big challenge because we want to stay ahead of the curve and we want to continue to be thought leaders but that really means that we need to put ourselves out there to learn and see what’s going on.

Jean Caragher: There is so much information out there now, isn’t there? It’s nearly impossible to keep up. So as the 2011 AAM Rookie of the Year, what is your best piece of advice for accounting marketers?

Emily Burns: Exploring professional development opportunities are really important. I’m really lucky here that if I see something, whether it be an industry or trade group or maybe a class I want to take, I voice that. I’m allowed to go and really explore professional development opportunities. And AAM, of course, is an amazing place to start – the people that you meet, the discussions that you have, all the different things that are available are very, very helpful. I’m also suggesting PRSA, which is the Public Relations Society of America. There are local chapters everywhere. Your area might have a young professionals group which, for me, I’m involved in one here in Buffalo and that’s extremely helpful and fun. Your local Chamber of Commerce perhaps has networking opportunities that would be really great. Here in Buffalo we are very, very active in our social media club and there are a lot of really cool, innovative, creative people that inspire us to do really neat things. So exploring professional development is key. Going along with that, never be afraid to ask for help in your professional development whether it be continuing your education or attending a networking event. If you don’t ask, you might not get to do something or you might miss out on an opportunity. So I think it never hurts to ask so that you want to show that you are willing to keep learning and developing. And you want to really prove your value within your firm or your department. Again, staying abreast of what’s going on – what’s new, what’s cool, what’s hip, who’s finding success using different tools – whether they’re in our industry or not, I think it’s always interesting to see what other people are up to and how you can potentially translate it to what you do. So I, for instance, read a ton of different blogs and websites. I’m always checking out ad campaigns, just seeing what everybody else is up to so I can get creative with how I market here with our firm. Figure out how I can apply it to what we do. So never stop learning. That’s probably the most important thing. Keep learning, improving your skills, stay fresh. Those are all big buzz words but, I think, would be my best advice.

Jean Caragher: Emily, you are one of the new faces of AAM. Congratulations again on being named the AAM 2011 Rookie of the Year. Thanks for your time today for the Capstone Conversation.

Emily Burns: Thank you very much for having me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

So You’ve Decided on a Niche Practice … Now What?

Today's CPA Insider included an excerpt from my chapter in Bull’s Eye!: The Ultimate How-to Marketing Guide for CPAsEight best practice tips on implementing a strategic marketing plan are revealed.

You can purchase Bull's Eye! on CPA2Biz.com.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Raissa Evans: 2011 Marketer of the Year

Raissa Evans, the Executive Manager of Practice Growth at PKF Texas, was honoured as the 2011 Marketer of the Year at the Association for Accounting Marketing Summit in Chicago, Illinois. The Marketer of the Year is an award sponsored by CPA Practice Management Forum.

As the Executive Manager of Practice Growth at PKF Texas Raissa oversees the marketing efforts of the firm with a focus on executing initiatives to align with the firm strategy. This includes project management, campaign development and tracking, niche practice development, budgeting, event marketing, media relations, research, technology directive and pipeline management. Raissa is also the champion of the firm’s digital strategy. She has led three website redesigns plus the first accounting technology blog
FromGregsHead.com and launched m.pkftexas.com, PKF Texas’ first mobile web platform which is also an industry first and Raissa trains firm leadership on social media tools and writes for the firm’s Twitter account @pkftexas.

Jean Caragher: Raissa, I know you’ve been with PKF Texas now for over eight and half years. What do you feel is the greatest challenge for marketing CPA firms?

Raissa: Thinking back over the history and being with the firm and what I know about accounting marketing, I think the challenge remains pretty consistent, and that is staying ahead. And marketers throughout other industries feel that kind of pressure, as well. The world is changing; it’s a lot more international than its ever been. People are connected 24/7 in all time zones. And there’s this great struggle for the mind share of the target audience that you’re trying to reach. The world’s very noisy and it’s hard to get your message through.

Jean Caragher: In your time in accounting marketing, what are the biggest changes that you’ve seen?

Raissa: I think that everything is speeding up. There are studies out there of how much more information that we’re receiving these days than we ever have been. The international business growth certainly changes things a lot. Even local firms now need that sort of talent in-house to be able to address international issues from inbound and outbound companies. Marketers themselves seem to be better received in our industry. You’ll see a lot more marketers being promoted, sometimes even to partners although that’s still in the handful that you could count. Accounting firms of all sizes are now building marketing teams, something that’s been unusual in past years. A lot of marketers were lone-wolves and now they’ve actually grown to be at least small teams for most middle market firms, at least.

Jean Caragher: Why do you think firms are more opened to having a team of marketers?

Raissa: Accounting marketing is such a new industry; it only dates back to 1977 as you know with the Bates Law. I think that if you look at other marketing industries or other marketers within other industries, especially B-to-C, well number one they’re older but number two they’re able to take a lot more risks and change things a lot faster. We are pretty unique in that, not only is that a conservative industry, highly regulated and it’s just as old as some other industries. The funny thing is that it’s catching up so quickly. Marketers in our industry are learning from outside industries. They’re taking the best practices from those industries. They’re experimenting with tools and edgier campaigns and they understand the importance of aggregating and trading information for their audiences. And so, it’s really startling to see how fast we’re catching up.

Jean Caragher: What factors or skills do you feel enable accounting marketers to be successful?

Raissa: It’s funny; there was a speaker a couple of years back at a (AAM) Summit, Dan Pink. I am a big fan of his. His most recent book is Drive and that’s about what motivates people to make decisions, things like that. Before that he had a book about right brain thinking, and about how the only thing that you really can’t commoditize or outsource is creativity and initiative. I think a lot of that is ingrained into a successful marketer’s DNA, to continually push to do something a little bit more exciting, do something a little bit edgier, to get the buy-in that fits into their culture. Also, these technology and social media tools have really expanded what we’re able to do because these things, although they take quite a bit of firm bandwidth, can be done on shoe string budgets. Now, I’m not the kind of marketer that would ever say social media technology is free; of course it’s not free. It drives me crazy when someone says that because time isn’t free, but it’s certainly scalable, it can be done on all different scales and certainly done by anything from a marketing team to single marketers. That really makes it flexible in achieving some of these goals in our firms.

Jean Caragher: Which of your personal skills has contributed most to your success?

Raissa: That’s a great question. Well, I’m also identified as a leader in social media and emerging technology, those movements, and my firm has certainly been instrumental in helping launch the first accounting technology blog, what we think is the first mobile website in the industry and, in fact, we just launched our second one the week before AAM, so we now have two mobile websites launched. I’m one of the first accounting marketers to begin tweeting heavily, and things like that. Those tools certainly helped me but I think one of the ways that they helped me the most is in building relationships on a one-on-one level. The resourcefulness involves in staying ahead of the tools that will help us be more efficient and achieve our goals along with building those relationships that do the exact same thing. The tenacity in those things, not only taking innate resourcefulness but partnering that with the tenacity and fitting into my culture here where I can approach my champions like Karen Love and Kenneth Guidry, with these sort of out-of-the-box ideas. Then, engraving that into our cultural without being intrusive to the processes and ideas that are already flying within the firm, I think that’s been instrumental.

Jean Caragher: Speak another minute about that culture of PKF Texas, and you mentioned Karen and Kenneth, speak to your culture and how that’s contributed to your success.

Raissa: It’s been really great to have a number of champions here. I’ll start with Karen. Karen Love interviewed me and from day one was inspiring to me. Her drive and her career successes to that point and, you know, she’s come even further over the last nine years. She’s always been an inspiration to me and she personally took me under her wing and mentored me. I had about four years of marketing experience coming into the firm but she certainly groomed the way I think in a professional services capacity. In the support in the team building skill that she has, in surrounding herself with folks who have different skills that somewhat she has, made it very comfortable to not only be heard but also to bring my own talents and skills, and not feel any sort of competitiveness that some teams feel and certainly made us all be working towards the same goal instead of working in any kind of competitive atmosphere. When we added Jen Lemanski it only helped to heighten what we’re able to do. She’s a writer and helps update our website and manages the blog on a day-to-day basis. It’s been a really great culture. At the same time even as early as when I came into the firm in 2003 and beyond, this firm had won the Best Places to Work in Houston. That’s actually how I found the firm. I had left a previous position in a technology firm and I wanted to seek out a culture that cared as much about their people as they did about their clients. At PKF Texas we say that we have internal and external clients and I was really seeking out that culture. Accounting wasn’t even on my radar screen but I went down the list of best places to work and found PKF Texas through a relationship that I had made several years before who just happened to be a very close friend of Karen Love. That’s how I found the firm. I said two to three weeks into the job that I had found my dream job. It was everything I wanted to do in marketing and almost nine years later I could still say that today and that’s really saying something.

Jean Caragher: Wonderful. Well, I’m glad for the day that they found you, as well, because you’re a wonderful addition to our accounting marketing world.

Raissa: Thank you so much.

Jean Caragher: What is your best piece of advice for accounting marketers?

Raissa: I think it goes off of how I found PKF Texas and that is, find a way to stay inspired. Figure out what it is that energizes you and then do what you love. I think it’s twofold, one is discovering what your strengths are and where your inspirations come from, and then second is finding the right champion that’s going to believe in you and support you in doing what you love, because if you’re in the right culture not only can you do what you love but you can stop to celebrate the successes along the way. It’s a really inspiring, great feeling and will keep challenging your career to reach new milestones.

Jean Caragher: What is your best piece of advice for managing partners?

Raissa: The opposite is also true. Hire someone that you believe in and that you will make a part of your strategic team. Value and understand the role that they play and the business intelligence that they can bring. Give them a sit at the table, so that they can really contribute to not only bottom line revenue but also the firm culture that will be instilled into each new talent that you add to the team. Part of that, too, is creating a culture that attracts the best talent that you can find in your marketplace because without true talent to offer to the marketplace, then a marketer doesn’t have very much that they can market from a firm. They’ve got to choose their firm wisely and make sure it’s a “product” that they believe in and also can help shape it while they’re there.

Jean Caragher: So, it’s really more of a big picture here. It’s not simply for managing partners to appreciate the value of marketing and perhaps making that decision to hire a professional marketer or add to their marketing team. It’s that culture and the confidence that needs to placed in the market for them to be successful. Would you agree with that?

Raissa: Absolutely, because a marketer doesn’t operate in this vacuum of pulling business out of a hat. They’ve got to have each team member in a firm be an ambassador for marketing and practice growth. It can’t be done by a single person or even by a sales team; it’s got to be engrained in everybody to provide what the marketplace needs.

Jean Caragher: My last question, put on prediction hat to see into the future. What is your prediction for accounting marketing for the next five years?

Raissa: I think that things are always going to change; I think that anybody that tries to say that they can foresee what’s going to happen over any five year period will always be surprised. I think the important thing to know is to be nimble. Part of that is that things are going to be driven more and more by client preferences. People are going to determine whether it’s through tools or through attention span what reaches them. Marketing is going to need to be engrained into the different culture because everything is going to need to be on the same page, and the talent, the culture is going have to be driven by what the marketplace desires and what changes with them. Everything’s going to need to be micro targeted, so that the message is very clear for the recipient in order for it to reach the recipient. I think also, even local firms are going to need to have international capabilities. Almost every business these days has some capacity of international work involved, and even the smaller firms are going to have to be able to provide that. On a truly positive note accounting marketers are beginning to be seen, and will continue to even elevate more, as thought leaders, and they’ll write and speak from that position because we really have a unique insight into business as a whole. That’s one thing that’s really great about the accounting industry itself is that it always deals with the C-level professional and gets down deep into business processes and financials and all of these other things that are so basic to business, that we can provide a lot more thought leadership than we’re being used for today.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Living Life at Performance Level

If you are looking for advice on how to achieve change and growth in your life watch this video. Curtis Zimmerman of the Curtis Zimmerman Group was the keynote speaker at this year's AICPA Practitioners Symposium and TECH+ Conference. His message was positive and uplifting, "If you want to grow don't be afraid to pick one thing to incorporate each week to make your life better."

Monday, June 13, 2011

4 Keys to Winning Today’s Competitive Battle

At your firm, who’s the chief change officer?

By Jean Caragher and Rick Telberg

Organizations with strong learning cultures have 37 percent greater employee productivity, are 32 percent more likely to be first to market and are 17 percent more likely to be market leaders in their segment, according to Bersin & Associates’ 2010 study High Impact Learning Culture. The same research shows that most companies do not understand this area well, despite the opportunity to drive tremendous performance improvements with almost no additional expense.

Among accounting firms, less than 1 in 4 CPAs say they get the training they need, according research conducted for the Seven Keys to Successful CPA Firm Management.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Discount for 2011 Practitioners Symposium & TECH+ Conference

What I've learned so far is that networking with peers is an excellent opportunity to learn and share resources. I am pleased to offer you the discount code TAC to receive $100 off registration to this year's Practitioners Symposium & TECH+ Conference, June 13-15, at the Aria in Las Vegas.

While you're there check out Session #55 on Tuesday, June 14, 2:00-3:15 p.m. I will be presenting, "Client Retention Strategies Every Firm Can Use." Based upon research conducted for The SevenKeys to Successful CPA Firm Management and real life experiences this session will focus on:

  • How clients choose

  • Why clients change CPA firms

  • How extraordinary client service can pay off in client retention

  • Practical initiatives that you can execute to contribute towards client retention

  • What you can learn from client service superstars

  • How to build a winning client retention program at your firm

Register today at www.cpa2biz.com/pstech or call 888-777-7077.

See you in Vegas!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

11 Clues a Client is a Loser and 4 Keys to Finding a Winner

Every CPA firm has clients who are no longer a good fit – clients with little growth potential, clients who are slow to pay, clients who treat CPAs poorly. Bad clients have an impact on profits, productivity, and staffing. The leading firms are doing something about this. Our research shows that SevenKeys Leaders are nearly three times more likely than SevenKeys Laggards to fire clients that don’t fit their target.

Firing clients is an effective way to manage growth and profitability. Evaluate clients on a variety of criteria including:

1. Fee
2. Realization
3. Ability to pay
4. Year-end
5. Opportunities to cross-sell
6. Growth potential
7. Risk
8. Leads received (or expected) from client
9. Does the client enable our firm to establish or build a niche?
10. Does the client need our firm’s expertise?
11. Can our firm still serve the client to the best of its ability?

Then determine whether you can increase the fee or refer the client to another firm. Firms that implement this process on an annual basis are more profitable, focus on their best clients, and have a happier staff.

Yet most firms are more likely to accept inappropriate clients and fire them in the future than they are not to accept them in the first place. A formal client acceptance process, utilizing the criteria listed above, would help prevent clients from passing through the revolving door.

Establish client acceptance criteria. Assign a gatekeeper, your firm’s marketing professional, for example, who will track the types of opportunities partners are working on by asking strategic questions:
1. Does an engagement support a particular niche within the firm?
2. Are there opportunities for cross selling?
3. Does the client have a good payment history?
4. Could we fire an inappropriate client and take on one that is a better fit for the firm?

Do not inform clients that they are being “fired” by mail. Depending upon the length of time they have been a client or fees paid consider a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call. This also gives you the opportunity to remedy the situation and keep the client.

This topic and other essential topics like it will be part of The 2011 SevenKeys CPA two-hour online strategic planning workshop May 19. We'll be using the exclusive, data-driven SevenKeys CPA tools to help a select number of attendees run a firmwide self-assessment and develop high-leverage strategies for success.

For more about the Seven Keys to Successful CPA Firm Management, download the executive summary (PDF, 11 pages) at
http://sevenkeyscpa.com/exec. Copyright 2011 Seven Keys CPA. All rights reserved.