The Art of Business Development For CPA Firms

Growing up on the Southwest side of Chicago in the 60s, the only artists I knew were guys with the names of Moo, The Chico and Little Big Jimmy. And the canvas they used for their works of art turned out to be a bus, the side of a building, garbage cans and garage doors.

Georges Seurat completed his masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” in 1886, a mere 80 years earlier before Little Big Jimmy ever picked up his first can of spray paint. I am sure Little Big Jimmy’s parole officer would be so proud to have Little Big Jimmy’s name and Seurat together in an article.

How Seurat created his classic was ingenious. Instead of brush stroking, the traditional method of painting, he used a method known as pointillism or divisionism. Using dots to create a picture. Mind you, single dots. Tiny dots together to create a picture. One dot by itself is, well, a dot by itself. But a bunch of dots crafted together blossoms into a picture.

Maybe it's my rose-colored marketing glasses splattered with some old residue from Little Big Jimmy’s spray paint, but I see a great deal of common ground with pointillism and business development. One business development or marketing activity will not create a masterpiece opportunity or bring recognition for your firm. It will take many activities or dots to create the masterpiece opportunity and to get your firm recognized in your market.

It took Seurat, who was in his mid-20s, two years to complete “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” It may take you months, a year or years to convert a prospect into a client. Prized rewards usually do not happen overnight; just ask Seurat. Just as Seurat knew what he wanted, we know we need to bring in new opportunities, and the travels to do so will not always be easy or short.

If you focus only on one approach in business development, you will be limiting your percentages for success. If you only do one thing to position your firm and yourself in your marketplace, you will be missing out on most of the market.

You will need the dot approach to create your painting. Many things together, over time, will result in an increased chance for achieving your goals. Look at some of the dots you need to connect to grow your business and career:

• Stay in close contact with your clients and ask them for referrals.
• Suggest addition services that your firm provides for your current clients.
• Work your referral network as you never know when it will be the right place and right time.
• Network like a politician running for office—meet, greet and shake a ton of hands.
• Be observant. Look for new businesses coming into your market.
• Be positive in your attitude.
• Embrace technology. Use it today because we may not understand it tomorrow.
• Be passionate in what you do and how you do it. Others will see it.
• Host and moderate a seminar for business owners on topics that can help them run their business better. Invite clients and prospects, and offer your referral sources to bring in clients. Don't make it an infomercial for accounting services. Make the topics unrelated to your firm. By doing so you will make the program more impactful and important.
• Follow up on everything you do and say (see dot above).
• Look at how you get to places vs. just looking at the destination only. In other words, don't focus on the revenues only, but focus on the relationship that will bring you to those revenues.
• Improve the internal communications avenues in your firm by responding to e-mails and voice mail messages…the first time.
• Market your firm year round.
• Join organizations to meet new people and businesses. Time consuming but needs to be done.
• Easier to say than do, but be more welcoming others. Give people a reason to remember you. Enjoy being yourself and let others see you who you are.
• Be a teammate to your colleagues.
• Lead and look to the future on how to grow your business. There is no book or iron-proof marketing plan available, just hard work on your part.
• Strive to be rewarded as a trusted advisor by clients.
• Get social: FaceBook, LinkedIn, others. They're too big to ignore and they're not going away.
• And a million of other dot things to do, but I'm running out of canvas.

Recently, Ms. Sajpel, my son Matt’s sixth grade math teacher, took her class to the Art Institute of Chicago where I tagged along as a chaperon. There, the kids were studying how the work of Seurat interfaces with math. But I couldn't help but wonder if Little Big Jimmy would be compared to Seurat if he hadn't failed fourth, fifth and sixth grade math.

Business development is an art. An art we all can pick up at any age. We have our own canvas to create our own masterpiece on, which is the same reason why frames for paintings come in unlimited sizes.

Nicholas D. Keseric Jr. is the director of practice growth with Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co, a Chicago-area middle-market CPA firm, and a partner with MPS Capital Advisors-Mergers & Acquisitions.

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