March 2011

Do you think that since you are a “numbers” person, you can get away with poor writing skills? Not so. Written communication skills are essential to all business professionals (including accountants) who write memos, letters or reports.

Yes, I understand that accountants, in public practice or industry must accurately present financial information. But, beyond that they need to communicate clearly their interpretation and analysis of what the numbers mean. To guide your organization or your client’s financial decisions, you must communicate clearly by organizing your ideas logically and following the standard conventions of good business writing.

No doubt about it. Writing is not easy. But, if you can become an effective communicator, you will excel in your career over those who do not. A great way to improve is to ask a co-worker whose writing you admire to read your memos or reports and give you feedback. I also recommend using some key reference guides like the Elements of Style by Strunk and White to help you when you’re unsure about proper punctuation or grammar.

According to management consultant, John L. Daly, something as simple as using the proofing and style features of Microsoft Word can help make you a better writer. John points out that accountants frequently write with too many passive sentences, and score low on readability tests. In his upcoming webcast on April 21, John will talk about how to take your writing to the next level.


Keeping up with the latest trends, learning from those who have done what you want to do is a great way to move forward in building your business. I hope you’re reading all the experts and then forming your own opinion.

John L. Daly, MBA, CPA, CMA, CPIM, president of Executive Education, Inc., often includes in his webcasts for corporate financial managers a plea for everyone to read more nonfiction. John quotes a study that claims those who read at least seven nonfiction books every year earn 2-3 times more than those who only read one. Sounds good to me!

In his CPE Link webcasts, John has recommended:
• Good to Great by Jim Collins
• I May be Wrong, But I Doubt It by Douglas T. Hicks
• The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker
• Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones

Two of my favorites are:
• Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
• Crush It – Why NOW is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk

If you’re looking to get in the game with today’s social media strategies for building your practice, I would recommend:

• The New Social Learning by Marcia Conner and Tony Driscoll

Feeling a little stressed? I just re-read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom which is classified as nonfiction, but reads like fiction. And it certainly serves to put your life in perspective if you’re feeling overwhelmed with work and a little bit whiney about it.

What are you reading?

We all seek out education for different reasons. According to a recent poll of association executives, the top five motivators for participating in continuing education programs are:

1. To keep up to date professionally. (No small feat in today’s rapidly changing regulatory environment!)
2. To increase competence in your job
3. To learn completely new skills or knowledge
4. To maintain or improve skills or knowledge you already have.
5. To increase your self-confidence as a professional or practitioner

Although face-to-face is still the learning format of choice for the majority of practitioners, the tide is turning towards online delivery. Web-based education bypasses some of the barriers of classroom education such as being too expensive or requiring travel.

The webinar/webcast format also brings CPAs many “extras” that have always been important to them in the learning process.

• Access to the materials before the program; users can download the course materials (PPT and any supplementary) before the program.
• Access to the instructor; Users can submit a question for the speaker before, during or after the program.
• Supplemental resources; Bonus resources are made available when applicable. For instance, this last year CPE Link provided the entire compiled Q&A from our Federal Tax Update programs.

Webcasts appeal to all kinds of learners. Kinesthetic learners are kept engaged when they mouse click to answer polling questions or raise their hand. Visual learners enjoy the PowerPoint slide presentation and screen sharing that most instructors do. And, of course, auditory learners are served with listening to the presenter via VOIP or teleconference.

And everyone can benefit from repetition to reinforce learning. CPE Link allows webcast attendees access to the recording for three months following the live event.

I attended a meeting last week hosted by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). As a CPE Sponsor, we follow the rules set by this agency for administering CPE credits to our nationwide audience of CPAs, EAs, and CFPs. There are some proposed changes to the standards under discussion–mostly focused on requirements the course developers need to satisfy.

What really intrigued me though was the topic of “social learning.” During the conference, we heard from several learning experts who shared information about how people learn and how today’s technology is being used for informal learning. Interesting stuff.

I have to admit that it was disheartening to hear a learning expert explain that classroom learning is not how our brains are built to learn and that only 10% of our learning comes from formal training of any kind. It’s on the job training where we really learn and retain information. Because it is social and built on a model of collaboration and trial and error which is how we learn best.

If this is true, are we using an outdated model for our continuing education requirements? We haven’t even begun to figure out how to track professional learning from a means other than traditional classroom style learning. Even the new version of the classroom (live webinar/webcast) is still built on the old model of measuring contact time (namely the 50 minute hour).

It struck me that CPE Link and other CPE sponsors may be spending too much time focused on the quality of the content, when it may be that the delivery system is becoming just as important a measure of successful learning for the end user – the CPA.

Hearing speeches titled “The World has Changed, So Why Not Higher Education?”and “Learning with Avatars: How Virtual Worlds are Redefining the Classroom,” makes me worry that our industry is lagging little bit behind the times.

What do you think the future of continuing education will look like?

Just 4 years ago, the average growth rate for all CPA firms with a minimum of $2M in annual sales was 11.4%. This year, according to the recently released Rosenberg Survey of Public Accounting Firms,™ the average growth was a meager 1.4% and net income per partner was DOWN by 3.0%.

In today’s challenging economic climate, CPA firms are tightening their belts and strategically trying to accomplish more with less. This frugal philosophy extends to their practice development function as well, with savvy firms insisting on a demonstrated return on their marketing investment.

What to do? Jeffrey Pawlow, the CEO and Managing Shareholder of The Growth Partnership, has several best practices he recommends. Here’s one: Do a real-time customer loyalty survey. The main question in the survey will be “how likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?”

Through this simple survey, you’ll identify those clients who are merely satisfied, and may be easily wooed by the competition. And more importantly, you’ll find out which of your clients are loyal enthusiasts who plan to keep working with your organization. This most engaged group of clients may be your best source for referrals!

For more best practices for developing your practice, watch Jeff’s complimentary on-demand webcast, 5 Under $5,000: Five Proven Practice Development Best Practices.