Accounting practice transitions can be extremely successful when handled with reasonable care and common sense. That said, some of the basics can be elusive in practice.
Here is a discussion of five basic concepts for a successful handoff:
- Long transitions are almost never necessary. This is probably the biggest misconception that we encounter. You cannot hand off a relationship. The seller has a relationship with clients and the buyer has to develop their own separate relationship. More often than not, long-term seller involvement hinders the buyer’s ability to nurture and develop a bond with clients. It’s very difficult to work in the shadow of the previous owner.
- Have a game plan. Having a clear plan of action ahead of closing is incredibly helpful. No matter what time of year you buy or sell an accounting practice, the first month or so can be quite busy. Planning the transition prior to closing allows everyone to think without the pressure of the early demands of ownership. Develop a plan for staff involvement, client announcements and meetings, as well as operational concerns. There is a lot to do and maintaining a good perspective of what should take priority after closing is key.
- Clear, honest communication with clients is essential. The last thing you want to happen is for clients to hear of your purchase or sale “through the grapevine.” We always recommend the direct approach where the seller is clear about his/her future role in the practice. Accounting is a relationship business and the buyer needs to start the relationship on the right foot. When a transition is “masked” as a merger or new partnership when in fact it is an outright purchase, then that can leave a very bad impression on clients. If the seller is exiting the business, that fact becomes clear to clients fairly quickly.
- Staff can be quite nervous about a change in ownership. They need reassurances and empathy. It’s natural for staff to start asking themselves questions such as:
- Will I have a job?
- Will my role change? My pay? My hours?
- Will I like the new owners? Etc. (Clear answers and time spent with the new owners will help alleviate these concerns. Keep in mind how import staff are to the success of the business.)
- Fit is everything. The buyer and seller need to be a good fit for each other or the other four concepts won’t make much difference. Make sure that personalities and philosophies match up fairly well. There is no such thing as a perfect fit and no two people will operate a practice in exactly the same way. However, if you are selling your practice, you need to be fairly certain that the buyer you have chosen will be fairly well liked and respected by your clients and staff.
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About Brannon Poe: Brannon is the founder of Poe Group Advisors and has been facilitating successful accounting practice transitions throughout the US and Canada since 2003. He is also the creator of Accounting Practice Academy. Brannon is the author of the Accounting Practice Insights Blog and hosts the Accountant’s Flight Plan” podcast with other top thought-leaders in the accounting profession. Brannon is an E&Y alumnus. He has worked with some of the most successful and seasoned CPAs in the industry and has been privy to the behind-the-scenes methods that these clients have used to build highly profitable practices along with capable and independent teams. Brannon has authored multiple books, including Accountant’s Flight Plan – Best Practices for Today’s Firms (published by both the AICPA and CPA Canada) and On Your Own: How to Start Your Own CPA Firm, Second Edition (published by the AICPA). Brannon is passionate about entrepreneurship and is the president-elect of EO Charleston (Entrepreneur’s Organization)