Transitioning an Accounting Practice – The Ripples

Last fall, our youngest son Spencer started his freshman year of college and the nest was empty. With my schedule changing I decided to get more involved in my local business community. Since I have always enjoyed being around other business owners, in late 2017, I signed on to be one of the founding members of EO Charleston. A lot of interesting things have happened since joining, and I’ve met business owners from literally all over the world. One huge and surprising benefit is that many of these fellow business owners have asked some great and often surprising questions about our business – allowing me to get a lot of fresh perspectives and additional clarity.

I’m a big believer in the “cross-pollination” of ideas and it’s amazing how powerful an intelligent question can be! Just last week a group of EO’ers from Atlanta came to Charleston for a retreat and I went out one evening and joined them.

I had one particular conversation with a guy who owns a successful business that markets cigars of all things. To the best of my memory, here are a couple of questions about transitioning an accounting practice that I encountered from him that really got me thinking:

 

Q: Who buys most of your accounting practices? Is it mostly large firms buying up smaller firms?

Me: Well, we get a lot of buyers. It’s a mix really. Some larger firms do buy, but a lot of our buyers are individuals or a group of individuals who want to strike out on their own. They tend to be pretty entrepreneurial accountants that want to be in control of their own practice and their own careers.

Q: Wow…that must be pretty rewarding. 

Me: It is. In fact, come to think of it, a lot of our buyers have never owned their own business before so it’s exciting to see someone make that leap and help them do it well.

 

These two questions really got me thinking about the ripples involved with our transitions. When you step back and think of all of the people impacted in a single transition it is rather astonishing. The buyer and the seller are most immediately impacted, along with their families. Depending on the size and reach of the practice, there are numerous staff, along with their immediate families. Then you have all of the clients and their businesses that are served by the CPA firm to consider. One transition could easily impact over a thousand people to varying degrees.

One of the key steps of our process is transition coaching. This is something our entire team is very proud to have created and it’s something we continually strive to improve upon. (A lot of this credit goes to Stephanie Smith who helped systematize our intellectual capital into a structured process.) This part of our process is primarily focused on helping our buyers be more successful after the closing. That’s the main purpose of it! When I first got into this business, we did very little coaching around how to actually make the hand-off successful. We realized that we had a lot of experience that we could share with our clients to make them not only more successful, but less stressed as well…which ripples out to all of the staff, the clients and families.

Pretty cool, eh!