On Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone.

I know.  In the midst of everything going on, it may be difficult to find things for which we’re thankful.  With so much negativity, hostility, and polarity going around like the common cold virus, how can we possibly find common ground?

I have several friends that are facing estrangement issues with their families in light of the election.  This election was unfortunately unique in that the platforms and rhetorics of both candidates and their supporters became deeply personal as well as economic and political.  Peoples’ identities and security about those identities came into question and were threatened, and at this point are still threatened, even before the President has taken office.  Couple that with the countless protests and counter-movements occurring all over the country, and the looming uncertainty within the business sphere about the implications of a Trump presidency on the economy.

Things might be looking bleak.  But herein lies the power of the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’m just thankful that the Sun will continue to rise and set.  I’m thankful I have a roof over my head and clothes on my back.  I’m thankful I have a loving family who has supported me in every crazy, unpredictable step of my career ambitions and will continue to do so.  On that note, I’m thankful for all the contacts I’ve made and the relationships I’ve fostered with people who are willing to help me usher in the next chapter of my career.

Finally, I’m thankful that beneath the surface of animosity, there is the fabric of love.  Hatred of people comes from cursory elements such as skin color and place of origin, but there is so much more to humanity than just that.  Call me delusional, but I will always believe that people are inherently good.  Maybe they make bad decisions sometimes, but I feel righteousness always prevails in the wake of our own demons.  And as our nation has overcome challenges before, it will overcome this challenge of a polarized society.  Many of us may find this difficult, in light of the philosophies our President and his supporters have extolled, but if we don’t at least try, the fabric of our society will dissolve.

I don’t deny that the color of the skin grants me much of the privilege to maintain this attitude.  But I will say that the love in my heart knows no color, knows no income, knows no creed, and knows no borders.  I want to live in a world for all people, and I will do my part to create that world for myself.

That’s mainly what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving.  That amidst our struggles, there is love.  And I have the will and power to do that.

To my friends and followers, one and all, far and wide, Happy Thanksgiving.

Gobble, gobble!

 

 

What’s next?

It’s been over a week, and I’m still in disbelief.

Last Tuesday is on the fast track to becoming a chapter in our collective episodic memory.  We’ll always remember where we were, who we were with, and whether or not we went to bed before it was called.  It’s ingrained in our brains as it’s engrained in our history.

Donald Trump will be our 45th President of the United States of America.

I was considering addressing another topic this week, but I feel I would be remiss, and I feel I would be doing a disservice to my readers if I don’t address this current topic.  As business professionals, we need to examine the implications of a Trump presidency on the American economy.  What will it mean?  Here are some initial theories right out of the gate.

  • If Trump cracks down on immigration reform as he promised during his campaign, it would be pretty detrimental to the economy.  Emily Stewart from The Street predicts a reduction in the labor force by 11 million workers, a reduction in the GDP by $1.6 trillion, as well as government spending of $400 billion to $600 billion.
  • From an accounting standpoint, it’s imperative that we examine his tax plan.  Of course, there will be tax cuts for the elite and businesses, supposedly bringing $4-6 trillion back into the economy, but it wouldn’t be enough to sustain a macroeconomy nor would it really distribute the cuts among those who spend.
  • Then, there’s the issue of small business.  Trump has never really been known to have a propensity for supporting small businesses, but there’s some speculation that his plans may suggest otherwise.  He promised to reduce the business tax rate to 15%, and reduce the tax code from seven brackets to three, with nobody paying over 33% in income taxes.

We can only see how these promises pan out, and hope for the best.  I’m actually traveling to Stamford, CT this afternoon to attend a Tax Summit sponsored by RSM.  I should gain some valuable insights and predictions regarding the tax outlook for 2017, some of which I could perhaps discuss next week.

‘Til then, compadres.  Have a great day.

2016 NYSSCPA Mid-Hudson Chapter Banker, Attorney & CPA Networking Event

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the NYSSCPA Mid-Hudson Chapter’s Annual Banker, Attorney, CPA Networking Event in Poughkeepsie, NY.  I know there are many associations around the country that organize this type of event, where all the key influencers convene for one night and network over drinks and noshes and listen to a speaker.  Well, the Hudson Valley is no different.

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The event’s attendees at The Grandview.

What’s unique about the event in this region is that every year, the guest speaker typically comes from the world of professional sports.  In the past they’ve had Darryl Strawberry, Goose Gossage, Ron Darling, and Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy.  This year, the speaker was Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller, winner of seven medals including gold for the balance beam and the team event at the ’96 Games in Atlanta.  That Olympics was the first I remember watching, hence where my Olympics obsession began, and that combined with my affinity for business development in accounting and finance made it a no-brainer for me to attend on Thursday.

After dinner and dessert, Shannon took to the podium and shared anecdotes and lessons pertaining to her early years in gymnastics, culminating, of course, in the Barcelona and Atlanta Games, and her subsequent battle with and victory over ovarian cancer.

 

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Shannon Miller

Here are some of her thoughts about achieving success and overcoming obstacles.

 

–  Accountability.   She said, “It’s easy for everyone to tell you you won’t succeed, but it’s your job to tell yourself why you will.”

Learning from mistakes.  Inevitably, we will all make mistakes in life.  But it’s through those mistakes that we learn to get back up and keep trying.  Shannon recounted how a fall during an event in Atlanta gave her unbridled motivation to persevere, which, in turn, led her to a gold medal on the balance beam.  She also recalled having to wear leg braces as a child because an orthopedic surgeon noticed her legs were turning inwards, which led everyone to believe that she would have problems crawling and eventually walking.  Well, clearly this did not turn out to be the case.

–  Don’t allow negativity to consume you.   No one can steal your joy if you don’t let them.  She had a special trick for this.  For every negative thing you hear, think of two positive things.  This will help nip negativity in the bud and allow you to really focus on achieving your goals with a positive mindset.  And on that note…

–  Set goals and be specific.   This one’s a no-brainer.  What do you want to accomplish?  Once you determine the steps to success, follow through with them.  As Shannon said, “Everyone has a dream, but if you don’t do the work to make that dream happen, that dream will stay a dream.”  So true.  It’s all about taking the leap to begin achieving your desires.  Certainly that takes courage, but you destined to get nowhere if you do nothing.

–  Align yourself with the right team.   This especially rang true for Shannon in 2011, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and she thought at one point she wouldn’t be able to overcome it.  But she did, with the help of her team of doctors, and this year marked five years for her being cancer-free.

As she said, “We might think our team is those with whom we share the most emails, but that’s not true.  It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people at events such as this.”  In other words, your team isn’t just your workplace, it’s your clients, social media followers, vendors…your network.  Once you have your team, commit yourself to excellence.  What you do every moment of every day truly matters.  And that is her “gold medal mindset” – an attitude of going out and winning, every day.

I’m very much looking forward to next year’s event.  Right now, though, I gotta get ready to go out to an Election Night party.  Talk to y’all next week!

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Me (Nick) with Shannon Miller.

 

 

Paving the Path to Growth: Creating a Sales/Business Development Culture for Your Firm

So you’re an accountant in a small- to medium-sized firm.  You’re looking to build your client base but you don’t really know where to start.  Or maybe you’ve been in business for a while, and you want to go to the next step.

What can you do?

Let’s look at Nick Nappo’s Strategies for Sales and Business Development.

1. What makes you unique?

Before you start work on growing your firm, you need to have clear marketing objectives in place.  And before you do that, you must first determine what separates you from all the other firms out there.  The professional services marketplace is incredibly oversaturated anywhere you go, but every firm is unique in its own way.

So what is it for you?  Is it your approach to client service?  Do you have a unique story to tell through your compelling culture?  Do you give actively to your local community?  Or is it your specialization in one or more niche practices?

Any of those are great places to start, but for the purposes of business development, firms that identify a niche specialty are the ones that exhibit the most growth.  Do you have a large concentration of clients in a specific industry?  Maybe you’re widespread in that regard, so are there any industries with pain points for which you and only you have a unique solution?

Identifying a niche specialty is great because once you do, you can then formulate a marketing strategy focused around that industry.

2. Plan.

So you’ve figured out what makes you unique.  Great!  Time to create a focused marketing plan.  There are numerous ways to put a marketing plan together, but here are the key things you should include.

-Situational Analysis.  Where are you starting from, and what are you starting with?  Identify yourself in relation to your competitors in the market and your results from last year.

-Objectives.  What do you want to accomplish?  Ideally, you should have 3-4 objectives per year, and they should, of course, be realistic and attainable.  Do you want to gain a certain number of clients?  Do you want to increase your assets by a certain percentage?  It could even pertain to marketing itself – a certain amount of followers on your social media accounts, a certain number of email followers, a certain number of LinkedIn connections for the partners…however you define success.

-Strategies.  This is the meat and potatoes.  How are you gonna achieve what you want to achieve?  First you need your message, and since you’ve already identified what makes you unique, it shouldn’t be a problem to communicate your value to your target clients.  Next, you determine how you will communicate this message.  As far as business development is concerned, LinkedIn is the most ideal social media platform for connecting with key influencers such as financial advisors and attorneys and sharing relevant content with them.  Then, if you have a niche specialty, you can market your industry-specific content through that platform, as well as through other digital and traditional platforms.  You should also put marketing content on your website by way of a blog, white papers and newsletters.  Of course, you’ll need to market on a personal level, too…

3. Work your network.

…which is why you need to leverage your already-existing connections.  You should certainly service all of your clients, but especially focus on your A-clients by attempting to cross-sell.  Here’s a tip: make a chart with one axis listing all your clients, and the other axis listing all the services you provide.  Where you provide a particular service to a particular client, fill in the box with a dot.  Your job will be to fill as much of the chart as possible with dots.

Then, of course, you should ask your existing clients for referrals.  Word-of-mouth is one of the best forms of marketing there is, and it costs you nothing, to boot!  If you do well by a client, they’ll do well by you by sending you someone else.  Furthermore, you should always look to expand your network through presenting seminars and speaking engagements, attending networking events, and attending tradeshows – anything to put yourself in front of other people.

I should also mention something about sales in the accounting industry.  Even though I worked in financial services marketing, the same principle applies.  You’re not really “selling” something.  You’re trying to initiate a conversation, and from that, build a mutually beneficial relationship.  The more you can make it about the other person, the better – it’s about helping them achieve their goals in their business.  So instead of thinking about it in terms of selling a product…make it more about building relationships.  Because the paradox of it is, I believe, that the more you make it about them, the more it’ll come back to you.

4. Build your content as you build your presence.

And when you connect with these people, you’ll of course need to demonstrate your expertise.  It might be a good idea to have a piece of collateral handy – a brochure, flyer, notecard, anything that’s relevant to the industries you serve and the services you provide.  Then, as I mentioned earlier, you should seek to create marketing content focused on the niche industr(y/ies) you serve.  And if you have the knowledge to give, well, to quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Give it away, give it away, give it away, now.”  If you do that, you’ll slowly build your reputation as the authority on whatever that niche is, and with your reputation, your clientele.

Those are really four basic strategies to marketing and business development.  Of course, any one of the topics I discussed can be fleshed out in its own post, so if you want me to discuss something in greater detail, let me know!  Hit me up in the comments or on social media – my LinkedIn is here, if you want to connect.

‘Til next week, compadres.  Be well!

 

Firm of the Future Roadshow – NYC Recap

This past Tuesday, a day unusually warm and sunny for October, QuickBooks’ Firm of the Future Roadshow rolled into New York City and stayed for the day at the Grand Hyatt.  It was a packed house, as CPAs and other accounting/tax professionals came for a full day of insights about the profession’s future, as well as networking and CPE credits (for those who needed them).

Session One: Industry & Technology

One of the Roadshow’s technology partners is Karbon, which produces practice managements and CRM softwares for accountants.  Stuart McLeod, Karbon’s CEO and Co-Founder, was the first to address the crowd.

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A full house at the Hyatt.  (photo: Joe Carufe)

Some key insights from his portion:

-Retention of staff is the biggest obstacle to practice growth.  This issue has been circulating around the profession over the past few years, which has forced firm leaders to look at how they not only keep talent at their firm, but also how the formation of a strong firm culture can contribute to acquisition of new talent, especially where millennials are concerned.

-“The best accountants are good storytellers.”  Keeping with the notion of accountants providing proactive instead of reactive advice, Stuart stressed the idea of relating financial statements back to the client’s objectives and ambitions, not just within their business, but their lives, as well.  Being a storyteller means going deeper than just the numbers, providing a holistic picture of the client’s situation, as it relates to everything they wish to achieve.

-He also discussed finding a niche speciality, which, as studies have shown, is conducive to strong growth.  Some interesting niches that were thrown around were micro-law firms, film/entertainment, and foreign entities, but the important takeaway with niches was to find a pain point within those niches and identify a unique solution to it.  Where there is uncertainty, any firm can provide value, and by identifying an industry that provides its best ROI, any firm can maximize their profit.

-Finally, he closed by saying, “Growth is hard, but it’s going to be compulsory for survival.”  This should go without saying, but there is no reward without great risk.  Firm leaders need to take measures for growth in order to ensure the longevity and well-being of their practices.

Session Two: QuickBooks Online

Next was a quick demonstration of QuickBooks Online by Stacy Kildal, QuickBooks Expert and all-around awesome human.

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Stacy Kildal

 

She took everyone through QuickBooks Online and its new features, as well as the ways it can be customized for each individual client.  She really likes the product and the Intuit app that goes with it.  At one point she said, “If I could snuggle with this app, I would.  I would love it, hug it, and call it George.”

Session Three: Value Pricing

Then Jason Blumer, Founder of Thriveal CPA Network, Chief Innovation Officer at Blumer CPAs, and another all-around awesome human, took the stage to discuss value pricing.

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Jason Blumer

Some insights from him:

-If accountants are trying to be unique and high-value, value pricing will help with that because it enables their service to be more than just a function of time and money.  Further, it enhances the worth of the client-firm relationship.

-He did stress, however, that value pricing won’t come easy for many.  His advice – “Embrace the suck.”

-Firm growth is really dependent upon finding, pricing, and working only with the right clients.

-To bill clients means they’re driving what they want you to do.  Again, you as an accountant are confined by only time and money.

For more about his philosophies on value pricing, check out his blog on his firm’s website.

Session Four: Practice Efficiency

Ian Vacin, VP of Product Marketing at Karbon, then took the stage to share insights on practice management.  Here are his 10 things that effective firms do.

  1. They have superior personal email habits.
  2. They have tools for team collaboration.
  3. They have a dedicated onboarding specialist – someone who gets the client acclimated within the firm.
  4. Documented, living processes.
  5. Everyone documents everything.
  6. Critical few cloud technology stack.
  7. They value-price services.
  8. They have the best-in-class operating mechanisms.
  9. They’re always training.
  10. They have a mindset for continuous improvement.

These are to be kept in mind in order to create a culture centered around team collaboration, client collaboration, and growing a specialized, visible, transparent, and successful practice.

Session Five – Practice Growth

I’m sorry to say that I had to leave early from the event, as I was attending an NJCPA event that evening in Ramsey, NJ, so I wasn’t in on this session.  But they went over all the steps to effective marketing:

  1. Determine your unique selling point.
  2. Find and focus on your target audience
  3. Create your message for that target audience.
  4. Craft a focused marketing strategy.
  5. Double down on your referral marketing.  This is especially important since it’s a great way to market without actually spending any dollars.  If you do well enough by your clients, they will certainly send you new business.
  6. Build your presence with original content.
  7. Work your preferred channels in accordance with your marketing strategy.
  8. Iterate with focus.

It’s all quite basic, really – just focus on what you do better than anyone else and market that defining quality to the appropriate parties through the channels which will best reach them.  Also, just be a good person.  And smile.  🙂

The day ended with a roundtable discussion from all of the speakers, but at that point, I was on a train heading back to North Jersey.  Overall, however, it was a wonderful event, full of rich insights, discussions, and networking opportunities.  I would highly recommend attending the Roadshow if it’s coming anywhere near you this fall – here’s a list of upcoming dates.

And be sure to follow me on Twitter this fall as I attend more events and live-tweet them!  My handle is back to @HeyNickNappo.

Ciao, ragazzi!  (Bye, guys!)

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My workbook from the event.  When I introduced myself to Jason Blumer, he asked if “Marketing Pro” was the name of my firm.  It’s really just short for “Marketing Professional”, since I’m not with a firm at the moment and they had to put something on my nametag.  But maybe that could be my future firm’s name.  Has a nice ring to it.  It’s a nice thought, anyway.

 

Accounting Today’s 100 Most Influential – Part 3

And here we are at the end of my little series.  Let’s look at one last batch of the accounting profession’s most influential of 2016.

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Samantha Mansfield – Director of Corporate Communications, CPA.com

It wasn’t until quite recently that I learned about CPA.com, but now that I have, I think it’s one of the great up-and-coming resources for the profession.  The company provides a variety of resources for firms in the areas of practice management and client services, as well as educational resources such as trainings, webinars, whitepapers, and a steady flow of news updates around the industry.  Samantha herself has participated in various speaking engagements and is active on social media, advocating for the profession’s future with an emphasis on technology.  Check out her Twitter here.

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Scott McFarlane – Co-Founder/CEO, Avalara

Avalara is an automated tax software targeted to businesses of all shapes and sizes.  They focus on all types of transactional tax, and the cool thing about their software is it can be customized to reflect tax data respective to any state in the U.S.  Another thing about them I like is their credo: “Cult of the customer”.  With over 20,000 happy customers and a remission of $14.4 billion in taxes in 2015, clearly they’ve built up a great following.  As they expand their presence with 10 national and 4 international offices, along with more events following their first user conference this past May in New Orleans, I’m looking forward to seeing how Avalara blossoms in the marketplace.

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Bill Sheridan – CCO, Maryland Association of CPAs

I was certain that Bill Sheridan had appeared on this list before, but I couldn’t find any evidence anywhere.  Nonetheless, he’s a great guy to follow if you want the scoop on anything accounting because, as he says on the description in his Twitter profile, he’s “a worshipper of CPAs”.  Along with his YouTube channel full of videos where he speaks with leaders of the profession as well as leaders of MACPA such as Tom Hood and Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, and his articles and blog posts, he’s an indispensible PR guru for the profession and its future.  For some of the articles he’s authored, check out the blog on the MACPA website.

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Candace Wright – Chair, PCC

The Financial Accounting Standards Board’s Private Companies Council, established in 2012, is a body that seeks “to improve the process of setting accounting standards for private companies”.  As an experienced partner in a major regional firm, Candace brings her own expertise to the role, working with private companies to improve the financial reporting process.  I can only imagine her role will become increasingly relevant as the profession evolves, and private companies embrace new technologies and other methods to report their finances.

Finally, I want to recognize the firm CEOs and Managing Partners that made the list.

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J. Michael McGuire – CEO, Grant Thornton

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Timothy Ryan – Chairman/Senior Partner, PwC

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Denny Schleper – CEO, CliftonLarsonAllen

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Dave Stende – Managing Partner/CEO, Eide Bailly

And that’s a wrap for this feature!  Join me next week as I look at millennials in the accounting profession.  It’ll be a good time.

Ciao for now!

Accounting Today’s 100 Most Influential – Part 2

Here we are in the second part of a three-part series.  May I present to you…five more of Accounting Today‘s 100 Most Influential that are new to the list.

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Brian Fox – Founder/President, Confirmation.com

For those of you not in the accounting industry, an audit confirmation refers to when the auditor sends a letter to the entity’s debtors and creditors (those who owe to the entity and those to whom the entity owes) verifying the accounts payable/receivable amounts shown in the entity’s books.  As you can imagine, this process can get pretty tedious and complicated.  That is, until you look to Confirmation.com for help.  Brian Fox started his company in 2001 as a means of “improving the audit confirmation process for the banking and accounting professions.”  His current product line, however, is applicable across all industries.  From accounts receivable/payable confirmations to Employee Benefit Plan audit confirmations to  bank confirmations and even for legal confirmations for auditors, Confirmation.com not only economizes the audit confirmation process, it makes it interactive.  Both auditor and audit client can now engage in the process together, thereby making it more collaborative and efficient, and prepared for the accounting industry’s future.

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Russell Fujioka – President, Xero US

While we’re on the subject of collaborative accounting software, let’s check in with what some consider the national leader on cloud-based systems.  Xero has really increased its stronghold in the North American market, carving a niche in small businesses and entrepreneurs.  Their cloud-based products cover all aspects of accounting, including inventory, payroll and invoicing, and have even extended their services to mobile devices.  Smart, considering that by the end of the decade, everyone will be on their phones.  Another benefit of Xero is their Partner Program, in which practices who get more of their clients on Xero’s software climb the partnership levels and receive benefits.  All the more reason to become engaged with them.  I could go on, of course, but I’ve got four more people to cover.  Visit xero.com to learn more.

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Charles Hylan – Partner, The Growth Partnership

The Growth Partnership is a St. Louis-based practice management firm, and like many others, they work with accounting professionals in the areas of running and managing their practices, conduct leadership trainings, and specialize in marketing consulting as a means of facilitating growth.  What I really like about them, though, are their values.  Each one of them is minded towards creating a true firm of the future, especially “think strategically, critically and creatively” and “communicate and collaborate robustly”.  The firm of the future, in my opinion, is centered around transparency and open communication between all levels of the practice, thus contributing to a more positive work environment centered around the development of its professionals and firm growth.  Furthermore, creative thinking is what will drive the industry forward, as people such as the Most Influential build their companies by chartering new territories in all areas of the professional realm.  As they say, doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always gotten.

Finally, the last value is “work hard and have fun”.  And rightfully so, if you don’t enjoy what you do and feels like work, how are you really spending your life?

 

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Olivia Kirtley – President, IFAC

Since taking the helm of IFAC’s Board in November 2014, she has positioned herself as an industry leader with respect to increasing globalization in the accounting industry.  IFAC is an international organization “dedicated to serving the public interest by strengthening the profession and contributing to the development of strong international economies.”  It recently released a 2016-2018 Strategic Plan, which details how to maximize opportunity in global markets and alleviate risk.  It states,

“IFAC is uniquely positioned to spearhead initiatives that demand:

•a global reach
•freedom from commercial and political interests
•the ability to create dialogue and debate.”
This speaks volumes to the potential of the industry to truly expand its reach within a global economic ecosystem, not just within the context of business, but in society.  Principles of accounting exist in everything, if you think about it, and IFAC’s work in identifying trends and insights will undoubtely serve the profession well as it moves forward.  To read the entire plan, check it out here.

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Art Kuesel – President and owner, Kuesel Consulting

Kuesel Consulting has been in operation since 2013, but before then, Art Kuesel held various marketing positions within the accounting industry.  His understanding of firm operations on the inside has contributed to his knowledge of what it takes to grow an accounting firm, enhancing the value and scope of what a marketing department can accomplish.  Click here for an interview with him at the AICPA Growth & Profitability Summit in Orlando three years ago, speaking about marketing trends in accounting.

One thing I really like about his site is the section for recipes.  He’s actually got a testimonial from a client, speaking on behalf of his guacamole.  I must say, the chipotle chilies in adobo sauce have really piqued my interest – I love the idea of a slightly smoky guacamole.  But here inlies the talent in marketing.  Because he has the recipe section on the website, he sticks out in my mind for reasons other than just accounting and marketing.

And with that, I’m going to lunch.  Come back next week as I wrap up this series!