Establishing a practice group is a great way for an accounting firm to concentrate skills toward a niche, present a cohesive go to market strategy, and boost marketability. Practice groups leverage specialized knowledge and experience, allow for collaboration and cross-selling, and amplify recruiting efforts. The case for practice groups is strong, but that doesn’t mean it comes easily. For some accounting firms, starting a practice group is a natural progression, but for most firms, building a specialized practice group requires a deliberate, disciplined approach. For this month’s Spotlight feature, we interviewed Ted Kirshenbaum, CPA and Non-Profit Practice Group Leader for Buchbinder Tunick and Co. to learn about his journey toward specialization, what he’s learned along the way and the advice he has for emerging practice group leaders.
Ted’s journey toward specialization began in the spring of 2015, when Buchbinder decided to explore new opportunities in the NFP market. After many years working with non-profit organizations, Ted became known as the “go-to NFP guy.” So, when the time came for Buchbinder to appoint a leader to the newly organized NFP practice group, Ted’s name was first on the list. “When the firm came to me with this new role, it was daunting. I didn’t have much marketing experience, but I knew I had to go for it if I wanted to grow professionally.”
Before joining the nonprofit practice group, Ted considered himself a business development novice. To keep his head above water in his new role, Ted decided to focus on what he did know. Making and maintaining relationships with his clients was a skill that he carefully developed and was known for. Through some of his previous marketing efforts with the firm, he found that tradeshows and conferences gave him access to a target market so that’s where he chose to start. Combined with his client service experience, these abilities quickly became the elements of success that affirmed Ted’s appointment as practice group leader.
To get his newly formed practice group on the right path, Ted’s set out to form a capable team. He knew it would be important to collaborate with partners and non-partner members from multiple offices that had exposure to NFP clients. Once the right people were in place, the professionally diverse group got to work. “At first, I was only focused on the long game – getting more clients. But as the group matured, I realized we needed to establish Buchbinder as a household name among nonprofits in our market areas.”
As Ted and his team continued to build brand momentum through webinars, fundraisers, workshops, conferences and seminars, they noticed a subtle shift toward measurable goals. Lead and opportunity building is the next logical step for a brand that is becoming synonymous with its target market, but it does take time. “After one event in the early days of our practice group, we got involved as co-sponsors of a nonprofit executive roundtable that meets once a month. Two years later, the group is still going strong. We’ve increased our meeting frequency, grown our attendee list and regularly feature guest speakers.” Through the team’s efforts, the nonprofit practice group has built great relationships that are now translating into big opportunities for the firm. This process is the perfect example of patient rainmaking. “If someone could have told me 2 and a half years ago the things we have been able to accomplish in this short time, I would have been thrilled,” says Ted.
Here are some of Ted’s tips for a successful practice group launch.
- “If you’re on the fence about developing a practice group – it’s time to jump in! One regret I have is not getting involved in this earlier in my career.”
- Join forces with relevant services lines and leverage each other’s expertise. The Nonprofit group co-hosts conferences and webinars with the Labor Union, SOC and Employee Benefit Plans groups to cross-sell their services on a large scale.
- Check your ego at the door. The instinct usually is to do the things that will get you the most (or all) credit – but it is better for the group dynamic if you spread it around. Give everyone a role. The attitude should be, everyone contributes and everyone is rewarded. It doesn’t matter how it happens when something good happens – celebrate the win! The fact that you got the win is really all that counts.
Making the decision to launch a practice group or lead a practice group should be approached with some due diligence. Take the time to define the role of the group, where it fits in the firm’s organizational structure, how it will operate and relate to other groups in the firm, and what the goals of the group are today, tomorrow and long term. Once you have these down on paper, find a leader that will embody this vision and align the groups marketing strategy with the firm’s marketing strategy. If you need help getting your practice group off the ground or if you’re wondering whether you’re ready to break into a specialization, drop our growth agents a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.