There is nothing to fear in sharing knowledge
There is a newer trend that is starting to occur in the CPA profession, and that is collaboration. For years, many CPAs wanted to hold onto their own thoughts/ideas/strategies for fear that the competition would use their thoughts/ideas/strategies against them and steal clients. Fortunately that fear has begun to wane as CPAs clearly see the benefits of collaborating with other CPAs and even other professionals to better themselves and strengthen the profession for the benefit of all. Specialization and hyperspecialization are among the environmental factors that are driving the need for collaboration.
There will always be competition, of course, which does help drive innovation and growth. We all tend to be smart individuals, but part of being smart is knowing when you don’t know the answer and not being afraid to ask for help. Part of being confident in your work and reputation is in knowing that if you share your thoughts with others it will not have a negative impact on you. I am not saying that when you collaborate you need to give out any proprietor information or “trade secrets,” but don’t be afraid to ask other people for help in areas that you don’t have knowledge or experience in.
Think of the following example. You are a smaller firm (about 10 employees) and you a have client, who happened to be one of your largest clients, who wants to become set up in an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). This is something you have never dealt with in your career. But you do recall that one of your classmates from college works at a larger firm that has a specialty in ESOPs. What do you do?
Historically, I’m guessing that you would not want to admit to your client that you don’t know the answer. Even if you did admit it, I’m guessing that you would have fear of reaching out to your college buddy for concerns of losing the client to the larger firm. However, this is a perfect example of when you could collaborate and better serve your client. You need to be willing to step outside of your boundaries and collaborate with the larger firm. This will better serve your client and also help you to grow in the profession. Now on the flip side, what do you do if you are the college buddy at the larger firm? Your first thought might be that you have a great chance at a new client. But let’s say there is no chance that this company is going to make a change and now you have a voicemail from your old college friend asking about ESOP 101 training. Historically, I am guessing that the answer would be to try and deflect the question, for fear that this would give away some of your advantage in the market.
I would argue the opposite. By collaborating with the smaller firm you are allowing your professional skills and knowledge to be out in the market more. Who knows where those connections could lead to. I do know that you would eliminate all opportunity by not collaborating with the smaller firm.
As we begin the new year, I’d encourage everyone to think about ways you can grow professional (and personally) through collaborating with other CPAs and other professionals. Who can you collaborate with today?
Justin Hayes, CPA, CGMA, is a director in Katz, Sapper & Miller’s Audit and Assurance Services Group. His primary responsibilities include auditing and reviewing financial statements and advising clients on accounting, reporting, compliance and internal control-related matters. Hayes serves on the INCPAS Leadership Cabinet and Diversity Advisory Council. He is a graduate of Opportunity Indianapolis 2010 and Leadership Education and Development 2011 with the Lacy Leadership Association. Hayes is a member of the Fusion Network, a group of Indiana CPA Society member CPAs who blog on trends, new ideas and innovation in the CPA profession.