AAM Minute - Questions & Answers

How to Work With Your International CPA Firm Association

Katie Farrow, Teal, Becker & Chiaramonte, CPAs, P.C. & Sarah Coulson, CPAmerica International


Teal, Becker & Chiaramonte, CPAs, P.C. (TBC) joined CPAmerica International (CPAmerica), an accounting association of independent certified public accounting firms in 2003 to gain access to shared best practices, networking, and access to expert resources.


1.       Why join an accounting association?

As a marketer, I find tremendous value in my accounting firm being a member of an association because of the potential relationships I can build with other marketers without any competitors being on the line for sharing calls or email listservs with questions about my firm’s marketing strategies. Without a doubt, my Association for Accounting Marketing membership is extremely valuable to learn from and network with other marketing directors; however, the value of the association membership provides the marketer a deeper level of connection. Outside of the marketing role, I know my firm greatly benefits from sharing and learning from other accountants across the country through in person educational opportunities and virtually for questions that we cannot answer in house for our clients or to team up to meet clients’ needs. Many associations have international capabilities and also can provide an avenue for smaller firms; enabling them to provide services to clients who conduct business abroad or work with local clients who have ownership in other countries.


2.      What benefits does your firm gain from an association membership?

The top marketing benefit of an association membership is the sharing of information and building relationships outside your firm. Especially in our association with CPAmerica, many of the marketers are one or two person departments so the association’s member marketing directors are our peers and colleagues that we do not have internally at our firms. In addition, I think all members of our firm benefit from learning from other accounting firms in a non-corporate environment. The association also offers a variety of benefits such as learning opportunities for millennials to develop their careers in public accounting as well as a women’s network for resources to meet the specific challenges that females face in the industry.


3.       Is membership in an association important to your professional career?

A membership in an association is absolutely important to me in my career. My managing partner would tell you that the professional growth I have acquired because of my active participation in CPAmerica has been tremendous and made me a greater resource within my firm. My managing partner attended the 2016 CPAmerica Marketing Roundtable with me, and he was astonished at how well I knew the other marketing directors and association staff. As a result, he recommended the rest of our partner group attend the event with me in the future because they also could glean a greater understanding and respect of the association’s role in our own marketing strategies and its value. For others who have attended the Next Generation Conference, CPAmerica’s conference for accountants who shareholders see as rising stars within their firm’s, they certainly benefited by the professional growth opportunities that the association has afforded them through its special two-year track program.


4.       Do you have general tips for those considering joining an association?

A tip for those considering joining an association: start by making a list of what your firm needs from external resources that it currently is unable to accomplish on its own. If it is continuing professional education (CPE), then focus your search on associations that provide quality CPE opportunities in the services you provide or niche industries that you target. If you are looking for relationship building with outside accounting firms and want to be sure that you can freely exchange information with firms not in your market, ask the association if they have a member firm in your area and if they do, how would they provide learning opportunities that would not give either firm an unfair advantage? If you are looking for international capabilities or expanding into a new niche, an association also can help you find firms to merge with; that can then be one criteria for your firm to use as it evaluates the many associations to join. Lastly, price is always a factor to consider, so you should be sure you are not comparing apples to oranges. Some associations have an all-in cost, which includes registration fees for conferences, etc., while others are more à la carte but may offer a lower annual membership fee.


5.       As a marketer, how is your association experience different than for a partner or staff member?

My association experience is different than that of a partner or staff member because marketers are generally more interested in sharing ideas and strategies than partners. So, I find that my network of other marketing directors are not just peers but, actually, allies and friends. Frequently, I am the link connecting one of our partners with a partner at another association firm because I facilitate the introduction through their marketing director.


6.       Can you describe a time when your firm was able to solve an issue by using association resources?

An issue our firm was able to solve using association resources occurred a couple of years ago. We were struggling with ways to conduct client satisfaction surveys and, while at a CPAmerica Marketing Roundtable meeting, a colleague from a North Carolina firm shared her strategy. Instead of conducting surveys, which did not yield much response or valuable feedback, she initiated a client loyalty meeting program. She walked us through the steps and incorporated her own challenges for buy-in and implementation, and we were able to develop our own program that has saved us from potential lost clients. Had it not been for the friendships formed through my association, I would not have solved this problem or possibly would have had to incur the expense of hiring an outside consultant to help us develop this type of high-level strategy.