Meet A Member

Carrie Steffen

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Name: Carrie Steffen

Title: Co-founder and President

Years of Experience: 24

College Name & Degree(s): Simpson College, Bachelor of Arts Organizational Communication and English Literature

Firm Name: The Whetstone Group

Firm City & State: Cedar Rapids, IA

Firm Size: Small

Email Address: carrie@thewhetstonegroup.com

Professional Memberships: AAM Treasurer and Board Member, CPA Consultants’ Alliance Past-President, CPA Consultant’s Trust member

Community Involvement: Aging Services of Eastern Iowa Board Member; Volunteer, Four Oaks; Linn Mar Community Schools Booster Club Board Member

Twitter Handle: @TheWhetstoneGrp

LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carrie-steffen-932864a/

How is your firm handling the COVID-19 pandemic?
As the entire nation has been changed by the pandemic, I have been working with CPA firms in two ways. The first is to help them in the short term to pivot to a 100% work-from-home environment, minimizing the disruption to their client engagements and practicing the right billing strategies to ensure they maintain cash flow and keep people employed. I am also helping them figure out how to help their clients with a variety of different things clients need from their CPA—not just CARES and PPP, where there is a ton of tax and advisory work—but re-forecasting, remote and limited scope auditing, cash flow management, financial statement prep, and many other things that are right in most CPAs’ wheelhouse. Many folks need a CPA now more than ever. Marketers need to help other firm leaders think creatively about all the ways in which their firms can help clients, both now and in the future, as we continue to navigate this unchartered territory. I am personally finding that lots of CPAs currently have their eyes on the nose of the airplane—which is important. But I am working with them to keep their eye on the horizon as well.

What are the strategies you incorporate at your firm to support change and encourage accountability?
In a small team it is imperative that everyone does his/her part. I don’t know that there is any strategy other than it is just part of our DNA. We foster an environment of continuous learning by placing high value on innovation.

What is the structure of your marketing department?
We do not have a marketing department, but we do have various roles assigned to specific people and an integrated plan. We have a very defined target market that everyone recognizes and regular communication to make sure everything is on track. Ultimately, the President (yours truly) is responsible for making sure everyone has what he/she needs to do his/her part and is responsible for monitoring results.

What have you learned the hard way?
Not to take communication for granted, even with people you know and with whom you have worked for years.

What is a “must know” for new accounting marketers?
Know what your firm really delivers to clients. Not the services you offer, but the needs/issues/challenges/opportunities your services help solve. And know how to talk about the benefits to partners of what YOU do. Explore the KPIs you should measure in order to help partners understand your value.

What are your special skills or what is something people may not know about you?
I am a pretty decent knitter, and a really great cook!

What is the biggest benefit you receive from your AAM membership or what affect has AAM had on your career?
AAM will give to a point, but to receive exponential benefit you have to give of yourself, too. Whether that is sharing knowledge through the Open Forum, volunteering, hiring affiliate members for projects in your firm, taking a leadership role or whatever…get involved. You will get so much more value.

Share one marketing tip.
Be super clear and specific on your ideal client. The more focused you are in messaging and tactics, the more successful you will be in terms of both the number of clients you attract and the quality of clients. You will also be more confident in your firm’s ability to deliver value when you are focused on specific types of clients.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing accounting marketers today?
An important industry trend to pay attention to is a gradual, yet powerful, mindset shift in the profession from “the client comes first” to “our people come first.” The traditional model of long hours to serve clients to the detriment of staff is changing. Flexible work models, remote work, more selective client acceptance policies, niche development, evolving pricing strategies, soft-skills training and focus on more profitable service mix are some of the tactics firms are using to support their teams. Marketers should be involved in many of these tactics within their firms.

What would you be doing if you had not become a marketer?
I would probably have been a literature professor at a college/university.

What is the biggest project you are working on right now?
I am getting really deep into work on client experience – understanding the attributes of service that are important to clients and how well their current firm is delivering. That typically leads to evolving client service in some manner and training people to a standard of delivery AND opportunities to look at how firms are branding themselves to be sure that branding is consistent with what clients get when they sign on with the firm. It is super interesting and exciting work, and it is at the juncture of the business of accounting and the promotion of accounting services.

What books have you read recently that you feel would be beneficial to other AAM members?
I read “The Myth of the Nice Girl,” and even though the title is geared toward women, it is a great read for men too. The book deconstructs the negative perceptions of “niceness” in the workplace and challenges the notion that nice gals/guys finish last with specific examples from the author’s own experiences. It really resonated with me. Contrary to many public examples, you do not have to be an a-hole to get ahead or to stay true to your ideals in the face of conflict. There are lots of tips and strategies for staying true to your niceness while still advancing your ideas and cultivating followers.