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What is the basis for most relationships a CPA firm has with their clients and staff? The main reason a person or business chooses a firm (or as a career) is a personal comfort with the firm and its people. With this personal comfort level comes trust and confidence. This can best be described as "partner loyal" clients, which is what most small firms are. Some larger firms may have "brand loyal" clients. Clearly brand loyal clients are more easily transitioned than partner loyal.

The key elements clients and prospective clients look for in most firms include personal chemistry, location, method of providing and types of services, fee structure, and the general culture of the practice. In some cases, clients also consider unique attributes such as ethnic or language considerations, niche services, specialized knowledge and technology capabilities.

When choosing a firm to work for, people consider compensation, culture, professional growth opportunities, working hours, environment, and work conditions, among others.

Once you understand the reasons clients and staff have chosen your firm, you can focus the transition plan on the attributes associated with your firm's value and then match those attributes with those of the new firm. The main objective of a transition plan should be to de-emphasize what will be changing, and emphasize what is of value in the predecessor firm that will remain and what will be gained from the new affiliation.

Transition of clients and staff are key components of a successful affiliation whether you are acquiring a practice or selling your own.

For many years, CPAs would just sell their practice. An outright sale of a practice does not often produce the greatest financial reward for any one. An outright sale provides little or no transition of the client relationships, which is the only reason another practitioner would have an interest in acquiring your practice. Effective transition takes time and opportunity. Often a client relationship is also a friendship. Be respectful of that relationship and the trust they have placed in you.

The more comfortable the acquirer is, the more likely s/he will keep those relationships and the more value your practice has to them. Often a staff member is a key component of that client relationship. Strategic transition of both staff and client relationships will provide a much better reward, both financial and emotional.

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If you have a question about your practice, its value or are seeking information about merger or merging, please use the Ask the Advisors program. There is no fee or obligation for this service. This is a confidential service. Please ensure the email address or telephone number you provide is secure or private.