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You have found your first CPA partner … Now what?

Mar 3, 2014 @ 12:01 am

By Paul Saganey

Now that you've made the decision to form a revenue-sharing relationship with an accountant, attorney, a P&C firm, or a bank/credit union professional partner, you are undoubtedly thinking about the first steps you should take in establishing this new relationship.

In your excitement about the opportunities to bring financial planning and wealth management concepts and ideas to your new CPA partner's clients, you need to remember that your future success will be determined by the initial steps you take together.

After all the time, effort, and hard work you've invested, it's important that you not drop the ball now. It's especially important that you are able and willing to take control of the relationship rather than letting your professional partner make decisions for you. Your confidence and direction are critical at this point.

(See also: Targeting CPAs for referrals requires careful approach)

CREATE A LETTER OF UNDERSTANDING

You will first need to create a letter of understanding or some type of written document, be it formal or informal, that contains the agreements that you and your professional partner discuss thoroughly during the formative stages of your relationship, and to which you both can agree. It is in your best interest to have your letters of understanding signed because the simple act of signing the agreement will tend to hold each party accountable to commitments made during the beginning of your relationship. Decide what your deliverables will be, and more importantly, what agreements you need from the accountant in order to give this new relationship the greatest potential for success.

Just a few of the provisions to include in the letter are: the type of clients the CPA will introduce you to; the number of days per week or month you will dedicate to being visible in the accountant's office, how you will communicate with your professional partner regarding any and all activities; and the CPA's agreement to understand and abide by all compliance requirements. The bottom line is, don't leave anything to chance — get it in writing.

I have seen relationships without written agreements deteriorate quickly when one party feels the other party is not upholding their end of the agreement. Frustration, anxiety and disappointment can easily undermine what you have worked so hard to build.

DESIGN A JOINT MARKETING PLAN

Marketing is the next subject that needs to be defined and agreed upon at the onset of the relationship. The marketing plan needs to be congruent with your letter of understanding, as it will be designed to target the ideal clients that you have defined — the people who can best use your unique abilities as an adviser, and in whose financial lives you are prepared to make an impact.

As I mentioned in my previous article How to generate more CPA referrals, even if you feel you have a practice that ranks among the top 2% of financial advisers, and your CPA partner has access to ideal clients for you to work with, unless you agree to a marketing strategy that addresses both parties' needs and expectations, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to maximize your new relationship.

In his book "The E-Myth Revisited," Michael Gerber asserts that one of the reasons a small business fails is because the public simply isn't aware that the business exists. As you build your marketing plan, it is imperative that you keep this idea at the forefront of your mind. In the initial stages of your new relationship with an accountant, your marketing plan should be built around the principle of introducing you and your services to the accountant's clients in the most effective way possible. The plan should be clear, consistent, professional, and in line with your organization's compliance responsibilities. It should include well-defined and detailed roles and responsibilities for each party, keeping in mind that especially in the early stages, it's all about letting the accountant's clients know that you exist and how you can best serve them.

Take the initiative early on and set the agenda for defining the relationship, adopt a confident and assertive stance in determining the scope of the relationship, be proactive vs. reactive when making and communicating your decisions, and act and give direction as if you've done this many times before.

If you have a detailed letter of understanding along with an effective marketing plan, you will lay the groundwork for success and put your revenue-sharing relationship on the right path and firm footing from the start.

In my next articles, I'll be talking about important/key communication tips between you and your professional partner to ensure the long-term success of your relationship.

Paul Saganey is founder and president of Integrated Financial Partners Inc., a firm that specializes in helping financial advisers build revenue-sharing relationships with accountants and attorneys. Paul can be reached at psaganey@ifpadvisor.com

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