Doug and I have just returned from exhibiting at the AICPA Advanced Personal Financial Planning conference in Las Vegas. Some of the conversations we had with fellow exhibitors and attendees were simply too good to leave them in Vegas. Over and over, we were asked: “How do you grow your practice in the midst of the busy season?”

The answer is simple: stop doing the things that prevent you from getting new clients! The habits and routines that don’t serve you are not limited to the busy season, but they do raise their ugly heads between January and May, as your vigilance wanes. Here are three things that you can stop doing right now. They require brutal honesty. They can be hard. They are worth your attention and effort, because they do not get you where you want to go.

  • 1.       Look (and sound) extremely overworked.

Close your eyes and picture a CPA during the busy season. Go ahead, lay it on thick: dark circles under the eyes, a cup of coffee that may as well be hooked to an IV, generally harried and ragged demeanor, paperwork stacked so high it is a wonder no one gets hurt. Now ask yourself: if you were an existing client, sitting across the table from the above CPA, how compelled would you be to offer a referral at the end of your appointment? If your CPA looks like he or she could not handle another question or spare another five minutes, do you experience him or her as having the space for a new client?

Next time you take a bathroom break, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: “Do I look like I want new clients?” If the honest answer is, “No, I look exhausted,” you’ve got work to do.

I am sorry to disappoint those who are looking for a quick cheat: faking it won’t work, and you cannot paint the sparkle in your eyes with makeup. Start with the basics: nutrition, hydration, rest, and exercise. Mental stimulation of the non-accounting variety and spiritual practices will help you see the light at the end of the busy season, and restore your energy. If you don’t have the time to do it the sustainable way, perhaps this is not the right time for you to grow your practice.

  • 2.       Fail to follow up.

We have all been there: you meet a great lead, a new contact that might be a good fit for your practice. You reach out to connect, and run into radio silence. What to do?

What most CPAs do in that situation is nothing. They assume that the lack of an immediate enthusiastic response means that the prospect is not interested, so they give up on that prospect. The failure to see the prospecting process through to its next stages is one of the biggest obstacles that stand between CPAs and business growth. Some are driven by the fear of rejection; others are distracted. No matter the reason, try simply staying with it.

How do you stay with it? For one, you don’t say “no” on behalf of the prospect. To prevent the follow-up from getting lost in the shuffle of tax returns, minor emergencies, and major blow-outs, use your scheduling tools. State-of-the-art client outreach database or the back of a cocktail napkin can work equally well, as long as you actually act on them.

  • 3.       Spend too much time on administrative tasks.

As another day fades with the sunlight in your office window, ask yourself, “Where did my time go today?”

Be honest. How much of your time was spent on putting out fires, playing phone tag, filing paperwork, or digging through e-mails? Did you do what is important, or what is urgent? How did today bring you closer to the practice you want to build?

As Doug put in his book “Grow on Purpose: The Nine Disciplines of Sustainable Growth”, to the greatest degree possible, do only the things that only you can do. Delegate the rest, and carefully guard your time. Time is your only non-renewable resource.  If you are spending it on admin, you are not spending it on marketing, prospecting, or selling.

What’s the solution? Delegate. Pare down that to-do list. And, above all else, be honest with yourself if you are hiding behind the mountain of admin work in order to not be doing something else.

Busy season can be tough. It can mean long hours at the office, deadline pressure, and last minute emergencies to deal with. It can also mean an amazing opportunity: lots of face time with clients, and a solid reason to strip your to-do list of anything non-essential and unimportant. Busy season can be a gift in disguise. The real question is, are you ready to see it that way?