Illustration of Roundtables that drive growth and engagement at accounting firms

How Roundtables Drive Growth and Engagement

The complexity of today’s business world often compels CEOs and CFOs to seek advice and guidance from trusted advisors. Some of the best input can come from those who are in similar situations and have overcome the same issues and challenges themselves. Because of this, and a variety of other reasons, it is no surprise there is a rise in peer gatherings, mastermind groups or CEO roundtables that are being utilized to drive growth and engagement.

Moving from the role of advisor to facilitator and connector, CPAs who have started these groups have seen positive results. There is no right or wrong way to host a group, and
firms have taken different approaches to them. However, there are some common elements in most groups. Successful groups offer:

  • More than networking: While these groups tend to lead to members making connections — and in some cases working together — that is not the primary focus of the meetings.
  • More than training: Again, members certainly will learn by participating, but these groups are much more than a typical CPE opportunity. Some even bring in guest speakers to cover a pertinent topic, but the main goal is to give members a safe place to share their issues, brainstorm with others, set goals and be held accountable for what they intend to do.
  • More than coaching: It is all about members sharing with each other, not about the facilitator coaching individuals in a group setting. Everyone is expected to contribute, and the collective experience of members leads to ideas, advice and support. Here’s how three firms approached the concept differently, all with positive results.

A few accounting firms have approached the concept differently, all with positive results. We take a look at how a few of these firms implemented these roundtables to drive growth and engagement.

Rea & Associates

Rea & Associates and in particular principal Kyle R. Stemple, CPA, CGMA, CEPA, hosts a roundtable peer group for clients. Stemple suggests considering the following when creating roundtables to drive growth and engagement:

  • Keep groups diverse in terms of the types of businesses represented but avoid including direct competitors so everyone feels safe sharing openly.
  • Interview potential members to ensure they are in it for the right reasons and ask them to make a commitment to participating.
  • Poll members on their best time to meet and meet at the same time each month so it becomes a part of their routine.

Lance, Soll, & Lunghard

When the partners of Lance, Soll & Lunghard (LSL) noticed their clients were panicking over reduced cash flow and the other negative impacts of the pandemic in mid-2020, they decided to create a roundtable to help. LSL decided not to charge a fee for group participation, though they did consider it. When asked for advice to share with others, they offered:

  • Meet once a month. LSL started out meeting every two weeks, but that was too frequent to expect regular participation.
  • Make sure the partners facilitating the groups are passionate about it and always have thoughtful questions ready as this is key to keeping it going over the long haul.
  • Create recaps of the discussion to share with those who can’t attend.

Barnes Wendling

Barnes Wendling works with a large number of family-held businesses, and firm leaders spend a lot of time helping them with succession planning. Recognizing the new generation of leaders often have questions but no one to talk to, the firm decided to create its “NextGen to Lead” roundtable series in 2020.

“The benefit of this roundtable series for our clients is not only to listen to us but to collaborate with other family businesses,” said Marketing Manager Rachel Pompeani. “The feedback has been great. We started by meeting in person but eventually had to go to a virtual model. At that time, we surveyed the group to see if they still found enough value to continue, and 90% said yes.”

Pompeani shared her advice for other firms considering this offering: don’t be afraid to start out small. “The value comes from the collaboration and if it gets too large it can lose value,” Pompeani said. “We’ve found that participants in smaller groups tend to be more transparent and participate more.”

Ready to Get Started?

The benefits a firm can receive from creating its own group depend on how it is structured and the goals of the facilitators. If you are considering starting your own group, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Define your audience.
  • Decide on a meeting structure.
  • Create a safe space.
  • Pick a committed facilitator.
  • Be open to different points of view.
  • Decide if you are going to charge for participation.
  • Involve marketing from the beginning.

In the end, only you can decide what will bring the most value to your firm and benefits to those who participate in roundtables to drive growth and engagement. But with solid initial planning, carefully considered structure and consistent participation, roundtables can be a valuable way to support your clients and differentiate your firm.

For more information on developing roundtables that drive growth and engagement, read the full article in the Spring 2021 issue of Growth Strategies on page 12.

About Bonnie Ruszczyk

With 25 years of marketing experience, Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk helps professional services firms develop unique strategic marketing that will help them reach their growth and awareness goals. This can take many forms including serving as a fractional or part-time CMO, creating strategic marketing plans for the firm as a whole and the niches it serves, helping hire and manage internal marketing teams and much more.

She has been recognized as one of Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People (2012, 2013, 2016) and One to Watch (2011), Volunteer of the Year by the Association for Accounting Marketing and one of CPA Practice Advisor’s Most Powerful Women in Accounting (2015, 2016). She is also an AAM board member, a former president of its Atlanta chapter and marketing committee chair for CPA Consultants’ Alliance. Bonnie quite literally wrote the book on online marketing for accounting firms, Take Your Marketing Online: Proven Ways to Grow Your Firm in the Digital Age, at the request of the AICPA. She also contributed a chapter to Bridging the Gap: Strengthening the Connection Between Current and Emerging Leaders in the CPA Profession and is a regular contributor and quote source for Accounting Today, Entrepreneur, US News & World Report, CPA Practice Advisor and other industry-related publications and websites.

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