It’s been said that if you don’t make a plan, the world will make one for you. That’s especially true when it comes to your career. If you don’t approach your work with goals and a way to get there, you’re leaving the future in the hands of your employer and the marketplace, and their view of your future may not match yours.
Doing a great job in a CPA practice and earning praise from your boss is an effective way to become and remain a valued professional. Unfortunately, it doesn’t automatically prepare you to advance in a leadership — or ownership — role in the practice.
If you’re lucky, when the current owner is ready to begin the transition to retirement, he or she may think of you as a potential successor. But there are plenty of CPAs who learned the hard way that wasn’t the case. One day, they came into work to learn that the practice was being sold to someone else, and they were never given the opportunity to offer themselves as a potential buyer.
Instead of staking your future on luck, take a more proactive approach. If you have a serious interest in becoming a partner in or sole owner of the practice where you’re now employed, you need to make sure the current owner or leadership team is aware of it.
It can be intimidating to initiate that conversation, but demonstrating such initiative is one of the best ways to suggest that you’re a viable candidate to be a successor. If your performance review is coming up, that can be an excellent place to start. Otherwise, offer to take the boss out for breakfast or coffee, saying that you’d like to discuss your performance and goals.
You can start the conversation by asking if the practice has a succession plan, and if the response is positive, ask if you’re being considered as part of that plan. Just as the ownership is preparing for the future, you’re developing your own long-term plan. You enjoy the role you play in growing the practice by helping clients succeed, and you’re willing to contribute even more.
Ask your boss what you need to do to prepare for that succession. You may be asked to take on additional responsibilities, a special project, or to seek additional professional development. If your boss appears to be hesitant, ask if there is anything about your past work that may have negatively affected management’s view of you as a leader. If any points are mentioned, ask about specific steps you can take to improve and demonstrate your commitment.
When you have that conversation, you’re demonstrating the self-confidence that’s needed to run a practice, along with respect for the practice’s current leadership. The fact that you hope to stick around and follow in the owner’s footsteps is a compliment about the way he or she does business. Plus, you’re asking how you can prepare for a bigger role.
Don’t be vague or afraid to share your goals. Having this conversation is a form of negotiation, and it’s always a good idea to enter negotiations knowing exactly what you want to accomplish. There’s no guarantee that your boss will react favorably to your request, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask the question.
Finally, what should you do if it’s clear that the current owner would never consider you as a successor? Since you now know that your upward mobility is limited, it’s time to consider opportunities elsewhere. Think about your goals, brush up your resume, and seek out practices that look like good matches for your skills, goals, and attitude. The more you take charge of the process, the more likely you’ll succeed on your terms instead of someone else’s.
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