The Business Journal recently interviewed Tim Petrey, managing partner of HD Davis CPAs Group in Liberty Township, as part of the Expert Q&A portion of our Business Strategies series.
How have you achieved success in business?
Tim Petrey, managing partner of HD Davis CPAs Group: Success is a relative term. It all comes down to working hard and being in the right place at the right time, surrounding yourself with really intelligent people and having a team that’s crazy good at their jobs. It comes from always being really aggressive about finding these type of people and recognizing them for what they do.
How have you built that cohesive team at HD Davis?
Petrey: It’s a lot of work and a constant every-day battle to maintain that group of people. The main way we have maintained our staffing and labor force is through our relationship with Youngstown State University. You have to maintain a constant presence at the university to communicate with potential recruits.
YSU does a great job getting people ready for the accounting field and has a lot of great events for HD Davis to participate in to find people. It’s a matter of meeting a lot of people to find that specific fit.
What collaborations do you do participate in with YSU’s Williamson College of Business?
Petrey: Over the last few years, we have been involved in the mentoring program in the The Lariccia School of Accounting and Finance. Through that program, we find students who are interested in being mentored and we match them up with professionals in the area to help them learn about what’s next and how to prepare for taking their education and applying it to the real world.
We are a smaller company so if we hire one of these students, we hope to have them with us for their entire career.
What sort of management systems do you have in place?
Petrey: We have a lot of systems essential to being able to scale and grow. We’ve done a lot of work over the course of the last 10 years to implement good, solid foundations and systems and build off of that, which makes it much easier for people to come into the firm as employees and as clients.
How does your firm keep good employees?
Petrey: It comes down to an environment. A lot of accounting firms have a bad reputation for working people a ton of hours. When we started to see the transition to firms focusing on quality of life, it became our main focus. We really try to give our employees the ability to enjoy a great quality of life.
We tend to overstaff so that people aren’t having to work a ton of overtime and they can stay involved in their community and maintain relationships with friends and family.
This is so our employees don’t get burnt out.
We do our best to give them something they can do for their entire career and not something they do for a couple years and leave.
How do you attract customers to your business?
Petrey: We don’t do a lot of marketing or advertising. We have always focused on taking really good care of our clients. Because of that, they are out in the community selling for us because they are excited about what we do for them.
We try to become an important part of their team so that they want to talk about us and tell their friends. That makes them look good as well because they say, “So-and-so referred me to Tim at HD Davis CPAs and he and his staff came in and did this, this and this.”
These types of referrals really make our lives a lot easier.
What are your accounting firm’s industry specialties?
Petrey: I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re industry specific but we are more small to medium-sized business specific. Our specialty probably is companies with 50 employees or less. The challenges those companies face are ones we can relate to and therefore tend to advise clients best on how to overcome them.
How have you seen the accounting profession change?
Petrey: Locally it’s been a change for the good.
We are in the room a lot more as far as conversations with clients about operating their business. We have been forced to get involved in much more than just preparing financial statements.
We’ve been in many, many conversations about health insurance and how that impacts the tax side and budget-planning side. That has opened up the door for us to get involved in additional conversations about marketing, websites, technology and other things that allow me and our staff to become more well rounded advisers.
I encourage our people to think outside of that just-accounting box because we’ve become a trusted adviser on anything relating to our client’s company writing a check.
Do you consider yourself a financial adviser?
Petrey: I would take a step back and say it’s difficult to put a name on it. We try to take a holistic view to finances overall. That means working with our clients’ financial advisers, working with their insurance people, considering tax implications, reviewing their budget for marketing expenditures and being the oversight for all those things and how they fit into the financial plan for the client personally and for his company.
What is new technology the accounting industry is using?
Petrey: We have been working with new technology for payroll processing that we developed internally combined with some third-party software to roll out a whole new payroll package. We should have everything wrapped up by the end of the year and have started to pull folks in and do some testing.
We have seen a serious lack of customer service by the big-box payroll providers, so we felt the need to step up our game for clients who need payroll processing and give them a higher level of service.
Payroll is one of the most important parts of your business because your people are the most important part of your business. If your people aren’t getting paid and you’re not able to communicate the things that you need to do with your employees efficiently and effectively, then you’re probably leaving something on the table.
We asked ourselves, “What is the most important part of our clients’ businesses and how can we help them manage that better?” Payroll processing in an area we are focusing on to implement technology that makes those functions easier for our clients. We’ve created a platform to analyze a client’s labor force information and generate some opinions about that information based on a set of rules.
The biggest part of this is enabling clients to make decisions about benefits, to help employers manage when people become eligible for benefits – whether that’s health insurance, 401(k) or time off.
This technology has allowed us to provide greater guidance. Instead of just doing the norm, we are able to give more feedback to our clients so they can make better decisions.
It’s an internal software that not only will let our company use it, but also will have a front-facing platform where the client will have access. Then we’ll be able to do everything on the back-end. The idea is that it makes the entire payroll and day-to-day accounting integration smoother.
Do you use QuickBooks?
Petrey: Yes, we’ve got a handful of people who manage every account. Let’s say you’re a small business and you’ve got a QuickBooks issue that you need an answer for and I’m in a meeting. You know there are two other people in the office who you can call and immediately get an answer.
We know that the most important thing we can give our clients is more time to run their businesses. So if we can save them time in doing a function, they can focus on their business more.
What do you find to be clients’ biggest concerns?
Petrey: I have to reference our founder, Harold Davis, on this. The No. 1 thing we can do for a client is listen. We make it a priority to listen carefully to people’s problems and provide specific guidance on how to fix them, or come up with a different perspective on how to solve the issue they’re having.
You offer business coaching at HD Davis. Tell us about that.
Petrey: Business coaching is a fundamental piece of what we do. We rarely do business coaching by itself anymore. Since we take such a holistic view on having these conversations with our clients, it’s hard for us to just look at one piece.
We must be able to have access to all the information. Without all the information, there’s only so much you can do. It’s like asking Floyd Mayweather to go into the boxing ring with one arm tied behind his back.
We have implemented business coaching as an integral part of our client relationships.
We listen to clients about the issues they face, review other issues to see how they overlap and intersect with their finances, and then implement solutions.
Let’s say a client comes into the office and says, “We’re working really hard and growing like crazy but we’re not making any money.” We explain the reason they’re not making money and we specifically show them within their financial statements why that’s the case. We work with them to come up with a solution to change that and then we follow up. That’s the missing piece. That’s the big part of business coaching. Too many advisers say, “Here’s what you have to do,” and hand their clients a big report.
We’re all creatures of habit and if we don’t have someone pushing us along, it’s really easy to fall into old habits. We have implemented business coaching with the same mindset as a personal trainer and we hold people accountable about how to make their company more efficient or profitable.
Why is this unique?
Petrey: Other accounting firms give their clients guidance and advice, but we have tried to go above and beyond so our clients want to get us involved in all their decisions because they find value in our recommendations.
Historically, certified public accountants have been viewed as overhead. Business owners say, “Oh, I have to file a tax return,” or “I have to get this audit done,” or “I have to do this for the bank.”
Our goal is to change that mindset so our clients want to work with us, value our opinion and make us part of their team. Our focus is always to create enjoyable and valuable relationships with our clients.
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