Five Secrets To How I Made Partner At 31 Years Old

Five Secrets To How I Made Partner At 31 Years Old

When I tell people I made Partner in a CPA firm at 31 years old, people ask what my “secret” was. Did I know the right people internally? Did I land one particular client that was monumental to the firm’s success?

I guess you could say five things made me stand out. The funny thing is, so many people could live up to these “secrets” I’m about to lay out for you. They really could. Unfortunately, many of them don’t for various reasons. However, if those who possess a relentless drive meet these goals consistently, I will not be surprised to see them get promoted earlier than their peers.

1: Every phone call I got every day was returned that day.

Early on in my career, I decided that the REAL advantage I could bring my clients was that I would provide them with the absolute best possible service I could. The return call might’ve been late. It might have been on the way home. But I wanted the client to know that I heard them and that I was attentive to them. In my message, I would tell them the precise time I’d be calling them tomorrow and if that time didn’t work, we would find a time that did.

2: I set crystal-clear expectations every moment I had the opportunity to do so.

Here’s the part of client service that I think many people get wrong: Great client service does not mean you have to give up your entire life.

Let me repeat it for emphasis: Great client service does not mean you have to give up your entire life.

If you set expectations, you drive the bus of your own life. It is a win-win for work and life effectiveness. If you’re coaching your child’s volleyball game at 6 pm and your client calls you at 4:58 pm, do you think it’s really OK to tell the client, “Listen, I can’t talk to you right now. I’m tied up, but I’ll call you tomorrow at 8:30 am.”?

Yes. It is. I’m here to tell you that, on most occasions, that’s just perfectly fine. But, you have to make sure you call them at 8:30 the next morning. Take control of your schedule and your life.

3: I really liked the clients as people and wanted to be around them.

Why is this so important? If you like the experience of being around other people, learning from them, getting into the “why” of what they do and understanding all the facets of their business – not just the ones that deal strictly with what you do for them – it makes a huge difference. You feel yourself being less intimidated by it all. You feel comfortable in your own skin and the conversations feel more natural. You know, like a trusted advisor should feel to the other person.

Now, there will always be exceptions here and there. I didn’t like everyone I ever served. I did the work for them as professionally as possible. Thankfully, those were a small portion of my client base over the years.

4: I valued the client’s feedback and wasn’t afraid to hear it.

A fair amount of people in our profession at the higher levels of Senior Manager or Partner don’t want to know what people think of them, whether the person delivering feedback is a client or an internal team member. Perhaps some of them think they’ve earned a place where they’re above all of that, but I never saw myself as too good to receive feedback.

I don’t pretend that it’s always easy to hear. But I was never afraid of criticism when the feedback veered into that direction.

If you don’t receive feedback from your clients or upward performance evaluations from your team, it’s a bit like flying an airplane without having any maps. What can you do better? What does that feedback mean in terms of adjusting your approach to serving clients and working with others?

Here’s the key point with these success secrets that you cannot forget: When you ask clients and team members for feedback, you MUST make some changes. It can’t be for appearances. You asked them to give you direct feedback and now you have to do something with it.

If you’re not willing to make at least some of the changes and preferably in a way that is evident to those who provided that feedback, my advice is this: Don’t bother asking them. You’re going to end up in a worse spot than you are now, which is being seen as a person who asks for input but isn’t serious about making changes. When you’re seen in that light, it’s not flattering.

5: It’s never about YOU. It’s always about THEM.

It’s not what we think. It’s what they think. You can believe you’re doing an excellent job for them and you probably are, but they have to believe that. 

How do you get them there? By showing you care about what the client wants, understanding what their needs are and how they want to be served. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if the client doesn’t appreciate you.

See, we like to think we have a lot of proprietary brainpower in our firm that makes the client stay with us longer. We tell ourselves that it’s our services and what we know that set us apart. However, many other people in the world can do the same things we can. Think about that for a moment. We don’t have a patent on being a good tax technician or being the best auditor or anything like that. Some of us in the industry are renowned for various things and there’s no doubt about that – but that is the real exception to the rule.

It’s not about us. It never was. It’s all about them. Make it about them and keep these secrets in mind as you do. You may achieve many of your career goals that much faster.

If you can make great client service a part of your habit to where you’re not even thinking about it anymore, it just happens. If more people within your firm can make that part of their life too, they will also reach the point where they’re not even noticing that they’re providing exemplary client service. And that’s a very special place to be. And if they learn how to take control and set expectations with clients and others, they will experience better work/life effectiveness.

Let Professional Strategy Group help your CPA firm realize more of the revenue and referrals that are the sign of a team that’s transformed itself as a direct result of providing superior service. The key to unlocking that potential can be found in our first course in The PSG System, The Valued Advisor and Superior Client Service. Learn more about it by calling PSG at 312.860.0873 or email