Scale Your Professional Services Firm Without Working Overtime

Scale Your Professional Services Firm Without Working Overtime | CEO Campfire Chat | The Sterling Woods Group

All professional services firms face the same challenges when trying to scale. The product they sell isn’t an item—it’s their team’s time and expertise. When you have a specific number of employees, each with a finite number of hours in the day, how do you grow your business without demanding more time and energy from employees?

Tom Barry, Managing Partner of GHJ Advisors, who’s been with the accounting firm for nearly 25 years, faces this question regularly. GHJ has built a thriving practice, serving privately-owned businesses and nonprofit organizations within their hometown of Los Angeles and across the country. Like other businesses, they’re always looking to grow.

But they never want that growth to come at the expense of their greatest asset: their team. That’s why Tom and his fellow leaders have honed in on four areas of focus to enable sustainable scaling.

The first is a focus on work/life balance. The firm’s #BeMore motto is about finding growth in ways beyond just doing more work. They want to create a space where team members can be more and nurture all areas of their life: family, self, and firm.

From providing weekly meditation sessions in the office to enabling hybrid work arrangements and flexible, capped hours, the team is constantly looking for new ways to help employees flourish.

Tom also cites investments in tech and AI as important ways to expand capacity. When individuals can automate tedious manual processes and tasks, it frees them up to do more high-value client work. Leadership loves testing new ways to create efficiencies with tech, from using new communication platforms to implementing Salesforce to manage client relationships.

The third lever Tom uses to scale efficiently is outsourcing. We live in an outsourced world, and there are many benefits to finding external partners to help handle workflow. Not only does it create additional capacity for your team, but it also allows you to effectively work around the clock. 

Tom says one of GHJ’s outsourcing partners is located in India. The GHJ team in LA makes the most of that time zone difference. They hand tasks off to the folks in India at the end of their workday, and when they wake up and log on the next day, the tasks have been completed overnight.

Finally, Tom talks about the importance of providing value in how you structure your services. When it comes to professional services, it’s not about the hourly rate, it’s about the value derived from that time. He provides the example of a high-profile law firm. Yes, you may pay one of the partners $1,000 an hour, but if they save your company $5 million in the end, isn’t that a bargain?

The same is true in any professional services firm. It’s your job as the provider to structure your offerings in a way that highlights all the value and expertise you bring to the table. GHJ Advisors does this by creating packages.

With several tiered offerings available to clients, they can select the one that provides the greatest value for their needs. And that doesn’t always mean they’ll select the least expensive option.

Additionally, it’s important to remind clients of the value you provide. Tom says the GHJ team uses a value scorecard, where they track the value they’ve created and share results with clients regularly.

The most important thing is acknowledging that there is no one way to increase capacity in a professional services firm. “Every inch we can grab here and there gives us more capacity,” Tom says. It’s also a continuous process. Tom and the leadership team are always looking for new opportunities to enable their team to grow in both their personal and professional lives.

Episode Transcript

Rob Ristagno: Professional services firms can be tough to scale. You’re not selling a product, you’re selling your team’s time. And as we all know, there are only so many hours in a day. How do you grow a professional services practice without burning out? Today’s guest shares the four levers he relies on to scale sustainably.

Announcer: This is the CEO Campfire Chat with your host, Rob Ristagno. Taped in front of a live studio audience, join us to hear successful growth stories from middle-market companies, just like yours. Sponsored by the Sterling Woods Group.

Rob Ristagno: Welcome to the CEO Campfire Chat recorded live in front of a studio audience of senior executives. I’m your host, Rob Ristagno and I have the privilege today of introducing you to Tom Barry, who’s the managing partner of GHJ, a Los Angeles-based accounting, tax, and consulting firm. Tom has had an illustrious career there, having been with them for almost 24 years.

Rob Ristagno: Welcome Tom.

Tom Barry: Hi Rob. Thanks for having me. You’re making me feel old, 24 years indeed.

Rob Ristagno: You must have started when you were about 10.

Tom Barry: It was actually the second job I had after college. So yeah, I’ve been here, really, my whole career, which is a bit unique actually in someone, amongst my peers.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah, I think it’s unique for anyone. So it’s a testament to you and also to the GHJ brand and experience. So before we dive in, for people who are unfamiliar with GHJ and what you do, tell us a little bit about the firm and what you’re working on these days.

Tom Barry: Yeah, absolutely. So, as you had mentioned, we’re a CPA firm I guess, if you were going to put brackets around who we are, it’s the most easily understood. But we provide tax, accounting, and other business advisory services across the board. The firm was founded in 1953. We have about 165 people working with us today. We’re headquartered in Southern California, in Los Angeles, but as well as the pandemic has driven us, we have fewer people in L.A. And more people spread out across the country. It was the direction we were moving before the pandemic, the pandemic accelerated that. So we’re a workforce of about 15, 20 percent of that are in places elsewhere.

Tom Barry: We deal with privately held companies. We don’t do any public company work. We like to deal with owner-entrepreneurs like ourselves, share best practices. And we have a large nonprofit practice, actually. We spend a lot of time in the nonprofit community, which ties also within part of the fabric of our culture and who we are. So it’s full circle in that area.

Tom Barry: The firm has a number of practice areas. I won’t go through them all, but food and beverage is a big practice area. Entertainment, being here in Los Angeles, is a big area for us. Real estate and waste and recycling is another area that we do. And we’ve been getting into some emerging areas in the entertainment side, as well as the cannabis industry. So lots of things going on for us.

Rob Ristagno: Very exciting, very exciting. Now, a lot of people in the audience, I know, are in professional services and one thing that could be a huge pain point for professional services firms like yours is, how do you scale? Because at the end of the day, it’s your time and you can work more hours, I guess, but there’s a limit there. I guess you could raise your rates, but tell us a little bit about what GHJ does in terms of developing and growing their business?

Tom Barry: Sure. So, yeah you’re right. I guess if I was to give advice to someone coming up, maybe the idea of selling your time that’s a finite thing and the challenges that come along that, may be something I would ask people to think about. But in a good way, because it really makes you think differently. To scale, we’re in the people business, right? Are our clients are people, our team is people, right? And so number one, we need to pay attention to their needs, right?

Tom Barry: So on the client side, understanding the value propositions, what they’re looking for. And really being able to deliver value for the fees that we charge. On our people side, by asking people to work more, more and more that’s not the right equation. We burn them out, right? So how do we fix that?

Tom Barry: First of all, we really try to work on balance. We have a concept that we use called #BeMore, it’s balancing family, self, and firm, which I can come back to a little later on. But it’s really making sure that people are properly energized and trying to maintain their energy as they go through, not only their day at the firm, but at home and for their own self, they need to take care of themselves.

Tom Barry: We also spend a lot of our reinvesting in technology. Technology continues to evolve, particularly in the accounting industry. The implementation of everything from artificial intelligence and capturing transactions to workflows, to communication mediums, all continual–trying to get more efficient, right–to outsourcing; we realized that being able to outsource not only client centered functions, but what we call firm centered functions. There’s opportunities for us to create more capacity.

Tom Barry: And then lastly, value building is another side of it. You can charge more and you can raise our hourly rates, but the concept of how are we equating value that we provide with the fee that we charge? I think sometimes when people, and I’m going to equate this to the world of attorneys just to not put it in the world with accountants at the moment. But some people will say, “How can an attorney charge a thousand dollars an hour?” Well, you’re not paying for that 60 minutes. You’re paying for the career that he spent before. To have that knowledge to provide you in 60 minutes. But even if it’s a thousand dollars an hour, but he saved you $5 million. Well now that thousand dollars an hour sounds pretty cheap, right? So how can we look and view at the value proposition and be fairly paid for that in our rates?

Rob Ristagno: Makes sense. That reminds me of advice I got when I first started this company. Someone said, “Don’t ever say something is cheap or expensive. Ask, ‘what do I get for it?'” And you’re right. All right, a thousand dollars an hour, is that cheap or expensive? I don’t know, if I’m getting $5 million worth of value it’s cheap, I guess.

Tom Barry: Sign me up. Exactly.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah. So let’s take these four levers one at a time. One is around work-life balance. Two is around tech and AI, three outsourcing, four value building.

Rob Ristagno: Why don’t we start with work-life balance? Tell us a little bit of some of the things you’ve been up to, particularly over this last very challenging year.

Tom Barry: And even pre pandemic, our firm has really been at the forefront of pushing balance in life. I am in the younger, I’m getting older as we already noted, but I’m on the younger side, generally, of a managing partner that you would see in a CPA firm. I’ve been in this role, this is my fourth year. I have four young children, my oldest 13, my youngest five, right? So I have responsibilities at home. I have responsibilities in running a good sized organization. And there was only so much time in the day for me to do any and all of that. So I’ve always been a big believer in this balance of life and making sure that we’re taking care of family, self, and firm. And if any of them suffers, they all suffer. So it’s really important that we’re paying attention to all of them.

Tom Barry: And it’s not a continuum. It’s not like I have eight hours a day and we can divide it in three. And that’s how it works. Some weeks it’s all family. Some weeks it’s all firm. Some weeks it’s all self. And so modeling behaviors that support that. There was a comment made earlier about leading by example. And that’s really how we are going to enforce that culture and inspire our teams to live that way.

Tom Barry: So what have we done at the firm to promote balance? We’ve created a lot of flexible schedules, capped hours. We’ve been really active in alternative workforce, if you will. And people that have left the profession are coming back are only looking to work 20 hours a week because they have other responsibilities. We are really trying to create a work scenario for each individual that works best for that individual.

Tom Barry: On top of that, some lifestyle things, meditation. We actually have a led meditation, Mindful Mondays as we call them. At noon on Mondays, for those that want to sign up. We’ve also deployed the Calm app across our workforce. It’s available for everyone. It’s a benefit that they get. And then also just promoting once again leading by example. I’m a CPA. I took my family to Hawaii in the first week of April. Six, seven years ago I would have lost my–maybe longer than that–but, in theory, I would’ve lost my job, right? An accountant doesn’t leave town let alone go on vacation in April. Well, you know what? With technology and figuring out balance and being intentional about your day, you can do it all. And so that’s making sure that people take that time for themselves.

Rob Ristagno: All right. So one thing it sounds like, if I could summarize there, just get this in balance, think of the person, the whole person. But also, it’s not one size fits all. So it was interesting to hear that it’s a different approach for different people. And you mentioned that about a fifth are remote now, so yeah. It’s, understand the person and treat them well. And that will go big ways.

Rob Ristagno: Number two, you mentioned that you’re doing a lot of investment in tech to create more capacity or automation. Can you tell us a little bit more about those initiatives?

Tom Barry: So certain things are kind of easy, kind of low-hanging fruit, just communication mediums, right? That we’re creating a seamless medium for communication amongst our teams and with our clients. So it’s not just Teams or Zoom or whatever it is that you use that way, but also how are we using document requests technologies? How are we using workflow planning? All these different things that enable us to handle that more effectively.

Tom Barry: I think that the greater capacity that we’re driving towards is actually not necessarily the client service stuff. We’re always continuously improving that to try to be smarter in how we’re doing it while still making sure that we’re meeting all the standards for the industry. But what about things like, so we’re always going out to propose–on clients, right? Can we be more intelligent about how we’re going to market? So using Salesforce, we use a technology called Seismic, which enables us to get some views into when we’re sending out proposals or just one sheets or whatever information on the firm. Who is looking at them? How often are they looking at them? What parts of that document they’re looking at so that we can actually better understand their needs and we can respond to them more critically? And even simple on the finance side and dealing with automation and time sheets and expense reports and billing, right?

Tom Barry: All these little things. And we run multiple systems in a CPA firm. Every little inch that we can grab creates more capacity for us. But technology is a tool. Training that technology is really where the win is and the discipline around the implementation of that. And there’s no destination on that. It’s a constant journey.

Rob Ristagno: Every inch we can grab creates more capacity. That’s a great way of thinking about it.

Tom Barry: It’s the opposite of death by a thousand cuts, right? It’s success by a thousand inches or whatever it is.

Rob Ristagno: Love it. All right. So now you also mentioned some outsourcing, you’re outsourcing some tasks. Even some client effecting or client facing tasks?

Tom Barry: Yeah. So for us, there’s been, the unemployment rate in accounting is essentially zero. And it has been for a long time. So the fight for talent has been going on for years in the accounting industry.

Tom Barry: And it’s not like we’re some pioneers in outsourcing, the world is outsourced. But our ability to, the outsourcing creates capacity. But we’re not looking to replace people, we now have to change our whole learning curve. In a certain way, accounting is an apprenticeship model, right? So the newest people learn from the people in front of them and we’re leveraged and it goes down. So if we just replaced the bottom level with some outsourced function, that actually is going to create some issues in future years. That we’re going to have some two, three, five year team members who are not upskilled the way they need to be.

Tom Barry: So it’s really readdressing, the outsourcing once again is a tool. But it’s how we use it and making sure that we’re up-skilling and training and educating the workforce so that we’re not losing that learning tree.

Rob Ristagno: What are some specific examples of things that you’re choosing to outsource?

Tom Barry: On the client service side without getting into details, but there’s a lot of account preparation and scheduled preparation. But you all have businesses understanding how that part gets outsourced. And then we’re also moving to some internal infrastructure outsourcing things that if we can, once again, the cost differential is substantial in looking at some offshore opportunities. Anything that, once again, if we can gain an inch and we can get someone else to do it more effectively, it’s good.

Tom Barry: And I think the other side of the outsource is, we use a company in India. The time change is just a great benefit for us because we could end the day with something that needs to be done and then wake up in the next day and it’s available for us to do.

Rob Ristagno: Nice. Working around the clock.

Tom Barry: Yeah, exactly. But not working around the clock.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah. That’s a good one. Let’s talk a little bit more about value building, this whole price value equation and raising up rates by giving people so much value that they’re happy to do it or offering new services. Tell us a little bit about some of the innovations you’ve come across lately.

Tom Barry: Sure. And we’ve seen some different competitors of ours and there’s some pundits, if you will, in the accounting industry that talk about this a lot. But accountants are actually bad business people. If I had to put it out there. It’s, “Hey, I’ll charge you $500.” And the other guy says, “Well, it does cost $500, but I’ll charge you $450,” to give you an example. Not a good business proposition.

Tom Barry: But what we’re really trying to do is get that value proposition out there. So how do you do that? So, number one, you can look at bundled pricing and how that looks. There’s no better pricing model out there in a certain way than the local carwash, right? You have your gold, silver and bronze pricing levels and you get different levels of service for that. And without getting into all the details on it, people will more so lean towards where they think they’re getting the most value. Which actually may be the most profitable one for the carwash also, right?

Tom Barry: And so it’s a matter of a) packaging, communicating and having our clients understand everything that we do for them. We take an effort, we’re going through this process right now across our client base, that we call our value scorecard, where we’re taking everything that we do for that client. And we’re reminding them of, “Hey, we helped you with this transaction. We helped you with this structure. We helped with tax nexus in this state, we helped you with these accounting issues, with these strategic issues that you had.” And making sure that they’re aware and continuously aware of the value that we’re providing, right?

Tom Barry: So number one, to go back to the conversation we had before about that thousand dollars an hour may or may not be a lot of money for an attorney, depending on what you get for it, right? So actively reminding them of the value that we’re getting, because we’re selling an intangible more often than not, right? So that’s element number one.

Tom Barry: Element number two is deepening our client experience, right? We have launched, one of the things that we launched last year in the pandemic is this concept we call the resiliency journey. And we’re talking to our clients as peers, right? We’re not talking to them as accountants. When the world shut down, we all had to react. We all had to figure out up from down and left from right. And then once we got through that kind of triage state, where do we go next? And then what’s the future look like? And being partners with our clients on that.

Tom Barry: So once again, value add, not debits and credits, not tax numbers, it’s extra value. And so overall it’s increasing the client experience. Reminding, enforcing the value that we’re not only promising, but that we’re delivering. And having honest conversations with our clients around what that value proposition is and the cost of that.

Audience Member: Tom, can I ask you a question and it may be totally off the wall?

Tom Barry: Sure.

Audience Member: And maybe even bad ethics, I don’t know. But I like sort of the pay for performance. Would it ever make sense to say we’re going to save you, your tax exposure is X, but we can save you Y all within gap, blah, blah, blah. And actually to get a piece of that?

Tom Barry: So the short answer is any clients that we do any type of assurance work, that we issue an opinion on their statements, we can’t do that. It’s outside of the rules that we can’t take a commission on anything that we do for them. And that’s a very dark line. And that’s something that we absolutely live on the right side of 100% of the time.

Tom Barry: There are some other things for non-assurance clients that allow us to be creative on some of those types of elements. We have a very interesting service in our firm. We do some contract compliance work in the film business. And we do have on those engagements often a base fee. It’s like a forensics audit, and then if there is an upside on that we want to get paid for our work. But if you’re benefiting from a multimillion dollar finding, we need to share in part of that.

Audience Member: Fantastic.

Tom Barry: It’s not a contingent work, but it’s a success share.

Audience Member: Sure. Well, and that’s great, both parties are totally aligned.

Tom Barry: Yeah.

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Rob Ristagno: I think it’s really ingenious that you thought about ways to get over this paradox of trading time for money between #BeMore with work-life balance, using tech and AI, outsourcing certain activities, and then really building value for their clients. Questions along these dimensions?

Audience Member: It seems like you have to sell your company to your own employees though. If you’re in an environment where everybody is basically employed, what’s the risk of them walking off to the next guy with the knowledge and everything else you have? How do you address that?

Tom Barry: Well, it’s our culture. And it’s how we differentiate ourselves from our competition. And it’s how we treat our employees. It’s the opportunities that we provide our employees. It’s things like meditation or capped hours and flex hours. We were doing many of those things prior to the pandemic. And we were moving towards where we are now. I think if the pandemic didn’t come, we would have got here in a few years. We got there in a few months. And we were already anticipating that. And I think that we are at a point right now that we’re ahead of the curve on that. So we need to continue to evolve and our relationship with our employees and our culture to continue to stay ahead of the curve.

Audience Member: And do you actually keep a metric on number of years they’re with the firm?

Tom Barry: We keep retention stats. We keep turnover stats. And we also do regular employee engagement surveys to make sure that we’re getting a pulse on where everyone is. But, I don’t want to come across in sounding like it’s easy and that we’ve got it all figured out. It is a continuous challenge.

Tom Barry: And also, our workforce is largely younger. And that younger workforce, you take anyone who’s, call it, five years or less out of college right now, they’re living in a world that we don’t even understand. We have new hires out of college who didn’t finish college on campus. Who then come to the firm and they haven’t met anyone in person, right? So it’s continuing to evolve and it’s going to evolve again in the next six months. And then I don’t think we’re at this new beginning of whatever I mean by that for a time to come here still.

Rob Ristagno: One thing we like to talk about on the show is ideal clients, ideal customers. And you mentioned that you only work with privately held businesses. You like working with owners and entrepreneurs. I thought that was very interesting. So tell us a little bit more, can you dig a little deeper? Do you have sub segments or personas? Who makes the ideal client for GHJ?

Tom Barry: If you look at our website at, you’ll see a, what we call the uppersand, right? It’s this ampersand with an arrow up. And what that signifies, for us, collaboration is the foundation for success. And so what’s the perfect client for us? A client that wants to collaborate with us. We don’t want to just be your accountant, right? Just to deliver a tax return or audited financial statement. Yeah, there’s value in there, don’t misunderstand me, but there’s more opportunities to collaborate with that client and to be their peer and their advisor and help them with their success. And our ability to work with those, the best clients are the ones that allow us to be that person. While we maintain our independence and within the construct of what we need to do from an assurance point of view, and we’re not management, but being that peer.

Tom Barry: Now, one of the things that I’ve really enjoyed over the last year and a half with our client base during the pandemic, I guess not year and a half yet. Was having conversations that had nothing to do with accounting. It’s like, “Hey, I run a business. I have a lot of people issues. So do you, let’s share those. Because I don’t know everything.” Right? And we’re all learning together.

Tom Barry: So I think accountants sometimes have a concern that they need to have all the answers. And when the world changes rapidly as it has, no one has the answer, so let’s learn together. So to answer your question specifically, a client that learns from us and we learn from them. Is the perfect scenario.

Rob Ristagno: Nice.

Audience Member: Do you do ancillary services too? Like putting in accounting software and consulting?

Tom Barry: Well, we don’t do systems implementation per se. We do advisory on that. But we do a lot of consulting and that’s a value add to talk about the construct of time and how we add value. Anything from more defined things like transaction advisory and things along those lines and accounting treatment handling and tax structuring and things like that. But also, we have a growth and value planning practice. Which could be someone whose business is all is doing good. Everything’s doing great. Now, what levers do you want to pick and pull to actually do better? Or, you’re coming on to retirement, your company’s worth X today. Well, what if we sat on it for a few years? What does that scenario look like?

Tom Barry: So being, once again, part of that long-term plan. Our goal, and once again to answer the question on the best client, we want to be with the full lifetime of that individual. The world changes, the world evolves. So from a startup to mature company to maybe post-transaction right? There’s a lot. And then after that, there’s a lot of opportunities for us to add value.

Audience Member: You want to be a trusted advisor.

Tom Barry: Yes. In every way.

Rob Ristagno: I want to come back to something you said earlier and actually add in something you told me when we were getting ready for the session. You said that 15, 20 percent are remote. You also mentioned to me beforehand that you spent a lot of money opening a brand new office in Q1 of 2020. Tell us a little bit about how the pandemic messed up those plans, or maybe you’re glad maybe it was a lucky accident. Tell us a little bit about how you’re using space, especially as we think about coming back to work.

Tom Barry: Sure. And I was joking with people. And so we started building the new office in Q1 of 2020. We took possession of it November of 2020, right? And so I joke around that I might’ve been the dumbest man in America who was building a brand new office when the whole world couldn’t go into an office.

Tom Barry: But looking back, and as I’ve made mentioned before, we were anticipating, we were moving towards a hybrid work environment where we knew that people weren’t going to come into the office every day, right? We had the technology to work from anywhere. We had resource challenges that we were looking to be flexible with our team to give them the opportunities to do stuff. The family, self and firm element.

Tom Barry: And then also in Los Angeles where we’re headquartered, very expensive to live and traffic was horrendous, is horrendous, right? So it provided no value to us for an employee to spend three hours a day commuting. So we had designed a workspace, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart maybe, that was meant to be a drop-in place. That wasn’t meant to be for people to come in and do heads down work, and then check the clock and get out. It was for collaboration, engagement, relationship development, those types of items.

Tom Barry: So we had designed our space to do that. We took possession in November. In LA we were very locked down in December, January and into February. So we had this big, beautiful office and I was in there one day and I was very excited because there was five people in the office that day. Right? And 25,000 square feet. So I had a couple of moments of anxiety-

Rob Ristagno: You can really spread out.

Tom Barry: Social distancing. Yes. But now as L.A. is starting to open up again, the vaccines are rolling out we’re seeing more and more people come into the office. But in a hybrid work environment. And I’d be happy to talk about how I see that hybrid work environment. But I think it was a great decision for us. Definitely had a couple moments of anxiety along the way when we didn’t know where the world was going, but as I see us working and living in it, I’m just so energized and encouraged that we made some great choices that are going to allow our people to work in a hybrid way that I see the world moving towards.

Rob Ristagno: One pain point we hear a lot with hybrid is it sometimes feels like there’s haves and have-nots, so people have been hybrid before. Forget about COVID, that’s changed everything, but companies that had experimented in the past with hybrid complained that the people in person kind of have an upper leg to the people who are remote. Tell us a little bit about how you’re planning on addressing that issue.

Tom Barry: Yeah. So we would kind of getting our own way on occasion. That person’s remote, that person’s in the office, right? And actually we’re all hybrid. So let’s work by that context, right? We’re all working, there’s no differentiator. Now some people may live out of state, but we still want them to come into the office right? Maybe that’s once a quarter, right? But by the way, we may have people who live out of state who are going to come into the office once a quarter or maybe once a month, that may be more than someone who lives down the street, who said, I’m a hundred percent remote, or I don’t want to come into the office. I still have to work on my words because words matter, it’s not necessarily remote.

Tom Barry: So we’re living on the framework that everyone’s hybrid. There’s just different volumes of when people are coming into the office. So that’s one thing, I want to treat everyone the same. The second thing though, is in Zoom meetings, right? How does that work in a functional way, right? Because if you have 10 people in a meeting and five are remote and five are in person, I think that can work. You got to do some new protocols around how you’re running that meeting. But if you get it in a situation where there’s a disparity, if there’s eight people in person and one person on the line, that person on the line potentially could be isolated, right?

Tom Barry: So I don’t have all the answers on that. I have some concerns, and I think we’re going to make some mistakes in the upcoming months on how that’s going to be handled. But it’s a challenge for everyone.

Audience Member: On the client side, Tom, if your staff are visiting, as a contractor you’re sending staff out and a hundred thousand dollars project, you could be seeing 20 percent in T& E, not you, the client is spending that. I would assume that there would be some downward pressure and say, “Hey, we don’t want our staff in the office as much. And we probably don’t want our contractors here as much.” From a safety standpoint, but also P & L they can-

Tom Barry: They can save some of that. Yeah. We really haven’t been to a client in a year, and it’s fine. We’re able to deliver the service. My concern, and it’s not just client side I think it’s employee side, is that lack of connectivity is going to have long-term impact.

Tom Barry: So it was real easy to go remote with clients that I had a 20 year relationship with.

Audience Member: Sure, of course.

Tom Barry: We knew each other. But that new client that we got, who I’ve actually never met, right? I don’t have that relationship, that stickiness if you will, with that individual. And the same concept goes for an employee. That [relationship] I want to have, right? And that the firm wants to have. So we do need to figure some of those things out and it will be different. We’re not going to go to a client on a hundred thousand dollars project. We’d spent five weeks out there, right? Now we’re spending zero minutes out there. I think the reality is we’ll end up going a couple days here and a couple of days there. And it’s more for the engagement relationship building as much as anything else. We can do our job fully remote.

Audience Member: Sure. Thanks.

Rob Ristagno: So Tom, what’s next for you and what’s next for the firm?

Tom Barry: So what’s next for the firm? Well as I alluded to a little bit before, I think we are still in this transitional phase of change, so there’s still some unknowns coming in the near term. For the firm you I think the there’s two main things that we’re working to do. To continue to create capacity for our team, both actual capacity but also the mental capacity to take on the challenges that are in front of us. And that’s through all the things I’ve talked about before. But we also need to continue to grow. We’ve had a very good growth track record over the last eight, nine years. The profession has seen a lot of consolidation. We like where we stand as a mid-sized regional firm in the marketplace. We want to stay there and to protect that position we need to continue to get some revenue growth.

Tom Barry: And I also think there’s opportunities post pandemic, or in the midst of the pandemic, as we are in, is that I think we’ve got it figured it out pretty well. And there’s some other firms and talent out there that I think we could really have a great opportunity for them to join our team and for them to thrive and help us thrive. So we’re looking for folks.

Rob Ristagno: If people are interested, where should they send their resume or where should they go?

Tom Barry: Sure, so you can go to our website, You’ll see on there, by the way, not only talent, but also clients, people looking for a great accounting firm and advisor to help them., there’s a bunch of resources on there. You really get a good feel for our culture of the services that we deliver and the people that work there at the firm.

Tom Barry: So you’ll see opportunities to inquire in regard to both service and work opportunities.

Rob Ristagno: Excellent. And beyond sending you employee and client referrals, what else can the audience do for you to be helpful? This has been really helpful to us. We want to somehow pay it forward or pay it back.

Tom Barry: Yeah, no I just think continuing to anticipate change and to share experiences as the world’s evolving. We’re in some unchartered path here, as far as the impact to each of us individually and to teams collectively on how we’re going to work and how the world impacts us. And the only way we’re going to figure this out is to keep sharing our experiences with each other to learn. Because no one has the answer.

Rob Ristagno: That’s right. You’re right. No answers out there at all, right? No, only the questions. Thank you so much. Tom Barry managing partner of GHJ.

Rob Ristagno: And that will conclude this episode of the CEO Campfire Chat. I’m Rob Ristagno. To listen to more episodes or sign up for bonus content, visit us at See you next time around the fire.

Rob Ristagno: Bad segmentation is a big problem. 95 percent of growth initiatives fail because of it. You cannot rely on educated guesses to create your segments and buyer personas. You need to know who your best customers are and why they buy definitively. With Scout X, Sterling Woods’ proprietary approach to segmentation, our team unearths your highest value customers. Once we found them, we guide you through a series of pilots to build sales and marketing strategies that work. Our clients using Scout X, see a 10 to 30 times ROI in a matter of just a few weeks or months. To learn more about how Sterling Woods can help you scout your best customers head to That’s

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