Allen Sloan knows a thing or two about starting an accounting firm. In 1982, he along with Stan Swartz and Jerry Paskowitz joined together to form Sloan Partners, now a 50 person operation serving thousands of clients, from individuals and small businesses to large corporations. What many people don’t know is that Allen helps other accountants start their own firms too. In fact—it’s part of the Sloan Partner’s mandate with the Sloan Associate Program. The program assists accountants in starting up and running their own practices independently under the Sloan Group umbrella.
“It’s similar to a real estate broker model,” says Allen, “An entrepreneurial accountant has the opportunity to build a client base, and is equipped with endless resources to back them as they grow.”
How does the Sloan Associate Program work?
The Sloan Associate Program offers those with an entrepreneurial spirit the freedom to grow a client base, combined with the competitive edge of being linked to highly reputable firm. The concept is that an individual is at a particular stage in their career where they may be seeking independence. Sloan Partners encourages this person’s desire to be their own boss and practice in their own accounting style.They also get the advantage of being a part of an established organization with support services typically only available at a large accounting firm.
So what exactly does a Sloan Associate do?
A Sloan Associate is an independent accountant. They don’t work for me; they work for themselves. What this program does is give people the opportunity to use their talent and resources to grow their own practice—it’s like building a business within a business. The associate is responsible for driving their business. More importantly, they answer to no one other than themselves. They have their own office space with access to boardrooms, they set their own hours, and handle their own files. Of course, they have other resources present in the office, but as it stands, it is a completely independent role.
Are there specific professional qualifications you look for when vetting a potential associate?
What I look for are the things everyone considers when they’re going to become professionally linked to someone; honesty, integrity, a high level of professionalism. But if you’re asking if they have to have a particular degree, the answer is no. I look for someone who knows what they’re doing and how to do their job, someone who is a self-starter and can do the work it takes to see the client’s case all the way through. Although most of our Associates have a CPA or a CMA, that is not a prerequisite. I do however, expect for them to have experience in the industry. You can’t come in with a background in the dry-cleaning business and claim to be a CA. Someone can have 5, 10, 15 years of experience. Maybe you’ve been working for 30 years and that’s great. What I like to see is someone who has a plan for growing their business. Even if I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t have any clients at the moment, yet they can tell me their vision or what they’re actively doing in order for that to change, I might give them a shot—but again, this rides solely on that person.
Who are the people that excel in this type of partnership?
Someone who is entrepreneurial and extroverted, who is a go-getter and aggressive about pursuing clients. For example, one of my Associates thrives in social settings. He has built a large client base through networking on the golf course. Now I’m not saying that this is going to work for everyone, but there is plenty of Sloan admin support in the office. This allows people who court potential clients in this way to have more administrative tasks taken care of for them. An Associate will look at the bigger picture, that’s why most people who are interested in an opportunity like this have already experienced success in other endeavors. They could be a staff accountant who is doing well at a firm and is ready to move on, or someone who is currently working somewhere where they might be required to retire before they feel ready. What all of these people share is an independent mindset. They do their own work, they are able to carry a client from start to finish, no matter what their needs. They understand that this is an opportunity for them to grow their business and that’s what they set out to do.
What does the Sloan Partners program offer that other firms might not?
Sloan Partners belongs to a few prestigious accounting groups like the KSI (Kingston Smith International) and CICA (Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants). That provides an abundance of resources and connections. KSI alone is present in over 80 countries worldwide. That is a huge network. What that means is that if my Associate were to encounter a client who is looking to do business in Spain, they would probably have a detailed, accurate response to any question they may have within the day through our KSI connection. That’s the level of professionalism and reach this organization has. It’s incredible! Being linked to us will also offer them credibility. They will appear on our website, and they can cold call clients saying they’re with Sloan Group rather than operating from home. When they’re in the office, they have access to a diverse group of businesses. We share office space with a bankruptcy trustee, a marketing company, an insurance specialist, and so on—these are all areas of expertise that they have access to just a few steps away. If they need help with a difficult file, there’s a team of staff accountants right outside their door. These professionals have specialized expertise such as audit and assurance work, real estate accounting, not for profit accounting, and more. Those are just a few things they would probably not have access to on their own or even at another firm.
What are some examples of the resources this type of office environment provides?
Besides the comradery, we have an environment where associates are welcome to attend all of the professional training our regular staff members receive. We run CPA webinars and tax class video sessions. They may be independent, but as an Associate we still consider them a part of the Sloan Partner team. As a part of our team, they have access to the Professional Development programs offered, and staff discussions which provide a motivational aspect of group work, despite the individual nature of the job. There are experts and speakers, like tax expert Michael Fromstein, who come in to share their knowledge and help educate the staff. There are annual conferences with the CICA and KSI. Associates have access to all those things. On the other hand, they can also outsource their tasks to the junior staff accountants. If they don’t have time to do write ups, or need someone to do the bookkeeping on a file, get a trial balance ready, or run audits and cash flow projections, they can rest easy and trust that it will be done and on their desk by lunch. Overall, it’s a great environment for them to build their business.
Does this kind of partnership benefit clients in any way?
Of course! The biggest thing clients worry about that their business will grow too big for their accountant. That won’t happen here. We have the facilities that can help clients with accounts of any size be taken care of. Yes, the Sloan associate is a sole practitioner. But we position ourselves so that the client can become familiar with other staff members. Our receptionist connects them with other staff who can answer their questions in case they happen to call and their usual accountant is away. First and foremost, we believe in customer service and building great relationships. Associates have to represent our firm well. They may work for themselves, but the bottom line is that they are still affiliated with Sloan Partners and must carry themselves with professionalism and integrity. They need to follow our quality control practices, and produce exceptional work. We make sure that the work that leaves this office is impeccable.