Visual aspects when selling your firm can either make or break you

I remember the last accounting firm I purchased when I was in practice. The firm was profitable. I thought it would enhance our existing practice. The building was in a good location and would be a good investment. So, we purchased both the practice and the building.

The inside visual aspects of the facility were dreary, at best. The former owner had been in the building for 20 years. Apparently he never had the office cleaned during that time (perhaps I exaggerate). There was a thick layer of dust in all the window sills. A couple of unused offices were filled with ancient client records, supplies, and obsolete office equipment. Even active offices had “stuff” stacked in various places. The carpet was extremely worn and the walls hadn’t been painted in years. In cleaning the place, we filled over 50 large garbage bags and had to pay the garbage collector extra to haul it off.

I imagine the visual aspects of the office left a negative impression on the clients. The appearance shocked many of the other potential buyers of this practice, which discouraged them from the purchase. After all, if the office is in such a horrible state, the accounting records were probably in similar disorder.

Such disarray did not discourage me. I had one advantage that perhaps the other prospective buyers did not have. My wife, a former interior decorator, could envision what the office could be. Other than some elbow grease and some imagination, it wasn’t that difficult or expensive to bring it up to my wife’s standards (after all, she is the ultimate boss!). New carpet, some paint, some new furniture in the reception area, and extra lighting brightened up the place.

The effect on the clients and staff was immediate. The staff loved working in such a beautiful and clean office. Even from my office in the back of the building, I could hear clients of the practice enter the building and exclaim, “Oh my, I love what you have done to the office!” It certainly put them in a better mood to address their business challenges at hand rather than feeling like they had entered a dark, dusty dungeon to work on their business needs.

The prior owner should have taken the time to make the office more presentable (what residential real estate people call ‘staging’). He could have received a higher price for the real estate. Also, the practice itself would have been more appealing to prospective buyers. He may have even had a larger client base. I imagine some potential clients took one look at the lobby area and immediately turned around and went down the road to another accountant.

Don’t ignore the outside of the building either

Make sure the parking lot is clean and well-lit, the shrubbery is trimmed, grass cut, and signage professional.

While the tendency of accountants is to rely on our talents as technicians, we must not overlook appearance of the practice. If you are considering the sale of your firm, I would encourage you to make an objective assessment of the visual aspects of your firm and adjust accordingly. Not doing so will probably cost you more than the effort and expense of bringing your office up to something that is professional, inviting, and more marketable to prospective buyers.

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!