How to set your accounting firm's goals

No matter how long you've been running your accounting firm, you likely have some ambitions. Maybe you want to increase revenue, help more clients, grow to a team of 1,000, buy a vacation home in Hawaii, or a combination of all four.

Whatever your ambitions, you need to design a plan to get there. Setting goals is the first step in that journey.

Most accounting firm owners know the importance of setting goals—it’s probably something you talk about with clients every day. But a surprisingly small proportion practice what they preach when it comes to setting goals for their own business.

The most common reason for this is that it’s not easy to know what goals to set, challenging to get buy-in from the team, and track progress and success along the way.

Accounting goals—setting goals for your firm is a process

Chances are you've heard about SMART goals:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Relevant

  • Timely

But you might be less aware of the four pillars that support SMART goals:

  • Direction—Where are you going? How will you get there?

  • Commitment—Speak your vision and remain dedicated all the time.

  • Execution—Create the steps and act on them.

  • Living your values—Do as you say you'll do and expect the same of your team.

Before you can create a goal, having a grasp on the above can help you. And creating a goal isn't merely writing down the things you want. Each goal has several characteristics related to SMART measurements and the four pillars. 

So, what would a good goal look like?

  • Specific—‘Grow the firm’ or ‘Increase clients by 30%’?

  • Measurable—‘Increase revenue’ or ‘Increase revenue by $75,000’?

  • Attainable‘Increase clients by 80%.’ Is that realistic?

  • Relevant—‘Increase parking lot by five spaces.’ While that relates to your firm, it doesn't necessarily correlate to its mission or its overall goal. This is more a nice-to-have than an actual goal. Accounting goals should move your firm closer to your overall plan.

  • Timely—‘Achieve goals in a few months’ or ‘By July 21, Goal 1, Goal 2, and Goal 3 will be accomplished’? If you can't set concrete deadlines, set dates to evaluate progress. Without evaluation, how can you know when or if you've achieved anything?

In each example, the second option is the SMART goal. If your goals fail to incorporate even one of the above, you may not be able to evaluate them or know if they're achievable.

Short and long-term accounting goals

Both short and long-term goals are important for your firm.

Short-term goals include things like implementing a new technology tool or improving existing processes.

Short-term goal: adopting new technology

Most of today's accounting firms leverage some form of new tech for improved efficiency and better service. Review your current tech stack and see what could stand improvement, then set a short-term goal for the coming months. 

For instance, maybe you decide your team could use a better software program or your clients would best be served by an updated website utilizing automation or a chatbot to answer minor questions.

Short-term goal: process improvements

Your firm may run like a well-oiled machine—but how old is the oil? Every motor can stand an oil change now and then. In other words, just because you've always done things a certain way, it doesn't mean you can't change things for the better.

For instance, you could begin with process improvement in billing or the way your clients get onboarded.

The thing to remember here is that any process improvement changes should be ones that actually help your firm boost efficiency or productivity. Don't make changes just to change.

And, at the same time, don't keep a process just because it's been that way for years.

What's most important is that throughout your goal-setting, you're continuously getting team input.

Long-term goal: growth

Long-term goals include those that not only take longer to implement but also take longer to see results. For example, a common long-term accounting firm goal is to grow the practice. You can measure growth in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Revenue

  • Number of clients

  • Number of new hires

  • Market expansion

  • New client types

Where has your firm been, and where do you want to see it down the road? What have other firms like yours done to become more successful?

Specific goals could be:

  • Increasing revenue by X percentage points or achieving a specific dollar figure.

  • Adding a specific number of new clients or team members.

No matter what long-term growth goal you choose, it must be specific and have a well-developed plan for achievement and a method of measurement.

Your firm's accounting goals

No goal is an island. Goals need prioritizing so that supporting goals get attention in the order necessary, and you need to get buy-in from your team and align them towards overall goals.

Have regular meetings with staff to track and report your progress. Going through the motions of change is great, but without a method of measurement, monitoring your progress, and reporting it's difficult to know what's working and what isn’t.

You are the leader. Think of yourself as a steward. Take care of your firm just like you would any other asset. Protect your firm, nurture it, and you'll reap the rewards for your efforts.

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