6 limiting beliefs that block accounting firms from growing

Often, we hold limiting beliefs that keep us and our firm from experiencing the full extent of possible growth.

A person slumped at their desk, looking burnt out and uninspired.

Several months ago, I started digging deeper into our firm’s growth obstacles as we planned for the years ahead. I uncovered several thought patterns that had been keeping MBS Accountancy from experiencing more growth and success. 

I’ve listed them below, along with several others that I’ve heard from other accountants over the years. 

1. "Selling makes me appear desperate"

We tend to view sales calls like live versions of those insincere and cringingly desperate LinkedIn DMs. Having this perspective causes us to avoid sales calls whenever possible, as well as avoid any sales-related activities like competitive analysis and upsell conversations. The key to overcoming our sales avoidance is to reframe our definition of sales to align with one that’s focused on adding value to others. 

James Ashford, VP of GoProposal by Sage, summarized this approach to sales when he noted that "To sell is to help people make better decisions faster. It's not about taking money from people. Selling is about helping clients to feel confident in spending the money they need to invest in building a more financially sound business."

2. "Lessons from outside our industry don’t apply to us"

A big misnomer believed by many accountants is that ideas from other industries cannot be applied to ours because ‘accounting is different’. These people assume accounting firms are unique from other types of businesses without providing solid reasoning why they believe this to be true. 

In reality, believing your accounting firm can’t emulate and learn from successful businesses outside the industry stunts your firm’s growth and success. 

Instead of seeing your accounting firm as a special case, learn to identify the trends and principles underlying the success of other businesses and then adapt them to your firm. Here are some examples:

  • Remote work: A 2022 Gallup survey showed 56% of full-time US employees have jobs that can be done from home. While many firms, including MBS Accountancy, have adapted to the post-pandemic reality of remote work, other firms struggle to embrace this concept. Ignoring the reality of remote and hybrid work will only endanger your ability to hire top millennial and Gen Z talent.

  • Local preference: One positive benefit of the pandemic is that the majority of buyers are more willing to support local small businesses compared to pre-pandemic, according to a 2021 QuickBooks survey. As a firm, you can leverage this trend by investing in your firm’s local SEO and engaging with your local community.

  • Ethical leadership: Between concerns about diversity and workplace toxicity, a clear trend is emerging that favors leaders who act ethically, no matter what. After suffering through numerous mental health issues and burnout during the past two years, workers—especially younger generations—are seeking employment at workplaces that encourage feedback from employees, treat everyone with dignity and respect, and demonstrate integrity.

3. "I must accept any work that comes to me"

The drive to increase our revenue can blind us to the reality that we can’t serve everyone. It’s as though we fear the possibility that we won’t have enough clients at some point in the future. 

So, we end up working with tire kickers and price shoppers, needlessly spreading our valuable staff and resources thin instead of allocating them to our most lucrative, enjoyable clients. 

It’s at this point that most accountants start burning out or ranting on Twitter while they continue sacrificing their personal health and relationships. To overcome this, here are some useful recommendations that have helped our firm and may help yours as well:

Define your ideal client industry or traits

Which clients are the most enjoyable for you and lucrative for your firm? These are the clients to focus your time, marketing, and workload capacity on. 

There are many different ways you can group your clients. For example, you could focus on a specific service or set of services like low-code development (see Canadian firm LiveCA) or employee benefit plan audits (like CPA Michael Meihaus). Or, you can focus on a specific market or industry, such as CPA Amy Northard’s focus on creatives. Either way, it’s best to define your ideal client and avoid working with clients who aren’t a good fit. 

Leverage your partner network

Building your professional network gives you options for referring clients that don’t meet your criteria. This can look different based on your needs and client base. At MBS Accountancy, we’ve built solid relationships with many firms and solo professionals, while other accountants are partnering with SaaS companies like Bench

Screen access into your initial meeting

You can avoid flying blind into a discovery meeting by getting new clients to complete a questionnaire beforehand. You may also want to charge new clients to meet with you. 

As accountant and public speaker, Mark Wickersham, points out, most firms offer enormous value in their initial calls with new clients to impress them and win them over. The problem is that, because the call is free, clients have a lower perceived value of the advice we offer. 

Paid discovery calls are an increasingly popular solution to this problem because it eliminates the bargain hunters, with the most interested clients rising to the top.

Paid discovery calls can be especially helpful if you regularly do a lot of preliminary research and work to appear professional and provide value in discovery calls. Often, prospects who attend discovery calls are still exploring their options. The value that you provide on a discovery call must be kept in proper perspective so they can appreciate its significance.

As the saying goes, “There’s no free lunch.” That free advice and exploratory work that goes into a proposal or initial call costs you. Why not recoup those resources while simultaneously eliminating uncommitted tire kickers.

4. "I’m not good enough"

Do you ever feel like you’re not enough? Are you afraid that others will expose you as a fraud even though you’re highly accomplished and act with integrity? 

These feelings are symptoms of imposter syndrome, which is the belief that we are not as competent or intelligent as our peers. This makes us feel that our successes are undeserved or even fraudulent. 

While it may seem like you’re the only one who feels this way, the truth is that most successful people battle imposter syndrome. If you can reframe your perspective on imposter syndrome, you can leverage your negative feelings to succeed and grow in ways you never dreamed possible. 

Here is how I overcome feeling like an imposter:

  • Realize feelings of inferiority can be misleading, as demonstrated by one Wharton researcher.

  • Embrace awkwardness as the environment for growth and persevere until it feels natural.

  • Find a community that supports you and helps you combat feelings of isolation and negative self-talk.

If you want to dive more into reframing your imposter syndrome, I recommend reading The ironic yet motivating truth about imposter syndrome.

5. "Building my personal brand will convey narcissism"

John F. Kennedy once said, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” 

Building your personal brand helps you add authenticity and humanity to an otherwise faceless and impersonal company logo. 

The problem is, many professionals try to build a personal brand based on what’s popular or most liked on social media. This can seem narcissistic and ultimately leads to the same kind of content being said in different ways. 

Instead, I’ve taken the approach recommended by our marketing manager, Adolfo Marquez, which is to “define and promote what you stand for as a person.” I prefer this approach because it places the emphasis on self-reflection and authenticity, not the latest trend or a certain copy-paste template. 

If you want to learn more about building a personal brand, I’d recommend 10 ways to grow your accounting business by building your personal brand.

6. "I have to do it or it won’t be done well"

Learning to delegate effectively has been an enormous struggle that I only recently overcame within the past couple of years. 

In the past, I’d try to control all aspects of my business, believing it to be ‘my show’ and hesitating to delegate because I feared the work wouldn’t be done well or on time. What I’ve realized, however, is that holding all the reins in a business ends up tying your hands, leaving you unable to do anything but hold those reins. 

As author John C. Maxwell puts it, “If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”

Here are some tips to delegate like a boss (pun intended):

  • Create your schedule around your priorities, not the other way around.

  • Triage your day between urgent and important, using the Eisenhower Matrix.

  • Create a work environment that promotes focus by turning off smartphone notifications and planning for anticipated interruptions like errands.

Advancing to your next level

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years is to always learn from my past and current circumstances.

Although my team and I don’t have it all figured out, we’re committed to learning what we don’t know. Identifying these self-imposed roadblocks is our first step toward overcoming them. Eliminating these flawed thought patterns will unlock greater levels of growth so you can build a more impactful and successful firm.