Preparing your accounting firm for growth


There is no one-size-fits-all model in the accounting industry anymore. This means that if you want to grow your firm, it is up to you to determine how you will best operate, what type of clients you want, what services they need, how you want to work, and what modern systems will bring this all together.

Growing your firm does not necessarily mean hiring a bigger team or increasing your client numbers. You can achieve growth simply by working smarter, doing more with less, or being the very best at what you do.

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But before any of this can happen—before you can even make plans to grow your accounting firm—you must take the time to fully understand where you stand now.

Take note of now—where you are & why

To kick things off, look at the purpose, vision and mission of your accounting practice. If these are not already defined, ask yourself why you exist as a business—and be specific. Look back to when you first established your firm, consider what your chief motivators were for building your own business, and identify the defining characteristics that set you apart from other accounting firms. Keep this in mind throughout every decision ahead.

Beyond your holistic motives, you need to take a closer look at your team, whose collective job it is to deliver on this mission. Examine your culture—the team’s shared values and actions that are evident day-to-day. Your practice is developed and influenced by the individual personalities that interact within it, so understanding how these individuals work together to reach common goals will show you this dynamic. Knowing these shared behaviors will help you identify your team’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall health. In the end, a clear purpose gives you focus.

In an effort to be supportive of our clients, we took on their bookkeeping work, only to find it pulling us away from our original purpose. We have since renegotiated our relationships and returned to our original vision, but with a twist—bringing 21st Century accounting tools to the nonprofit sector and increasing knowledge across the board.

Megan Genest Tarnow — The Mobius Group

Decide where you want to be

With a detailed understanding of where your accounting practice currently sits, you need to define what you want to achieve. Set clear goals that are specific enough not to leave any confusion (or room for excuses) further down the line. Begin looking long-term with a timeline of one to five years, thinking of this as the grand destination you want your practice to reach. These goals could focus on your service (including client satisfaction and retention), profit, growth (in terms of staff and future expansion), or social (how you’ll give back to the community). They should draw closely on your mission statement, reflecting the reason your practice operates, and why you want to keep going.

And remember to be ambitious—you want to push your firm outside the comfort zone it has been sitting safely in for so long, and the goals you set will be a constant reminder of what you’re working towards.

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We are constantly managing and reviewing our goals and focus. While we want to stay nimble like a startup, we maintain the disciplines of larger organizations in terms of budgeting, planning and forecasting. This goal-setting process is critical, and ties directly to our ability to deliver our services efficiently and at scale.

David Pollock — BKE

With the long-term destination figured out, you need to identify a roadmap that includes the steps that will get you there. Many progressive firms are starting to implement OKRs in order to break yearly goals down into shorter-term objectives and key results. OKR stands for Objectives & Key Results. Your objectives are goals, which tell you where to go. And each objective has a few key results, which indicate how you’ll get there.

Rules for your OKRs

  • You must set them annually and quarterly. 

  • Don’t have too many: Five objectives and four key results for each is your maximum per quarter (though we recommend three objectives)

  • Make them challenging: you should expect to finish hitting 80% of your targets. 

  • A key result must have a number. This way you can objectively say whether you’ve achieved it or not (scoring at the end of the quarter, using a scale of 0-1).

These goals must cover multiple aspects of your business, including clear aims in relation to your revenue, staff retention, number of clients and their satisfaction, and whatever else you’ll need to achieve to reach the ultimate goals. It will help to think about each aim using the S.M.A.R.T method—make them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-specific.

By breaking yearly goals into smaller quarterly objectives, you can then start thinking about key results you’ll need to attain in order to hit the objective. You’ll also gain a clearer understanding of the individual actions that will need to be taken by which members of your team, and how everything will fit into the wider scheme of things.

For example, your firm’s yearly goal might be to double profits, but your quarterly goal is to double revenue month on month, 3 months in a row. Two key results could be to increase revenue by bringing in more clients and increase the value of current clients. So two actions could be to improve your client onboarding velocity and implement at least one fixed-fee advisory service.

Be bold

Finally, don't be afraid to think carefully but boldly, as you assess, strategize and plan. Your assessment and goal-setting today may lead to a reshaping of every element of your business going forward—your staff, client acquisition, service delivery, and processes. But they’ll move in a new direction that will almost certainly see you rewarded. 

This article is an excerpt from The Growth Playbook. You can download the complete playbook for free here, which includes worksheets and activities to help you recruit, train & retain a world-class team in your accounting firm.