Accounting firm owners usually wear many hats. Marketing and business development activities can fall on your plate. You spend time with clients to make sure they are getting the service promised. And of course, the overall vision and direction of the firm.
This is a key reason why many accounting firms reach a plateau, often around $1.5M in annual revenue. This comes when growth has reached a point where an owner can no longer sustainably manage the various roles they had been taking care of.
Ed Chan from WIZE Mentoring and Chan and Naylor discussed this plateau in a recent Karbon webinar on designing an organization for scale. Ed says the antidote to chaos is his design of a scalable accounting firm—a firm that is not people-dependent, but system-dependent.
People-dependant firms can bring in new people when existing staff reach capacity. However, in this case, the business is only as good as the talent that is brought on. This makes you vulnerable to people leaving or changing their focus.
Becoming systems-dependant means you have a defined way of executing the tasks and processes needed to operate your business. Because the processes are defined, you are able to plug in the right people who can pick up their tasks immediately.
In order to get started with a system focus, you have to break down each process of your accounting firm. By breaking down your firm into its various components, it becomes simpler to manage the business as a whole. You can move through the various components and define the systems for each.
Ed outlines these seven divisions as being essential for every accounting firm to scale.
The Board of Directors component is your leadership. Before any clients are brought on and served, you have to create a process for defining who you are as a whole. Looking to the long-term, this function should be the last one a founder steps away from.
Marketing is the process of communicating your brand and value proposition to your ideal potential clients. A goal of marketing is to bring consistency between who you are, and who you say you are. Drilling down to a more practical function, marketing is also a process by which you develop leads for your sales team.
Marketing includes a variety of sub-categories including email marketing, social media, advertising, and events. When your company is smaller, it’s best to find the marketing that generates results and pour energy into that channel rather than trying to do everything.
Your sales process is how you convert someone who is interested in your services into a paying client. In a firm’s early stages, the founder commonly takes on this responsibility of bringing business. But at some point, you’ll be able to delegate this to someone who fully focuses on signing up new clients.
This is the engine room of your accounting firm. Responsible for delivering the services that your clients are paying for.
Be careful not to fall into the trap of hiring accountants and simply putting them to work. You also want to define how your firm provides its services. If you have a specific process for how you communicate with clients, or when you deliver reports, you’ll have more consistency in the organization. This will ensure you can easily grow and keep the expectations the same with new people.
To make sure you are providing the level of service you expect, you’ll need to build a process for quality control (or client success). A common example is to use a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey to ask clients a few questions to gauge how the service is going. This process allows you to make sure clients are getting the desired level of service, without requiring you to micromanage every client interaction.
As your company grows, so do the minor tasks required to keep a business operating. You’ll need to have processes for handling administrative tasks like appointment scheduling, bill pay, and keeping your building stocked with proper materials.
Your internal reporting is its own process to ensure your profitability is where it needs to be. Your financial reporting is also crucial for decision-making to determine when you can afford to hire.
A systems-focused accounting firm will have a leader in each of these seven business units, and the ability to hold each one accountable. Ultimately, the founder will sit in the leadership role only, and will only be required to review each area in a monthly meeting.
The best first step for your firm is to break out these seven areas. Look at how your firm currently handles these responsibilities. Do they line up with how you want them to work? If not, start to document the proper steps for each.
Once you have the processes documented, you can start looking at which area could afford to have a new hire who controls it. When your firm is system-focused, you can replace yourself and focus only on the work you enjoy. Your firm will be resilient to change, efficient, profitable and above all, able to scale painlessly.