The blueprint for growing your accounting firm in 2021

Growing an accounting firm is hard. From finding and keeping great people, to building consistent processes for serving clients, the tasks continue to pile up as you grow.

In fact, Accounting Today’s 2020 Year Ahead Survey found 42% of accountants listed recruiting/retaining good employees as their biggest challenge.

Growth doesn’t have to be painful

Ed Chan, the Founder and Non-Executive Director of Chan & Naylor, a firm that has grown to serve over 6,000 clients, now helps other firm owners through WIZE Mentoring

He says many of the partners of accounting firms he works with associate growth with pain. In a smaller accounting firm, where every decision and detail revolves around the partners, the thought of growing the team usually conjures more stress.

Chan explains that from his experience, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Creating a blueprint for growth

Many accounting firms lack a plan for how they will grow. Rather than designing a structure, then filling the roles in a systematic way as the firm expands, most accounting firms hire out of necessity.

Growth, then, for most accounting firms is reactive. More people are brought on as needs arise and the cycle of stress only continues.

Chan recommends starting with a blueprint with an organizational structure in mind. Your blueprint, includes the key roles you’ll fill as you grow so you can approach growth with confidence instead of fear.

Designing a structure for growth

A scalable accounting firm requires you and other partners in your firm to build a team and remove yourselves from the roles you may have been filling. Chan breaks down seven essential divisions in a scalable accounting firm.

  1. Board of Directors (Leadership)

  2. Marketing 

  3. Sales 

  4. Production

  5. Quality (Client success)

  6. Office administration

  7. Financial reporting

A systems-focused accounting firm will have a leader in each of these seven business units, and the ability to hold each one accountable. Eventually, you will only be in the leadership role, and will only need to review the other areas in a monthly meeting.

Chan emphasizes systems because most accounting firms focus on people. “Throwing more people at a problem won’t solve it,” he said. With an organizational chart in mind, you can grow with the right individuals in the right roles.

Building with the right team

When you have a plan in place with the intention to grow, the next step is bringing in the right talent. Your team will have a variety of needs as things scale, and it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of people.

Complementary Roles

Many accounting firms make the mistake when hiring of trying to find people that are similar to existing team members. Chan said this mistake can be costly because the people you hire should complement you. 

This often means building a team with a variety of different skills and strengths. 

As an example, many firms are now recognizing the importance of soft skills for success. Soft skills are more people-oriented and help with client interactions.

If you have a team member who is very good with people, you need to find ways to maximize that skill with client interaction. They may work well together with another teammate who is more of a number-cruncher and prefers to operate behind the scenes. 

These team members would complement each other, and it would be a disservice to try to mold them into focusing on weaknesses.

Well-defined expectations

In order to grow, your team needs to understand their responsibilities. This includes creating a feedback mechanism for maintaining accountability. 

Part of why growth is intimidating is because at a certain size, the owner has to let go in a sense and can’t manage everything that happens in the firm. The only way to maintain quality at scale is to have well-defined roles with job descriptions and accountability.

Culture fit

Part of growing your firm can work to your advantage as you carve out a specific niche. Your firm will take on its own identity, and you should work to hire talent that fits with your team culture.

For example, Steph Hinds at Growthwise has intentionally built a culture focused on fun and being technology-centric. Their culture is evident right from their website, which allows them to attract team members who fit with each other.

Consider remote work

Studies show teams allowing remote work have a better chance to attract and retain talent. A report by Stanford University said employers offering remote work are 50% more likely to keep their employees.

Technology tools today allow firms to create workflows and manage tasks from any device and location. If your firm has the design for scale, allowing flexibility in location could help your firm build and retain the right team for growth.