To grow your practice, you’ll require a lot of action, and you might be desperate to jump straight in and get going. But before you do, you need to map out where you want to go. If not, you risk getting distracted, and it’s anyone’s guess where you’ll end up.
It’s vital that you set clear goals to act as your roadmap for where you want your business to go. These goals will keep you motivated, remind your team what their number one focus should be, and keep your firm’s big-picture motives front of mind.
There is a science to effective goal-setting. This is how you can set and manage goals to grow your practice.
#1 Be smart with your goals
Before setting any goals, you should consider what makes an effective one. Any plans made as a business or individual must be not to leave any confusion (or room for excuses) further down the track.
It helps to think about this using the S.M.A.R.T. method. This means every goal you make should meet these criteria:
- S: target a specific area (like client satisfaction). The more detailed you can be, the better.
- M: make it measurable by quantifying what needs to happen for the goal to be achieved.
- A: make it achievable. You can be ambitious but still realistic.
- R: remain relevant by picking goals that truly matter and make a difference to the big picture.
- T: give a time frame that this must be achieved.
#2 Define the ultimate destination
Begin looking long term with a timeline of several or more years. Think of this as the fantastic destination you want your practice to reach. This should be something big, which will take years of hard work to achieve.
Look at all areas of your firm and set long-term goals relating to each—consider profit, growth (in terms of staff and future expansion), client satisfaction, client retention, and social impact (how you’ll give back to the community). Think about what would need to happen for your practice to be highly successful in your eyes.
Remember to be ambitious—you want to push yourself outside the comfort zone. These long-term goals will be a constant reminder of what you’re working towards as a practice.
#3 Break that down into regular checkpoints
With the long-term destination figured out, you need to set a roadmap that includes incremental steps that will get you there. This is where you break everything down into shorter-term goals, thinking about what you’ll need to achieve within that more extended period to get there.
You should pick immediate goals that can be accomplished by the end of a week or month and broader intermediate goals you want to achieve by the end of a quarter or year.
One of your long-term goals might be to grow your practice to a team of 30 within two years. If you’re currently a team of 5, this could be a pretty daunting number. But breaking this goal into smaller steps you need to meet—such as the number of clients and profit you need by this quarter—will make this seem much more achievable.
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 broader scheme of things.
#4 Record and communicate
You need a platform to share your firm-wide goals with the team. You may want to improvise and use any system you already use to communicate and collaborate with your team.
Just remember that your goals must be communicated in a place that your whole team has access to, can come back to for future reference, and contribute to. This brings us to step five…
#5 Get buy-in from your team
When you have clear, firm-wide goals, think about what each team member or business function needs to achieve intermediately. Or better still, get them to think about it themselves.
Individual goals will keep each staff member on track and remind them how their work contributes to the bigger picture growing the practice.
Goals show everyone our main areas of focus as a business for the coming three months. It is then up to each team member to select their own individual goals that will contribute to achieving these business-wide goals.
When setting their own goals, ask your staff to think about what critical tasks that they absolutely must achieve for the next quarter. These should be the tasks that, if all else fails except for these, the long-term goals will remain within reach.
Once again, individual goals should be S.M.A.R.T., and they should be shared on the same platform that your firm-wide goals are set. Allowing everyone to see their team mate’s goals is perfectly OK—in fact, it’s encouraged. When everyone knows what everyone else is working on and contributing, your team culture will flourish.
#6 Always be reviewing
Don’t wait until the end of a quarter to find out that some goals were off-track from day one; you need to maintain a constant watch over your firm and individual results and make changes to your strategy if necessary.
It is up to each individual to keep a close eye on their progress towards a goal, and firm-wide progress is shared in weekly and monthly meetings. If an objective is not within reach, we can discuss changes to our strategy and constantly refine how we’ll achieve the results we’re aiming for.
At the end of an intermediate goal-setting period (in our case, each quarter), we have a business-wide meeting where everyone shares their results. This isn’t a time to humiliate those who don’t reach theirs; it’s a time to come together, learn from mistakes, celebrate joint successes, and determine what we can do better next quarter as a team.
The goals your practice sets will set the tone for what you achieve. They will serve as a constant reminder of what you’re working towards and keep every team member moving in the same direction. Get this process right—and keep it going—and you’ll be well on your way to achieving enormous success as an accounting business.
How to grow your accounting practice in a digital age
We live in a society where we communicate and conduct business online now more than ever. Companies are storing their data in the cloud. Facebook is a primary communication device. We’re using our smartphones for everything from making calls to browsing the internet to paying for groceries. To gain more clients, accountants and bookkeepers need to be online since their prospects are doing their research. If your accounting firm doesn’t have an online strategy, then you’re behind all the others that do.
Most accountants and bookkeepers know that word-of-mouth—referrals—is the most effective form of advertising. It’s how accountants gain business clients and repeat business.
So, how can you build your “word-of-mouth” as an accountant? Consider these three steps.
1) Define your competitive advantage
Write down your competitive edge. The first step to growing your business is to understand what makes your practice attractive to clients. Successful companies got that way because they focused on an advantage lacking in their competitors. Examples include:
- Innovative pricing.
- Specialised services.
- Better technology
- Faster service.
- Industry-specific experience.
- Full range of services.
- Your friendly team.
If you are struggling to identify your competitive advantage, ask your existing clients why they like working with you. Use that information to sharpen your marketing program and sell to new prospects.
2) Leverage social media
Because social media gives you scope to focus on more personal communications, it’s an amplified word-of-mouth tool and essential for accounting and bookkeeping firms. Remember—the end goal is face-to-face meetings that are the beginning of a real relationship between you and a client. It’s a great way of engaging potential customers, keeping in touch with current customers and forging valuable networking contacts within the industry.
Share content that has value to your clients, but be aware of adding too much noise. The last thing you want is to create an annoyance factor by clogging up people’s feeds, keeping your content in a business context and always making sure it’s relevant. Be selective!
Focus on just one platform—pick the one you like most and get started. Each week, it only takes a few minutes to share a bookkeeping tip or link to an interesting article from your firm using Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Track the results of your marketing activities, and you’ll soon discover the right formula for your business and your marketplace. An audience of followers who appreciate your insights is more likely to contact you for accounting services.
It used to be challenging to interact with people you didn’t already have a personal connection with. Nowadays, you can network with people you’d never have had access to in the past. Social media makes everyone more accessible, which means that it’s easier to start conversations with prospects, get involved with relevant groups to your industry and generally engage with people. Remember—people buy from people. If you gain their trust through personal communication and prove that you know your stuff, they’re more likely to convert into a client.
Consistently market your services.
Lastly, many accountants and bookkeepers are happy if they keep their current client list year over year. Unfortunately, you can’t always count on the same clients forever: People retire, businesses close, and clients may even move on to other accounting professionals through no fault of your own.
These are the reasons why you should constantly be marketing to attract new clients. Although it’s challenging to find the time (and money) to invest in marketing when you are so busy serving your existing clients with their accounting and bookkeeping needs, the key is to develop an easy to maintain marketing strategy that keeps your business in front of prospective clients, no matter how busy you are.
How to develop a winning growth strategy for your accounting practice
Any accounting firm that wants to improve its fortunes needs a growth strategy. A robust growth strategy describes a firm’s target industries and clients, what services it will offer and how it will position and develop its brand. Despite pressures such as increased competition, automation and the commoditisation of services, this sets the pace to build the business and achieve goals.
If you have never developed such a strategy, don’t worry. This post will explain some of the most popular growth strategies you can pursue and the two primary vehicles you can use to put your chosen plan into effect.
Strategies for accounting firm growth
There are many strategies for growing a company, and they all involve varying degrees of risk. They are frequently mentioned in strategic planning discussions — and yet they are also often misunderstood. Below, I describe three popular growth strategies:
Increase market penetration
In the world of consumer products, this approach means selling more products to the same consumer group. The math is simple: if it’s good to sell one laptop, selling several dozens is even better.
In the accounting world, a similar concept applies, but in this case, it means offering more services to the same clients. It’s relatively easy as strategies go, but it is not entirely without risk. For starters, you need to make sure clients understand your entire range of services. Cross-selling unfamiliar services to existing clients can be challenging. You may have plenty of room to grow the business and get more revenue from existing clients. However, before you can do so, you first need to educate them about your entire range of capabilities — which is by no means an easy task.
Open new markets
Another strategy is to offer your existing services in a new market, one of the most commonly-used growth strategies in the professional services sector. Many firms go all in by rolling out their services to any and every type of client. More potential buyers mean more sales, so what could go wrong?
Well … plenty. This strategy’s risks begin with the fact that it takes money and resources to educate and nurture new audiences — and under-investing can lead to wasted effort and produce underwhelming results. There is also the genuine risk of brand dilution. If people associate you with a particular market and expand to compete in other markets, any advantage you had as a specialist could evaporate.
Introduce new services
Another strategy option is to develop an entirely new service offering. An accounting firm, for example, might decide to offer financial planning or internet security services on top of its traditional tax practice.
This growth strategy involves many risks. It can take a significant amount of time and effort to develop a new service. This could distract you from billable work, business development or other essential activities. There may also be regulatory obstacles.
However, perhaps the most dangerous risk in this strategy is that of watering down your brand. The expression, “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” sums it up. By pursuing a broader recognition in the market, you could end up being known for nothing at all. The more extensive your service line becomes, the less focused you are on a core area of expertise. You could end up throwing away the one unique trait or strength that people associated with you, the one that made you memorable in your market.
You should also consider whether your market will accept that your firm can provide the new service you want to launch. Could it seem to create a conflict of interest? Alternatively, could it alienate or confuse some of your already existing referral sources? Is it fit good for your brand? Regardless of how capable you are of delivering the new service, will it be a natural complement to your other services? Or will it be an awkward add-on, raising questions in the minds of prospects?
Organic growth vs. merger and acquisition
Once you have selected the strategy for growth that makes the most sense, you have another major decision to make: how will you implement it?
Organic growth means winning business from new or existing clients. This is typically the healthiest road to change, as it is more reliable and valuable than acquisition. This course requires that you research your target clients to determine their needs and interests. You can then use this research to develop a definite market niche and strong differentiators. From there, you can embark on a marketing program that combines digital and traditional efforts to increase your ability to reach a wide range of potential clients and share your expertise with the marketplace.
Mergers and acquisitions (M&As)
Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) are another paths to growth. They have several key advantages but also some notable limitations. In a sense, you are buying growth — which in itself is not necessarily bad. M&As allow firms to quickly add new expertise and capabilities, helping organisations gain credibility in new markets or change the balance of power in an existing one. There are several ways that M&As can generate growth, such as addressing critical gaps in service offerings or clientele or bringing in new revenue streams and efficiencies.
Be sure to vet any firm you consider merging with or acquiring fully. Poorly thought through mergers or acquisitions can be fraught with problems, including culture clashes, diluted brands, and confusion in the marketplace.
Each accounting firm needs to figure out its strategy for growth. While most firms begin with a small number of existing client relationships and referral sources that they can tap, they eventually outgrow these limited resources. Without a formal business growth strategy, firms tend to grow in fits and starts, if at all.
However, there is good news. Any of the approaches listed above can work — but the one you choose has to be a good fit for your resources, culture and risk tolerance.