Accounting businesses are thinking ahead to 2021… and Panalitix is fortunate to be working closely with many of them in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
One observation is that many partners are not satisfied with the current state of their businesses. Specifically,
- they want to work with clients who VALUE their skills and insights, rather than ‘checking tax returns’.
- they want to be stimulated by interesting projects (e.g. problem-solving and work which matters to their clients)
- they don’t want to be embroiled in petty HR issues
- they want to build businesses which grow in value (as a reward for their hard work)
- they want to create a legacy which properly represents their many years of work
Any sense of dissatisfaction can compound over time and people may become cynical, ambivalent and even bitter. Why should accountants (or anyone for that matter) settle for less than what they want from their business, (especially those that have taken entrepreneurial risk)?
There is no single ‘formula’ for building the business you want, but here are some initiatives underway in progressive accounting businesses.
1. Take Responsibility
This is an important starting point. Businesses develop habits because they are allowed to. To ‘undo’ these habits requires a change in mindset, thought process, a cultural shift, a transformation. This takes time and cannot be achieved by ‘tweaking’ parts of the business. A concerted, long-term effort is required.
In the words of the founder of a North Carolina-based 12-person accounting firm, “Changing my mindset was the first important step I took in reforming my business. I had to undo many habits which had taken hold in my business over many years”.
2. Reallocate clients and roles so you do the work you enjoy
Many accountants complain they are not fully exercising their skills and experience in their client work. Many are checking the work of others and dealing with clients who are unappreciative. This causes frustration.
The situation can be changed by working with fewer clients and performing the roles you enjoy whether it’s review, problem-solving, advisory work or maintaining the client relationship.
According to a partner of an Australian-based firm: “Client Classification is the first stage of an important process we’ve been through. We finally decided that we shouldn’t be doing work we don’t enjoy and are not particularly good at. It’s not good for the business… or for us as partners”.
3. Redesign the organization
A consequence of job reallocation is that somebody else has to do the work. Most accountants fear this step. ‘What if they make mistakes?’ ‘What if we lose a client?’ What if a client is upset?’ But is this really so hard? Consider that:
- Your employees may not have the skills to do the work. In that case, you have the wrong people
- The skills exist but the work doesn’t get done. In that case, your processes need a review
- Your employees won’t take responsibility. Perhaps they have never had to be accountable so they won’t ‘step up’?
Failure to address this issue is the biggest factor keeping accountants from building the businesses they want.
As stated by the founder of a firm in Colorado Springs, “The problem actually lay with the partners who wouldn’t move over and allow others to properly contribute. We are a more vibrant organization now that we’re over that phase”.
4. Dedicate some available time to… sales
With more time on their hands, accountants can focus on understanding their EXISTING clients and adding more value. Perhaps you should focus on finding NEW clients, something that is often put aside due to client work.
Many accountants need to “bet on themselves”. They need to believe they can develop way more business (and figure out how it is delivered) than the revenue earned from unfulfilling client work. This is achievable for accountants who truly value their skills, insights and experience.
“I used to feel bad when my productivity was low. Now I know I can make a much greater impact on the business when I’m NOT churning out tax returns”. An accounting business owner based in Perth, Australia.
5. Dedicate some available time to… ‘play time’
Carve out time for things you enjoy. Maybe you like to write, cook, study, develop products, travel, make presentations, research or learn a language. Put this time aside, set goals and get disciplined about it. We work better when we are nourished on multiple levels.
“I spend Thursday morning writing business articles. That’s what I enjoy and it helps our business”. Founder of a two-partner firm in Australia.
6. Dedicate some available time to… leadership
Businesses need direction and people need guidance. Hiring, strategy, new product development, growth planning and so on all require focus and a strategic approach. This gets neglected in many businesses where the partners are ‘too busy’. The firm becomes rudderless and people get disgruntled.
According to the managing partner of a Boston-based firm, “Our quarterly retreats became monthly this year, even during tax season and the theme of each meeting was making sure we are enjoying our work. The shift compared to where we were 2 years ago is amazing”.
7. Multi-partner firms should ‘divide and conquer’
We often see firms where ALL partners engage in the same activities. Some partners will be better at management, sales, planning, running the office, etc. Delegate these roles and report on progress… rather than consuming everyone’s time with these issues.
From a partner of a Sydney-based firm, ‘I remember when we felt we needed to reprimand a Client Service Coordinator for poor work and all three partners attended the meeting. What a waste of time! We don’t do that anymore!”
8. Embrace risk
Remember, EVERY change involves some risk. We should embrace the risk, not avoid it. For example, you may lose a client as you make changes… but this is a small price to pay as the business evolves.
With the broad direction for your firm established, we can get into the detail of how and when to execute these changes. Some will be simple and others more complex. Remember that the only unacceptable solution is to tolerate the status quo… when it is not working for you.
Many firms are making great strides towards building the businesses they want. Business owners owe it to themselves to make this happen!