Designing Your Firm… So It’s Not Reliant On You


Designing Your Firm…
so it’s not reliant on you


Being a slave to your accounting business is not a desirable situation and causes stress on you and your colleagues. Building a business which can scale and is not dependent on the owner(s) is a matter of Organizational Design. For tips on building a scalable business, read on.   

What kind of accounting business do you want to build? Maybe it fits one of these categories:

The ‘Specialist’

In this case, you leverage your knowledge, education and experience as a specialist to benefit clients. Any specialization is possible (e.g. the tax code, estate planning or just extraordinary client service). But this business will be heavily dependent on you and difficult to scale. ‘Burnout’ is a risk and that’s not good for you, your clients or your employees. Your P&L may look attractive (for a while) but there is little Balance Sheet value in a business heavily reliant on one or more partners. 

Anyone for ‘Fast Food’?

Another option is to establish and grow a business based on super-efficient processes that competes on price and provides a commoditized service (such as filing individual tax returns). Low margins mean you need significant scale to generate a really good income for owners. This is achievable in accounting firms… but it’s pretty rare.

The ‘Scalable People Business’

In this model, an owner’s income is NOT dependent on their input and income grows as the business grows. An owner can (eventually) generate a passive income as efficient systems and well-run teams deliver value to clients. The Scalable People Business requires the right Organizational Design and excellent Business Processes

Let’s look at critical factors in designing the Scalable People Business.

1. Clarity on Necessary Roles

Every scalable accounting business (which is not dependent on the owners), needs:

  • Technicians: People skilled in doing the work you have promised to clients. In most accounting firms, this means bookkeeping, accounting, administrative and tax skills. Note, these ‘technicians’ can be very detail-oriented (striving for perfection!) with limited interest (or skills) in client interaction.  That’s OK, provided they do quality work.
  • Managers: People who manage the technicians and develop processes to ensure the work gets done. Sometimes known as Production Managers, they focus on budgeting, quality control, training, scheduling, workflow and performance management. These managers can also avoid client interaction so long as they focus on maximizing productivity.
  • Business Developers: People who can develop new business and manage client relationships using their interpersonal skills. Sometimes known as Client Managers, they’re excited by building relationships and client interaction so should focus on growth, getting referrals and spending time in front of clients to (quickly) generate proposals and close deals. Low ‘productivity’ (billable hours) allows them to spend time on sales, not production. This is a client-facing role, so larger clients will require a more experienced / senior client manager. 

2. Build a Balanced Team

The Scalable People Business requires a BLEND of the above skills. That means:

  • Use existing skills wisely. Don’t be the partner who takes on any admin assignment ‘just to get it done’. Don’t be the partner who insists every accountant should sell (when they lack the necessary skills). Don’t tolerate poor productivity because there is no manager to improve processes. Put people in roles in which they will succeed. ‘Exit’ employees who cannot fulfil a critical role.
  • When hiring, avoid ‘throwing people at the problem’. Instead, hire people to fit certain roles based on their skills and the specific needs of your organization. 

Some degree of overlapping roles is acceptable, especially in small businesses… but failure to clearly define (and reinforce) these roles causes frustration and prevents scaling. 

3. Teamwork

Clarity on roles makes teamwork easier. People start to understand their own roles AND those of their colleagues. For example, the Production Manager and Client Manager can form an effective partnership to smooth over a client relationship, identify a new opportunity and price a new project… provided they ‘stay in their lanes’ and play to their strengths.

4. Performance Management

Clarity on roles makes managing easier because people know what they should achieve. Managers set meetings to ensure things are on track, discuss goals and reward excellent performance. Poor performance is not tolerated because that’s unfair to others. A happy, low-stress team is a productive team!

5. Develop Trust

A big obstacle in building the Scalable People Business is trusting other people in their designated roles. That means letting go and taking on the associated risks. Note, building ANY business involves risk and it is inevitable that some things (and employees) won’t work out. But that is not a reason to avoid action.

6. Leadership

A stressed out leader consumed by tactical tasks is unlikely to inspire others to get serious and focused on their roles. Conversely, a leader who is in control and works to a plan will find others following suit. Leadership starts with self-confidence and a clear set of goals for the business. Team members will react positively to this.

This doesn’t sound difficult… but old habits die hard and methods of management become entrenched. Certainly, accountants looking to reduce dependence, decrease working hours and even generate a passive income will need an organizational design consistent with the Scalable People Business. 

At Panalitix, we’re helping a lot of accountants make this transition… so get in touch to discuss your journey. 



Mark Ferris

Mark Ferris is an entrepreneur who has founded, built and 'exited' numerous businesses realizing success for shareholders, employees, customers and acquirers. He has a particular interest in software, solutions and service businesses and frequently writes on related topics.

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