Growing Your Accounting Firm… Without Hiring


Growing Your Accounting Firm…
Without Hiring



It’s good news that many Panalitix clients have grown their businesses this year and want to expand in the next 12 months. However, hiring new employees to fuel that growth is proving to be a challenge. Here’s an excerpt from a recent conversation about the growth challenges and opportunities ahead:

Panalitix: What are your business goals next year?
Accountant: We want to continue growing. There’s a lot of opportunities; more business activity, more entrepreneurship, more leaders trying new things. I even know of a business which failed during COVID… but the owners have regrouped and come back stronger. 
Panalitix: That’s great – we share your optimism! Later we’ll get clear on the exact growth targets… but let’s focus here on HOW you will grow.
Accountant:  Well… we need to hire people to create capacity and take on more work.
Panalitix: Sounds logical. How is hiring going for you? 
Accountant: It’s a battle! We have had two separate job ads out for over three months. Not even a nibble. We were referred a young accountant who seemed capable but he wanted $90K in a role for which we’d usually pay $60K!
Panalitix:  Yikes! We’re hearing the same story a lot. And it will probably get worse before it gets better.  What about outsourcing? 
Accountant: Yes, it’s time to consider that. We’ve found some outsourcing firms that focus on one area like accounts clean-up, basic bookkeeping, admin functions or CFO services. They are candidates to help us.
Panalitix:  Agreed. This can be done offshore or through subcontractors. The firms who succeed take the time to properly design the processes, monitor progress and control quality. Getting this right at the start brings benefits later… just like with hiring employees.
Accountant: Something that worries me is that this growth will just make me busier. More employees to manage. More clients to take care of. That’s not what I want. 
Panalitix: That’s a legitimate concern… and relates to your organizational design or business structure. It’s not just about creating capacity. You need to clearly assign roles and ensure people are playing to their strengths. Then you can create capacity WITHOUT adding people.
Accountant: Can you explain?
Panalitix: Well, in simple terms, we should strive to build teams of specialists all focused on their areas of specialty. We often see firms where ‘everyone does everything’.  That’s like asking members of an orchestra to play all the different instruments from time to time… instead of getting much better at their own instrument. 
Accountant: How does this work in an accounting firm?
Panalitix: Well, let’s say you plan to grow by taking on new clients. That will require a dedicated effort in marketing, sales and onboarding. This takes time and focus and a specialist is more likely to succeed than someone squeezing this in with their other roles. 
Accountant: Yes, I have to do marketing and sales in addition to my role as an accountant. 
Panalitix: We see that a lot and you are unlikely to excel in any area. Do you like marketing and selling?
Accountant: Not really. But my partner loves it! He’s always out and about, talking to people, finding opportunities.
Panalitix: OK, well imagine if he could focus only on that. He’d need to transition his clients to someone else in the firm to free up his time.
Accountant: It’s possible… But we’d probably lose some clients. I mean, he’s been working with some bigger clients for many years. 
Panalitix: That’s a matter of managing your clients. We’re not saying he NEVER talks to them again but his role shifts from routine work to relationship management. Actually, this is also linked to sales. He may finally get the time to pursue additional (profitable) opportunities among his current clients… and that could be a big part of your growth. 
Accountant: Yes, we could be doing a lot more for some clients… but there are so many clients to look after!
Panalitix:  That raises another question. Should you keep all of your clients? We often see firms with many clients not producing profit for the firm. They’re consuming time and energy. We need to properly classify clients and take appropriate steps like moving them out, putting the price up, or investing to serve them better.
Accountant: Makes sense. We shouldn’t work with clients where we don’t make money. But there are some clients I’d rather not lose.
Panalitix: That’s OK. We’re talking about how you define your Target Clients. There should be clear criteria. Sometimes you will keep a client because of their growth potential or because they are an influential or strategic client. Defining the criteria will also help your marketing and sales efforts – you know exactly who to go after.
Accountant: OK. I must admit that we are a little nervous about investing in marketing and sales. Even my partner says there are no guarantees that we’ll bring in a lot more business.
Panalitix: Fair enough. But remember, as a business, you’ve only ever tried to market and sell part-time. You’ve been reactive. In spite of that, you’ve had some growth over the years. That tells me that a more precise approach could get good results.
Accountant: What do you mean by ‘a more precise approach’?
Panalitix: Well, in addition to defining the Target Client, get really clear on your service offering. What do you do and how does it benefit clients? How are you different? And analyze your existing clients who are probably not using all of your services (or even aware of what you offer). Some clients could be a source of referrals. Then try outbound lead generation strategies to find the target clients. And improve sales processes. We don’t want to waste good leads because of a failure to follow up. Sales takes discipline.
Accountant: OK, we’ve covered a lot. But we have the basics of a growth plan. Let’s get started!


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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