As an accounting firm coach, consultant, mentor and facilitator one of the things I get asked to do is facilitate planning days for firms. Each firm has their own name for these events and goes about it in their own way but there are a number of common elements that I like to see ultimately end up in a documented plan.

My approach can be summarised in the table below:

What Where we are today Where we want to be Strategies to get there Next steps
1.        Outside Influences / SWOT
2.        Owners’ goals and business life
3.        Values, vision and mission
4.        Revenue, profits and cashflow
5.        Products / services
6.        Positioning / brand
7.        Clients
8.        Channels to market / distribution
9.        Marketing activity & sales
10.      Delivery
11.      Technology and system
12.      Team (capacity, capability, structure)
13.      Premises and other resources
14.      Business ownership, structure and governance
15.      Management, monitoring and accountability


Let me talk through each element individually. I’ll talk about 1 to 7 in this article and 8 to 15 in part 2 next month. For each of the elements I have a bag of tools, models and exercises to help firms think them through and make informed decisions.


  1. Outside influences / SWOT

We don’t run a business in isolation from the rest of the world or live our life in a vacuum. Therefore, before we consider anything I believe we must understand the world we operate in. How that world is today and how we believe it will change plays an important role in how we think about and plan for the success of our business. I have a template I use to guide this and it always results in some useful insights.

Strengths and weaknesses are typically thought of as inside your business. Opportunities and threats are typically thought of as relating to outside your business.


Those qualities, tangible and intangible which enable a business to succeed. Include human competencies, products, services, process capabilities. We want to identify how each can be leveraged.


Activities, services or other factors that block the business from succeeding. We want to identify hoe each will be eliminated or the impact mitigated or reduced.


Present themselves through the environment in which a business operates. How will we realise or unlock them?


External to the business. Unlike weaknesses they can’t be controlled – they exploit weaknesses and increase vulnerability. How will we mitigate these?


  1. Owners goals and business life

Another key to successful business planning is to acknowledge that as a business owner you do not run your business in isolation from the rest of your life. They are inextricably entwined. That being the case the owner’s goals will ideally be aligned with the goals of the business. If they are not I;ve got to question why not. I have a tool I use to draw this out and it should lead in most cases to some clear business boundaries being put in place. For example you don’t work past 3pm on a Wednesday because that is when you pick up the kids from school for special sporting activities.


  1. Values, vision and mission

I think of vision as being what the firm wants to become, mission as why it exists, or its purpose, and values as what it believes in and how it behaves. There are a number of different terms often used and as a result there can be confusion.

Regardless of what terms are used I am a big believer in each firm having a picture of where it wants to get to and what beliefs or values will guide it on the journey. I remain convinced that th pwer of this is still undervalued on many firms.


  1. Revenue, profits and cashflow

Having spent time in sections 1 to 3 getting clarity on goals and what is important to you, before diving into the detail of the business planning you still need to think about what revenue and profit will be needed to support those goals. (Some of those goals might have been specifically about revenue, profit or cash.) Having decided on that we work back from there to create the business to deliver it and fill in the blanks in terms of detailed lines for revenue and expenses.


  1. Products / services

The terms products and services are largely used interchangeably in my experience. The subtle but important distinction that could be drawn is that a service can evolve to become a product when the firm has systems and support that allow delivery in a consistent and effective manner that is not dependent on any individual person. A product is typically able to be delivered by a less expensive person than a service.

To achieve 1 to 4 above, what products will we need?

Get clarity on the products (services) we are offering and be able to explain them clearly and succinctly so easily understood

What products will we sell, to whom, at what price, how will they be delivered and by whom, and over what time frame will they be delivered?


  1. Positioning and brand

Positioning is the perception of your business in the hearts and minds of those you interact with or want to interact with. Primarily this is clients, prospective clients, team members, prospective team members, suppliers and other third parties. Brand is the visual representation of your positioning. This is about the message we are taking to the market in terms of product, pricing and packaging, markets and service. Get clear about what it is and be able to easily and succinctly articulate it.

Ideally we will be able to come up with a word or words that are a powerful descriptor of our positioning.  We also want to create one or more positioning statements, including one which might be termed the “elevator pitch”. That is, what we say when we have 30 seconds to convey what we do.

We then need to ensure that all elements of our business, every touch point that clients and others have with us, is aligned with that positioning. The visual identity of the firm plays a critical role in this. It should reflect our positioning and be consistently applied across all marketing collateral, documents and anywhere our name or logo is used.


  1. Clients

Get really clear on our ideal client profile. Build a persona for this client. There may be more than one client type, particularly where there are multiple products so describe them as C1, C2 etc.

  • Who are customers today?
  • What do they buy?
  • What might they buy?
  • Why do they buy / not buy?
  • What do they need?
  • What do they value?
  • How many at what average fees per client?

Until next month that should give you plenty to think about!