Putting my accounting firm consultant hat on for a moment, here are four ideas to build a better firm.

  1. The right people

I’ve put this first for a very good reason. You can have all the latest technology but in my view the success of your business still comes back to the quality of your people. The key question to ask yourself is this – “would I enthusiastically re-employ each of my current team?” If the answer is no, you need to consider why that is and take some action.

I typically see firms with one or both of two issues. The first is where there are underperforming team members where that under performance is not being tackled. It is being left alone, mostly for a whole bunch of reasons which don’t serve the individual or the business well. Being “nice” to your underperformers by ignoring the problem is not giving them the chance to address it either through training and support you provide or by them moving to another role in another business that better matches their abilities and interests. Ignoring the problem also annoys and demotivates your strong performers. They can see the issue (and have probably been telling you about it) and over time begin to wonder if it is worth putting in the extra effort. Adopt a caring and professional approach to managing underperformers but be decisive.

The second situation I often see is firms struggling with a lack of resources because they have had difficulty in attracting and retaining the right people or have procrastinated over the next hire. Sometimes you do need to hire a bit ahead of demand to secure the right person. In my experience if you hire a bit ahead of demand a good person will quickly find ways to add value to your business. In both issues procrastination is the enemy of success so stop it now!

If you want more on attracting and retaining the best people, I wrote an earlier article on this, which you can read here Five ways to attract and retain great people for your firm – Planet Consulting

  1. Workflow and electronic workpapers

In my experience, there are very few firms that would not get a huge benefit from revisiting how they manage workflow. My view is that your workflow process is designed to get work done:

  • on time;
  • on budget;
  • to an appropriate standard; and
  • promptly billed and collected.

This is about having the right people doing the right things at the right time to deliver an awesome client experience that generates profits for the accounting firm. Workflow goes from winning the client through to delivering the work and being paid (not necessarily in that order!) The key is to be able to complete work efficiently and to be able to monitor and manage on a day to day basis.

Run a project to break workflow down step by step and have someone take the client perspective.  Look at how electronic workpapers and workflow management software can be applied to best effect, including any options to automate steps. And look closely at what you are measuring and reporting on. Technology is only part of the answer. The key is to get the processes right and wrap the technology around them. The best firms have nailed this. Have you?

  1. Website

If your website is not attractive to your target market, then it is doing you a great disservice. I regularly work with firms who report that their website is a source of leads and new clients. The reason for that is that those firms understand who their ideal clients are and make sure the website reflects that. The sites look good, are easy to navigate and provide useful information to prospects and others. And they mostly include one or more “calls to action” – for example, an easy to use newsletter sign up or booking form for a complimentary initial consultation.

A few years back I did a review of over 200 accounting firm websites and concluded that at least half of them were very poor. I reckon there has been some progress since then but I still see some very poor sites. In 2021 it is relatively inexpensive to have a good website so there is no excuse. The key thing about all of this is that your website is almost always the first port of call for anyone who hears about you. We all do it – and if we don’t like what we see we move on.  A good website is just the basic price of admission and provides some credibility in the eyes of the potential client or potential team member. I mention team members because the other thing that your website must do is be attractive to the sort of people you want on your team.

  1. Business advisory / value adding services

This is a much discussed topic in the accounting profession and for good reason. Some (but not all) accountants report there is some downward pressure on the value attributed to the compliance services accountants provide to their clients. The reasons for this are many and I’m not going to discuss them here. What I will say however is this. The successful firms I see are wrapping business advisory services around compliance services and truly adding value to their clients. I am talking primarily here about SME clients.

Business advisory services don’t have to be complex. In fact, your SME clients generally don’t like complexity. They are looking for simplicity. If you do nothing more than help your clients understand their own numbers and how they support better decisions you will be a popular accountant! I think we have seen a lot of this going on during COVID when accountants have jumped in to help people navigate the stimulus options and make tough decisions about how to manage revenue and costs. I believe these conversations can and must continue post COVID.