As an accounting firm coach I am regularly asked to assist accounting firm owners to grow their firm. In this article I summarise some ideas to grow your firm.

How to grow an accounting firm

Interestingly, what I find is that the emphasis is often on growing revenue, and profit is somewhat of a second thought. The discussion of both is important because if you want to grow your revenue but don’t care about profit then that is going to be a lot easier than growing revenue AND profit. You may have heard it said that revenue is a ”vanity” number. An owner may have a fixation that they must achieve a certain level of revenue to feel good about themselves or to have bragging rights when speaking with others. For the purpose of this article I assume you want profitable growth – that is your goal is to grow both revenue and profits.

In a broad sense there are two ways to grow:

  1. Organically
  2. By acquisition or merger

Both have their place and for many firms over a period of years there will be a combination of both approaches employed. The most common however is organic growth.

Organic Growth

I see the following ways to grow profit in an accounting firm:

  1. Increase prices
  2. Deliver more services to existing clients
  3. Get more efficient at delivering services
  4. Win new clients

The first three are about doing better with what you’ve got.

  1. Increase Prices

My experience over a number of years of working in and with accounting firms has led me to observe what I describe as chronic under valuing and a lack of self confidence amongst accountants when it comes to pricing. It is often said that the first sale is to yourself and some times you just need to take the brave pills and lift prices. Fundamental to any pricing decision is discussion up front with a client about the investment that client will make for you to deliver an agreed scope of work. I believe that for most types of work accountants deliver, agreeing a fixed fee up front with the client gives you the opportunity to articulate the value to the client and charge a fee that is fair to both the client and you and which is higher than you may have otherwise charged. The key is you articulating the value to the client.

In firms with multiple partners/directors I have observed the situation where it is very obvious that one of or of them charges less than their peers. If you are a chronic under charger in a multiple partner/director firm, learn from your peers. Talk to them about how they achieve higher prices than you and then apply these learnings.

  1. Deliver more services to your client

Let me stress that this is not about selling services to clients that they don’t need or want. Without exception I believe that in every firm I see or hear about there is significant opportunity to be more fully servicing existing clients needs and wants. We know from numerous surveys that you are seen as the “trusted advisor” and that clients are wanting you to do more, to be more proactive in your dealings with them and help them better understand their numbers and make better business decisions.

I have written a number of times about a client service matrix. This is where you prepare a table with client names down the screen and different services across the screen to highlight which services are being delivered to which clients. Your practice management system should be able to provide the data for you and you may have to drop it in Excel but it should not be difficult.

So what I am saying is get a system in place to track the services provided to each client. Then have a system to educate clients on your capabilities and look for opportunities to help them. For example in your compliance workpapers have you got questions to prompt team members to think about what pain points the client has and how you could assist them address those?

  1. Get more efficient at delivering services

I regularly do reviews of firms across 24 areas and one of the areas I focus on is processes and systems for delivery of services to clients. Inevitably I find opportunities for improvement. Your mantra here should be “let’s find the best way to complete each of the tasks that make up client service delivery and roll them up into an efficient, effective process”. Simplify, remove duplications, have tasks done by the right person at the right time, automate where possible and make sure the client is fulfilling their obligations to provide necessary information.

I believe successful firms have one way to do each task, that they have worked out is the best way. What I often see in multiple director/partner firms is that each partner/director has his or her own unique way of working. Wrong! There are huge benefits from having a single way, including the ability to use team members most effectively. If you get efficiency in your workflow management and service delivery you will be able to generate higher revenue without increased costs and therefore generate increased profits. Or you may have a smaller team and lower costs to deliver the same revenue. Either way you are ahead. My experience is that even when firms have a project to increase efficiency they often lack rigour in their work and don’t achieve the best possible level of efficiency. Don’t let that be you! Apply some rigour to your thinking about your service delivery processes and systems.

  1. Win new clients

In summary I think a great process to follow to win new clients is:

  • Build an ideal client profile
  • Understand what they need or want
  • Identify where the ideal clients hangout
  • Connect with the ideal client prospects
  • Have a process to convert leads to clients


Build an ideal client profile (or profiles)

The first question to ask is what sort of clients do I want to win? What is my ideal client? There may be a few different types of ideal client and if that is the case, build a profile or persona for each. For example you might decide that your ideal clients are dentists within 100km of your office, or anywhere in your state or anywhere across Australia. Consider these different dimensions when it comes to your ideal client:

  • Demographic
  • Geographic
  • Psychographic
  • Industry
  • Software used

Niche or no niche? Not all niches are worth pursuing and it is not essential that you have one. A good niche will have the following characteristics:

  • Sufficient number of participants to make it worthwhile for you
  • Profitable / capacity to pay fees
  • You like them
  • You like the industry and have the capability to serve it
  • The work is interesting

Understand what they need or want

Consider their:

  • Pain points in their business
  • Challenges
  • Threats
  • Frustrations
  • Aspirations
  • Opportunities

Then figure out how you can help them with these.

Identify where the ideal clients hangout

  • Physically and virtually
  • What organisations are they members of?
  • What events to they attend?
  • What do they read, watch or listen to?
  • What online groups are they a part of?

Connect with the ideal client  prospects

Both physically and virtually, connect with the ideal client prospects and build a database, then do content marketing  – give lots of value and position yourself as an expert

  • Write articles for online and other media
  • Do presentations for your own and others’ events
  • Comment on other people’s articles
  • Write a book, regular newsletter or blog

Identify third parties who already know your ideal clients and connect with them – one to many instead of one to one. Getting leverage in this way is massive!

Make sure your website is right for your ideal clients and draw them to it.

Build social proof – case studies and testimonials of existing ideal clients.

Have calls to action on your website.

Schedule marketing activity. If it is scheduled it is more likely to happen.


Have a process to convert leads to clients

  • Identify needs and wants and meet them
  • Emphasise value not price
  • The senior people in the firm have this as a part of their job
  • Do lots of role plays to hone your skills
  • Measure activity – what gets measured gets managed


Growth through acquisition

Arguably this can be a faster way to grow your revenue and profits but it can also end in tears! And it is a more expensive way to grow your business. You might pay between 80 cents and $1.20  for $1 of annual fees, whereas if you grow organically you will spend much, much less than this on marketing and sales activity. I will write more about the acquisition of fees / a firm in another article but for now just caution you to go into it with your eyes open and complete appropriate due diligence to ensure you are getting what you think you are getting. And remember, if you put significant effort into growing organically you might be surprised at how quickly you grow.