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Don’t Bother Me! I’m Too Busy to Grow the Firm

Why focus energy and resources on growing your business when it seems to be expanding nicely on its own these days?! The question is much more than rhetorical; it has strong practical implications. Practice growth specialists like me speak at conferences and in private to our clients, making the case for ongoing, strategic planning to manage growth in all business environments. It’s not that we’re trying to create a market for our services. Rather, it’s because we know that fat years ultimately turn lean and practices that made smart decisions during the boom are the ones that ultimately survive.

You can never afford to be too busy to concentrate on methodical, thoughtful, focused growth. It’s the way you will remain fresh in your service offerings, responsive to evolving needs and certain that the clients you have are the clients you want. Without the discipline that comes from strategic growth planning, it’s hard to see the relative merit in one client or undertaking over another. Similarly, when piles of work land on your doorstep, a strategic growth plan is the filter through which you assess opportunities. “OK,” the thinking might go. “We’ve got eight opportunities here. Do we land all eight, or perhaps focus on four because they look most like where we are headed?” The plan helps justify your decision-making.

Prioritizing Opportunities 

Like many practices, yours has probably benefited from Sarbanes-Oxley fallout, with large pieces of business formerly tightly controlled by the Big Four now in play. As a result, you may be juggling more business opportunities than ever before. If you and your colleagues are scrambling to land the work without much of a plan, your sense of “busy-ness” may result from the fact that you aren’t prioritizing your marketplace opportunities.

Perhaps you’re also caught in the old paradigm that quality work, coupled with regular lunches with bankers or lawyers is enough to get the higher-quality clients. In fact, you need a coordinated approach led by a small but dedicated group within your firm that knows where the practice is headed and what kinds of clients will get you there. Especially in a market like this one, it’s tempting to pursue anything, or too many things. But this is the time you can afford to be more strategic and selective. If your firm has established that its niche is rural health-care providers, chasing business in completely unrelated industries may make you busier, but will not get you closer to your vision. What’s more, a strategic approach means you will never be too busy to pursue a rural hospital, because it is what your plan directs.

Make sure the human and capital resources you need to pursue that plan are in place. I’m seeing far too few firms investing in the talents of skilled human resources recruiting professionals. These people are experts in solving skill-shortage dilemmas in markets like the current ones. Seriously consider focusing more of your marketing on supporting those recruiting efforts.

Become a Resource

Some of you spend inefficient time going after business. Rather than devote endless hours to personal business development by you or other high-value members of the practice, spend time establishing a robust relationship with other CPA firms that understand what you do and how you can benefit their clients. If done properly, this can result in a steady stream of potential opportunities. The strategy is powerful, and is consistent with where our profession is headed – a multi-provider environment.

Planning for Every Future

Planning for the future should not mean planning for a time that precisely resembles the current one. That would be too easy. Rather, your job is to anticipate a market that is different – for example, more constrained, less robust and generally harder to maneuver in. Anticipate what may lay ahead – executive tax services, ongoing 404 compliance tune-ups, forensic services, specialized audit services – all look promising. There are others which will fit the profile of your specific client base.

If you’re too busy to follow the tenets of practice growth management today, you may find that the client base you end up with at the end of flush times is not the one you want.

Here are some techniques:

  • Establish your firm’s desired segments (service lines and industry niches) and remain focused on business that leads there.
  • Use a pipeline and pipeline review to prioritize and drive your preferred opportunities.
  • Consider hiring a business developer.
  • Develop alliances with other CPA firms.
  • Anticipate the future and keep your antennae up!