In business, the little decisions you make can make a big difference in your business’s level of success. For accounting firms, there are certain decisions that can determine whether your firm will be one of the “haves” or one of the “have-nots.” So what habits separate the laggards from the leaders in the field of accounting? What are the secrets to a successful accounting firm?
We dug a little deeper and delved into the secret habits of some of the most successful accounting firms in the nation to find out what makes them so good at what they do. Our findings are compiled in this guide so that you, too, can become one of the leaders in the accounting industry.
You’ve likely heard about the importance of writing down goals for your personal life. According to a 1979 study conducted by the Harvard MBA program, writing down goals for your future will make a huge impact on your lifelong success. In this study, they interviewed a number of graduate students and asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and your plans to accomplish them?”
Of those surveyed, only 3% had written down their goals and plans. 13% stated that they did have goals but had not written them down. 84% of the respondents stated they did not have any specific goals at all. When these students were interviewed again ten years later, the differences in their levels of success were astounding.
On average, the 13% who had unwritten goals earned twice as much as those who had no goals. And the 3% who had written their goals down? On average, they were earning ten times the amount of the other 97% of their class!
So what does this mean for your business? To put it simply, writing down the goals you have for your business will be the foundation for future success; however, surprisingly, 46% of firms don’t have a strategic plan or goal for their business. These goal-lacking firms experienced significantly less growth than the firms that did have written goals and plans.
But since these goals aren’t just for yourself, you can’t just write them down and leave it at that; your entire team needs to be on board with the goals and understand the strategy to achieve them. How can you do this? First and foremost, you need to have an inspiring vision for your business. According to one survey, only 40% of accounting firms believed that their company vision was inspiring, and only 20% thought their whole team understood the firm’s goals and strategies.
Getting your team on board and ensuring they understand your goals will encourage employee engagement. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of increased employee engagement, and we’ll discuss these specific benefits later in this guide. However, suffice it to say that engaging your employees with an inspiring vision and a clear goal will help your business experience exponential growth and success.
The most successful accounting firms don’t just offer a single service; they have a diversified list of services available for their clients. Why does this make them so much more successful?
There are a number of reasons for it:
Broader Client Base
If you offer a diversified package of services, you’ll appeal to a more diverse client base. For the sake of an example, let’s say your firm offers bookkeeping services exclusively for small businesses. Now, you only appeal to small-business owners for that single service. Your clients can’t refer you to friends who need personal tax returns done, or to larger businesses who need a range of accounting services. You’ve pigeon-holed your business into a single service offered to a single business type, and it’s difficult to experience significant growth when you’ve been painted into a corner.
Same Clients, More Business
You already have a customer base, so why not maximize the business you get from these customers? Firms who offer diversified services can offer multiple services to the same customer; this allows your business to maximize their potential profits, while making you a convenient one-stop shop for all of your customers’ accounting needs. Instead of just doing your client’s personal tax return, you can do their personal tax return, their business tax return, provide bookkeeping services for the business, and help with payroll management. Suddenly, your profits from a single customer have increased many times over!
An Expert in the Field
You might think that diversifying your services leads to lower levels of expertise—or, as the saying goes, “Jack of all trades, but master of none.” However, in the court of public opinion, this is simply not true. When customers see that you can handle all aspects of accounting, they will see you as an expert in your field. That’s why those firms at the very top of the industry have such a great reputation for what they do—because they can do it all.
Diversifying your portfolio of services can help your business to grow and gain a reputation for being the go-to expert in your industry. It’s just another step on the climb to the top of the accounting field.
Monitoring Client Satisfaction
Another habit that successful accounting firms have in common is that they don’t blindly handle customer satisfaction—they carefully monitor their clients’ satisfaction every step along the way. The reason for this is simple: On average, it costs five to six times more to get a new customer than to keep a current one. So simply put, it’s more cost effective to put your effort into keeping your customers happy than to focus efforts on marketing to new customers.
In addition to being more cost effective, keeping your customers happy can bring you additional business. In one study conducted, as much as 14% of a company’s business came from customers who were referred by current customers. Happy customers will also be recurring customers; people are 10% less likely to shop around if they’ve used your company before and were satisfied with the experience.
But how can you keep your customers happy if you never know when they’re unhappy? As a business owner, it’s important that you consistently “check the temperature” of your clients. Conduct regular surveys and ask them to give you reviews online. A customer who is unhappy with services or leaves a negative review likely already has one foot out the door. By catching this dissatisfaction early on, you can make efforts to retain the customer and keep their business.
Failing to monitor customer satisfaction is like pouring water into a bucket that has a hole in the bottom. No matter how much you put into the bucket, water will continue to leave it. The best way to stop up that metaphorical hole in your bucket is to keep your customers happy so that they don’t want to leave and take their business elsewhere; monitoring their satisfaction is the best way to do that.
Accounting professionals have a reputation for always being chained to their desks, especially during busy seasons. In fact, 83% of CPAs who were surveyed said they routinely work more than 40 hours a week. While it is sometimes necessary for employees to put in extra hours—how would you get through tax season otherwise?—it is important for you to encourage all of your employees to have a good work–life balance whenever possible. That’s the way the most successful accounting firms do it, and clearly it’s working for them.
Fortune 500 conducted a survey among businesses that were at the tops of their respective fields. In this survey, 49% of companies ranked in the top 3 of their industries listed work–life balance as a top priority for their company. Doing so leads to happier, healthier employees who report higher levels of engagement in their work. Happy, engaged employees give their businesses the following benefits:
- 27% higher profits
- 50% higher sales
- 50% higher customer loyalty
- 38% above-average productivity
You might think that keeping your employees at work longer will get more done, but the longer they’re at their desks, the less productive your employees will be. Additionally, a good work–life balance makes it more likely that your employees will stay with your company for the long haul; 27% of employees who reported a poor work–life balance at work stated that they plan to leave their companies within the next two years, while only 17% of those who reported a good work–life balance had the same plans.
More and more people entering the career field today care about having a good balance between their professional and personal lives, especially those employees who are highly qualified for their jobs. If you want to attract the best talent, keep them around, and keep them happy and productive, then you need to provide them with the opportunity to balance their lives around work, rather than requiring work to be their lives.
Everyone is familiar with the saying “time is money” but how often do you actually apply that concept to your business? In a competitive industry, it’s important that you and all of your employees learn how to work smarter, not harder, so that you can get more done with the time and the workforce you have. If you want your business to be highly productive, consider implementing some of the following habits employed by top accounting firms:
- Give clear direction regarding priorities; this helps employees to focus on the most important tasks first.
- Consistently and evenly distribute workloads and tasks.
- Provide strong support and training; this empowers employees and ensures they have the necessary skills to get things done.
- Give employees the resources they need to get things done efficiently and at a high level of quality.
- Give employees autonomy and authority to make decisions about how to do their jobs; this prevents delays in the workflow process and empowers employees to take ownership of their respective tasks.
Having brief meetings throughout your week can help you to gauge workloads and redistribute them as needed, so that you can ensure things are getting done; it also forces employees to be accountable for the things they have accomplished, because they must report back on their tasks periodically.
You should also set clear, firm deadlines for projects. According to one study conducted among college students, those students who had clear deadlines performed better and more consistently than those without any deadlines. You should also ensure the deadlines are not too lax; the same study indicated that students who had too much time to complete a task performed almost as poorly as those with no deadlines at all.
Encourage your employees to take breaks throughout the day as well. The same concept behind a good work-life balance applies to balance while employees are at work. According to several studies, the most productive people work in cycles; ideally, employees should work for 90 minutes, then have a 15-minute break. This syncs with the body’s natural energy rhythms, giving them more energy to get things done and allowing them to be more focused on their work.
You should also employ proper tools to cut down on the time that it takes to complete tasks. This can include items like paperless document management systems and scanning software. These kinds of tools will significantly reduce the amount of time your employees spend on time-consuming tasks like filing and data entry, giving them more time to spend on billable tasks and producing deliverables for your clients.
Finding the formula to success can be a trial-and-error process, and very few businesses truly figure it out. It takes the right employees, the right habits, the right tools, and sometimes, a little bit of luck to climb to the top of the accounting industry. However, we hope you can learn from those companies who seem to have unlocked the secrets of running a successful accounting firm, so that you can apply these secrets to your own business, and turn your firm into the next big success story.
So now that you have the secrets of the most successful accounting firms out there, what else are you waiting for? Start implementing these changes in your own business today, and watch your business grow!