If you are the leader of a mid-size CPA firm with 3 - 20 million in revenue and 20 - 100 staff, you have a tremendous opportunity to grow. I believe there has never been a better time to lead and grow a mid-sized CPA firm than today. Why?
There have never been more entrepreneurs than there are today in both the world and the US. Entrepreneurs are deeply concerned about taxes because taxes, more than almost any other factor, may negatively impact their wealth.
The recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has created opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses to retain a greater share of their wealth. But to do this, they need advice, not only on taxes but also on their overall financial plan. This is opening the door for CPAs to become true wealth advisors to companies and individuals.
To take advantage of these opportunities and to position your CPA firm for long-term growth, you need a good strategic plan. If you are the leader of a first-generation CPA firm and you are concerned about thriving and growing a second-generation of leaders, you especially need a good 5-year strategic plan.
We’ve developed and executed these plans for numerous firms over the last 20 years. After reflecting on our experiences and what we know works, I’d like to share with you four strategic planning best-practices that will position your CPA firm for long-term growth and actually get you there.
A STRATEGIC PLAN IS A VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR FIRM PUT IN MOTION WITH SMART GOALS OWNED BY YOUR LEADERS.
FOUR STRATEGIC PLANNING BEST PRACTICES
Strategic planning, in its simplest form, includes four best-practices:
- Document where you are today (current-state) on 7 key firm vitals (see this post).
- Define a vision for where you want to be in five years (future-state) on those vitals.
- Build a plan made up of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-Bound) for the coming year to bridge the gap between current-state and future-state.
- Execute the plan – where most of the work gets done – and track progress by way of four meetings over the course of the year where all you do in those meetings is review progress, problem-solve obstacles and make necessary course-corrections.
If you like these ideas, you’ll love this Action Guide:
WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED IN STRATEGIC PLANNING?
The four strategic planning steps really are that simple. But herein lies the challenge for CPA firms. If you don’t get the right people to commit to the process, it won’t work. You’ll waste your time. So this begs the question – who are the right people to be involved in strategic planning?
I believe that a CPA firm’s managing partner, partners and CXO leaders, particularly CFO, COO and CIO, should be involved in strategic planning. After all, they are the ones who will ultimately own the SMART goals and take responsibility to execute them.
One of the most important things you can do to make your strategic plan successful is decide how you will support your partners with budget, internal resources and external consultants. Put yourselves in their shoes a moment. Let’s assume they’re already making good money and working hard.
They know the strategic plan will help the firm long-term. But in the coming year, their current work-load may not go down and the strategic plan will only add to their stress. If achieving their SMART goals means that their home-life is negatively impacted, they probably won’t be excited about the plan or fully commit to it.
So ask yourself what you can do to help each partner or CXO commit to their SMART goal besides asking them to work longer hours. The R in SMART stands for Realistic. If they don’t believe a goal is realistic, you’ll likely get lip service but not meaningful results.
HOW TO DEVELOP A STRATEGIC PLAN
When we create and execute strategic plans for our clients, we typically have a strategy session in which we review current-state, envision future-state, develop a one-year plan with SMART goals and then put key dates on the calendar to review progress against the goals. The strategy session usually requires two days of meetings. We often do these in October, November or early December.
During the one-year plan development process, we look for partners or CXOs with a passion to achieve specific goals to step into the role of champion for those goals. We also ask champions who own the goals to make them truly SMART.
For instance, if a SMART goal is to “upgrade the IT infrastructure to best-in-class” it would be best if the CIO took responsibility for this goal. The CIO is in the best position to make the goal specific, measurable and realistic.
The dates to review progress are an essential part of a strategic plan. These meetings should not be during the tax season. We typically recommend that firms set 4 meetings per year on the calendar at the beginning of the year. These meetings prevent slippage of the goals and procrastination. These meetings should only focus on the progress against SMART goals.
If a partner commits to achieving a SMART goal and they know a meeting is coming up on June 15 to review progress and they know they are way behind on their goal, they will be motivated not to be embarrassed in front of their peers.
At the end of the strategy session, your work-product should be a set of SMART goals that leaders in the firm have committed to achieving within the next year. Those goals should be aligned with and in support of the future-state vision of your firm. In my experience, no partner or CXO should own more than two SMART goals. One is usually all they can handle.
It is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to put all of the details that are necessary into every SMART goal during the strategy session. Some goals will require a bit more research and some modifications to make them truly specific, measurable and realistic. You may also need to adjust the completion date once the research is complete.
If your CPA firm is developing a strategic plan and you’d like an experienced and objective third-party to work with you on this process, please reach out to me.