Many mid-size CPA firms don’t do true strategic planning because they think it’s too much work, it won’t pay off or they’re simply happy with where they are today. I get that. But there are an emerging group of mid-size CPA firms who are hungry to grow and who believe they’ve never achieved their full potential.

If that sounds like your firm and you are developing strategic plans, you’ll love this post. I want to share with you the 7 key areas – or what I call vitals – that you should closely consider as you build your strategic plans.  

Key Take-Away:

MANY MID-SIZE CPA FIRMS NEED TO ATTRACT NEW YOUNGER PARTNERS TO BE THE LEADERS OF THE FUTURE.

 

WHAT IS STRATEGIC PLANNING?

Strategic planning, in its simplest form, includes four best-practices:

Document where you are today (current-state) on key firm vitals (see below).
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 and track progress by way of four meetings over the year. 

If you like these ideas, you’ll love this Action Guide:

7 STEPS TO DOUBLE SERVICE FIRM REVENUE


7 KEY FIRM VITALS TO CONSIDER IN YOUR STRATEGIC PLAN

There are all sort of things you could measure and document as part of strategic planning. But for CPA firms, we’ve found that these 7 key areas are the most impactful to long-term growth. These are the levers that you need to pull to produce meaningful growth year over year. 

Team:
Number of partners
Income per partner
Support staff per partner

Money:
Gross revenues for the firm
Revenues per specific service line
Revenues per office if you have multiple locations
Firm EBITDA before partner distributions

Clients:
Total clients served
Presence of a clearly articulated ideal client profile 
Total ideal clients served
Total non-ideal clients who are slow payers or difficult

Services:
Current service offerings like tax, audit, consulting, etc.
Average income-per-client across all services
Average income-per-client per-service-line

Operations:
Number of offices
Stability and security of IT practices
Presence of COO or equivalent

Business development:
Number of partners who are active in business development
Clearly documented and repeatable practices for new client acquisition
Total new ideal clients added to the firm per year for the prior three years

Brand:
Brand position – clarity about who you serve
Brand value proposition – why ideal prospects should pick you instead of a competitor
Brand strength – your reputation
Brand awareness – how many ideal prospects know about you
Brand identity – how your brand looks and sounds


WHY THESE 7 VITALS MATTER

To build a great strategic plan, you first document current-state across these 7 vitals. Then you ask where you want to be in 5 years on these same vitals. Then you look at the gaps between the two and identify a top list of objectives to accomplish in the coming year. 

Why these 7? Because if you put the right plans in place in these areas, you’ll position for growth and long-term success. But if you ignore these areas, you’ll create weaknesses in your firm that will eventually hurt you or put you out of business.

You need to look at your team first because this is where most mid-size CPA firms have the greatest challenges. Many mid-size firms were founded by one or more partners who are soon to retire. Getting new partners to lead the firm in the second generation is crucial. To do this, you need a solid plan. Attracting great new partners, especially younger partners, is not an easy task.

Money matters for obvious reasons. But the most important thing you can do is put goals in place to improve in key areas. I believe EBITDA is one of the most important areas to look for improvements five years down the road. Clients, Services Business Development and Brand are key areas where you can impact EBITDA.

I put clients third on the list because, in my experience, most mid-size CPA firms are serving too many clients who are not ideal. The key to growing a service firm is to serve ideal clients with solutions that have a big impact on them. When clients feel the impact of what you do, they pay on time, are easier to manage and refer you to other ideal clients.

Services are a key area to consider for your strategic plan because the CPA industry is undergoing tremendous disruption. AI and blockchain are eating into the value proposition of tax consulting and audits. If your revenues today are primarily based on tax and audit, you are poorly positioned. Many mid-size CPA firms are trying to institute advisory services with varying degrees of success.

Operations matter because most mid-size CPA firms grow by acquiring practices in new regions or by opening an office in a new region. With these new offices come all sorts of opportunities and challenges, especially in IT infrastructure. 

Business development matters because it’s hard to acquire ideal new clients. Many CPA rainmakers are unconsciously competent – meaning that they can close deals and generate revenues but they struggle to teach others those same practices. 

If your firm has rainmakers who are partners nearing retirement and they have not passed along their skills to the next generation, you are in trouble. This has to be a top consideration in your strategic plan.

Brand matters because this is ultimately what allows you to attract new partners, open new offices, acquire ideal clients, differentiate from competitors, charge more than other firms for the same services and still have happy clients.  

I find that most mid-size CPA firm leaders struggle to understand what a brand really is. More importantly, they’re not sure how to nurture their brand over time so they become the most trusted, the most well-known and the most preferred CPA firm in their market. That’s the ticket to long-term success, profitability and stability. 

 

NEXT STEPS

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.