So you want to grow your accounting firm? And you want to become the modern version of what you see so many other firms building in our current market? Now you can! Though growing an accounting firm can be tricky and often confusing, you can do it with a map to guide your way.
In partnership with Bill.com, I’ve designed a map that you can use to see what growth looks like for a modern accounting firm as it journeys through different stages of team sizes. This map specifically lays out principles that more modern firms employ to grow with clarity, and build a firm they lead instead of the firm consuming them. Let the map guide the way.
For more teaching on this topic, you can watch my latest webinar as part of Bill.com’s Scaling Growth webinar series, Journey to a Modern Accounting Firm (watch on-demand now). This webinar kicks off the series on the strategies of growth, developing team, designing firm culture, efficient firms, business development, and leveraging technology to serve clients better. And so much more!
What's behind the theory of growth
Strategy can be such a fluffy word. What does it even mean? It needs to be defined in order to leverage the value of what ‘being strategic’ can do for growing firms. At its most basic level ‘being strategic’ simply means being intentional. It means doing things on purpose instead of hoping the future works out well. This becomes more and more important as firms grow larger. With more of everything (more revenue, more team, more clients, more compliance, etc.) also comes more complexity. Complexity can bring the chaos of busyness. And we all know that firms can’t grow in busy chaos. Growth strategy is the intentional look into the future to make plans for how your firm will make moves to create the growth you want to see as a firm owner.
Being strategic simply means being intentional. — Jason Blumer
Bear with me as we dive into the theory of growth strategy for firms for a few minutes. Then we’ll bring this deeper discussion around to a more practical way to apply this new learning to your own firm.
As we discussed in our webinar on this subject and to bring further clarity to the strategy of growth, we can break down growth strategy into 2 main strategy types, Organizational and Service. You may be able to tell from the names that the Organizational side is the operational side of the firm, while the Service side is where technical teams service the client revenue. The strategy types that firm owners must consider in their growth plans speak to the juggling the firm entrepreneur is always doing to manage the service side of the business, or serving clients, and also the operational side of the business to keep the firm operating well.
The juggling and balance a firm entrepreneur must always manage can be displayed like this:
The firm entrepreneur is always concerned with the strategy of growth as it relates to operations (the Organizational Strategy on the left), and with the strategy of growth as it relates to the service side of the firm (the Service Strategy on the right).
Let’s break these Organizational and Service Strategy types into a matrix:
With the Organizational and Service strategy of growth types defined, we can further segment the types into strategy applications, Movement and Leadership. The strategy applications are how the organizational and service sides of the business are applied to the work of growth (the more practical side). See these Strategy applications in the matrix below:
This study in the theory of growth is a lot to absorb, but it can be put together and written out with definitions so that it makes more sense. There are essentially 4 strategies (overarching strategy Types and practical Applications) all firm entrepreneurs need to manage. Let’s show them all, and their definitions, in the matrix below:
As we close out this section on strategy, note above that we have defined each section of the strategy matrix:
Organizational Movement, and
Each definition above involves the word ‘planning’ which denotes strategy as a future-oriented work, one that is done as you plan for the future.
Applying strategy to the practical journey map
Whew! We’re through the theory part! Now let’s bring this all together in a nifty map that we have developed in partnership with Bill.com. Welcome to the Journey to a Modern Accounting Firm map:
Download the map here.
We provided an overview of this map in the webinar we did live with Bill.com. That webinar is free to watch on demand now. And the full Scaling Growth Webinar Series with Bill.com is available through February of 2022. Don’t miss any sessions from the expert speakers as we walk through what it takes to be a firm that scales.
The 10 Points To Using This Map
We’ll wrap up this article with ways you can practically use this map in your own firm.
Orientation: this map is read from bottom to top as a firm scales upwards. You’ll see everything begins at the bottom with the firm entrepreneur. And you’ll note the firm entrepreneur has two sides of their firm to manage, the Service side on the right, and the Organization side on the left.
Peeling: as the firm entrepreneur moves up the map, they must effectively ‘peel’ roles out of their role and package them into new roles that they hire. We’ve offered suggestions of roles that the firm entrepreneur can peel their work into, on the service and organizational sides of the map.
Lanes: note that you see the lanes of the strategy we’ve discussed in the matrix above are shown now as lanes on the map. And the lanes are broken down in the same way that the matrix was broken down, but you can see them laid out more practically in the map as the firm entrepreneur seeks growth.
Team Size: team size defines a lot of complexity that firms experience. The more team providing service, or servicing operations, brings more complexity. There are more feelings, minds, technical offerings, training needs, personal issues, and different levels of abilities to support as the firm scales. All of this has to be managed proactively as the firm grows and adds more and more team.
Leadership Core: as a firm grows to a size of between 8 - 10 (generally, not necessarily true for every single firm), it will be important to install a leadership group so that the firm entrepreneur can have the support they need to add more team (which allows them to service more revenue). Leadership team are to take on the same greater-good mentality that the firm entrepreneur maintains as they lead the team. Firms can’t typically scale past 8 - 10 team members unless a leadership team is deployed.
Proximity: note that the Leadership lanes are closer to the firm entrepreneur, and that the movement lanes are further away from the firm entrepreneur. This denotes that it is often wise to promote leaders from within the organization and pull them from the movement lanes closer to the firm entrepreneur.
Intersection: where the lanes intersect with the team sizes are potential places for firm entrepreneurs to hit growth ceilings. Though growth ceilings are inevitable, they are hard on the entrepreneur. Helping to define when and how they happen can allow the entrepreneur to break them and to move forward in their growth.
Team Weight: note that as firms scale, the team management will always be weighted more heavily towards the Service side since service technicians are needed to service larger and larger volumes of client revenue. The Organizational side has one client in a sense, which is the firm. So you need less people to service that one client.
Project Management: one role that is often overlooked is the need for a Project Manager on the Service side. A Project Manager manages the complexity of scope and movement of technical work, often inside of a piece technology. This becomes necessary as the firm becomes larger so that the technical team can continue to remain focused on the service of revenue (instead of planning and moving around their work).
Mapping: it’s wise to use this map to see where you want to go with your firm, what your next team roles may need to be, and how you need to ‘peel’ roles. You may also use this map to clarify why you may be struggling at your own firm’s stage of scaling, and why you have hit the growth ceilings you are experiencing.
We hope this journey through the strategies of growth, and the more practical map of growth has helped you come to more clarity about your own firm. Stay with Bill.com as they walk the profession through scaling growth this year.
Ready for more instruction and intention? Join Jason Blumer for Thriveal’s Incubator 3 day intensive program on strategy and growth for firms. We cover 8 entrepreneurial modules covering Strategy, Pricing, Team Building, Risk Taking and more. Taught personally by myself and my partner, our sessions always fill up.
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