Going for Growth

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Certified Public Accountants Association (CPAA) is proud to sponsor the Practice Growth of the Year category at the AccountingWEB Practice Excellence Awards next month. It is a group boasting impressive success stories. Amidst the backdrop of a tough business environment over recent years, all firms able to tell a tale of dynamic and dramatic growth are worthy of celebration.

It looks as if we are an industry that will soon have more success stories to tell – indeed the 2016 Practice Growth of the Year category could be inundated with entries. A recent industry survey found that two-thirds of small to medium sized accountancy practices were optimistic that they would grow in size and turnover in the next three years.

This is an optimism that is shared by the wider business community, with research from a variety of sources – including the British Chamber and Commerce and Grant Thornton – showing that business confidence has benefitted from a post-election boost, with growth stable and confidence on the up.

Those with growth ambitions have much to consider as they take the leap forward; the timings, tactics, impact on costs and staffing, to name just a few factors. The CPAA has a huge commitment to CPD and as part of that members have access to an online training portal, which includes webinars supplied by 2020 Innovation on practice development and growth. These can provide practical guidance as well as posing interesting questions about the road ahead. Questions such as...

Why do you want to grow?
Identify the end goal for you and your business – the rest is just building a path to take you there. Many practitioners want to grow their firm so that it is big enough to sell, either internally to a management team or externally. Others are driven by passion, to be the leader in their field and gain the satisfaction and kudos that brings. Retirement is another target and succession planning is crucial given practitioners often dedicate years – even a whole career –to building their firm. From this you can create your growth strategy, hone your plan, and revisit it regularly as your business develops and the marketplace evolves.

How will you grow?
Organically through existing clients, via a new business push, or rapidly by acquisition – there are many routes and you will know what stage you are ready for. Within accountancy there are always areas that offer major areas for practices to grow depending on how proactive you wish to be. We know that 50,000 businesses per month are reaching auto-enrolment and we know there is a rise in businesses looking for virtual financial officers; both represent strong commercial opportunities that can be actively targeted.

How can you become more efficient?
Cheaper, quicker, faster, better – internally and externally. Consider efficiencies like paperless offices, portals to share documents with clients, multiple screens at your desk, and delegate time consuming admin. It incurs an investment of time and money but anything that helps you find and respond to information faster will increase efficiency. Ultimately this will enable you to pick-up more billable work and focus on growth.

Who are the right people for the job?
Growth almost certainly involves adding to or up-skilling your team to manage the increased workload. There is a shortfall in the number of trainees coming into the profession, so getting good accountants will become more challenging. What skills are lacking in your team? Would a specialist help you grow in a particular direction? Are you encouraging and incentivising staff to grow with you? Finding, keeping and nurturing employees is vital as they will be your support system for growth.

Can you grow through specialising?
Many accountants make a good living out of only completing tax returns, while others prosper by only taking on clients from a particular industry. There is scope to be very good at what you do in a niche market. If you have a particular strength in terms of a particular service you offer or type of clientele you handle, leverage this to become a leader in your field or locality. Then look at how you market and expand this specialism.

Granted there is so much more to growth than can be covered above, but we hope this helps to start a conversation about growth. Learn, plan, and look for inspiration – the success stories of those in the Practice Growth of the Year category at the AccountingWEB Awards should offer plenty. By creating sustainable growth, these firms are thriving and have a bright future ahead. But this is by no means an exclusive club; the opportunity is open to anyone.