Practice Growth: No Substitute For Experience

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

This week the AccountingWEB Practice Excellence Awards take place. The Certified Public Accountants Association is delighted to sponsor a particularly important category, the Practice Growth of the Year Award. Growth is an area worth recognising, because it is rarely a simple process and leads to many lessons learnt – often hard ones – along the way.


The CPAA represents accountants engaged in public practice both in the UK and overseas. Amidst its Board, officials and regional branches are successful accountants that have set up numerous thriving practices. With many years of professional experience under each of their belts, this group has experienced the challenges of growing and developing practices first-hand.

Here, they give the benefit of hindsight and offer up some advice on what to consider and what to avoid, as you seek to grow your business:

  • When you start a practice or decide to grow, the temptation is to accept every bit of new business. Desperation is a trap; it can take you down a path you never planned to take. This is not to say that niche areas – industry, specialism or location – can’t work for you, but they are more dangerous and susceptible to change, whereas diversity enables longevity. Being circumspect about the business you take on pays off in the long term.

  • Personal recommendations are the be all and end all. Your website and social media presence are an important part of your strategy, but it only forms part of the picture. Word of mouth counts for a huge amount and helps you to grow your business. To this end, treat customers well, never see good customer service as optional, ask clients to provide testimonials for work well done, and ask that they recommend you within their social and professional circles.

  • If you want your business to grow, you can’t wait for clients to find you. It may sound obvious, but dedicated professionals are often the worst at tearing themselves from their desks to do non-client related work. Network within the business community, with fellow professionals and banks. Join local business groups, go to their meetings and raise you professional profile. See these efforts as a core part of your new business development strategy – not a ‘nice to have’.

  • Lots of practitioners from across the regions attend the CPAA seminar programme. During these, we regularly encounter questions and concerns about compliance and regulations. Companies often feel burdened by compliance and it can hinder the capacity and appetite to take on additional work. Seek out guidance and industry support to work through any concerns and navigate these challenges; they should not be an obstacle to growth.

  • Build a network around you of trusted partners. Find a good solicitor, bank manager, specialist tax practitioner, financial adviser, IT consultant, insolvency practitioner – and any other professional that offers something you don’t have. Look for people you like and trust. Refer work to them and they will refer clients to you. Trust extends to your clients relationships too, gain and maintain trust and in return the client will reward you with loyalty, additional work and referrals.

  • Direct marketing, pay-per-click ad words and newsletters are all great ways to boost your profile and audience reach. But be aware that not everything works for every practice, every region or every sector. So before you invest considerable sums, try different things and evaluate what is effective. Trial and error it may be, but plan, execute and evaluate before you move on.

  • Stay vigilant for ways to grow your business organically through your current client base. Look for opportunities to add value for the client and to earn more fees. Also identify which of your clients are growing businesses too and as they grow, offer additional services, bookkeeping, management accounts, tax planning, payroll etc. And don’t underrate your value, if your expertise is worth it, clients will gladly pay for it.

  • Stay informed for both your sake and your clients’. Keep up to date with current best practice, technology and software. Give advice on the latest innovations that will help their business to grow and you to earn extra fees. However, there is a balance to be struck. Always try to give more to the client in value than you take from them in fees. Do this and your reward will be referrals.

  • Never underestimate the power of the personal touch. Technology has made us slightly detached from clients – but people like to be valued and treated as a person and not a number. Call clients, on occasions to use letters which are more personal and tangible, send cards for birthdays and milestones in their lives. Show that you are interested in your client and their business and make your communications relevant to your client's needs. The more you know about your clients' needs and motivations the better you will be able to serve them and stronger the relationship will be.

  • Growth is about more than what happens to your business this year or next. New blood is desperately needed in the industry; there simply are not the new entrants setting up their own practices or motivated to take over practices. In terms of succession planning, it leaves a chasm. Where is the skilled, willing next generation waiting in the wings to take over the reins from you in the years to come? So unless you want to work until you’re 90, train people up, seek out new talent and nurture it.