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5 Tips for Becoming a Firm of the Future

Shutterstock_362297912 (1)Here’s a familiar scenario: A firm has been in business for decades, achieving success using a tried-and-true formula of providing high-quality work and great client service. As a new generation takes over and market demands change, however, the firm’s partners begin to wonder how they can grow the practice while maintaining the winning attributes that have made the firm what it is. They worry a major change will distract their team from the important business of serving clients—and eat up too much time and money.

That’s the situation my firm faced about five years ago. As the recession was coming to an end, the firm, which has been in business roughly 70 years, had about 25 people and around $3.5 million in revenues. Our culture had long been to work hard and play hard. We’ve held on to the spirit of camaraderie and the family environment our founders built, but as we moved forward into the millennium we hadn’t developed the internal structures we would need to manage growth. However, by making some strategic decisions, over the course of five years we have grown to a firm of 35 people and $5 million in revenues.

To forge a path for the future of our firm, we followed many of the strategies that are set forth in the Private Companies Practice Section Firm inMotion e-toolkit. It’s an online resource for practitioners that can help firms navigate current trends and, using best practices developed by leading consultants and other thriving firms, chart a course for success. Based on our experiences, I offer the following advice to other firms looking toward the future:

Don’t assume this doesn’t apply to you. Even a successful and happy firm may not be working as effectively and efficiently as possible. My firm didn’t undertake our reassessment because of any problems we faced. We did it to ensure we could maintain and enhance our success into the future. Remember, too, that this is a process that can benefit firms of every size. No matter how well a sole practitioner or two-partner practice already knows their business, a strategic review can offer new insights and inspire fresh ideas that can help them work smarter and achieve more satisfying outcomes. 

Figure out where you stand. After reviewing the e-toolkit’s Why Dashboards, available in each section, I recommend you begin with the Transition Continuum and Checklist. This is a simple tool that lists transitional steps a firm can take in its culture, talent and clients, explains the potential benefits of each one and points users to available tools that will help with each step. You can use it in partner retreats or in more informal brainstorming sessions to identify steps that can help you move your firm forward.

Put the tools to work. The e-toolkit includes tools related to firm structure and strategy, staff development and culture, clients and relationship building and the use of technology. At my firm, staffing was a priority for us, and we found the Staff Assessment and Career Development plan, available to PCPS members, to be an extremely valuable resource. It includes the PCPS Firm Competency Model, an indispensable guide to role analysis for any level in the firm that you can edit and modify to suit your own needs. The Mentoring Guide and related tools also offer a great blueprint for your firm’s program to nurture talent. Separate from the Firm inMotion Toolkit is the PCPS Partner Accountability and Unity Guide. It helped us understand the benefits of an accountability culture and establish greater unity in following our strategies and achieving our goals. 

Set your own priorities. When we started reviewing our firm’s status, we had three promising managers we wanted to train so that they would be prepared to be the firm’s next generation leaders. As part of that effort, we assigned them the task of developing our firm’s mission, vision and values. While firms can use the e-toolkit resources as a template and starting point, you can also develop and implement projects that suit your own situation and dovetail with what you accomplish using the e-toolkit.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel. If you’re inspired to reassess—and possibly change—your firm, don’t waste time researching and creating the steps you need when they’re all already waiting for you in the e-toolkit. Don’t let all the resources overwhelm you, either. Instead pick and choose the areas that are most important to you and get started tackling them.

Although our firm was ready for change, we believed that we wouldn’t be ready to make the most of growth without a firm foundation beneath us. In the past, there was a limit to how much we could take on, but we’re now able to accept new clients and expand our service offerings thanks to the key strategic changes mentioned above.  Start getting to know the Firm inMotion e-Toolkit and see what it can do for you.

George Forsythe, CPA, Managing Partner, WellsColeman. As Managing Partner of the firm, George serves on the executive committee for the firm’s governance with a focus on continuous improvement for the firm and its leaders. With nearly 20 years of experience, he oversees the firm’s information systems and consults with clients regarding their information technology needs. In addition to technology, his passion is inspiring small business clients to achieve extraordinary results through strategic coaching and consultations. George is a member of the PCPS Executive Committee.

Future start image courtesy of Shutterstock

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