An image of a business' core values.

8 core principles for launching a successful accounting firm

It’s not easy to launch a new business and maintain long-term success. Just like most new firm owners, I experienced all the typical aches and pains when I started my practice more than 30 years ago. There were so many details to keep track of, with so many things I simply didn’t understand (brand or culture, for example). It was both a painful and an enlightening learning experience – and, in the end, so very worth it!

While I had an accounting degree and a few years of big firm experience under my belt, there was no way I could have fully prepared to run a firm … until I actually started one. You learn by doing, so, over the years, I figured out what I didn’t know, evolved my business model, and continued to pick up nuggets of wisdom that helped me build a profitable, sustainable business. And, now, I want to share this knowledge with you, breaking down eight core principles to help you launch your new firm or enhance your existing practice.

What are core principles?

Core principles, or core values, are basic beliefs that help guide our behavior and recognize the difference between right and wrong. In business, core principles can help a company determine if they’re on the right path to fulfilling their goals. I can memorize every single word of my business plan, but if I don’t have core principles to guide me when things change, that plan can be useless.

Over the years, when circumstances have changed or shifted, the core principles I defined for my business have not. I’ve used them to build the solid foundation of a successful business. So, now, I’d like to share these principles with you. Let’s get started!

Principle 1: Always remember that firm culture is everything. At its essence, a company’s culture is the way people feel about the work they do. When values, goals, practices, and attitudes are shared and respected, everyone feels invested in the success of the business. That investment pays off not just in happy employees, but in happy, loyal, and long-term clients as well.

Principle 2: Mom was right – first impressions matter. You want your clients’ first experience with your firm to be the best. While the client onboarding process will look different depending on each client’s category (e.g., business tax vs. individual tax), when every employee follows the same steps to offer the same streamlined and consistent service, your clients’ satisfaction goes way up – along with your productivity and profitability. Make creating a standardized and rich client onboarding experience a priority.

Principle 3: Your ideal clients are out there – take the initiative to find them. In a perfect world, every client would be ideal. But, since the world’s not perfect, make the effort to be intentional about searching out your ideal clients. Some firms go right to a set of industries they think they should specialize in. However, to define who is ideal, you have to think through the clients you both like to serve and are good at serving. Your ideal clients have to be defined by you, not by whoever just walks through your door.

Principle 4: The right business model(s) for the right client(s). The average accounting practice employs several business models, depending on the services they offer. The most in-demand are client accounting, payroll, business tax, individual tax, and advisory service. Define the workflow for each model by creating a map that enables you to pinpoint potential inconsistencies. This can be done by tracking the technology used to support each client and the services you plan to provide. Note where the process could slow down or fail completely, and adjust as, and when, needed.

Principle 5: An accounting practice without good management is … in big trouble. It’s critical to have a reliable process and the right solution in place to track work across roles and departments, including staff assignments, staff capacity, due dates, task status, engagement details, reporting, and more. It’s also critical to think through every step of what you need your practice management system to accomplish. This will help ensure you always have a clear picture of the entire process.

Principle 6: Security – never forget that it only takes one. It takes just one data breach to potentially bring a business down. in fact, it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of data breaches start with a single email. You can buy every piece of software on the market that promises to keep your systems safe, but the reality is that the key to security is education. Regular training for yourself and your staff on how to spot phishing emails and suspicious links isn’t overkill; it’s essential.

Principle 7: The world runs on web and mobile. That means we do, too. A mobile-friendly, dynamic, and modern-looking website that makes it simple for your clients to do business with you is no longer a “nice to have.” It’s a must-have. Define what you sell, who you want to sell it to, and ensure that you make a great first brand impression with a top-tier website platform. Offer a place where prospects can easily learn the value your firm brings to the table (think relevant, updated content), as well as a place where clients can collaborate with your staff conveniently and securely online.

Principle 8: ABC (Always Be Communicating). You can’t market and sell your services until you’ve identified your ideal clients and defined your services. Only then can you build a sound, consistent marketing and sales program, and craft messaging that resonates deeply with your audience. But, while it’s important to generate leads, you can’t forget your current clients. They need to hear from you just as consistently. So, stay connected with clients by offering timely, seasonal, and frequent communication, including important tax code changes, PPP updates, helpful business tips and tactics, estimated tax payment reminders, and office hour changes.

You start a business with a dream and a vision, but you build a business with a hefty dose of reality and a fair share of bumps. I hope these principles resonate with you and reduce the number of bumps you encounter along the way to building your own practice. Good luck in your journey, and make sure to pay it forward by sharing your own knowledge and experiences with the next generation of firm owners.

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