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Running a business

Vision, values and strategy: 3 firms share their insights

Running and establishing a successful practice or firm doesn’t happen overnight. In a business world full of ever-changing technology and the constant demand to get clients what they want when they need it, we are faced with a lot of challenges and important decisions along the way.

But, that’s the responsibility of running a practice or firm. Just how do these business owners navigate the challenges and set themselves up for success? We sat down with several QuickBooks ProAdvisors to get their unique perspectives:

How has your firm determined and executed its values, vision and business strategy, and what were some of the biggest challenges and triumphs along the way?

Carla Caldwell: To develop our vision and strategy, Caldwell Consulting & Training stepped away from the daily work and spent a solid couple of days, without interruption, working on our business. We really focused on our “why,” as Simon Sinek so famously recommends. When we are reminded why we are in existence as a business, it helps us to really get excited and passionate about the work we do, and gives energy to a process that doesn’t come easy for most.

I also read a ton of books, including Jim Collins’ books, “Good to Great” and “Beyond Entrepreneurship.” With our “why" statement in hand, we used a business coach to give perspective and feedback, and then began to formulate the actual strategy or mission. Articulating the values was actually an easier process for us, and mostly flowed from the founder’s own personal values. Taking a StrengthsFinder test helped to identify many of these values, and “explain” others!

The biggest challenge also was the biggest triumph – putting it all on paper. It can be a very personal, gut-wrenching process, but when it is on paper and you look at it and see in words what’s in your “heart” for your business, it is invigorating. You realize that your work is not just about a paycheck or “making money,” but really can change the lives of your clients, team members and your own family. The initial process is hard since we often are better with numbers than words, but we remind ourselves that nothing worth doing is ever easy! 

Joe Carufe and Zach Cochran: Two Roads is not just one person or a leadership team. Even though I, Joe, am the president of the company, I think of myself as more of a values defender, vision curator and strategy encourager. Every team member is encouraged to disagree, challenge or add to our company values, vision and strategy.

We put our values first – the WHO we are as a company. When we put our values first, most decisions can be made autonomously using a values matrix or thought process. Our values are to be Excellent, Honest, Clear and Caring in every decision or interaction we have with our clients, vendors and each other. If a decision is made and demonstrates each value, then there will be no negative recourse if something goes wrong. This kind of freedom creates a culture of ownership and creativity, and unlocks the amazing potential of each and every team member, no matter what role they are performing.

Our company vision is created as a leadership team and tested by the entire company – this is the WHERE we are going as a company. Our overarching vision is to serve as many small businesses as we can, while retaining the highest level of customer service. With growth comes responsibility to our team, our clients and our community. But, we also believe we can find joy in our work. The entire team needs to understand and have the freedom to challenge that vision, and to be excited and ready to be a part of the journey.

Our strategy as a firm simply needs to align first with our values and second with our vision. As president of the company, it is my role to lead the charge in plotting the course and, ultimately, take responsibility of where the ship is going. As captain, I must rely on the intuition and expertise of the entire crew to make it to our destination, and the crew needs to all be on board with where we are going so that we can encourage one another to keep sailing, even when the seas get rough. This kind of camaraderie can’t be created by one person; it is the collective work of the team.

Bob Wang: Our vision is to become the most trusted bookkeeping brand in the world. We defined this vision because we saw a problem. We saw that people had a hard time finding quality bookkeepers, so we wanted to solve this problem. It’s important that our vision is large enough to inspire people to follow, but not cross into being delusional. We communicate our vision to our staff and to our clients on a daily basis.

Our values are to communicate fearlessly, never settle, unleash your untapped potential and entrepreneurship. We say “own it, improve it, deliver it,” “we win and lose as a team” and “nothing is given; everything is earned.” Setting core values must come from the top. In fact, it should come from the founder.

I wanted to create a working environment where I wanted to work and where I believed I could excel. We wanted to be a group of passionate people who took ownership and who were rewarded based on their results, and not based on office politics. It starts with hiring for the right fit and then developing them to be the best version of themselves. Of course, we had to actively expel the toxic employees as soon as possible.

Strategy? That’s the least important part of the puzzle. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. By ensuring you have a great vision that attracts the right team members, and living up to a set of core values, you will win, no matter the circumstance.

Our biggest challenge and triumph all revolves around people. At the end of the day, we are a people business. We struggled to build a great team. It’s hard for a start-up to attract top talent because the best people want to work at the best places. I don’t blame them. If I graduated top of my class, I would want to work at the Big 4 as well. We had to spend a lot of time finding the diamonds in the rough. We had to believe in people when others didn’t, then train them to be the absolute best. We had to redefine who we wanted to be on our team, and we had to learn to offer a unique employment experience that the Big 4 couldn’t offer.

Our struggle in team building meant we couldn’t scale as fast as we wanted to. We made mistakes and upset clients. I personally had to work late into the night and on weekends to fix mistakes. Last July, I had to work until 3 a.m., then rushed to the hospital to see my daughter being born at 7 a.m.; I downed four Red Bulls that night! Yup … I had to squeeze every second out of that week. It was hell week.

Our biggest triumph is that we solved this problem. We have an awesome team, led by awesome managers. Everyone is engaged, appreciated and they wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. As a result, we are seeing tremendous momentum. We now have 20 employees, $1,000,000 in sales, two locations and plan to add two more locations next year.

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