By Rick Telberg
Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey
Every day in the United States, more than half of all accounting firm owners are thinking about a merger, an acquisition or both. M&A is now as routine to the day-to-day operations of running a tax and accounting practice as turning on the lights in the morning and taking out the garbage at night.
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Fortunately, a new survey provides a one-of-a-kind roadmap for growth-minded professionals seeking the hard-boiled data essential to making smarter strategic decisions. With thousands of key metrics for firms of every size, you can compare your firm against similar firms. Better yet: You can compare where your firm is today, to where it will be tomorrow.
Beyond displaying a snapshot of the status quo, the Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey offers the real-world data points that can build a solid strategic plan – for organic growth, for merging up down or sideways, or for retirement and succession.
Consider the typical small local firm of two or three partners with maybe seven staffers: Tax prep and bookkeeping provide the core revenue streams. Most aren’t big enough yet to need a firm administrator. The owners make the technology decisions. They have one office. And they’re grossing $1 million to $5 million a year.
Now suppose our “typical” three-partner firm is considering what to do next. Should they:
• Wind down the business as partners retire and clients drift off?
• Bring in a new partner?
• Merge into a larger firm?
• Acquire a smaller firm?
• Accelerate organic growth?
What would that look like? The Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey shows us very clearly what each of those scenarios might entail.
For instance, the small multi-owner firm needs to know that firms just one size class larger, the firms with up to 50 people and four to five partners, are more likely to offer a few more specialized services, operate a second office, and have a full-time firm administrator and an IT manager who leads the technology decision-making. So, for that smaller firm looking to grow, the survey shows how to best prepare for the next step in becoming a “midsize” firm.
Consider this 10-point list of considerations small firms should undertake as they consider growth:
1. Workflow – Midsize firms are more likely than small firms to have already solved their workflow issues and are focusing on attracting new clients and the best talent.
2. Management – Partners at midsize firms are spending less time on client matters and more time managing their practices than small firms.
3. Service offerings – Most small firms have added all the services they can, limiting their revenue growth. But midsize firms are continuously building out their offerings to accelerate fee incomes.
4. Outlook, Excel and Word – Small firms are more likely to be subscribed to Office 365, while midsize firms have purchased the Microsoft desktop package.
5. Document management – Small firms that today use FileCabinet CS for their document manage system may need to switch to the favored application at midsize firms: CCH Document.
6. Tax preparation – The leading tax prep app at small firms in the survey is UltraTax CS. But midsize firms favor CCH ProSystem fx.
7. Time and billing – For practice management time and billing software, small firms like Thomson’s Practice CS. Midsize firms prefer CCH Practice Management.
8. Payroll – Small firms lean toward QuickBooks for running payrolls. Midsize firms are more likely to use an outside agency, like ADP or Paychex.
9. Internet browser – Small firms like Google Chrome. Midsize firms go with Internet Explorer.
10. M&A – Midsize firms are twice as likely as small firms to be planning expansion through a merger within the next 12 months.
With the Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey in hand, firms of any size can both foresee their futures, as well as gain the tools to make it happen. It’s a roadmap with many roads. Choose wisely.