6 Steps to Get Your Business to the Next Level

Start with a vision for the role your business plays in your life.

by Rick Telberg

It's said that most small businesses don't last five years. But kudos to them; at least they tried. What concerns me are the nine in 10 small businesses that never make it past the owner-operator stage to the next level – the level in which the owner can turn the business over to someone else to operate. Tax and accounting firms may be more durable, but not by much, according to CPA Trendlines research.

Some people are born owner-operators. Some want more. Today's sermon is for those who want more.

If you want to drive your firm to the next level, there are, in fact, a few tried-and-true lessons you can't afford to ignore.

Some people will tell you failure starts with a lack of good marketing. And that may be partly true. But it really starts with a vision of the role your business plays in your life. For many, their accounting practice or career is simply a way of making a living. For others, their business represents an asset to be developed, a legacy to be passed on to another generation, or, in other words, something of lasting value – value that can survive beyond the day we decide to retire or move on.

So take this to heart:

Mistake No. 1: Working IN your business instead of ON your business. If you're micro-managing people instead of building lasting systems, go grab "Professional Services Marketing 3.0" by Bruce W. Marcus or the latest "Rosenberg MAP Survey." The best practice-builders I know spend only 50 percent to 60 percent of their time billable. Another 20 percent to 30 percent of your time should be spent on marketing activities. And the other 20 percent should be spent on everything else.

Mistake No. 2: Failing to implement systems. In any business, you must automate and optimize every possible area. Use technology to its fullest. Delegate repetitive tasks immediately. Do only what only you can do.

Mistake No. 3: Giving marketing too much credit and not enough attention. Marketing may not be the answer to everything, but nothing good is going to happen in your firm until you create and follow a business development plan. Research for the Seven Keys for Successful CPA Firm Management program shows that the highest performing forms are 15 times more likely than the lagging firms to follow a written marketing pna and they're 32 times more likely foster a firm-wide marketing culture.  I'll take those odds any day.

Mistake No. 4: Forgetting to market to your current clients. I'd say 60 percent to 70 percent of your marketing budget should be directed to the people who already know you. Every month that you fail to communicate with your customers – "touch" them in some way – their propensity to do business with you drops by 10 percent. Take a cue from BizActions, the CPA firm email marketing service, and make contact with an email newsletter at least twice a week.

Mistake No. 5: Failing to test or track your sales and marketing efforts. These days, what you don't know could definitely hurt you. As a financial maven you already know: What you can measure, you can improve. And with digital marketing, there's just no excuse for not using the right tools for the job.

Mistake No. 6: Failing to follow up with prospects and clients. Everyone gets busy. But in many businesses, the average sale happens after the fifth attempt. Successful firms have a system in place that automates the process to make sure they're following up with prospects regularly. If you're not using a customer-relationship management system, like Act!, Goldmine, Salesforce.com or even Outlook, just to name a few market leaders, you can't say you're serious about service.

And for that, there's no excuse. This is, after all, a professional service business. After all the effort you've put into honing your professional skills, just take care of the business side and you'll reap the rewards.


The Profession’s Four Biggest Dilemmas

And four simple solutions.

by Rick Telberg

If this is February, then it's the season for already forgetting our New Year's resolutions. I don't know about you, but I've already broken a few of them.

But there are some New Year's resolutions that we cannot afford to ignore. For accountants, here are just four. That's right: only four. That's all we have space for here. But each is hitched to a pervasive dilemma within the profession.

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Robert Fligel: It’s Pre-Season Time

Last chance to take care of yourself, your career, your firm -- before busy season begins.

Robert Fligel

What are some of the things you have you been meaning to do for a long time but haven't?

Robert Fligel at RF-Resources suggests, for example:

  • Do you want to find out more about business networking through sites like Linkedin.com? Use this time to sign up and get started.
  • Take a top performer out to lunch (or someone you think has that potential). This is not part of a year-end evaluation or similar type of meeting, but just a chance to show your interest and get to know them better .
  • Not happy in your job? Use this time for some planning. Get your resume up to date. Talk to your close friends and advisers about what you are thinking, create a presence on sites such as Linkedin and Facebook and determine possible target companies.
  • Been thinking about your firm's succession? If you don't have an internal successor, sit down and do some planning regarding the different alternatives.

More at: RF Resources

Winning Firms Know the Secrets of Keeping Good Accountants

Work/life balance proves essential to recruiting, retaining staff.

by Rick Telberg

If that CPA working next to you appears stressed out by the job, take a long, hard look because you may not see him or her again in the future.

While CPAs in all walks of the profession are strained and face tough workloads, those feeling the greatest stress and workplace demands are more likely to be seriously in the market for another job. At any given moment, according to my studies, about one on three CPAs would consider changing jobs, even it meant a pay cut, in exchange for better working conditions. Among the most stressed-out CPAs, the ratio of job seekers jumps to about half.

So it's imperative for managers of CPAs to offer state-of-the-art workplaces if they want to retain hard-to-find staff. READ MORE →

If You’re Not Getting Margins Like These…

...then your CPA firm may be below average.

Sageworks, a Raleigh, N.C.-based business analytics software provider, reports in Forbes that CPA firms may just be the most profitable business an entrepreneur can choose.

The offices of CPAs tops a list of 20 other industries, with an average pretax margin of 17.1%. Wired communication carriers (transmission-line operators and the like), with a 10.1% margin, rank 20th.

"Industries which provide need-to-have solutions rather than nice-to-have solutions tend to do better," says Sageworks founder Brian Hamilton.

The data are drawn from financial statements on nearly 300,000 companies, most with under $10 million in annual revenue, and bucketed by five- and six-digit North American Industry Classification System codes. The figures were gathered between 2000 and 2009, to capture an entire business cycle. To be considered, each category included at least 100 companies.

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CCH: Accounting Firms Doing Well Through Economic Slump

But Some Challenges May Still Be Ahead

via CCH

Accounting firms are doing well weathering the effects of the current economic slump, but unfortunately there may still be challenges ahead, even as the economy picks up, according to the findings of an independent nationwide survey of 100 U.S. accounting firms. The survey was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, and commissioned by CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business (CCHGroup.com).

According to the survey, despite the downturn, firms have been successful overall in maintaining rates, client services and staff productivity as they carefully manage the bottom line.

CCH Economy staffing chart

But even during the recession, firms reported difficulty in finding good staff. And, with the Baby Boomers about to retire in record numbers, a talent crunch looms on the horizon as the opportunity for business growth returns with the economic recovery.

“The accounting profession has performed well in a poor economy, but it should be a wake-up call for many that staffing challenges have persisted through the recession,” said CCH President Mike Sabbatis. “Firms should be considering right now what they need to do to win that talent war as the economy heats up again.”

The Talent Crunch

The good news is that the level of job reductions in accounting firms has been relatively low. Twelve percent of firms surveyed had layoffs, while 18 percent instituted hiring freezes. However, firms highlighted difficulty in finding good staff even in the recession, with 20 percent reporting that they are unable to find people to fill open positions despite record-high unemployment rates.

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