The Intentional Firm: 4 Ways to Grow an Accounting Practice You Love

Taking action for the sake of action can kill your firm and your motivation. Here's why you should move with intention instead.

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    It’s not easy to make time for strategic planning when you’re neck-deep in your everyday work. But, if you run your practice without stopping to think about how your daily actions serve your end goals, you may end up with a mix of clients and services that don’t align with your priorities.

    You’ll need a proactive approach if you want to achieve your business goals on schedule. But what, exactly, does it mean to approach your accounting firm with intention?

    Twyla Verhelst, CPA and Director of the Accountant Channel at FreshBooks, recently joined Kristen Keats, CEO of Breakaway Bookkeeping, on Blake Oliver’s Earmark podcast to talk about this in-depth. In the episode “Being Intentional In Your Modern Firm”, Verhelst explains:

    “A lot of people…end up in a certain spot by accident, or they start working with a particular type of client by happenstance. It wasn’t intentional. The idea of being intentional is flipping that on its head and saying, ‘Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? What do I want to build in my practice?’ and carving that out in a very mindful way.”

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    The Risks of Unintentional Growth

    When you fail to create a growth strategy and do the mental work behind the “why” of the organization you’re building, you’re ill-prepared to deal with the issues or challenges that will inevitably arise.

    In fact, of the 12 top reasons startups fail, almost all could be prevented or navigated more successfully with better planning in general. For instance, problems raising capital and ensuring a market for your services, or pricing your products well.

    The other reasons businesses typically fail—like not having the right team in place, disharmony among your people, or simply getting burned out and losing passion for what you’re doing—are directly tied to intentional planning.

    Without purposeful strategy or planning, you also risk missing out on new talent and clients that would otherwise revitalize your business. Keats says:

    “The old way is dying.… I look at these traditional firms…[and they’re] dying because the millennials, the Gen Zs, are more about purpose. They’re more about, ‘Give me a reason to be with this company.'”

    4 Steps for Growing Your Modern Accounting Firm with Intention

    Here are 4 things you can do to move forward with intention in your firm.

    1. Determine Your Personal and Professional Values

    So where do you start? With what you value. Having a set of priorities focuses your energy so you don’t waste resources on projects that don’t align with your goals.

    Take some time to think about the things that are most important to you, and how they affect your approach to work. For instance, why did you decide to start your own practice? How does your business fit into your greater life plan?

    Once this foundation is set, you can build your intentional business around them. If you want to travel often or spend more time with your children, what would an average day and week look like? What kind of business model will you choose? Will you work by yourself or hire a team? Telecommute or rent an office?

    Build a modern accounting firm that supports the life you want to live.

    2. Get Clear on Your Ideal Niche

    Not everyone wants to run a firm focused on advisory services. You might prefer a well-run compliance-focused firm instead. Now that you know what your priorities and preferences are, you can choose the kind of firm that aligns with them.

    Choosing a specialty or niche has other benefits as well. If you focus on a particular kind of client or practice area, new clients are more likely to choose you over a generalist firm. Your deeper expertise also means you can raise your rates, giving you the freedom to choose the kind of work you want—instead of taking on whatever comes your way because you need the money.

    As you assess your service offerings, keep in mind that the type of work you do should also align with your client avatar.

    What Is a Client Avatar?

    Keats explains that your avatar is not just about demographics or profiling. It’s holistic and specific: Think about age, income bracket, type of business, values. It’s about more than just your niche.

    This is something you can apply even if you aren’t starting from scratch. Keats, who recently acquired a tax firm, says, “We plan to go through that client list with a really fine-tooth comb and make sure that these are the people we want to be serving. These are the people who embrace our methodologies and value our services.”

    Other ways to coordinate your practice with the avatar you’ve identified include:

    • Focusing on the services your dream clients need, making it easier to market your firm to them
    • Adding complementary offerings based on your avatar’s needs and objectives for a “full-service” experience

    3. Make a Plan to Reach Your Goals—and Revisit It Regularly

    Identify short-term and long-term goals, then break them down into smaller milestones so that they’re easier to achieve. But remain flexible with your plans too. If the last 2 years have taught us anything, it’s that anything can happen—you’ll want to be prepared for any opportunities or changes that come your way.

    Make it a point to reassess your progress against your goals and your higher purpose every quarter as well, so you can address anything that doesn’t align and plan accordingly.

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    4. Use Technology That Supports Your Intention

    Today, it’s not enough just to make sure that the tech you use has the features you need. It pays to consider the tools you bring into your business more holistically.

    Verhelst elaborates, “It’s about getting an alignment with that technology company; what they’re up to, where they’re going. Are they contributing to the evolution of the industry, not just with what they say, but in their actions?”

    The software companies you work with can be as important as the team you hire. Vet them for their values and culture fit, just like you would any job candidate. When you’re intentional with your technology choices, the right companies become partners in your growth and can even help you create a more enjoyable and effective experience for your own clients.

    That is one of the core principles of the FreshBooks Accounting Partner Program. In addition to promoting a collaborative accountant-client experience, the partner program is invested in creating a community where knowledge is shared in both directions. That means actively listening to the accounting professionals using the software.

    By continually implementing feature recommendations from real-world accountants, FreshBooks is creating the best possible accounting software for the people who use it.

    Intentional Business Planning: The Secret to Success Many Accounting Firms Forget

    Intention is just as important to a modern accounting firm as cash flow and services. It sets you up for success when you’re starting out and as you grow, and equips you to handle any obstacles in your path.

    Not only that, but when you build with purpose, you get a greater sense of fulfillment. You work towards a future you’ve chosen and planned for yourself, instead of being pulled along by the market or the needs of your clients.

    Moving with intention is something you can do at any point in your accounting firm, whether you’re drawing up your business plan or have established relationships with many clients. Verhelst echoes these sentiments:

    “It doesn’t even mean you need to be at the start of your journey. It could be now is the moment … to say, ‘What do I really want here, and how can I be intentional moving forward?'”

    Follow these tips to create the modern accounting firm of your dreams—and enjoy every step of the way too.

    This article is based on the Earmark podcast episode “Being Intentional In Your Modern Firm”, hosted by Blake Oliver, and featuring guests Twyla Verhelst of FreshBooks and Kristen Keats of Breakaway Bookkeeping. Click the player below to listen now.

    Feli Oliveros

    Written by Feli Oliveros, Freelance Contributor

    Posted on December 8, 2021