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Practice Planning Tips for 2016 and Beyond

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Oct 29th 2015
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As you wipe off the dust from the most recent audit and tax work and look toward next year, it's important to take time to plan for your firm's future, as well as 2016.

It is hard to balance it all, but just like most small businesses, you need to use this time to put items in place that will secure your firm's growth for years to come, as well as help you into the coming year.

As such, I have put together some useful tips that should aid you as you plan for next year and beyond.

Put Your Goals in Writing

Where do you want to see your firm go in 2016? What are your goals for the next five years? You can't create a roadmap for your firm without knowing where you want to go. It may deviate, but don't use that as an excuse to prevent you from putting your current goals down in writing.

Goals should be SMART â€“ Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Don't just write down what revenue number you want. Include what blend of services this will include. Plan for how many staff you need to support this. Develop a method to measure your goals. And, above all else, show how these goals tie to the vision and current culture of your business. Be realistic with your goals and be true to the type of firm you are.

Plan for Developing Your People

As a service-based business, our people are our biggest asset. It's unfortunate we can't add them to the balance sheet, right? Accounting firms deliver similar products, but it is how we do that which differentiates us from others. As a leader, you need to be planning how you want to develop your staff in the coming year. I suggest putting together a training plan.

Some experts say you should focus on developing people to their strengths and ignore their weaknesses. I partially agree with this. The majority of a staff person's training should be focused on their strengths â€“ as long as this is in line with the goals of the firm. But, you also need to include consistent training to all staff. Make sure you are covering the areas of technical accounting updates, soft-skills development, and technology training.

And please, do me a favor and make sure this training is engaging for your employees. We've all sat through those boring CPE classes and haven't gotten much out of it. Stop investing in training with the only return being that you attained a few more hours of CPE.

Streamline Your Processes

Focus on what you can be doing in your firm to make the business operate better. It's time to sit down with your team and talk about what went wrong last year. What is the average time that it takes for your staff to collect all the documents you need from your clients? Do you have bottlenecks in your processes?

The more you streamline, the more you can provide better customer service to your clients – and you might get a bit more sleep during busy season.

How can you streamline your processes? Technology is a huge part of this. Task a team member to investigate new technologies that might make your firm run more smoothly. This is a great project for younger staff members who understand technology but aren't at the point where they are managing your projects yet. But, hold them accountable and have them present their findings back to leadership.

Another way to streamline your processes is to look at how your staff is doing their work. Take a look at the review notes on your projects and see if there are any common issues. Do you need to add some extra steps to your checklists? Or, do you need to add more explanation to certain steps in your processes?

Schedule Your Marketing Initiatives

You know that you aren't going to have time again to think about marketing until after April 15, so put a plan in place now so you don't fall behind on marketing your firm. You've done a lot of the hard work by putting your goals in place. Follow through by outlining how you are going to get there. Even if you aren't trying to increase your firm's client size, you need to make sure your brand is being presented properly and you aren't doing anything that could be losing clients.

Marketing covers a lot of things, but don't think you need to do it all. Create a few initiatives and focus on delivering those well. For example, social media is a huge draw for new clients for my firm, but I don't use all of the platforms out there. I focus first on Twitter and try to make sure I'm marketing my firm well there. I do try some other platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, but the majority of my focus is on Twitter.

If you don't think social media is your ticket to new clients, that's perfectly fine. So how are you going to market your firm? Will it be through volunteering in the community, attending networking events, sharing your expertise through writing, or some other tactic? Develop your marketing plan for the next year and schedule what you plan to accomplish and when.

Measure Yourself

So many firms will do all or part of these activities, but don't follow through with accountability by measuring themselves. If you don't measure your results, how do you know if you are reaching your goals? This isn't just about reaching your desired revenue.

Pick a few ways to measure your success rate in all of these areas – developing people, streamlining processes, delivering your marketing initiatives, and reaching financial goals. Do me a favor here, only pick one to two metrics and make them easy to calculate. You do NOT want to get bogged down with days of analysis to measure any of these things. You just want to get a feel for how you are doing. If there is an issue somewhere, then you can take some time to analyze the results more.

Conclusion

For all of you business management geeks out there, you may realize I just loosely walked you through the path to developing a balanced scorecard for your firm. The reason so many business management experts love this tool is because it balances the initiatives in your business, and all these areas have to be looked at to create a successful business. But, don't worry about it being perfect. Just create something that will work for your firm and you can always evolve your scorecard over time.

Remember, you can't reach your goals unless you put them in writing and focus on creating a roadmap that will get you there. I wish you a successful 2016 and beyond!

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