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firm growth

Scale Your Accounting Firm Without Burning Out


Accounting firms have a difficult time scaling. It seems they either grow organically and slowly or inorganically through mergers and acquisitions. Both of these options unfortunately are rooted in a lack of standardized accounting processes that span across the firm and its partners. This is a tough pill to swallow, but in order to scale and create additional value, standardization is the key.

Oct 28th 2020
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The big contradiction in accounting firm growth is that firms experience more demand than they can support. There’s tremendous growth potential coupled with a lack of humans to do the heavy lifting. Capacity, which is limited by the number of workable hours in a day, is one of the biggest limiting factors.

So, how do you shift what occupies the workable hours away from bookkeeping and compliance activities and toward the higher-value advisory work clients want and need? Technology, specifically, accounting software powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is a good place to look.

Decide What You Want to Accomplish

There are solid software solutions out there to help you gain capacity but, before you embrace them, sit down and determine what your firm’s goals are. Be sure to:

  • Identify your firm’s scaling goals and service objectives clearly
  • Map your firm’s existing processes and workflows, identifying pain points or areas where efficiency is lost
  • Communicate the needed improvement areas with your team and ensure goals are clear
  • Focus more on deepening client relationships as you gain time; increasing not only retention, but also the amount of money that clients spend with you

As you adjust your focus, you are going to have to get used to the idea of saying “no” to clients that don’t fit a scalable model. This could include those clients who aren’t willing to give you banking information or those who are unwilling to change.

Standardization Can Be Revolutionary

Let’s talk about standardization and technology. This has been the year of forced migration onto the cloud and away from the office. That means, in this moment of flux, you have the opportunity to establish new best practices and standardized processes.

If you embrace standardization, there’s an opportunity to revolutionize how your accounting teams work, how you approach internal firm silos, how you handle the dysfunction of mergers and acquisitions and even how you assess and strategize around what is the right client for your firm.

Here are some pointers on standardization and technology that can help your firm achieve scale. Make sure you:

  • Have one point of contact. New platforms and processes can be confusing. As your firm migrates onto the cloud and adopts new software, have a designated technology lead in charge of modernizing your firm and keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Evaluate your current client base. Ideally, you want all your clients to be up and running on the same technology platforms, with minor variation. If you’ve been through a recent merger, this is an opportunity to assess your client base and determine if they are beneficial to your firm’s growth goals, or if they are better suited to a different firm that can better accommodate their unique needs.
  • Get your whole firm onboard. Standardize your tech stack and your services to new firm clients across partner silos.

Ensure You Have a Culture for Scaling

Adjusting to a scalable model is as much about firm culture as it is about tech-knowhow. There are a lot of tech services out there, ranging from full-service offerings like Botkeeper, to more discrete, task-oriented tech like Marketing By Numbers, which will take care of your marketing and sales platform, or Zappier, a handy workflow app.

Let's look at how two different levels of technology are being used by firms:

1. A simple solution. Your firm spends 10 hours a week printing AP checks, putting them in envelopes and mailing them to people. There's an application that will automate that so you don't have to buy envelopes or check stock, allowing you to get that time back.

2. The dynamic option. As you look to expand through M&A, you are using Botkeeper’s bot-enabled bookkeeping technology. As you onboard a merged firm’s clients, Botkeeper will automatically identify and categorize transactions. These new clients are assimilated automatically. Post merger, you can jump into providing the valuable services your new clients expect.

The foundation of scaling relies on your firm’s culture being open and receptive to what technology can allow you to achieve. Additionally, you have to stop thinking in terms of work hours. Now is the age of bot-hours or, really, bot-split-seconds.

Scaling When You Can’t Find People

If your firm’s goals are to scale, then saving time here and there on small automatable tasks will just not cut it. The name of the scaling game is how to get more done without adding headcount.

Turn to software that observes historical data and creates dynamic rules that can identify or predict how to classify transactions. Here’s how it works:  Software engineers translate all the rules that bookkeepers and accountants use to organize information into an actionable language of computer code. Often, that code applies to a swath of clients.

In that case, one handy bit of code can be applied to a number of cases. Engineers translate patterns and bookkeeping rules to code once and computers act on it, iterate on it and continue to improve it for a lifetime.

The whole point of embracing software is getting the menial and organizational work out of your people’s hands and into the realm of automated technology so it can be standardized and scalable.

Focus on the Future

Once data aggregation and transaction identification are automated and workflow is standardized, your firm has the time to take a deep breath and focus on its future. This is where the fun begins and you can start asking yourself really exciting, market defining questions like: What do you want your firm to be and what types of services do you want to provide?

Rely on tech to whisk away all the stuff that does not directly add value to your firm and put your firm’s brain power toward growth, firm identity and client service. That’s how you’ll scale without burning out yourself or your team members along the way.