Five Tips For Taking Your Firm To The Top


Want your firm to stand out from the pack? Slipstream Coaching’s Sharon McClafferty, a key presenter at last month’s Count Conference, offers some strategies to set you off in the right direction.

What makes a successful firm tick? According to director Sharon McClafferty, who works exclusively with multidisciplinary advice and accounting firms, it all comes down to strategic thinking and effective planning.

“Financial advisers advocate the importance of planning ahead and thinking about the future you want to create, so it’s surprising how few do that themselves,” she said. “Many business owners tend to focus solely on helping their clients and do not invest time on improving their business.”

Here are Sharon’s tips to help accountants and advisers shift their focus inward so they can drive their firm to the next level.

1. Know your purpose

Every business needs a purpose, and successful businesses never lose sight of theirs. Having a clear purpose not only helps you define your value proposition; it can also guide your business decisions.

“Firms that know their purpose have a true north,” said Sharon. “If they do start going off track, they can always pull themselves back.”

As an example, Sharon refers to how Kodak was forced into bankruptcy after technological advances displaced its products from the market.

“Kodak’s purpose was to capture memories, but they veered away from that purpose to focus on selling film,” she said. “If they’d come back to their original purpose, things might have turned out differently for them.”

Once you define your purpose, you’ll find it easier to understand the types of clients you want to attract.

Sharon commented: “Many firms waste their finite marketing budget by not targeting anyone specific, which usually means they’re not appealing to anyone at all. People spin a lot of wheels because they haven’t thought about who their ideal client is.”

2. Look at the big picture

Next, Sharon recommends taking a step back from the day-to-day running of your firm so you can think about your strategic vision.

“We aim to get a holistic understanding of what each business owner wants to achieve in their firm and their life in general, so they can thrive both personally and professionally,” she explained. “This gives us an insight into their current mindset and the state of their business operations.”

You can then translate your strategic vision into a one-page plan, with clear goals for the months and years ahead.

“We usually encourage firms to develop a 3-year strategic vision, a 12-month operational plan and a 90-day action plan,” Sharon said.

3. Set regular targets

Building achievable milestones into your business plan makes it’s easier to implement the plan in a consistent and manageable way.

Sharon commented: “The rhythm of these plans is a 90-day cycle, so each 90 days we build momentum by setting a new target the business wants to hit in terms of business objectives. The whole team is involved in making that happen – and when they do, it’s time to celebrate.”

Defining your short-term goals also gives you the flexibility to regularly review and adapt the plan as needed.

“With an evolving business plan, you’re in a better position to keep up with industry changes that are outside your control,” Sharon said.

4. Rethink your business model

Once you’re clear on your purpose, strategic vision and short-term targets, Sharon recommends looking closely at your service offering to make sure it meets all your clients’ needs.

“You can’t promise something to clients when you don’t have the services to support it,” she explained. “If your purpose is to help people achieve financial freedom, you need to at least be able to offer them advice, accounting and insurance.”

Sharon says that even smaller firms can become a ‘one-stop shop’ for their clients, without necessarily having to provide every service themselves in-house.

“Most clients expect their accountant or financial planner to have established referral partnerships with other service professionals like brokers and lawyers,” she said. “Depending on your firm’s purpose, you might be suited to a financial concierge model that connects clients with the services they need.”

5. Embrace new opportunities

While many in the industry are concerned about the rapid pace of technological change, Sharon believes firms should harness technology to build more value into their offering.

“If an accounting firm is losing revenue from the personal tax side of the business, this should motivate them to speed up the development of their other services,” she said.

Take robo-advice, for example. Sharon sees this as a tool for engaging new clients earlier in life, then converting them to face-to-face clients as their financial needs become more complex.

Sharon commented: “Robo-advice will encourage more people to start thinking about financial advice as a concept. This means there will be a larger pool of potential clients who will need the help of an adviser down the track.”

But no matter what the future holds for your firm, Sharon believes a positive mindset is the key to success.

“Some business owners are excited to tackle the challenges ahead, while others find them overwhelming,” she said. “And they’re the ones who may end up missing out on the opportunities.”