If you’ve been actively listening to your clients over the past several years, you know that shifting demographics, evolving regulations, and transformative technological trends are driving major change across the accounting profession. While active listening gives us the insight we need to understand how these factors are changing the wants and needs of our clients, the next step is developing a strategic plan that fulfills them.
Accounting firms that understand the fundamentals of effective strategic planning set priorities, know how to focus their energy and resources, and make sure that staff members are all working toward a common goal. The most successful strategic plans, however, articulate not only where the firm is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also how to know if the plan is successful.
While strategic planning commonly applies to the goals of an organization, it doesn’t always have to be about operational matters. It can also relate to your personal career growth. So, whether you’re an owner of an accounting firm looking to capitalize on new market opportunities or an up-and-coming tax professional looking to carve out your own space in the marketplace, consider these five tips for strategic planning success.
1. Define specific objectives
Change happens when your goals are precise, so make sure your objectives are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example, “Increasing consulting revenue $150,000 by December 31, 2017” is a SMART goal, but simply saying, “Increasing consulting revenue” is not.
It’s also important to take the time to write down your objectives. Written goals enhance accountability—and that’s critical whether your goals are personal or team-based.
2. Organize your team
The importance of building a team to achieve specific objectives is often overlooked. Teams should be balanced, particularly from a work style perspective, and each member should know their role and what they are accountable for.
If you’re building a personal growth plan, this step still holds true, but instead include a “team” of individuals who can help you in achieving your career goals (i.e., a mentor, leaders in the profession, etc.)
3. Develop metrics
Once you know your objectives, it’s important to build milestones and benchmarks into your plan. For example, if you’re a firm looking to move to an advisory-based model, perhaps you strive to increase consulting revenues by certain increments each quarter. These types of metrics are necessary as you measure progress toward your objectives. They also help you see where adjustments need to be made or where more focus is required. Reviewing metrics at regular intervals ensures you and/or your team remain on track to fulfilling your goals.
4. Align marketing tactics
When it comes to firm-wide objectives for growth, methods of client outreach are an important part of the overall plan. Identify your target audience and decide on the ways to best reach them. While direct mail campaigns and email blasts are certainly effective tactics, consider more creative marketing avenues, like building a following on a social media platform, targeting prospects at their industry events, or starting a referral campaign. Use metrics to understand what marketing tactics are worth spending time and money on, and which aren’t.
When it comes to your own personal goals, think of this step as “marketing” yourself. Grow your network, attend industry events, and become active in accounting-related associations to build your personal brand.
5. Gather feedback—and apply it
As you work through the strategic planning process, make sure to build in mechanisms for feedback, whether it be from clients, team members or management. Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism and make sure you’re flexible enough to adapt to suggestions and make changes to your plan when and where they are needed. This applies not only to organizations, but also to personal career plans.
Taking the time to develop a comprehensive strategic plan is what lays the pathway for a successful execution. With an effective strategic plan, you’ll ensure you stay on track to meet—and possibly exceed—your objectives.