White paper

Building your firm your way

3 steps to achieving balance as your small firm grows

Are you running your small accounting firm, or is it running you?

Whether you currently own a small accounting firm or are aspiring to start one, your number one goal is likely autonomy. From achieving work-life balance to finding purpose in your profession, being your own boss comes with both challenges and opportunities. To make sure you’re in control as your business grows, it’s important to remember what drives you – even when your workload is in overdrive.

In this white paper, we will discuss three steps to building your small firm, your way. Get insight from accountants who’ve been there to ensure your firm is built around your life, not vice versa.  

Step 1: Clearly articulate your passion and purpose

What drives your desire for firm ownership?

In the early days of any business venture, the foundational role of passion and purpose is what drives most small business owners. As a small firm owner, your drive to serve clients in your own way is likely a motivating factor in breaking off an starting your own firm. Clearly articulating that passion and purpose – and revisiting it when the work gets tough – can sustain you during those long hours of tax season.

Today, many businesses are mission-focused, as opposed to being solely guided by revenue. Your passion and purpose should be the guiding forces in what services you offer and what clients you take on. Conversely, understanding what drives you can also help you determine what you don’t do or what you should stop doing. As you grow, ask yourself if the new work you are taking on has a connection to your purpose. Think about what motivates you and what type of environment you want to create for both clients and staff.

“I’ve seen opportunities arise for people who’ve gotten specific about what they are passionate about,” Heather continues. “I know a client whose child really benefitted from the support of a special needs organization. As a result, she became passionate about helping non-profit firms manage their tax strategy – and that’s what she centers her business around.”

Real-world example: Angie Wood, owner, Wood CPA

Most small accounting firm owners have years of experience working for larger firms and want to utilize that experience to serve clients in their own way. Angie Wood, owner of Wood CPA, started her firm in 2019 after several years of working for larger accounting firms. She knew she had the experience and the passion to foster deeper relationships with clients and grow her business but needed to break away to fully embrace her ability to do so.

“From payroll to bookkeeping to tax questions, I realized that there was so much need for the knowledge and experience I had gained,” says Angie. “All of the positions I’ve held throughout my life are built into the passion and purpose I’ve had in starting my own firm.”

Like Angie, centering your firm’s operations around your passion and purpose can anchor you during difficult and challenging times. It gives you the drive and energy you need to grow your business and fulfill you at the end of the day.

“I realized I wasn’t going to be fulfilled if I didn’t take the leap, start my own firm, and focus on what I really love about the industry and my career,” says Angie.

Step 2: Maximize your impact through ownership and accountability

Are you approaching your interactions with clients from a perspective of ownership?

Being a small firm owner offers unique accountability when it comes to making decisions, following through and achieving results. This is much different than being a cog in the machine of a larger firm. From work-life balance to decision-making, complete autonomy brings a whole new level of responsibility, but also gives you the ability to maximize your impact with clients.

“When I worked for a former employer, they did nothing but tax returns for their clients – no tax planning, no projections, no advice around law changes – that was it,” says Angie. “And that completely shocked me. To me, the tax return should be the last thing we worry about. It should be about understanding the clients’ needs throughout the year, so they know what to expect when tax time comes.”

In 2018, when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was enacted, Angie begged her former employer to let her hold lunch and learn sessions with clients. The struggle was an eye-opener and one of the primary reasons she decided to break off and start her own firm.

“I’ve made sure that my clients understand the value of having a CPA is the knowledge and year-round support they receive,” she says. “It’s about finding the right clients – the ones who truly value the advice, not just a transactional, once-a-year situation.”

Small firms tend to be much nimbler and have a greater ability to do new things. From adopting new technology to discovering and implementing new software or other efficiency creating tools, running your own firm lets you make the decisions about what makes your business unique and profitable.

“When you take ownership of your business and actions, you’re maximizing your firm’s impact,” says Will Hill, Customer Proposition Strategy Lead, Tax & Accounting, Thomson Reuters. “As a small firm owner, you have the opportunity to see the impact of your decisions firsthand. Your actions speak directly to your firm’s brand and value, so take advantage of your ability to run your firm in a way that fosters deeper and more meaningful relationships with your clients and your staff.”

Step 3: Operate from a position of confidence

Do you believe what you know is valuable? Do you have the tools you need to succeed?

If you truly want to build your firm around your life, you must operate from a position of confidence. Leveraging your strengths requires understanding your talents. Think about what you have done in the past that’s positively impacted your clients – and lean into those scenarios that build on your strengths and give you energy.

For many of us, confidence in all areas is not natural. It is built over time and through experiences. While most accountants are not risk takers, using the tools available to you can give you the confidence you need to successfully meet your clients’ needs and build a solid foundation from which to grow.

Select software that offers anytime access and secure cloud-based collaboration options to exchange files, assign tasks and collaborate on edits for a seamless client experience. Invest in reliable tax preparation software for accurate and secure tax return prep at a reasonable price. Look for features like an instant tax prep checklist and pre-populated returns so you can maximize productivity.  Workflow solutions designed for small firms can streamline processes and maximize efficiencies with limited resources helping you to drive efficiencies, mitigate risk, and meet the demands of your clients.

When it comes to building confidence long-term, it’s important to realize that the profession is shifting from compliance to advisory. A successful advisory relationship reinforces that you are not just a transactional expense, but a committed partner who supports clients year-round.

Consider eliminating billable hours and moving to a scalable advisory services pricing model as it changes the dynamic of your client relationships and lays out a clear scope of engagement. Plus, not having to wrestle mentally with billable hours can alleviate stress. With the right mindset and toolset, you’ll be confident in becoming a trusted advisor and fostering deeper, more sustainable client relationships.

“Believe that what you know is valuable,” says Will. “If you don’t, no one else will either.”  

Pursue your path to success

Thomson Reuters solutions for small firms can help you get your business up and running. With news, insights, articles, and solutions specifically designed with the small firm in mind, we can help you pursue your path to success with a trusted roadmap to firm ownership.

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