Why CPA Leaders Should Work More On The Business Than In The Business

This is key to realising your growth potential. As I advise CPA leaders about how to grow their firms, I like to ask them a question. I’ve discovered that this question serves as a litmus test to determine whether or not they are truly committed to growth and how likely they are to actually achieve this goal.  

I ask them – how do you start your day? This tells me a great deal about them, what they focus on and their priorities. I wonder how your day compares? Do you get to work, check emails and voicemails and respond to those from clients while ignoring others? In other words, does your day start by focusing on clients and billable projects?  
If it does, I have an alternative perspective for you. If you really want to grow your CPA firm and you are the leader, you have to focus on growth first. It has to be the top priority. I call this working on the business more than in the business. This shift in mindset pays huge dividends. Let me share with you why you should make this change.
Here is another question I like to ask leaders of CPA firms. Are you a CPA or an entrepreneur? Their answer tells me a great deal about their focus and mindset. What’s the difference between the two options?If someone says, I’m a CPA, this usually means:

  1. They spend most of their day serving clients, monitoring trends, doing research and trying to stay on top of what’s happening in their industry.
  2. They see themselves as problem-solvers of challenges that require good analytical thinking, like a great technician.
  3. They enjoy doing the actual work of being a CPA more than they enjoy being a business owner and leader. 
  4. Given the choice between going out and speaking to a crowd full of prospective clients or staying in the office and getting work done, they’ll choose staying in the office.

If someone says, I’m an entrepreneur, this usually means:

  1. They spend most of their day thinking about how to grow their firm, trying to understand what levers they need to pull to realize consistent and predictable growth. They have a strategic growth plan and they stick to it over time.
  2. They see themselves as a business-builder and leader more so than a technician. 
  3. They recognize the importance of doing great work for clients, but they also know that the best and highest use of their time is to be a strategist.
  4. They recognize the importance of their personal brand, of storytelling and of being willing to become the public face of their organization.

If you really want to grow your CPA firm, you have to think like an entrepreneur. This does not mean that you ignore client impact or the quality of your work-product. Not at all. But this does mean that you place client-service in its proper place. Historically, most CPA firms have grown by serving their clients well and then getting referrals. 

But the problem with referrals is that you are never in control of them. This means your growth is in someone else’s hands, not yours.  With referrals, you’re never in control of your growth.When referrals are your growth engine, you are counting on clients – who by the way have no vested interest in seeing you grow – to refer you to other clients. You are betting your future on people over whom you have no control. 
What would happen to your CPA firm if the referral engine dried up? I’ve seen this happen to more than one CPA firm. This is why smart CPA firm leaders are making the pivot to think and act like entrepreneurs.






Entrepreneurs focus on strategic plans that ensure their growth. They take control of their growth and of their future by making sure that they have strategic plans that are within their ability to execute.  Entrepreneurs don’t hope to grow, they plan to grow.The core areas they focus on include growth in clients, in revenues and in profits. 

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But they also focus on scaling their operations to ensure that they can deliver against their promises. In fact, promise is a key word in growth for professional service firms.The challenge with services is that they are intangible. So when someone decides to do business with you, they are buying into a promise that your firm can produce results that matter to them. The promise matters. 


If you really want to grow your CPA firm, here are four core strategies that really work:

  • Clearly define your ideal client: their goals, opportunities and challenges.
  • Define your promise to ideal clients.
  • Align your core 3 teams around the promise: marketing, business development, delivery.
  • Execute your plan, measure those things that matter, track your outcomes and make course corrections.

Let’s explore these a bit.







When I ask CPA firm leaders to describe their ideal client, I often hear vague answers like business owner, executive, affluent family and the like. That’s not nearly specific enough to put you in the best position to articulate a promise that matters to these people. The first step toward meaningful growth comes by developing a profile of who you are best suited to serve and what matters to them. 

I call this an ideal client profile and it has two parts: demographics and psychographics.Demographics have to do with those characteristics that are external to a client, such as age, race, education, household income, industry, geography and the like. You definitely want to get these details right, but this is just a start.What really matters are psychographics. These have to do with the clients’ motives, what they care about and why they would buy your services. 
There are three psychographics to deeply understand:

  • Their top 5 goals.
  • Their top 5 challenges.
  • Their top 5 opportunities. 

A goal is something that they absolutely must accomplish. A challenge is something that blocks them from achieving goals. An opportunity is something that excites their imagination and something they’d like to achieve if time and budget allow. 



Once you have a clear understanding of what deeply matters to ideal clients, you are ready to define a promise that matters to them. This is nearly the opposite approach of the way most CPA firms go to market.

Most CPA firms talk about who they are, what they do, who their people are and how long they’ve been in business. Does that sound like your firm? Do your website and your marketing materials talk primary about your firm? If so, you’re missing an opportunity and it’s a big one.
If you, instead, talk about the goals that matter to your ideal client and then describe how you empower them to achieve those goals, something magical happens. Suddenly they engage. We’ve watched time-on-page more than triple just from this simple change. Prospective clients suddenly understand why they should engage with you and how a business relationship with your firm will make an impact on them. I’ll give you a specific example of what I’m talking about. 
My firm is in the business of delivering marketing and business development strategies for service firms. But that’s not our promise or why clients choose us. Our clients want to grow and usually they want to double their revenues within a defined time period.We have a history of delivering against that goal. 
So the promise we make to the broader market is not – we deliver great marketing strategies – our promise is that we double service firm revenues. So take a moment now and think about the promise that matters to your ideal clients. What does that promise sound like? What can you do to make it more real, specific and concise for your market?
Growing a mid-size service firm is not all that challenging once you get your teams aligned. This is usually the far more challenging part. The three teams that impact service-firm growth are marketing, business development and delivery.For many mid-size CPA firms, these teams are not all that distinct. 
In some instances, the same people wear different hats. You might have a senior consultant involved in marketing, holding primary responsibility for business development and involved in service delivery. That’s not really a problem in most instances as long as the responsibilities are clearly understood and fulfilled. Here is the best description I’ve come up with for how these teams should be measured.

  • The marketing team needs to make the promise to the broader market. Their metric is the number of organic new prospects leaning in who fit the ideal client profile. You want to see consistent growth in new prospects every quarter.
  • The business development team applies the promise to unique client opportunities, usually those generated by the marketing team. Their metric is the number of deals closed, revenue realized and the appropriateness of the solutions offered. 
  • The delivery team delivers the promise to each unique client. Their metric is client satisfaction and client delight.

When you get these three teams aligned around the promise that matters to ideal clients, you cannot help but grow. Now you’ll notice that I put the delivery team last in this order. Why? Because it is nearly a given that you should be able to deliver against the promise. The ability to deliver is table stakes. 

If you cannot do this, you have no business being in business.Here is what we’ve seen though. Most small to medium-sized CPA firms focus on the delivery of their services, the actual work-product, far more than they focus on the other two teams who stimulate growth. This is one of the major root causes for missing the mark on your growth potential. 
I wish I had more time here to describe how to align and measure these teams. But there is a way for you to take my ideas to the next level and apply then to your unique business. I’ve developed an action guide called 7 STEPS TO DOUBLE SERVICE FIRM REVENUE. This amazing tool contains 7 videos and numerous downloadable tools. You can access it for free right now on our website. If you like the ideas presented here, you’ll love the action guide. 

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