I see it all the time. Well-intentioned accounting firms do what they believe are the right things. They sponsor events. They publish articles. They meet and greet. But they don't grow.

At most firms, growth is an individual contributor activity. Lone Ranger partners do their own thing, attracting clients here and there and offering services that they believe clients need. But despite the efforts of individual partners, there's little solid growth to show for the effort.

That's when they call. "Gale, we need your help! Market conditions aren't great and we're getting hammered with competitive pricing. We have to increase our marketing so we can grow!"

Whoa, cowboy -- sit back in that saddle and let's talk a while.

 

LEADER-DRIVEN GROWTH

You've heard me say it before, but it bears repeating -- marketing does not grow anything. Growth is a function of three integrated disciplines: marketing, sales and product management. And it must be consciously and continuously led.

There are four leadership levers for sustainable growth. They are:

  • Marketing;
  • Industry niche management;
  • Service line management; and,
  • Large opportunity management.

When fully engaged partners own each of these, a growth road map appears. It is an approach that can be overseen by a managing partner in an orderly, sustainable manner.
All those lone horsemen come in off the range and rally around a shared purpose. They learn to lead, and that leadership leads to growth.

It's a subtle but essential shift -- away from individual contributors pursuing random tactics to a leader-driven sustainable growth model that will outlast even the current partner group and MP.

 

LEADERSHIP TAKES TRAINING

Don't assume that partners who are used to acting as Lone Rangers will effortlessly transform into collaborative and focused growth leaders. They'll require training in leadership behaviors.

First, they must move from being generalists to leading specific industries or service lines. You've got to own it to lead it.

Other leader behaviors include serving as a role model for colleagues and assessing and assigning resources, including the human kind. Becoming a growth leader requires acquiring growth-building skills through books, training/coaching, conferences and sharing best practices.

Leaders need to collaborate, pulling in individuals (such as a marketing director or interested partner) who can help them build their service line or industry niche, as well as assign tasks and create accountability.

They become experts in their niche, identifying the services and distribution channels that will meet the needs of a particular market segment and adding innovation to make those services stand out from those offered by the competition.

Leaders also learn to keep score, starting with revenue segmentation that tracks service and industry revenues against goals. A leader is assigned to, and accountable for, each of those segments.

Leadership is a team sport. If your manufacturing leader determines that the market needs transfer pricing, service line leaders should respond by figuring out how to design and develop it - even if you've never offered it before.

 

GATHER ROUND THE CAMPFIRE

Ask a typical partner in a typical firm about growth, and they are likely to say, "My book of business is pretty good." Note the use of the word "my."

Individuals may be pursuing their own clients reasonably well, but nobody is collaborating. The approach to growth is individual and tactic-based. However, to succeed, it needs to be rooted in the passionate commitment of leaders who know how to wrangle. And a managing partner -- the leader of leaders -- who has the buy-in and tools to position the firm for a future of sustained, long-term growth.

Leveraging leadership is a relatively new way of looking at growth for many firms, yet is equally powerful for firms of all sizes.

It's time to call in the Lone Rangers and gather them around the campfire. You need a group of leaders in order to grow!

Gale Crosley, CPA, is founder and principal of Crosley+Co., and consults with accounting firms on revenue growth. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

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