[IMGCAP(1)]If you are a partner or manager in a small to midsize public accounting firm, you have undoubtedly faced the quandary of whether to spend more time on marketing or billable hours.

Unfortunately, we are all under time constraints. We have 24 hours each day to sleep, eat, work, bathe (hopefully), commute, exercise, learn, explore and create. So when we evaluate the need to spend our limited working hours on developing new work via marketing activities or billing hours, a dilemma ensues.
It’s the chicken or egg question—what comes first? If we don’t market our services, we have no work to bill out. If we only bill out our time, we fail to grow and expand to meet our firm’s goals.

I constantly see CPAs going in circles, bouncing back and forth between focusing on marketing until the firm advises them they need to focus on billing hours, and vice versa. As experienced CPAs, we constantly advise our staff not to “spin their wheels,” when in fact experienced CPAs are constantly spinning their wheels trying to figure out how to maximize their time.

If you find that you, your partners or your staff are rolling your eyes at the constant change in focus between billing hours as opposed to business development, follow these six steps for leading your firm. The focus of these steps is to balance the challenges that go along with all the stresses of growing your firm, while ensuring the production needs of your firm do not suffer while your partners spend time developing work.

1. Be consistent in your expectations: The worst action you and your firm can continue to engage in is reframing and redefining the time spent on the various activities in your office. Stop advising your firm that “this year our focus is on the billable hour,” followed 12 months later by “this year our focus is on developing new work.” Focus on the firm’s mission, not telling your firm how to achieve that mission. Instead guide your team through consistent behavior. As you focus on your mission, you can focus individuals to utilize their highest value to maximize their efficient efforts in helping the team realize the firm’s goals.

2. Evaluate your resources: That includes staffing, software, equipment, knowledge, experience and outside consultants. Set expectations for everyone within your firm for how the firm expects to utilize these resources. Be clear about the function of each resource and utilize the resource efficiently. Educate your staff on the greatest efficiency of these resources so they can use them appropriately. Need a first step to improve your firm’s profitability? Evaluate the way you are utilizing or underutilizing your resources. I guarantee a significant change to your bottom line will result based on this analysis.

3. Plan, plan, plan: Growth and success do not come out of thin air. Luck and being in the right place at the right time play a part, but you will be unable to achieve any results if you don’t put yourself in the right position. Develop a plan to put yourself in the position to achieve your desired results. As times change, your plans need to roll with these changes. Re-evaluate your plan as you move forward, but ensure it consistently meets your future goals. This plan will ensure that you and your team focus on the end prize, rather than the daily change in perspective or outlook.

4. Celebrate success: First, your firm must understand the definition of success. Success is meeting interim goals on the way to your expected results within your mission. Celebrate the steps that correspond with the results you have in mind. For example, celebrate the development of a new service, not your realization rates. Success comes in all different forms, including winning a new client, expanding services to a client, merging with another firm, developing or refining a skill, leveraging work, impacting the community. Whatever your firm's mission may be, celebrate those steps that move your firm closer to your mission. This celebration will ensure future actions are in line with the firm’s mission.

5. Focus on your strengths: Not everybody is a marketer and not everybody is a bill by the hour type. Once you and your colleagues recognize the strengths of the individuals within your team, your firm will be better able to focus individuals on expectations that align with their talents in achieving the firm’s mission. Rather than constantly changing the firm’s focus, change individuals’ focus to correspond with their strengths and productivity levels.

6. Understand your “why”: If you as a leader of your firm show up daily for the sole purpose of retaining an income, you will consistently struggle to grow. Help your partners understand why the firm exists (it should be more than a simple statement of “to provide accounting services”). Once your team is on board with this vision and understands the why of the firm, all actions of the firm in utilizing its resources should be in agreement with obtaining the “why.” This “why” will remove the doubt in your team’s consciousness about whether it should focus more on marketing or billable hours.

There is no right answer to the marketing or billable hour question. Growing and improving your firm takes a deep evaluation of what you do and how you go about doing it. Furthermore it takes communication from the firm’s leadership to remain steady in their direction. It takes patience to follow and trust the plan that your firm has developed to meet your mission. So this summer, rather than making radical changes, be consistent and trust the process. Best wishes to growth in your firm this summer!

Adam Blitz is a CPA and a relationship builder. Through his 10+ years in public accounting he has refined his ability to develop relationships with partners and clients alike in the pursuit of enhancing business profitability and individual satisfaction. Adam’s passion for business development stems purely from the notion that CPAs help people. He works with professional service firms to enhance relationships with clients, vendors, staff and communities for the purpose of developing revenue streams. Adam has a Masters in Leadership Studies and has published a thesis on the value a CPA provides to clients and staff. In his spare time, you’ll find him hiking the Sierra Nevada or training for his next triathlon. You can reach Adam at Adam@getblitzedsolutions.com or via twitter @getblitzed.

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