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Dos and Don'ts of CPA Strategic Planning

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Anne Perisho

When it comes to planning for the success of their own business, accountants and CPAs often fall short.

Several people standing in front of a computer that has many financial graphs and charts and other business information on the screen.

It’s common for small business owners to turn to their CPA or Accountant for assistance with business planning. A recent survey noted that of the small business owners that consulted an accounting firm in 2018, 21% sought out business planning services.

However, when it comes to planning for the success of their own business, accountants and CPAs often fall short. Because most CPA firms are small to mid-sized businesses themselves, they generally face the same challenges their small business clients face: standing out from the competition, retaining talent, and insufficient growth, all of which are necessary to the firm’s longevity. Fortunately, having – and executing – a solid strategic plan can do wonders for a firm’s long-term success.

We’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts to help guide your accounting firm towards effectively implementing a strategic plan.


Be SMART - Create a Clearly Defined Strategy

Most strategic plans have the same major structure – vision/mission statement, objectives and initiatives, and the conversion of ideas into financials. When creating a strategic plan, it’s important to be realistic and rational about the steps you want – and need – to take. While a plan that triples client base in two years is exciting, it may not be the most realistic. Remember, your strategic plan needs to be SMART:

  • Specific – Pick a strategy that is well-outlined and targeted. Don’t make the mistake of promising too much and falling short or focusing on something vague and undefined. Picking a specific goal will keep you on a path to success and keep you from getting distracted. Most goals are vague, such as increase social media followers or get more sales. Vague goals make it hard to know what you’re truly focused on accomplishing.
  • Measurable – Make sure you’re picking a goal that you can measure by data or statistics. Without measurements in place, how will you ever know if you hit your target? Measurements also make it easier to set new goals in the future and scale for more growth.
  • Attainable/Achievable – Shooting for the moon is great in theory, but failing to choose an attainable strategy will leave you feeling defeated. While you don’t want your plan to be too easy, like bringing on one new client over the course of the year, you also don’t want to set yourself up for a milestone that will be too hard to hit.
  • Realistic – Similar to attainable/achievable, make sure you’re working with factors you can control. Businesses can be affected by everything from the market crashing to a weather disaster, so make sure you’re basing your success off items you can control. You also need to remind yourself that your targets aren’t magically going to be reached overnight.
  • Time-determined - If you don’t set a defined time-frame, chances are it’s going to get pushed to the wayside when other, more immediate, items show up on your to-do list.

Set Short- and Long-Term Goals

Strategic planning may mean planning for five or ten years down the road, but it’s how you get there that matters. Set short-term goals that will help you incrementally meet your business targets. If you want to retain more clients through better customer service, start with offering training sessions for your customer service teams. If you want to gain more leads, maybe consider offering a new service, rethinking your marketing strategies or revamping your website. Having only a long-term strategy can make the process and task at hand daunting. With smaller goals in between, you’ll likely feel more motivated which you hit those milestones and have the power to keep going towards your long-term end plan.

Embrace Change and New Opportunities

It’s easy to get comfortable offering the same services year after year – after all, you don’t fix what isn’t broken, right? However, it’s important to realize that growing your business may mean stretching outside your comfort zone and expanding your service offerings. Learning about what clients actually want from their accountant and adjusting accordingly can give you an edge over the competition and help you diversify your portfolio, which in turn can strengthen your business. Offering a new service that other accounting firms may not be willing to offer – like payroll – can give your firm the upper hand in case an existing offering becomes less profitable or stable.

Communicate Your Plan Clearly and Often

Your team, no matter how big or small, should be aware of your business plan, and their role in it, to help ensure everyone is invested and working towards the same goals. Being transparent with your employees on long-term goals increases engagement and is a top factor when determining employee happiness. If you want to retain your top employees, let them know how they fit into your business’ larger picture and long-term success. Establish strategy ‘champions’ that can lead projects and help push towards your goals. Empowering your employees will encourage them to work through tough times, especially during the craziness of tax season.


Set It and Forget It

The biggest mistake businesses make when they make a plan for the future is to set it and forget it. While it would be nice to make a plan once and leave it for the future, failing to check in with your plan can hurt you in the long run and leave you unprepared for when something unexpected arises. Think of your business plan as a living, breathing document that needs constant feedback and review. As annoying as it might be to concern yourself with it when you already have a full workload, your business will be better off for it in the long run, and you’ll be quicker to adapt to the unexpected.

Be Afraid to Say No

Though we often think of strategic planning as saying yes to one path or plan, it’s also saying no to hundreds of others. While it's scary to close the door on those other opportunities, you can’t possibly say yes to everything, especially if you’re trying to grow your practice. Saying yes to everything can have positive results when you’re starting your business, but eventually small business owners need to focus on what is scalable, and what will ultimately bring the results you need.

Confuse Strategies with Goals

Often business strategies fail to take off because they are, in fact, not strategies. It’s important to understand the difference between strategies and goals. For example, a goal may be “We want to be the number one accounting firm in Fresno by next year.” While this example is specific and time-oriented, it doesn’t outline what is needed to achieve it, just the end result. A true strategy goes into every stage of the implementation process and outlines the path needed to get to your desired outcome.

Bottom Line

Creating and implementing a strategic plan is crucial for the success of any business, especially one seeking growth. It’s important for CPAs, financial advisors, and other trusted advisors to remember that while your client’s business may rely on you for your expert business planning advice, it’s also important to apply that same knowledge to your firm. Doing so will help you weather any turbulence your firm may encounter, and will also help you engage and retain your employees for the long haul.

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This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. SurePayroll is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, SurePayroll. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. If you require legal or accounting advice or need other professional assistance, you should always consult your licensed attorney, accountant or other tax professional to discuss your particular facts, circumstances and business needs.