While I’ve been working with firm leaders in retreats and coaching calls this past year to ensure they have an engaging culture that retains and develops their best and brightest people, we have also been focused on growing the top line so that firms offer growth opportunities and have room to make new partners. Below are five ways to grow your firm’s top line listed from easiest to most challenging:

  1. Raising fees – there is almost always room for firms to raise fees, perhaps not across the board, but in certain services, geographies or within specific staffing levels where the rate per hour is less than industry benchmarks. If you’re not sure where your firm’s fees are against market, compare your rates for your geography and firm size in one of our favorite benchmark reports:

    While there is usually the fear that you may lose clients from a fee increase (which could be a good strategy to help transition those less than ideal clients out of your firm!), you will likely find that clients expect your rates to increase over time and are more than willing to pay for your services when they truly add value.

  2. Selling more to existing clients - this is the cross selling holy grail of the accounting profession yet so many firm leaders do not proactively find ways to increase their value and solve their clients business or personal challenges with other services the firm offers. Studies show that the more services you provide your clients, the higher the likelihood that you’ll retain those clients.

    Consider a simple approach to get started and identify each partner’s top 5-10 clients. Then, conduct an account planning exercise with the client service team and another leader in your firm not directly involved in that client (yet!). Brainstorm a list of ideas that would benefit the CEO or owner, the organization or that you would want to be advised of if you were part of that client’s organization. Some of your ideas may involve your direct service and others the client may be able to address themselves. Then schedule a meeting with the client (be sure to include others!) and review your list with them, working to prioritize the top three ideas that they would like to tackle in 2014.
  3. Squeezing your sales pipeline – my first question is do you have a firm-wide sales pipeline (it can be Excel) and do you meet regularly (at least monthly) to review it with those that own the opportunities on it? If not, the first step is to pull all sales opportunities into one database (you can use our Sales Pipeline Tool to get started). Once you’ve done so, meet with the sales owners to discuss the last meeting date, next follow up date, next steps, resources required to support the sales process and any roadblocks to address or support needed to move each opportunity to the next step in the sales process. Your sales pipeline is the ONLY leading indicator of the health of your firm. When used consistently, it becomes a strategic planning tool to help you identify where you need to apply more sales and marketing resources, plan and schedule resources, and identify recruiting needs. Firms that employ a consistent sales pipeline process close more business, too!
  4. Generating leads – after gathering all your opportunities into one sales pipeline, you may find that it’s weak and you need to conduct more marketing activities to fill your pipeline. Continuous marketing efforts are required to ensure a healthy pipeline with minimal peaks and valleys in your opportunities, so you don’t have to scramble because you’re short on sales opportunities.

    Consider a blend of personal marketing efforts of partners and managers such as:

    • Networking and attending organizations’ meetings regularly
    • Identifying and building relationships with target accounts
    • Meeting with referral sources and clients (outside of an engagement as described above)
    • Writing or speaking on specialty service or industry topics to build thought leadership

    Along with firm marketing programs, such as:

    • Conducting an industry survey
    • Publishing a white paper and hosting roundtables on the white paper to attract decision makers within that industry segment
    • Holding educational sessions on the regulatory changes affecting clients, such as healthcare, Internet tax, etc.
  5. Buying a practice – you may decide that you want to grow the top line more than you can organically and that entails deploying an inorganic or merger and acquisition strategy. If you pursue this, be sure that you have agreement about what kind of practice your leaders would like to pursue, whether it’s a similar size firm to gain economies of scale or a “tuck-in” specialty practice that supports a niche you’re committed to growing. Buying a practice or merging with another firm can be a successful long-term strategy when done right with sufficient due diligence, research and discussion to ensure it makes sense for all parties involved. For some ideas about how to get in the merger game, read my partner Jennifer Wilson’s blog Merger Mania: Are You Going to Jump In?

I believe – as many firm leaders do – that growth will happen when you apply discipline and consistency to achieve your growth goals. Which of these five ideas are you going to tackle – or reenergize – to increase your top line? What other ideas have you found successful to achieve your revenue goals? We would love to hear from you!