I had an unusual coincidence happen last week. Speaking to prospective new members of The Alternative Board (TAB), I wound up with three CPAs in the same meeting. They were from three different smaller firms, and all three identified their current concern as a struggle to develop new business.
The idea of participating in TAB is to set aside time each month to work on, not in the business. When I asked if they might find benefit in doing so starting today, they looked at each other and then at me.
I’ve coached and consulted with many accounting firms over the last 15 years. All but a few follow the same pattern. From the first of the year until April they are buried in tax work. April is big for post-deadline decompression and vacations. In May they start looking at the extensions that still need to be done, and catch up on their billing.
In most firms, June begins the partner meetings and planning process. July is when they finalize goals and objectives for the coming year. They work on those initiatives from August (working around the rest of their vacations) to November, with a break for the rush of the October final extension deadline. Then there are the holidays, and in January they begin preparing for tax season again.
But they’re surprised that the business isn’t growing to meet their expectations. After all, they work very hard, and think about business development for almost 1/3 of the year!
Let’s say you made one of those ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions to get into better shape. You exercise diligently from January through April, and then you don’t darken the door of the gym or lace up your running shoes for the rest of the year. What are the odds that you’ll be making the same resolution next January?
It’s easy to pick on CPAs because every business person is familiar with the annual tax cycle, but how many other businesses do the same thing? Retailers for the holiday shopping season, contractors in the spring, health and benefit agents in the fourth quarter.
Do we put planning and development aside in the busy season because we really don’t have any time, or is it because our selective short term memory makes it an easy thing to forget when we are making money?
I work with many firms, including CPAs, whose business grows year in and year out. Their competitors complain that they are lucky, or overly aggressive, or make some other excuse for their success.
The truth is, they build their business development plan on a twelve month cycle. They have time and resources allocated every month of the year. They may not devote the same amount of time during busy season, but they don’t stop working on the business.
Take an honest look at your growth plans for 2012. For many small business owners those plans don’t go much beyond a target number. “We will grow 10% in the coming year.” That’s not a plan, it’s a wish.
If you have outlined something more substantial for your bizdev efforts, what steps have you taken to insure that execution occurs regardless of circumstances? Will that development be put on the back burner in busy season? What if you land a huge order, or a major new customer? What if the employee responsible for the development effort leaves?
If you expect to grow your business year in and year out, the effort for that needs to be consistent. Business development is a twelve month discipline. Starting and stopping produces the results that Aesop described for the hare 2,000 years ago. You lose to the turtle, no matter how much talent you have.