Determine your firm's purpose

Why?
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A solid strategy is your accounting firm's backbone, leading to increasing profits, predictable revenue, and happy clients. It is designed and built by partners and driven by modern technology, tools, and an accomplished team. 

Over the next few months, we are going to take a deeper look at your accounting firm's strategy. Specifically, I will discuss the four foundations of your accounting firm — purpose, vision, mission and values — and show you how to document, and iterate on, your underlying firm foundations.

The four foundations of an accounting firm can be defined as:

  • Purpose: Why you choose to exist together, beyond financial gain.
  • Vision: The difference you'll create in your clients' lives or the larger world when you ultimately realize your purpose (long-term).
  • Mission: An ambitious yet achievable position in the market or in your clients' lives, which recognises your purpose (medium-term).
  • Values: The principles and values that will accelerate your progress together.

Over the course of the upcoming set of articles, you'll be able to complete the following foundational framework for your firm:

Framework for firm foundations


The importance of purpose

“When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible,” said Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.

Everything hinges on the why of your firm: your purpose. While your firm is expected to make a profit, it needs to have a higher purpose for its existence. The ability to concisely articulate this, motivates both employees and clients, and is one of the primary differences between good and great firms. Only from that insight can you truly define the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of your firm.

To get a head start, take 18 minutes to watch Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk on the subject.

The golden circle

When looking at their foundation, most firms start with the ‘what’ (easiest to articulate), construct the ‘how’, and then, maybe, explore the ‘why’. As Simon Sinek outlines in his book, start with ‘why’, this is a backwards way to go about things.

Everything in an accounting firm is derived from the ‘why’- the unifying element. If you have a strong, clear and concise purpose – beyond simply making money – you will set the tone and the motivation for both employees and clients.

All this is summarised in Simon Sinek's golden circle: you start with ‘why’, build the ‘how’ and articulate the ‘what’.

  • What: Every organisation on the planet knows WHAT they do. These are products they sell or services they offer.
  • How: Some organizations know HOW they do it. These are things that make them special or set them apart from their competition.
  • Why: Very few organisations know WHY they do what they do. WHY is not about making money. That's a result. It's a purpose, cause or belief. It's the very reason your organisation exists.

The golden circle


Some examples of why

One of the most notable and memorable why examples, is from Apple, which has endured through decades of growth and change. This serves as a great reminder that your purpose doesn't need to shift over time.

  • Apple: Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.
  • GoldieBlox: To correct the gender imbalance in engineering.
  • AirBnB: To connect millions of people in real life all over the world, through a community marketplace, so that you can belong anywhere.
  • Kurgo: To help people get out and safely enjoy the world with their dogs.

There are also many good examples within the accounting profession.

  • Elements CPA: Building financial strength, for what truly matters.
  • Two Roads: We partner to support decisions that encourage leadership.
  • Caldwell Consulting & Training: We strategically guide accounting teams to become a modern practice.
  • HPC: We enable global entrepreneurs to succeed in the lifestyle they crave.

Remember, your own ‘why’ is going to be unique for you and your firm.

Questions to help you find your way

In a ‘why’ statement it is best to be clear and concise; every word you choose matters. Sit back and think about what truly matters and why your firm is in existence. There are five questions to help you craft your ‘why’ statement:

  • Impact: If you won the lottery, what about working at your firm would make you continue to work here? Why spend more creative energy?
  • Connected: Is your firm’s purpose connected to your own? What is the link between your personal story and the story of your firm.
  • Defendable: Is your why too broad or too specific? In either case, it needs to bring the value and your values together.
  • Difference: How can you add more value in the world while doing less harm? What is your noblest purpose and can you fulfill it?
  • Forward: What does the world hunger for? What are the big challenges? Who have we been? Who must we become?

Your why will come to you over time if you provide yourself the freedom to sit back and think. Scribble down your thoughts as they come. Revisit them when you are in the right frame of mind. Ponder it while in the shower.

Creating your ‘why’ statement is a process that will take time to draft, evolve and finalise. Go back to the five questions and see if your ‘why’ statement satisfies the five requirements.

Where do we go from here?

With a ‘why’ statement defined you will be ready to tackle the next component in your firm's foundation framework: your vision.

In my upcoming article, you'll go from your enduring firm's purpose to defining the difference you'll create in your clients' lives or the larger world, when you ultimately realise your purpose. 

About Ian Vacin

Ian Vacin

With over 25 years of experience in technology and over 15 years of leadership experience in the accounting industry at Karbon, Xero, and Intuit, Ian is passionate about helping accounting professionals be as successful as possible in order to positively impact the small businesses that they serve.

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