Regardless of if you’ve decided that a sale is your end goal, you should be running your firm like you’re going to sell it tomorrow.
We don’t say that to mean that you will sell tomorrow, but being able to means that your ducks are in a row, your firm is desirable to buyers, and you have an idea in mind for what you’ll do afterward.
Perhaps it’s a mindset more than anything else, but if you’re a firm owner or partner, knowing if it’s even possible to sell your firm is a strong indicator of how well your firm is doing. And that peace of mind goes a long way in actually helping you land the best deal for everyone involved!
There are a lot of things to consider when you’re exploring the idea of selling your accounting firm, and as with many things in life, it’s best to prepare. These are just a few of the considerations that come to mind:
Control: How do you guarantee long-term success when you’re no longer in control?
Quality of work: Clients that have come to expect a certain level of service—how do you ensure continuity of service?
Succession: Who takes on leadership responsibilities after you’re gone?
Let’s say you navigate all those concerns and questions. What do you do after a successful sale? Many entrepreneurs experience an emotional fallout after exiting their company; like retirement, selling your firm one day and waking up the next without a solid idea of what you’re supposed to do can be overwhelming and scary.
With all that said, no, this article isn’t to dissuade you from selling your firm! It’s to help you prepare in both real and psychological terms for everyone’s benefit. If selling is your end goal—whether that’s tomorrow, next year, or in 10 years—you must explore what that means for your clients, your firm, and most importantly yourself.
We’ve prepared some strategies and information related to selling your firm. To start, take an objective, realistic look at two important considerations: are both you and your firm ready for a sale?
Preparing Yourself to Exit Your Accounting Firm
Let’s start by borrowing a lesson from psychology: it’s often easier for someone to accept a transition than a complete and total end to something. For instance, taking on a role at a different company is far less traumatic than being laid off from a current job. Likewise, selling your business should feel more like moving from one step or stage to another.
Imagine you’ve just sold your firm, and someone asks you, “What are you going to do with yourself now?”
The possible answers are endless! You could buy an RV and snowbird during the winter
Maybe you’re more into the idea of moving to Bali to finally take up surfing. Or possibly you’re content to just let life happen and respond by saying you haven’t got any plans!
No matter what your answer is, it’s arguably the most important pieces to figure out before you search for a buyer.
4 Considerations to Develop Your Post-Sale Thoughts
- Things you dislike about your current role (or specific tasks/processes)
- Things you wish you did more of (both within the firm and outside of work)
- Ideas you’d love to see pan out (another business or project?)
- Causes you care about
Sitting down to create a list of what you’d like to step out of in your firm can be a helpful exercise, especially as they relate to your desires and aspirations. Hopefully after a bit of thought, the next step in your journey becomes obvious.
It’s important to understand these things before preparing your firm for sale. As you build your business to exit, you’ll be able to transition to your post-work aspirations before you actually go to market.
Additional tip: One great exercise is called “3 lists to freedom” from Chris Ducker. It’s a great resource to move you from working in your business to working on it!
Preparing Your Accounting Firm to Run Without You
The sale of an accounting firm is similar in some ways to the sale of a home. That is, there are “turnkey properties” (100% move-in ready) and “fixer-uppers” (need work to reach full potential). The price differs drastically between a move-in ready home versus a fixer-upper in the same neighborhood.
Accounting firms (any business, really) have similar valuations.
Example firm one: You (the owner) are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations, and your processes are a bit convoluted. The valuation may be a bit lower, and a larger accounting firm may simply try to “buy out” your clients to grow their firm.
Example firm two: The processes at your firm are thoughtful and effective, and you’re not directly involved in the daily work. From marketing and growth to deliverables and profitability, things are locked down. In this case, a buyer may make an offer to keep the firm “as is” and may even ask you to remain on to keep things running smoothly—equalling a big payday and a “job” that doesn’t require much from you.
3 Ways to Prepare Your Firm
Automate Wherever Possible: Many of the redundant aspects of your firm can be outsourced and automated with the same level of quality—or better—as your in-house team. Automating tasks is a strategic move that frees up time for you and your CPAs.
Improve Revenue: Taking yourself out of the day-to-day can possibly involve more staff. And more team members requires more funds. One way to increase revenue is to bring in more clients. Another is to offer higher-value services like forecasting/budgeting and advisory services.
Empower Your Team: The golden strategy is a combination of the two previous steps:
Automate to free up time,
Use the time to create more revenue,
- Empower your team to handle your firm.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, your job in this scenario is to work yourself out of a job. Start by creating standard operating procedures based on every role, service, and task in your firm. Then, at a pace you’re comfortable with, begin delegating those tasks you no longer want to be responsible for. Over time, transfer every aspect of your firm to your staff.
And just like that, you’re off to the races! Or Bali, or your lakehouse, or whatever you’ve decided on. 😉
Additional note: Depending on the size of your firm, you might consider hiring an operations management role. This role focuses on ensuring current clients are served while you build more clients or sell higher-value services. They effectively aid you through any transition your firm might be facing.
Build Your Firm to Sell (Even if You Decide to Stay)
If you’re lucky, you can have as long or as short a career as you like! The beauty is that you’re in control of what you do next; you simply need to make plans and prepare. But thankfully that’s what accountants are good at.
The better your firm runs on its own, the better prepared you are for sale. Of course, this creates a Catch-22; if things are really running smoothly, do you even need to sell? Obviously the decision at that point is a bit more tactical. Regardless, operating your firm with the mindset that you’ll eventually sell will lead to better results for your clients, your staff, your partners, and yourself.
One way to kickstart your journey toward a healthy sale is to make sure that your firm is leveraging technology to maximize results and drive greater value for your clients. But understanding how accounting automation tech fits into your firm can be difficult. That’s why we’ve created a handy guide for how automation benefits your accounting firm—click below to read the article!