Who owns the strategy of your firm? You do. No one else is responsible for the strategy you set as the owner of your firm. Before we dive in further, let me tell you how I define business strategy:
Business strategy is the intentional execution plan of your firm’s why. There are 3 key parts to my definition:
1. Intentional – there are no accidents in strategy. Accidents do happen, but you don’t plan for them. Strategy is your attempt to plan. Strategy is just another word for being intentional in our businesses.
2. Execution Plan – strategy is doing stuff. A vision comes first; it is what you can dream that your company could become. Then strategy takes over, and it is the attempt to fulfill your dream. It’s a plan of work, an execution plan if you will. Many things will be part of your execution, like your business model, pricing, developing a niche, doing only what you love, and on and on. Strategy is planning.
3. The Why – everything begins with your purpose. Why are you in business? Why are you trying to start yet another firm that performs tax returns for the public? Why are you any different than anyone else? Tell me why. Now that we have explained business strategy, let’s talk about how outside forces, people, feelings, your parents, and _________ (fill in the blank with a million other things) often impose their own strategy on us. Let’s be clear – as the owner of your firm, you and you alone are responsible for the strategy of your firm. As noted in the definition above, strategy begins with your why. If someone or something tries to impose their strategy on you and your firm, when they were NOT involved in the purpose (the why) discussion, then be wary! How can anything or anyone impose strategy on your firm if they were not first involved in the purpose discussions?
These are the first 3 strategy impositions that I hear when explaining business strategy for firms:
1. Clients – “I can’t niche, or I would lose 40% of my client base.” If you believe developing a niche will set you apart, make you a specialist and allow you to offer your services at significantly higher prices, then why would you let anything get in the way? Let’s be honest, clients come and go. Don’t let a client (that may not be there tomorrow) set the direction of how you will execute a strategy in your firm. Your client list has to change. Stop letting clients impose their strategy on your firm – find out what is right, and execute the strategy.
2. Employees – “I know I would lose one employee if we went virtual, so it’s a no go!” Similar to your clients, employees come and go. We hope it’s not as frequent as changing clients, but employees also have the freedom to come, stay, or leave your firm. If being virtual is the right path for your firm’s future, move forward! Don’t let a transient workforce determine the future of your company. Could you lose a good employee? Possibly. Will you gain a better employee? This is very possible. Strategy impositions often lock you into the mediocre, while keeping you from the greatness of running the firm you have always dreamed about.
3. Services – “You can’t value price an audit.” If I’m teaching about value pricing, someone may raise the strategy imposition of a service that is preventing them from implementing a good strategy. I’m not trying to get you to value price, but I am saying that if you have come to believe that value pricing is right, then your current list of services may have to change. The limitations of your current list of services should not impose strategy on your firm. Can you stop offering audits as a service? Yes, you can. Will it change your firm. Yes, it will. That is strategy!
Other strategy impositions that may be controlling the execution of your firm’s why:
1. Referral sources – Often, when our firms’ strategies change, we fail to let our referral sources know that we have changed. They may keep sending us clients we used to serve before our strategy changed. And if we don’t let our referral sources know our strategy has changed, we’ll keep taking these wrong clients because we feel a responsibility to referral sources. Likewise, if we do not take the referrals then our referral sources may hear of our continual habit of turning down their referrals. It’s best to not let our referral sources impose old strategies on our firm, and just let them know how things have changed.
2. The profession – Our profession has beliefs as to how things should be done. These beliefs spill into our firms, and often don’t make sense in a global, connected world where we can serve anyone anywhere. One thing I’ve learned in running my own firm for 11 years is that you can build the firm you want. I didn’t used to know if it was possible to do this (before starting Thriveal), but now I see entrepreneurs in Thriveal run their firms the way they want all the time. It’s very impressive. Don’t let our profession impose beliefs about your strategy. Only you can say what is right, and why it is right for you.
3. Processes – Our processes become so locked down, that we put them in the category of sacred. They are important, but they bend to the will of our strategy! Remember, processes are there to serve us, not the other way around. If we see our processes getting in the way of running a smart firm, it’s time to rethink them. When our firm went virtual, we used premise-based processes in our virtual firm. It did not work. We had to blow up the processes, take a retreat with the team, and rethink everything. Changing processes too much makes your company unnecessarily inefficient, but don’t be scared to set a match to your processes when they are imposing on your firm’s strategies.
One final note about strategy impositions. They often go unseen because they are hard to spot. They are often found hiding in unchecked beliefs about how things should work. Then, they can be covered up by assumptions that may be wrong or could be improved. Worse, strategy impositions can come from accidental firms that have grown in ways they never intended. This is typically true when the purpose of a firm is unknown. Fighting strategy impositions begins with knowing your why. Knowing why you exist remedies a lot of assumptions, impositions from others, and your own fears that keep you from growing.
Can you let me know how else strategy could be imposed on us by others? Let me know in the comments.
Jason is the Founder of Thriveal and the Chief Innovative Officer of his CPA firm, Blumer & Associates. He is the co-host of the Thrivecast and The Businessology Show and speaks and writes frequently for CPAs and creatives, his firm’s chosen niche. Jason loves to watch documentaries on just about anything. He lives in Greenville, SC with his wife and their three children. Stay connected with Jason by signing up at JasonBlumer.com.