What kind of firm owner will you be?

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According to the “E-Myth revisited” by Michael Gerber, there are three levels of business ownership: technician, manager, and entrepreneur. None of these three choices is wrong, but making your choice or not being intentional at all will solidify your entire future and career. No pressure, right? You started your firm as all three, but which do you yearn to be?

Technicians are doing the work-tax preparation, bookkeeping, and producing everything themselves. I’ve seen this work well for lifestyle-type firms, unless their boundaries aren’t solid enough to know when to stop taking new clients, and to determine what type of clients to have. This can easily become a 40-hour-a-week role.

Managers do exactly that: “manage the work.” You may have other staff preparing compliance work, but you are still in production by being the reviewer of the work. You can shave approximately half your time off a week by initially becoming a manager.

An entrepreneur is not involved in production; instead, they have other people to run the ship, so to speak, and focus on processes and innovation to keep the firm in the present and better in the future.

There’s no right or wrong, but few have mastered being technicians and having the life they love. Most dream of being an entrepreneur, but never make the leap to hire others or find best practices that get them out of the work. That’s where coaching is so key to help redefine what they want and what is possible. I want to encourage you that it is possible; I see it every day.

When I started my firm, I was a technician for several years, worked too many hours, and became overwhelmed and sick. Then, I hired a tax preparer and bookkeepers, and reclaimed about half of my week by becoming the reviewer. After finally accepting coaching and realizing I needed to completely step away from production to pursue my true dreams of starting a SaaS company and helping other accountants, I hired a tax manager to do the review work. Today, I work only four hours a week in the firm doing what I love.

One of the main things I needed to do was set appropriate boundaries and pre-qualify every new client! We have a questionnaire developed over the last decade that is spot on for this; you’ll find it at the link above.

So here we are … challenging you as the reader for what you will do in this new year to get to the stage you want to be. There are no correct answers, but if your goal and current stage don’t align, you need to analyze what will get you there. For example, I have one coaching student who has a small concierge practice where she’s the technician, doesn’t want to grow, and is happy as can be. However, most accounting colleagues I know are technicians or managers, and want to go to the next level.

No matter what you do, please make a plan to work on the business, not in the business. Look at the roles you are playing, how to move the ones that aren’t adding the most value per hour for your worth, and begin hiring accordingly. In the coaching program Certified Concierge Accountant, we go through an exercise of identifying a functional org chart, and then encourage and support you through those changes.

If you are first growing a team, here are five key tips to becoming a good manager:

  1. Make sure hours overlap as much as possible for initial Zoom shadowing.
  2. Personality testing is a must-focus on the role’s needs and strengths, things you might be weak in, or don’t enjoy.
  3. Pre-qualify every new hire, before even speaking to them, with a few simple questions .
  4. Set clear internal guidelines and deadlines. Having a scorecard format helps.
  5. Write down your core values as a firm, and hire, fire, and use them to promote. 

Remember that leadership is neither management nor entrepreneurship. It’s a craft that takes time to develop, but you must settle into your role at your firm—and settle in well—before you will have the time or energy to develop this skill. For further guidance, please visit my site and join our free Facebook group, Accounting Firm Influencers.

Editor’s note: Look to the Intuit® Tax Pro Center for a library full of articles on advisory services.

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