September 2020 

When we have discussions with practitioners, there is a surprising amount of uncertainty what they need to do to differentiate themselves from their competition, and what needs to be in place for their practice to become (or remain) a great practice. I have taken this uncertainty to heart and have come across some remarkably interesting articles on this topic.

In 2008 Steve Pipe (Contact him via steve@stevepipe.com and at www.stevepipe.com) embarked on a 10-year research project to study what makes the best accounting practices so successful.

The firms they have studied come from every corner of the world, but they deliberately did not study the top 50 firms to discover what works for “normal” accountants. This is an important differentiation to ensure compatibility with the South African market.


Below is a summarize some of his research findings.


Better intent 

They do not make excuses or moan about what the world is doing to them. Instead, they take control of their destiny. Their success is planned and not accidental. 


Better decision making 

They make conscious decisions, driven by their goals, and informed by facts rather than guesswork or pre-judgement. 


Better measurement systems 

They do not just rely on traditional accounting measures. Instead, they work out what matters—what drives their success—both financial and non-financial. They find ways of measuring all those success drivers, set targets, use the results to inform decision making and make people accountable for performance and results.


Better alliances 

They recognise that no independent accountancy firm can be able to do every specialist piece of work to the incredibly high standard that clients deserve. So, they enter strategic alliances with other specialists. 


Better at being proactive

For them, ‘proactivity’ is not an empty promise on their website and in their brochure. They have developed systems to ensure that genuine proactivity, of the kind clients, really value, is part of the culture and habits of the firm. They have also discovered that the more proactive they are, the more additional services their clients want to buy from them.


Better service 

They understand what excellent service means to the type of clients they want to attract. They focus their energy and design systems to deliver this. 


Better teamwork 

They understand the partners cannot and should not try to do everything and recognise that success comes by fully involving the team at every stage. 


Better systems 

They do not leave things to chance and they do not rely on their people to remember what to do. Instead, they create systems to ensure that tasks can be done to the same high standard every single time. Technology plays a key role in streamlining and automating these systems. And, of course, they also help their clients to do the same.


Better marketing 

They do not leave referrals to chance either. Instead, they use referral systems that leverage their time. They do not just look to clients and bank managers for referrals, they actively cultivate a much wider network of referral sources. 


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