The great sage Yogi Berra said that if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else. Another sage of a sort, the Cheshire Cat, responded to Alice in Wonderland when asked which way she ought to go that it depends on where you want to get to.
Last week I received two calls the same day from readers of this column asking me to help them find a direction in their practices. I also had some similar calls in the previous few weeks. Perhaps the new year is causing reflection, but the similarity of the questions forced me to think about the commonality of the concerns. All of the callers were sole owners running successful accounting practices, with one of them completely virtual, and they were all young, i.e., not over 35. I commend them on their success. How they got into their own practices is also an interesting story, as are the reasons for their rapid success. The largest practice had about 20 people and the smallest had two staff.
One call lasted about 20 minutes and one was almost two hours; some were on the phone and some virtually. I like talking to bright, energetic entrepreneurs, and did not rush the calls while taking voluminous notes. I primarily asked questions and then sat back for the answers. There were many things in common among them, but one thing was in common for all of them: They did not have a long-term plan or goal, or to be more specific, a five-year benchmark goal.
A simple reason is that they were very busy establishing and then growing their practices, while also servicing their clients, onboarding and training staff, and trying to set up effective oversight and standardized procedures. No blame and nothing bad. But they each came to a realization that they were starting to drift and bend with the wind and called me to help them get a quick fix. Instead, I suggested a direction.
I recommended they figure out what they want for themselves and their practices and where they want to be in five years. None gave a response off the top of their head, and they should not have. This is something they need to think hard about. I told them they should disregard the road they are on right now but determine the road they want to be on that will get them where they want to go. That is, they should decide where they want to be, how they want to work, what they like to do best, what they would like their end game to be and how important their lifestyle is.
I told them to start with a blank page and then fill it with what they wanted and what was important to them. How they get there would be a different “exercise,” but the first step was deciding on what they really wanted. I used five years as a benchmark. I think anything longer would be too nebulous or would create too daunting of a journey.
I also said that just because they set a goal does not mean they must stick to it, but having it would provide a structure for what they would be implementing to move toward it. Things change and they needn’t be locked into what they decide now, but not having this direction would hamper them from moving forward. It would also make it easier to shift to a different direction, since a structure of change, growth and forward movement would already be established.
A suggested starting point is to write down where they would like to be in five years. I’ve become very comfortable with typing these “thought sessions” onto a new document file. The typing causes me to be more precise and to think of more details. It combines the skills of my left brain with my right brain. It also lets me move things around and to cut something and paste it into an area where I could retrieve those ideas rather than delete them from the document. Writing out my thoughts is also a form of “talking to myself” and provides me with a vetting process where there is a validation of my ideas or adjustments to them, or a rejection causing me to think differently. This process works for me. You could also dictate or hand-write it out. Whatever works for you is the right way to do it.
A secondary step is to decide on a first step to start your journey to get to where you want to be. First steps can lead to second and further steps. No first step is almost a guarantee you will not make any changes or have any forward movement. The people that called me want to make some changes. It’s also possible that you might like where you are and do not want to change anything. That is OK for you, so keep on doing what you are doing. As for me, I always looked forward to growth.
If you want to grow, the important takeaway is to come up with a goal of where you would like to be in five years, and then decide on a first step toward that goal.
Having a plan works. It worked for me my entire career and also for many other very successful leaders in accounting and also among my clients that I have been fortunate to know and work with.
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