The accounting firm playbook: Your winning strategy

minute read

Last Updated October 31, 2023


*This blog is part of the 2023 October Thought Leader newsletter.

Riddle me this: When is an accounting firm like a football team?

Answer: When their playbook is filled with game plans that are individually customized and tweaked for each matchup…er, client type.

If you’re not a football fan—or your firm doesn’t currently have its own playbook—the words, “Darren, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” might be going through your mind right now. So, let’s huddle…er, talk.

Kicking off with clarity

As a very mediocre quarterback in my younger days, I was always studying the playbook that contained our team’s plays and strategies. Playbooks are common in football, where coaches and team leaders rely on binders stuffed with information, plays and defensive tactics that are tailored to each of their league’s opposing teams.

In the business world (the second home of the sports metaphor), a playbook is often a manual that describes a company’s policies and procedures. In fact, if you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve likely got something similar among your organization’s most important documents.

However, the type of playbook I’m referring to is a little different from either of the above. This playbook exists to hold the details about what it means for each client type to be holistically served, and the steps necessary to accomplish that goal. It helps your team articulate a game plan to move your clients along a path to financial success. There aren’t an infinite number of strategies needed for a client to be holistically served; a playbook just spells out the plan your firm has to get them there (for more on that, see last month’s Thought Leader column).

Understanding the game plan

I recently wrote an article for Inc. magazine called Worried Your CPA Isn’t Working for You? (Don’t worry; the subtitle is, “Here’s why that’s probably not true, and what you can do to elevate your working relationship.” I’ve got your backs, my friends.)
In the article, I advise clients to ask about their accountant’s playbook (again, don’t worry; I also tell them not to necessarily expect a printed playbook). In my opinion, as long as a firm can quickly and succinctly provide a clear picture of what financial health looks like for their clients and prospects, it doesn’t matter whether the playbook is printed out and categorized in a binder, kept in digital format in the cloud or is simply an MS Excel spreadsheet. It just has to exist.

However, whatever format you choose, you do need to have the information continually available for you and your staff in an easily accessible location. It must be kept updated as your firm evolves—and most important, that information must become part of the DNA of the firm, with the goal of making sure every client feels like the firm is continually thinking about them. That’s because your playbook is a way to ensure:

  • Standardization and consistency. This is a way to make sure every client and client type is operating from a playbook. There’s a consistent plan to move clients forward.
  • Client experience. However you choose to offer your services, when there’s a clear understanding of product and service packages on both sides of the desk, your clients will get the right solution for their needs. It’s really that simple.
  • Efficiency, training, scalability and knowledge. A clear and thorough playbook reduces the time your staff spends searching for information or asking questions. Based on the playbook, they should know what’s next.
  • The right branding and positioning. If you offer different levels of service catering to clients with different budgets and needs, a playbook makes it easy for your team to explain what sets your firm apart from the firm without a plan. If you’d like to target your marketing efforts more effectively, the playbook serves as a detailed, consistent reference source that clearly lays out all the information you need to communicate the benefits of your product and pricing structure.

Taking it to the end zone

Ask any NFL or college coach where they would be without their team playbook, and I’m pretty sure the answer would be a quick, “Don’t even think about that.” After all, those playbooks are a vital part of the foundation of a sport that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

While your financial stakes might not be quite that high, your playbook is just as important to your business. Except, instead of being used to score points, your playbook will be used to match the right financial future to the right happy client.

All the services you offer your clients—bookkeeping, payroll, tax returns, retirement planning, advisory or business management services, and anything else—can and should be included as part of your playbook.

The important thing is to just get started, so you’re not operating reactively rather than proactively—which is a win in anyone’s book.

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