Bloomberg Tax
March 3, 2023, 9:45 AM

Tax Pros Can Measure Their Success Using Impact and Contentment

Keila Hill-Trawick
Keila Hill-Trawick
Little Fish Accounting

Running a tax practice is filled with highs and lows, and shooting for those peaks defines much of what we do. The internal fireworks when we crush our dream goals can create a habit of wanting not only to feel that over and over again, but also to show the world that we’re successful.

But the struggle to maintain that success consistently can be unsustainable, especially as we realize that those new heights often come with new complexities, responsibilities, and costs. So how can we do this differently?

It starts with a mindset shift from simply meeting revenue milestones to measuring our success by our impact and contentment. And that can often mean pursuing long-term sustainability instead of growth for your firm, starting with four small but mighty steps.

Know What You Need

While building our practices we can often find ourselves falling victim to grind culture. We spend our first years in business trying to get people to notice and pay us, with the expectation of more clients and cash.

But money alone won’t make us happy, so have to get clear on exactly what we want:

  • Is it more time to spend with our families or travel the world?
  • Is it the ability to focus on fewer clients more deeply?
  • Is it simply the desire to work a daily schedule that starts and ends at specific points to leave us time for ourselves?

Building a firm from the ground up was a goal well beyond any of our wildest dreams—which is what drew a lot of us to working for ourselves in the first place. But without intentionality, we can end up on a chaotic path toward an unknown destination, leading to stress, costly investments, and burnout. So it’s important to get clear on what you want for your practice and, more importantly, your personal life.

Choose Your Enough

The key to deciding what you want is determining what is “enough"—the cap for the work you and your team can balance without overextending yourselves. It lives on the idea that even though your demand might increase, you won’t constantly grow to meet that demand because you acknowledge the incremental strain, stress, and costs.

At my firm, we decided that our cap is 100 clients. Once we’ve met the 100 served goal, we are then able to shift our focus on improving the client experience instead of marketing and new sales. This process includes a wait list that only allows us to take on new clients when someone leaves.


Running a tax practice with the goal of staying small means we must be efficient with our resources. When you establish a ceiling for your team size or the number of clients you serve, you realize that doing the job well requires a focus on what will help the firm operate most efficiently, both via software and human resources.

Growing a firm can get complicated. The bigger the goals, the greater the potential for complex systems and processes to try to meet every need. As those needs expand, so do the investments to keep the train going. Making the decision to pursue controlled growth means being intentional about streamlining.

Think about what would work best for your team to get the job done in the best way. Simplifying means choosing the right tools, nicheing your client base so that you can use similar processes across the firm, and having the right team members in the right positions so the work itself can run smoothly.

One of the ways I’ve chosen to do this at my firm is to be very specific about our client base. We serve the following clients best:

  • Professional service providers.
  • One owner.
  • Small teams (usually of less than 10).

This helps provide clarity about what we can do well and streamlines how we use human resources and software to meet the needs of all clients in the same way since they all do similar things.

Track to See What Works

From our example above, you might be wondering, “Why would I turn away the 101st client if they want to pay me?” It’s a valid question—most of us started our firms to make increasingly more money and work hard to find clients who will pay for our services. It feels counterproductive to constrict who we take on.

But the more important question is, “What do I want my life to look like as I manage my firm?” When we ask that, we get closer to figuring out just how big our tax practices should get. But first, we have to see what’s working—and what’s not.

  • Take a life audit every month or every quarter. How does the work feel?
  • Are you in the office more or less than you’d like?
  • How much uninterrupted time are you able to have?

Keeping a barometer on whether the changes are working helps you determine next steps and potential pivots. That’s how we get better.

When I took a hard look at the life I wanted for myself, I decided to focus on how and where the firm can have the biggest impact on our clients while freeing up band-with for the team. Surprisingly, that led to the removal of our highest tier of monthly service. Knowing who we wanted to serve well, and how many clients we could do that work for, helped us make that choice without changing our overarching mission and still allows us to live the lives we want.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to business operations, and the decision to grow (or not to grow) is a personal decision that will change over the life of the business. But know that you can still be successful without having to constantly chase expansion. Ultimately, it comes down to what feels most important for you so you can have the life you want .

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

Author Information

Keila Hill-Trawick is a certified public accountant who is founder and CEO of Little Fish Accounting, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that specializes in advisory and compliance services for small businesses.

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