These are not the only ten things you need to do, but they may be the most productive:
1 – Draft a business plan
What do you want to achieve in revenues within a year, 2 years, five years? What will you need to do to achieve those objectives and what will be the consequences and cost of doing so? Drafting the plan and incorporating cashflow projections will force you to consider related issues and to plan what actions you will need to take to achieve your objectives. Identify and arrange all relevant business insurances as well. Will you work alone or need admin, secretarial or technical support staff? Will you do everything alone or use a Virtual assistant? Sub-contractors? How will such decisions impact your cashflow projections?
2 – Clarify your service offerings
Will you be servicing private clients? Unincorporated businesses? Partnerships? Limited companies? Everyone/Anyone? (That’s always a mistake by the way). Will you be compliance led or also offering advice? On what subjects do you have the credibility and experience to provide valuable advice?
3 – Draft a marketing plan
How are you going to secure new clients? Where will you go? What will you do? What will you say? What will you spend?
4 – Distinguish yourself
Avoid being seen as just another accountant. Unless you do this you will probably struggle to pick up work from established businesses and from taxpayers who already have an accountant. Your distinction needs to be real and not a figment of your imagination. And it needs to benefit your target clients.
5 – Consider your pricing and billing strategy
Many new firms start by undercutting the competition. This means they build small practices full of cost conscious clients who will never move onto paying commercial fees. Decide whether to set fixed fees for compliance work, value based fees or the more traditional time based charges. Beyond fee levels determine your payment terms – up front, partial upfront, standing orders or only billing after the work is completed with payment due within 7 days? 14 days? 30 days? And what will you do if your payment terms aren’t met? Factor such decisions into the cashflow projections in your business plan.
6 – Target a niche
You will secure more clients faster if you are perceived as having a special focus on a specific niche – be that clients in a specific business type (eg: shop owners, hospital consultants or dentists), or those with specific issues (eg: overseas property, divorce, large family, business start-up)
7 – Clarify the competition
Research online, in local newspapers, directories and in high street. Check out what others are doing, saying and claiming. You may find someone else has a similar focus to you. Their credentials and promises will be different to yours. You will need to understand those differences and whether this offers prospective clients a choice or means you should consider an alternative niche.
8 – Establish commercial processes
From client sign-up through to billing and cash collection. From the production of tax returns, accounts and reports and your IT infrastructure. Will you be happy to work in the ‘cloud’ or will you need hosted applications and backup facilities?
9 – Keep uptodate
Sign up for online and relevant technical updates across all the areas of work you will be doing. If you prefer hard copy updates subscribe to relevant magazines too. Consider your CPD obligations and how you will satisfy these. Many accountants (over 2,000) have registered to receive unique weekly practical tax updates written especially for accountants in general practice.
10 – Identify reliable technical support
Your professional body may provide a helpline facility. You may be able to call on ex-colleagues. And of course there’s the Tax Advice Network where you can source specialist tax advice as and when you or your clients have a tax problem, challenge or issue that goes beyond what you’re comfortable dealing with yourself. Register to receive complimentary weekly practical tax updates written especially for accountants in general practice.
What else do you suggest needs to be done?
2017 Edit: A bonus tip
11 – Ensure you have a decent profile on Linkedin.
I say this as it will be found much faster and more often, when anyone looks you up online, than any website you might create. And a cheap website won’t do you any favours – whereas you can set up a Linkedin profile for free. You can create a personalised link to your profile and put this on your first business cards too. YOU can access my free guide to creating a great Linkedin profile here or via the free stuff link at the top of this page.