Cloud accounting – Do you lead your clients or let them lead you?

This is the first of what I anticipate will become a series of cloud accounting related blog posts.

Back in 2009 I disagreed with those commentators who were warning accountants about an urgent need to embrace cloud accounting technology. The alternative, warned these merchants of doom, was that accountants who failed to embrace the cloud would go out of business.

I felt that such warnings were premature in 2009 and continued to think so until very recently. I believe however that we are, at last, reaching a tipping point.

More and more accountants are embracing cloud accounting solutions and an increasing number of clients are aware of the concept.  Plenty of accountants are being led by their clients and I often encounter firms who are happy to promote their ability to work with a range of cloud accounting solutions. This is often apparent from the inclusion, on the firm’s website, of a dizzying array of software badges and logos.

Other firms, including some pretty successful ones, do not take on new clients unless they are prepared to use the firm’s favoured bookkeeping solution.

I understand the arguments put forward by both sides.  In summary:

  • Anything for anyone: “We can help you, regardless of how you prefer to do your bookkeeping”
  • One size fits all: “We encourage our clients to all use [specific solution] as they find it easy to use and know that they will receive full support from us as we can focus rather than try to keep up with changes to a number of different online bookkeeping systems”

Advocates of the ‘anything for anyone’ approach don’t want to dictate to clients how they should do their bookkeeping. This is understandable especially if those clients have made an informed choice and/or have been using their solution for some time.  Some accountants have also concluded that different solutions are better suited to different types of clients eg: small businesses, contractors/freelancers and larger businesses. From what I have seen recently I’m not sure that distinction is sustainable as some suppliers offer different packages for each of those groups.

Advocates of the ‘one size fits all’ approach evidence a degree of confidence and are able to standardise their systems and processes. And this allows them to become more efficient whilst still providing a personalised service to clients. And then there are the range of add-ons and apps that accountants need to review and advise clients about. Which ones are worth their attention? If you don’t know what’s out there how can you provide pro-active advice in this regard?

There are plenty of reasons put forward by sole practitioners who resist specialising in a specific bookkeeping solution. These include:

  • A mistaken view that the ‘client is always right’. This is evidently not true as they pay their accountants for advice, not just agreement.
  • The challenge of having many clients using different solutions.
  • A reluctance to specialise in a specific bookkeeping solution as it might limit the number of new clients who would appoint you. This is the same concern as is raised in any conversation about specialisation. In practice the benefits typically outweigh the disadvantages.

What about you? When it comes to cloud accounting and bookkeeping solutions, do you lead your clients or do you let them lead you?

This blog post was not sponsored, but was inspired by what I saw, heard, and conversations I had at QB Connect 2017 about QuickBooks Online.

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16 ways that accountants can improve their efficiency

It is rare for an accountant to tell me that they want to be more efficient. But it is often implied by other things they say.

Often their concerns are focused on time management issues, a need for more and better systems or for another person to whom they can delegate work.

Improving efficiency invariably leads to improved productivity. You are efficient if you are as productive as you could be given the resources you have available. So, if you reach the end of the day and realise you could have been more productive then you haven’t been as efficient as you could have been. Equally if you are paying people to do work for you and feel that they should have produced more in the time available, then either they have been inefficient or you have unreasonable expectations. It’s important to recognise that the latter could be true but you will only know for sure if you can have an open and honest conversation with the person concerned.

Here is a summary list of ways you could become more efficient:

  1. Plan your day and work your plan – Stop being a slave to your email inbox.
  2. Set clear goals – Keep them to hand and take steps towards achieving them each day.
  3. Measure the metrics that matter – Simply tracking the time you spend on client matters, to guide your billing process, is less important that minimising the time you spend distracted by videos, social media and emails that could have waited.
  4. Find someone (else) to do the work that you are overqualified to do yourself – delegate, outsource or recruit.
  5. Stop reinventing the wheel – Make notes of the processes you follow each day so that you can refer back to your notes next time rather than struggle to recall every step you need to follow and how to complete the task.
  6. Encourage team members to share their knowledge and experiences – This will enable them to help you to be more efficient and will enable them to cover for each other (and thus reduce the time you need to spend doing this).
  7. Think in terms of tasks to be completed rather than hours to be spent – Keeping an eye on the clock will help you to avoid spending too long on each task, but more will get completed.
  8. Keep in mind the proverb: ‘Measure twice, cut once’ – For example: Check the advice your client needs before you give it – to avoid having to waste time rectifying things later.
  9. Organise your desk and the desktop on your computer – This should reduce the time you waste looking for things. (This is probably the one I struggle with the most)
  10. Use an online diary booking system – So that clients can book meetings with you more efficiently. I use calendly.com but there many options.
  11. Use a simple note making app (eg: Evernote or Onenote) to keep track of trusted advisers to whom you can refer when the need arises (eg: The Tax Advice Network)
  12. Take regular breaks  – During each day, week, month and year so that your brain has a chance to recover and to operate closer to peak efficiency
  13. Turn off ‘notifications’ of messages, updates and emails – This reduces the number of distractions that limit your ambition to be more efficient.
  14. Make good use of your commuting time – You can read professional journals on the train and can listen to podcasts while in the car or walking
  15. Regularly take time out to work ‘on’ your practice – Whether alone, with the help of a mentor or through a mastermind group (like The Inner Circle for sole practitioner accountants in London)
  16. Decide to take some action and to do something differently after reading this list. Otherwise nothing will change!
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7 new year resolutions for sole practitioner accountants

Some people make new year resolutions every January. They may share their intentions but we rarely hear how successful or otherwise their commitment turns out to be.

Do you do this at all? If, like many of us, you have not held your resolve in the past, maybe this year will be different. But, if you have struggled previously, then you are more likely to be successful in your ambitions if you change the way you make and review your resolutions.  Doing the same things in the same way and expecting different outcomes is rarely an effective strategy.

Here are 7 ideas that I recommend you include in your resolutions, ambitions and plans for the coming year:

1. Reducing the January rush

I will take responsibility for allowing so many of my clients to delay sending me all the information I need until January. I have had enough and will start planning now to stop this continuing year-after-year.

2. Billing

I will release cash by reducing my lock-up to 30 days through changes to my terms of business, more prompt billing and applying my standard credit terms whenever clients fail to pay on time.

3. Services

4. Linkedin profile

I will add a professional looking photo and an up-to-date summary of my current experience and abilities to my Linkedin profile. This could make all the difference whenever someone is checking me out online: e.g. a prospective client, a prospective referrer or advocate, an ex-colleague or ex-client.

5. Talk with clients

I will make appointments to speak with all of my best clients within the next three months, just to see how things are going for them. Many of these calls and meetings will lead to those clients asking me to provide additional advice and services – that I can bill them for.

6. Dump the duff clients

I will stop complaining about my three worst clients and will encourage them to find new accountants within the next few months. I will replace them with three new clients as I deserve to work only with people who appreciate what I do for them.

7. Mentoring group

I will join a local mentoring group for ambitious accountants (eg: The Inner Circle) where I can learn from my peers and enhance my business and personal (non-technical skills). The group will help motivate me to keep all of my New Year resolutions. I also know I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and I want to make this the year that I learn to become more successful.

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Improving the profitability of your practice

At this week’s meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants our headline discussion topic was: “Improving the profitability of your practice”

Members had identified this as a key issue they shared. It was also one of the most common concerns expressed in  a recent survey I ran of accountants who want to feel more successful.

We started by exploring the key headline ways in which accountants can improve profitability – most of which I have addressed on this blog a number of times previously. Our list included the obvious: Increasing fees (and value as perceived by clients), providing more advice and services (and charging for these) and systemise recurring services so as to reduce the time they take to provide.

We also listed a number of preliminary steps to take to improve profitability. These included considering what really makes for a profitable or unprofitable client (especially for sole practitioners). And also hat are the most effective lad generation activities – comparing the fees/profits  generated by clients with the cost of acquisition (considering both cash and time involved in securing the client).

One of the most challenging parts of the meeting was when members attempted to summarise their most profitable services. They realised that few of these services were promoted on their websites.

Among the key learning points noted at the end of the meeting were the following:
• Increase fees for compliance services generally by referencing value of each service, rather than the time and work involved. Clients rarely care.
• Review whole approach to AE and charge more for related services.
• Pilot the idea of offering upgrade to monthly reviews for those clients currently benefitting from quarterly business reviews.

All members have received a list of the key learning points identified at the end of the meeting, together with la summary of the discussions, ideas and suggestions raised during the meeting and links to related reading topics*

*The growing library of post meeting notes are also available to new members when they join The Inner Circle. Take a look and if you think it might help you, feel free to schedule a call with me here>>>

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10 commandments of client service for sole practitioners

Ok, maybe not real ‘commandments’ and maybe they are relevant to a wider audience than sole practitioners. Either way I hope you’ll nod as you look through the list. I suggest you aim to pick out one or two where you know you could do better. And then focus on what you could do to improve your client service in this regard over the next few days, weeks and months.
Could I also encourage you please to complete a quick survey (just 2 questions) re the key issues facing sole practitioners? See here>>>
1. Ask good questions: You need to identify and anticipate your client’s needs. Some clients may just tell you everything they think you want to know. But some need to be encouraged and many clients won’t know what’s important and relevant until you ask them to take about specific issues. You are the expert so you should know what additional information you need to give valuable advice. Do you get to the nub of the issue to find your client’s underlying issues, concerns and worries?
 
2. Listen attentively:  It’s all too easy to assume that one client’s situation and needs are the same as ‘all the others’ with a similar background. Even if that turns out to be the case, the fact that you listened to them will form a stronger bond, give them more confidence in your advice and increase the prospect they will speak positively about you – leading to more referrals and recommendations. Do you KNOW, as regards each client, what are their 3 most important concerns?
3. Make clients feel special: Smile when you meet with them. Be careful to only make promises you know you can keep. Be sincere. Only ever under-promise and then over-deliver. Give them more than they expect (as long as they will value the extras). Be respectful of clients’ time. Resolve their problems as quickly as possible and keep them informed of your progress (or lack of it). Every client interaction is an opportunity to show you care and to provide outstanding service. Deliver a solution that meets or even exceeds a client’s expectations and you’ll strengthen your relationship with that client.
4. Avoid jargon: Remember that clients don’t generally use the same acronyms and abbreviations as accountants. They may feel daft not understanding what you’re talking about and just nod quietly. Speak to clients using language they understand. Communicate to be understood, not to impress. Are you even aware of how often you use terms and jargon that clients may not follow? Clients hate it. Most people do, which is why I didn’t simply say: DUTMA.
(DUTMA = Don’t Use Too Many Acronyms!)
5. Bill promptly and fairly: With the possible exception of your smallest clients, you and your clients will benefit from regular billings across the year. ‘Prompt’ billings means around the time you provided the service and in line with your terms of business/engagement.  ‘Fairly means, fair to YOU as well as fair to your clients. If your fee is going to be higher than they might have expected, you should DISCUSS this with them before sending out the fee note and chasing payment.
6. Apologise promptly: None of us is perfect. When something goes wrong, be honest about it and apologise. Suggest how you might make amends and seek your client’s feedback as to what they want. Clients rarely swap accountants simply because of a mistake or two. The client service failing comes when your client perceives that you don’t care enough. Make it simple for clients to let you know if they have a problem. Make it clear that you value their complaints. Better they should let you know than tell other people! It also gives you an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable The client isn’t always right but they like to feel as though they have won – even when they are wrong.
7. Make it easy to do business with you: You don’t need to be available 24 hours a day. But you do need to be easy to contact. If you’re often out and about, consider a telephone answering service so that a real person takes messages. Consider an online diary scheduling service to allow clients to book meetings with you at mutually convenient times. I use calendly – but there are many other options. These facilities can make your life easier whilst also removing the frustration that follows when a client cannot easily reach you.
8. Focus on solutions vs problems: Clients don’t ‘really’ buy an accountant’s services. What they are really buying are good feelings and solutions to their problems. The more you can talk in terms of providing solutions to their problems, the more they will appreciate what you are doing for them and what you can do for them.
9. Admit what you don’t know: You are rarely doing clients a favour if you pretend to have more knowledge and experience than you do. Clients will rely on you more if they know they can trust you to be honest with them.
10. Seek regular feedback: If you are serious about wanting to provide great client service, you will only know if you seek feedback from your clients. How do you do this? Casually or in an organised way that adds to your credibility? The best method invites constructive criticism,  comments, and suggestions.
If you are a sole practitioner, do please complete this quick survey (just 2 questions) re the key issues you are facing.
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The 3 factors that will determine your social media success

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the game of chasing followers, likes, connections and social media klout. It may be fun to keep track of these metrics and to keep increasing them. But, in real life, they are not important by themselves.

There is little point in simply pursuing these metrics. You need to have key business focused targets instead. It may be that you want to raise your profile and to become a go-to person for media comment in your area of expertise.  Most accountants and lawyers for example, are experimenting with social media to generate additional fees.

And that is the key metric that you need to measure. How much of the additional fees you generate can be attributed to your online social media activity? There will rarely be a quick or short payback in this regard.

It is also important to note the 3 factors that will influence the speed with which you can gain a payback. These factors are all relevant whether your social media activity is focused around facebook, online forums, blogging, twitter or Linkedin.

The 3 factors are:

1 – Effective use

How effective is your use of the social media platform? How consistent and congruent are your messages, your profile and your online activity?

2 – Your website

Most accountants using social media will include links back to their website.  Your social media activity may be exemplary but your website could be a turn off. Does it reinforce the messages you have been promoting on social media? Does it engage visitors? How easy is it for them to get in touch with YOU (as distinct from a faceless ‘admin’ person)? Does your website even reference your name and profile?

3 – Offline follow up

Just like with any other form of networking, personal contact is crucial. If you are not leveraging your use of social media to meet with people face to face or at least to speak with them on the phone, you will wait longer to secure a valuable ROI.

Agree? Disagree? Are there any other factors that will determine your success of your social media activity?

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Resolving issues with problem clients

This was the main topic for discussion at last month’s meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants.

Once again Members of <a href="http://www this hyperlink.bookmarklee.co.uk/inner-circle” target=”_blank”>The Inner Circle benefited from the willingness they all had to share their experiences and insights during our round table discussion. In accordance with one of our key membership principles everyone agreed to abide by the Chatham House Rule.

As usual I have prepared a follow up summary including members’ selected key learning points and some useful links.

What follows are simply some of the opening comments that set the scene for our round-table discussion. We started by considering the various issues that contribute to problem clients:

  • Lateness – supply of info, payment of fees
  • Rudeness – to you, colleagues, contractors, staff
  • Unreasonable demands/expectations
  • Tried to do it themselves
  • Quibblers – overly price conscious
  • Fudgers – over claiming and under disclosing
  • Time vampires – be this the client or their in-house accounts staff
  • Needy, sad and poor
  • Those who no longer fit your ideal client profile (if they ever did)

Possible solutions varied from those requiring courage to those that could generate more income even if the problem client took their business elsewhere. Members were amused but unsurprised to hear how they all had similar problem clients. The real benefit of the meeting came from the round table discussion and ideas as to how to resolve specific situations.

The Inner Circle is for the owners of smaller accountancy practices who are keen to be more successful without spending a fortune on marketing and branding. To find out more just click the link>>>

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Time management in a busy accountant’s office

At this week’s meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants our headline discussion topic was: “Time management in a busy accountant’s practice and prioritising what needs to be done by you.”

Members had identified this as a key issue they shared. It was also one of the most common concerns expressed in  a recent survey I ran of accountants who want to feel more successful.

At the start of our meeting I shared some background thoughts and questions to stimulate the discussion and ideas around the table. My questions included:

  • Why is time management an issue for you?
  • What gets in the way of you doing as you have planned? and
  • What do you put off doing and why?

Inevitably some of the responses and subsequent realisations might seem obvious – certainly with the benefit of hindsight.

For example, accountants rarely need to make time for billable client work. Indeed the opportunity to serve clients (and get paid for doing so) is typically what gets in the way of office admin, marketing and planning to work ON the practice itself.

After we considered the Four Time Management Quadrants, one member noted he could now see that he was never making time for important activities unless or until they became urgent. And planning to upgrade his website rarely reached that stage. Even though he wanted to get this done, he never felt any need to prioritise the related work and to allocate time to the project.

Another realisation was that members focus on client work as it invariably has an ‘end point’. Strategic work to build and develop the practice seems to be an ongoing activity. If you start it when will you know you’ve done enough?

Among the specific techniques we discussed to overcome these and other challenges were:

  • Breaking big tasks down and identifying what specifically needs to be done first;
  • Diverting your calls or setting up a phone answering service to take calls during fixed parts of the day when you don’t want to be disturbed;
  • Discussing issues that are dragging on during our monthly calls – two members related stories of how they had been putting off doing things they thought they wanted to do. When we talked through what they wanted and how they could move the actions forwards they were able to unblock their reluctance to take action;
  • Committing to a third party (eg: partner,  friend, service provider, coach or mentor) actions you will take so that they can hold you to account;
  • The use of meeting and call scheduling apps.

All members will receive a one page summary of the key learning points they identified at the end of the meeting, together with links to related reading topics, support services and apps.* This will include a link to a list on this blog of 15 top tips to avoid procrastination.

*The growing library of post meeting notes are also available to new members when they join The Inner Circle. Take a look and if you think it might help you, feel free to schedule a call with me here>>>

 

 

 

 

 

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10 time saving tips for busy accountants

Hard to believe that the last time I shared any time saving tips on this blog was back in 2009.  I’ve taken the 3 tips I shared back then and added several more below, picking up on what accountants have told me, together with my own research and experiences:

  1. To stop wasting time deciding what to do next, try creating a prioritised ‘todo’ list. A = must do; B= should do; C= can wait (for now). You’ll also get a degree of satisfaction from crossing things off the list. You might prefer to find a suitable ‘to do’ app that allows you to do much the same thing on your smartphone.
  2. An extension of this concept and another ageless tip is to list, every evening, the top 3 things you must do the next day.
  3. To avoid spending longer doing things in a panic consider booking time out in your diary to do client work, preparatory work re meetings or other stuff, just as you would if meeting a client, prospect or contact. Sometimes this ‘meeting with self’ needs to be rescheduled to suit client commitments but at least it doesn’t get forgotten.
  4. You can also book time in your diary for regular activities such as bookkeeping, invoicing, personal development, replying to emails etc. If client work has to be done in a slot reserved for key activities, move them to another date – in the same week.
  5. Create a ‘Not todo list’. This would contain those things you want to avoid sidetracking you. These days there are more distractions to tempt us than ever before. Many accountants spend too much unscheduled time on twitter, facebook, linkedin, online forums or apps on their phones. I find it helps to set myself a time limit and an objective when I visit those sites.
  6. Personalise your email, text, twitter and facebook notification settings so that you are not constantly distracted by these. If something is that urgent you’ll get a call. You can set MS Outlook, for example, to only download new emails every hour, rather than immediately.
  7. If you are looking to grow your practice set up a simple strategic plan with month by month activities to ensure you make time to work ON building your practice beyond simply doing all the client work that needs doing. Then monitor and work that plan. (And reserve time in your diary to do this each month – see point 4 above!)
  8. Think about all those IT related tasks that take time and which may well be addressed by in-built facilities you have yet to master. Few of us know how to get maximum value and benefit from the most common and relevant features of our office and accounting software. Perhaps we struggle with spreadsheets, formatting, printing, document and presentation templates, design related tasks and so on? Make a note of those challenges that take time or which you find frustrating. Search online for ‘How to ….’ do whatever it is and take five minutes to find out and save loads of time going forwards.
  9. Consider delegating or outsouring work that can be done by less experienced people; you can probably earn more than it costs or relax in the time this frees up.
  10. I am regularly thanked for making this final time saving recommendation to accountants. Download shortkeys (for PCs) or typinator (for macs) to save you having to retype the same paras of text time after time. Both facilities provide a quasi permanent clipboard that you can access from any application with just a couple of key presses.

What timesaving tips work for you? I’d love to see some more examples here.

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Are fees all that matters?

There used to be a commonly held perception that the drive and focus of a firm of accountants is solely reliant upon the fees the partners generate. As long as everybody focused on fees, all will be well. Of course there is much more to building a successful firm than this.

This old perception is still commonly endorsed however by the traditional way that firms operate. It is a truism that a firm will get the behaviour that it is seen to record, to report and to reward.

This common focus on fees therefore follows because most attention is commonly directed to:

  • Recording chargeable time and fees billed;
  • Reporting new client wins and forecast fees that will flow therefrom; and
  • Rewarding the highest billers and best fee winners.

Of course increased fees are essential to the future of any professional services firm.But the future of a firm, of its reputation, of it’s attractiveness to the next generation of partners and of its credibility with its stakeholders, depends on much more than the fees generated each year.

What else gets recorded, reported and rewarded in your practice?

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How naturally good are you at what you do?

Some people assume that all of the important non-technical skills evidenced by successful accountants and partners can be developed merely by working alongside experienced colleagues or learning ‘on the job’ , through experience.

Another common view is that some people are naturally ‘good’ at things as though their experiences, background and training were irrelevant. Thus no more formal training is necessary. Older partners and long established sole practitioners didn’t have such training. Anyone who needs training or support in ‘soft’ skills is not worthy of progression – of running a successful practice or becoming a full equity partner.  Is this true actually?

Many people believe that these skills develop over time and that no support or assistance is required.They repeat the old mantra ‘Practice makes perfect’. Yet this is very misleading. ‘Practice’ alone doesn’t make ‘perfect’.‘Practice’ makes ‘permanent’. And this is not always a good thing.

If you develop bad driving habits and practice driving more and more, you won’t automatically become a better driver. You will merely reinforce your bad driving habits. Equally we have probably all experienced at least one senior professional who is an unpleasant selfish bully. They practiced their approach and ‘perfected’ it. But no one would suggest that such an approach is ideal. And I have certainly met many sole practitioner accountants who haven’t achieved the success they deserve. Typically this seems to be because they have adopted the ‘practice makes perfect’ philosophy. 

If you’re not naturally brilliant at something you need to be able to do well, do you give up or take more lessons?

Are you as successful as you deserve to be? Could anything be better in your practice? Will things change by themselves or do YOU need to do something different to bring about that change? And can you do it all by yourself? If so, why haven’t you done it already? Not enough time? Or is it not a sufficient priority? Or maybe you would benefit from some outside stimulus to support your endeavours. 

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Making the 80:20 rule work for you

Although many people have heard of this ‘rule’ very few accountants consciously think about how applying the rule could help them and their clients.

The 80:20 rule is also known as the ‘Pareto principle’, the ‘law of the vital few’ and the ‘principle of factor sparsity’. Simply stated, the idea is that for many events, 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the causes. Another way of putting this is that 20% of what businesses (and individuals) do generates about 80% positive results. The percentages are not fixed; they are simply indicative of the fact that when you examine what is going on in your life, you will often find that a small proportion of your activities have a disporportionate impact as compared with all of the others.

I first read the seminal book by Richard Koch, (“The 80 20 principle“) in 1996. This explains how we might benefit from recognising how often this counter-intuitive principle impacts our business lives. I often return to the book for inspiration. Equally I often raise the idea in my talks and during mentoring sessions.  Essentially about 80% of what you or your practice does is unimportant or a waste of time. The key is to figure out what’s really important or produces the most positive results and do it.

How might ambitious accountants apply this principle?

  • Identify those 20% of clients who generate 80% of the firm’s profits (or of the partner’s contribution) and focus attention on them rather than on the 80% of clients that take most time but only contribute about 20% of the profits;
  • Allocate more resources to those 20% of your activities that generate the highest margin, rather than the 80% of activities that contribute much less – and take more time;
  • Focus on those (20%) Networking activities that you most enjoy and which have the most prospect of generating worthwhile referrals, and stop wasting time by attending the others (80%);
  • Devote more time to reading the 20% of accounting and tax news that is immediately useful and relevant as compared to the 80% of magazines, papers, emails and website feeds that are simply ‘interesting’;**
  • Keep in mind the idea that there is often a ‘vital few’ as compared with the ‘trvial many’;
  • Help clients to appreciate the importance of the concept to their own businesses.

** NB: It was partly this idea that led us to develop the weekly newsletter published by the Tax Advice Network. It simply contains timely, practical and commercial advice re at least 3 key points of immediate relevance and interest to accountants in general practice. No wonder so many subscribers renew year after year. Try it now for 4 weeks – no charge – to see what you’re missing.

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20 tips re Linkedin for accountancy firms – vs individual accountants

I once wrote a Handbook on using Linkedin for a larger company that has many such handbooks recording their processes and systems.

It was a fascinating experience. In researching available Linkedin advice and tips I found very little that was aimed at or relevant to business owners. The same is true for accountancy firms that need to advise and guide their staff on how to use Linkedin – from a ‘corporate’ perspective. And any such generic advice that does exist still needs to be tailored to the practice concerned.

There is plenty of guidance out there for one-man bands, for consultants and for job hunters. A lot of this focuses on how to optimise your Linkedin profile so that you will be found, be attractive and be contacted.  Much of this advice is good in itself but it’s incomplete.

If you are responsible for a firm you need to consider a range of other issues including:

  1. How the firm should be described on Linkedin and on each employee/partner’s profiles?
  2. How the firm should be described on it’s own Company page on Linkedin – and who should be able to edit this?
  3. Whether to encourage a degree of consistency as regards references to the firm and to specific departments on everyone’s profiles?
  4. What guidance to provide re links from personal profiles to the firm’s website, specific pages and blogs thereon and the use of business or personal email addresses on Linkedin profiles?
  5. Whether to provide more extensive guidance as to the creation of professional profiles on Linkedin? (Do less than professional profiles reflect badly on the firm?)
  6. Whether to provide any guidance or training on professional uses and abuses of Linkedin?
  7. Whether to encourage use of Linkedin for lead generation purposes and what training to provide to facilitate this?
  8. Whether to encourage use of Linkedin to help raise awareness of the name of your practice and how best to co-ordinate this?
  9. What guidance to provide re staff who may want to connect with current, past and prospective clients and referers?
  10. How much ‘best practice’ guidance to share to help users to gain maximum benefit for the firm from their use of Linkedin?
  11. Whether to provide guidance or set policies re the provision of ‘recommendations’ for current staff, ex-staff, clients, collaborators and suppliers?
  12. Whether to provide guidance or set policies re the extent to which profiles can appear to be full online CVs?
  13. Whether to co-ordinate the involvement of users in different Linkedin groups and to collate and share lessons learned?
  14. Whether to set up one or more groups for clients of the firm, what settings and templates to choose and who should manage these?
  15. How can clients be best engaged and encouraged to see the benefits of involvement in groups established for their benefit?
  16. Whether to establish groups focused around key service areas, what settings and templates to choose for such groups and who to invite to join these?
  17. Whether to encourage current and past staff and partners to join an alumni group – and who will ‘manage’ this?
  18. Whether to encourage the use of status updates for specific purposes or to allow these to be completely personal and random?
  19. Whether to encourage or discourage the seeking of and publication of recommendations from clients and ex-clients?
  20. Whether to provide guidance as to the time that can or should be spent on Linkedin each working day/week?

I hope that gets you thinking. The list is by no means complete. What else do you think might figure in your firm’s Linkedin handbook?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to use Linkedin – either actively or passively. Click here for full details>>>

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Is a ‘me too’ Budget summary worth sending to anyone?

Last year I awarded a (notional) prize for what I considered to be the  best Budget night ‘commentary’ that I saw the following day.  The winner, and runner-up to a lesser extent, stood out among the dozens of ‘me too’ pieces that were, frankly, not worth anyone’s time and effort.

Many years ago the Chancellor’s March Budget heralded tax changes that would take effect from the following 6 April. In those days there was a real client service need to summarise the Chancellor’s announcements, what they would mean in practice and what action clients might need to take as a result.

That was then. This is now. Few tax changes take immediate effect any more, other than the closure of fancy tax loopholes. And when that happens more detailed analysis is required than will ever appear in a Budget commentary. Also long gone are the days when the Budget Night press releases contained sufficient detail to enable accountants to say something constructive. Now we have to wait for subsequent announcements that appear long after the Budget newsletter was published. And most of the next tax year’s rates and allowances were announced a few months back – as has become the way for some time now.

But still many firms produce their own summaries or buy in a commercially produced ‘overnight’ Budget commentary to send out to their clients. I’ve heard the arguments for this. “Clients expect to get one from us.” “They get one from every other accountant in the town.” “They like them” (really?). To my mind there are plenty of better ways for accountants to distinguish themselves from the competition and to provide real client service. These standard Budget emails, newsletters and booklets are of very little value and rarely contain anything more than appears in the daily paper or in generic news (or even tax news) email updates. And they have little in the way of ongoing value.

So why the awards last year? Quite simply because the winner’s approach was distinctive and better than all of the standard stuff that I received from dozens of accountants around the UK.  Elaine Clark of CheapAccounting.co.uk published ‘Not a Budget newsletter‘. It was client focused and recognised the fact that there was next to nothing of immediate impact in the Budget itself.

This year Elaine has already published her summary of the key tax data that the media will only think to announce after the Budget – despite the fact that the information was announced long ago.

I announced a runner-up award last year for informanagement as they had at least divided up the announcements:

  • Budget Summary March 2011 – New tax changes announced today
  • Budget Summary March 2011 – Future changes announced today
  • Budget Summary March 2011 – Changes previously announced for 2011-12, now confirmed

So here is a challenge for readers of my musings and blogs. If you can avoid a ‘me too’ attempt and you adopt a different, client centred approach this year, please let me know. If I agree I will give you the 2012 award (which simply means you get a mention on my blog and a link through to your website).

Of course if you want to argue the case for ‘me too’ summaries I’d also love to hear form you via the comments facility below.

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The January tax return rush is your own fault

Chatting with an accountant recently he told me he was amazed why so many clients leave their tax returns to the last minute.  He told me he chases clients throughout the year. He sends reminders and prompts. He has recently asked around his business networks to clarify why small business owners and investors do this. It became clear that there are typically 3 reasons:

  • They find the collation of their papers boring
  • They have more important things to do
  • It’s not a priority until the filing deadline is looming

My friend was frustrated by these replies but also satisfied. It’s not just his clients and it’s nothing to do with him.  All accountants struggle to cope with the January tax return rush but at least now he knows why.

WHAT ROT!

There is only one reason for the January tax return rush and, I’m sorry to say but it is entirely the accountant’s own fault. I’ve been saying this in talks for years and offering solutions on how to overcome the issue.

Quite simply your clients leave things to the last minute because you let them do so.  Yes you do. And, yes, YOU could change things. There are three main ways to do this:

  1. Reference an earlier deadline and stop drawing your clients’ attention to the 31 January filing deadline. YOUR deadline is (say) 31 October. Treat it seriously and be as forceful around YOUR deadline as you have previously been re HMRC’s deadline.
  2. Establish a stepped fee structure whereby clients have to pay higher fees the later they produce the information to enable you to complete their tax returns. And stick to it.

What do you think the third option is?

Related posts:

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3 categories of time to track – not just chargeable time

I was surprised recently to see a firm of accountants being applauded for the fact that partners were given goals regarding client time. This is hardly newsworthy. Then I read more closely. The partners in this firm are measured in terms of three categories of time:

  1. chargeable time (as has long been the case in many larger firms);
  2. contact time with their clients in a relationship management capacity (with a view to scoping ABOs – Additional Billing Opportunities); and
  3. time spent with prospective clients.

The most significant issue here was that the category three time was rated as important as chargeable time. This is worthy of applause, although it is open to abuse if not carefully managed. That though is indeed a management issue. It is absolutely right to record and measure the time. To consider the  LONG TERM impact of attending a regular networking group and comparing this with more generic and random networking events. In both cases it’s important to also spend time and track the time spent on follow up 1-2-1 meetings with prospects and referrers. Focusing on short-term results is to misunderstand the way that business networking and referral marketing work.

Long time readers of this blog may recall a post I wrote 3 years ago: Are accountants as ‘stupid’ as lawyers? In it I repeated a David Maister story that is relevant here. David noted that there is general agreement amongst lawyers (and most other people too) that it is generally easier to win more work from existing clients than it is to get engaged to provide services to strangers (new clients). “Why then,” he asks, “do we risk upsetting clients by treating all the time we spend with them as potentially billable? And why do we only consider ‘billable’ time to be of value”

I would put it this way:

A firm will encourage and motivate the partners to devote time to those activities that they believe are being recorded and measured and rewarded. I stressed the importance of looking beyond fees billed in my 2006 blog post: Fees, fees, fees.

In the traditional model all the focus was on ‘billable time’. More sophisticated models take account of how much of such time is actually billed.  This then requires careful monitoring to ensure that write-offs are fairly allocated to the partner’s time costs vs that of their teams or of specialists who have been working on the same clients.

When I was at Touche Ross (now Deloitte) many years ago they already had a time recording system that allowed client time to be recorded ‘below the line’. This was the category two time above and quite forward thinking for the 1980s.

Almost thirty years later, how many firms track and monitor category two or category three time? Do you think they should?

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Avoid this mistake when a client disputes your fee note

We’ve all had them. The client who sends a detailed letter/email listing a load of issues and problems.  Sadly I can recall having the odd one or two such missives when I was in practice.

I remember the feeling of indignation. The frustration at the unfairness of the accusations. The unreasonableness of the assertions and the one-sided nature of the complaint which totally ignored anyone’s perspective other than that of the client.

Yes, I know. The client is always right. Except they’re not. Sometimes they’re wrong, mistaken or liars.

I recall one occasion over ten years ago when I received a detailed list of issues from a client in response to the invoice issued by my tax manager. I went through the list and made a few notes. I gave these and the client’s letter to the tax manager to comment on. We crafted a point by point response. We were satisfied we had addressed all the points thoroughly and fairly. We sent our letter. This had the inevitable consequence.

We got another letter. With the benefit of hindsight I suspect the client was playing with us and playing for time. I don’t remember if there was another exchange of letters or not, but I do recall a meeting where we went through things line by line again.  Eventually the fee was paid and the final amount was not much different to the original bill.

I had made a fundamental mistake in replying to the complaint letter point by point.

What I should have done was to pick up the phone, apologise for any misunderstandings and ask what the client wanted. And then deliver that or discuss it in order to reach a fair result as quickly as possible.

Few clients WANT a line by line, point by point response to their letter of complaint. Your detailed reply simply invites another round of the same game. Perhaps the client is simply trying to buy some time before they will pay you in full, maybe they just want a small reduction in the fee or a change in the personnel dealing with their affairs. Maybe they want a big reduction in the fee. Maybe they are going to be so unreasonable that YOU should decide you don’t want them as a client any more.

Far better to reach one or other of those outcomes asap and get paid what you’re going to get paid asap. Don’t you agree?

Related posts:

7 steps to resolving client complaints

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Accountants ‘just do the accounts and tax returns’

Today I quote selectively from the blog of one of the members of my Tax Advice Network, Jon Stow. I’ve added a few words of commentary of my own.

Most business owners will tell you what they think their accountants do: they prepare the accounts and do the tax return. They probably think of this as pretty much a process. There are two misunderstandings implicit in that sort of thinking; the first is there is a sort of sausage machine at work and that you put in the figures and get a certain result, and the second is that there is no room for manoeuvre.

How would your clients describe the services you provide?  Is it just preparation of accounts and tax? In most cases the answer is ‘yes’ although you may have a few clients where you focus on helping them to build their business. Is this because you have agreed additional fees for doing this or simply because they haven’t screwed your basic fees down and you feel you can afford to spend more time with them?

What business owners should expect from their accountants is not just the “doing”. Business owners should expect from their accountants some thinking in terms of the tax side of things. Most accountants will deliver this. Those that fail to do the thinking may be the larger firms who will use their junior staff to cut their teeth on “smaller” companies and who do not have the experience to think. Sometimes the very small firms are rushed off their feet to do all the accountancy work and are not able to think properly about the tax process beyond doing basic tax calculations.

This latter point being one of the reasons that so many firms sub-contract tax advice to independent tax advisers, like those who are members of the Tax Advice Network.  Members can help on ad-hoc matters or provide tax clinics and visit your office on a regular basis. Better you engage them than you leave your clients to source specialist tax advice that they assume is beyond you as you ‘just do the accounts and tax returns’.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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How to boost the tax capability of a general practice

Every now and then I hear about general practice firms of accountants which have determined that they want to provide a higher level of tax service to their existing clients. This is often the case in more forward thinking practices where the partners recognise that they are limited in their own abilities and that they need someone else to check out their files for tax planning opportunities, to put tax advice in writing and to attend meetings with clients to provide a more tax focused service.

Provide tax schemes?
Boosting the firm’s tax capability can be a worthy objective although sometimes it’s a euphemism for offering tax schemes and products. I addressed this issue in a recent blog post: Selling tax schemes is NOT a route to riches.  If the partners do not understand this they WILL be disappointed.

Tax manager
Some firms recruit a tax ‘manager’ in the hope that he or she will fill the gap. And if the firm is lucky this may well happen. I always wonder however in such cases – How do the partners know that the tax specialist’s advice is correct? If there is no one else in the firm with the requisite expertise, this is a big risk, especially with a relatively inexperienced tax ‘manager’. Often they may feel under pressure to impress their new partners – especially if the carrot of ‘partnership’ depends on the partners’ perception of their performance. Again I addressed this in a recent post: Confidence is good – but not if it’s naive or deceitful.

If the new recruit causes a problem – which will often only become apparent down the line – either the partners will have to bear the loss or their PI policy will suffer a claim.

New recruits are also an expensive option. Over and above the recruitment costs and induction time it can be a while before they start to pay their way.

Merge with or takeover a tax only practice
I was asked my views about this possibility recently. I suspect it’s a dream that will rarely be realised. Tax only practices are generally set up specifically to avoid the distractions of providing accounting and auditing type services. Why would a successful tax practice want to merge with a general practice firm of accountants?

If such a merger or takeover occurs the tax specialists are likely to want to reduce the risks to the practice of general practice partners providing tax advice without it first being ‘checked’. This will often give rise to conflicts as the general practice partners are not used to having their advice double checked or to being constrained as to what they can advise on.

Merge or takeover a one-man band tax specialist
This idea suffers from much the same downsides as have already been mentioned. It can be worse however as there is the added risk of the individual retiring, dying, going sick or leaving shortly afterwards. Although such risks may be considered small the prospect of one of these may have been the prime motivation for the tax specialist agreeing to the deal.

The partnership will want to limit the upfront costs of recruiting a tax partner by requiring that the new person has a following. However very few tax specialists with a following would feel comfortable taking their clients into an environment that has not previously provided clients with specialist tax advice.

If the tax specialist or partner does join the firm their focus will be on their existing clients. What will motivate the specialist to make time to explore opportunities to provide tax advice to the firm’s existing clients?

Tax contractor support
In my view this is the best solution – at least as a first step towards building in-house tax expertise.

It will often be easy to identify someone who has the requisite expertise and is available to help out on a part-time basis. They remain self employed and provide their services to the firm on a contract basis, perhaps one day a week for a few months.  This option is also more cost effective for the general practice firm as they bear no employment related costs. In the event that any problems arise the relationship can be terminated quite quickly and any claims made will be against the contractors’ PI policy.

It may be that more then one such specialist can be identified – perhaps one to focus on IHT issues, one on VAT and one on corporate tax matters. (There are many other such topics too of course).

Multiple adviser tax support
Whichever route a firm follows they should appreciate that, these days, hardly any tax adviser can cover off and advise on all tax matters. If you have just one or two in-house  senior tax specialists, you should expect them to want to seek confirmation or support from a third-party ever now and then.

Tax Advice Network
This supportive network provides over 2,500 accountants with access to dozens of  vetted independent specialist tax advisers across the UK.  These tax advisers are categorised by their areas of expertise and location.

You can contact any of them for specific,  general or tax contractor support as described above.  And yes, as implied above, much of the time these independent tax advisers are providing second opinions and support to the tax specialist managers and partners in firms, as well as to general practice partners.

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What impact does new software have on staff costs?

The increased use of accounting and tax software has had an unexpected impact on at least one accountancy firm. And I suspect there are others in the same position.

The firm had assumed that they would reduce staff costs through increased use of junior staff.  The partners anticipated that using more sophisticated tax software would allow them to reduce salary costs as it would require less able and qualified staff than previously. In practice the firm has less need of unskilled staff. The software itself takes the drudgery out of the work and enables staff to focus more on value added and advisory services for clients.

Staff numbers are down – as one might expect. But staff costs are up as the firm is able to make better use of more qualified staff.

What’s been your experience?

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Selling tax schemes is NOT a route to riches

I recently blogged about the 5 things accountants can do to make more profits. Selling tax schemes was not on the list. Why not?

Quite simply because the idea is vastly over rated, over hyped and mis-understood. (Typically by non-tax specialists).

There are plenty of people who will tell you that you can generate a good commission whenever you persuade a client to ‘invest’ in a structured tax avoidance scheme. They are right. Such schemes are (usually) legal and fully disclosed to HMRC. So what’s the problem?

Let’s start with the need, for most qualified accountants, to comply with their professional body’s fundamental ethical principles. These include acting with integrity, objectivity and professionalism. Clearly this means only advising on things you understand and being clear that the prospect of commission is not uppermost in your mind when advising clients.  Of itself this does not preclude you from advising clients to consider structured avoidance schemes. But it’s worth bearing in mind in the context of the following points:

  1. Encouraging a client to undertake a structured tax avoidance scheme is much like encouraging them to make a specific investment;
  2. It takes a fair amount of time to get to grips with all of the relevant details of a structured tax avoidance scheme;
  3. HMRC may announce a change in the law at any moment – leading to rushed (and perhaps botched) attempts to revise the scheme by the promoters;
  4. Having committed all that time to learning about the scheme there may be a temptation to persuade someone to ‘invest’ even if they might not otherwise choose to do so;
  5. If, some years later, the scheme is ultimately held not to work the client may sue the accountant for failing to adequately highlight the risks.
  6. Accountants should only promote such schemes if they are confident that they understand ALL of the risks and consequences for their clients;
  7. Accountants who promote such schemes honestly will find that typically only around one in ten clients will proceed once they understand all of the risks;

And it is this last point that explains the principle reason why I say that selling tax schemes is NOT a route to riches. Perhaps things were different ten years ago, before DOTAS, before the Courts adopted a more principled approach to legislative interpretation and before HMRC started to adopt such an aggressive response to tax avoidance schemes.

These days though there is plenty of evidence that when clients are fully appraised of the risks and downsides of schemes, they say things like:

“Now I understand it properly, why would I want to go into a scheme like that?”

And, just as I concluded a few years back, there is a limit as to how much you can charge a client in such circumstances for the time and effort involved in reviewing, checking and advising on the scheme – especially if the client decides not to proceed. This is one of the reasons that promoters pay high commissions. It is partly to compensate for all of the conversations and meetings that do NOT result in a client signing up for the scheme.

If you are focused on generating more profits there are many more productive ways to spend your time than learning enough about tax schemes to be able to promote and sell them to your clients.

I have written more extensively about the risks and downsides of tax avoidance schemes on the TaxBuzz blog.

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How to avoid giving free advice to prospects

I’m reminded of the old sex education message: Just say ‘no’!

As professional advisers we are all used to prospective clients seeking free advice. As I’m no longer in practice and as a frequent blogger I have very different perspective now. So here is some free advice from me.  When a stranger/prospect calls you need to set clear parameters. Why give any free advice?

I think the most common reason accountants give themselves is that it helps evidence their credibility, style, approach, knowledge and willingness to help clients.  In reality it is only the accountant themselves who doubts their ability and knowledge. The prospect generally takes all that for granted – after all our adverts or website makes clear we’re an accountant. All accountants know everything don’t they? We know this isn’t the case but prospects assume it is so.  Even more so if theye have been recommended or referred by a third party.

So accountants are generally proving nothing by giving free advice. They can evidence the other key qualities they want to exhibit without giving free technical advice.

I also tend to think that a side benefit of the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) legislation is that it gives accountants a statutory justification for any apparent reluctance to provide answers to technical questions before engaging a new client.  “I’m really sorry Mr Prospect but as a professional adviser I’m precluded by law from giving any advice before we’ve been through the anti-money laundering checks. I know it’s a pain but it’s the law.” The consequence of this will often be that you have engaged the client and secured their agreement to your preferred billing procedures before you give them any valuable advice. So the AML laws do have an upside after all!

Finally I would suggest you establish a process to qualify a prospect or to let them go elsewhere before you waste too much time on them. Initially you may want to qualify out time wasters on the phone. You will also want to determine what you need to cover in an initial meeting.

In many of my seminars I ask accountants if they offer a free initial meeting to prospective clients. Typically the answer is ‘yes’. “How long do you allow for such meetings?” Some put a cap on it. Others say ‘as long as it takes’. I ask the question – “As long as WHAT takes?” It’s not just about getting the prospect to want to appoint you. You need to find out quite early on if they can afford to pay the fees you would want to earn. You also need to determine if this is the sort of person you want to have a client.

Bottom line, I’d suggest you establish a process/checklist (that you will in time commit to memory) to use when you receive such calls in future and indeed when you have an initial meeting with a prospect.

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Save time with a travelling meeting room

The bus

This is a first. A friend of mine, Tom Ball, is the brains behind a unique idea that could be of use and interest to many professional firms. Hence the reason I’m blogging about it.

AllABoardroom is a meeting room and bar aboard a customised bus. They removed the seats and put in a proper boardroom for 8 people and a bar – and a fireplace.  It’s an inspired idea and provides an innovative working environment for upto 8 people. A boardroom and an executive bar so you can work together and have fun as you travel.

I think it could work well for small team away days so you can work while you travel to your eventual destination. It can also be used for meetings on the go between clients, meetings with prospects – you take the boardroom to them, touring offices and at an exhibition. I’m sure there are many more uses too.

They’ve got a competition to win a free day for your team. Have a look if the idea intrigues you: www.allaboardroom.com

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10 key actions you need to take when starting an accountancy firm

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.

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How uptodate are your newsletters?

I was in an accountant’s office recently and was impressed by the range of promotional leaflets and booklets for all of the firm’s different service lines.

The only one I picked up though was their 10 page colour ‘magazine’. It was on the table in reception and looked as if it would be more interesting than the promotional leaflets.  I appreciate that I look at such documents in a different way to the target reader (clients, prospects and referrers) so perhaps my view is not relevant.

The magazine was well laid out and contained some interesting commentary and articles. Full marks? Er, no.

Although the first few pages were still current the tax news was decidedly out of date. And out of the 12 tax and VAT items I counted 5 that had been either been superseded by events or by more recent announcements. And there were 3 others that mentioned relevant dates in July, August or September 2009.

I checked the front cover – This was the summer 2009 issue of the magazine. The winter issue won’t be published until February.

On balance I think that, in this case, the typical reader would not be put off. But the publication schedule strikes me as odd – and indeed risky, especially as regards tax news and advice. Should the firm have removed the magazine from display at Christmas?

If you’re going to publish a regular mag of some sort you either need to ensure it excludes time sensitive material (and for this purpose tax content is invariably time sensitive). Or publish at least 4 times a year – no more than 3m apart. OR, and I think this is probably the most cost effective solution for smaller firms – buy in the magazine, newsletter or content from a third party copywriter or publisher. Ensure it contains your branding and some news on your practice and spend your time on other activities rather than collating, editing and/or writing a newsletter/mag.

What do you think?

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