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.


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.


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?


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.

A 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 didn’t have such training. Anyone who needs training or support in ‘soft’ skills is not worthy of 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, you won’t 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.

If you’re not naturally brilliant at something do you give up or take more lessons?  Or are you good enough? Does everyone else agree with you?

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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.