My conversations with sole practitioner accountants over the years suggest that many are happy enough once their practice is generating sufficient income for them. They have reached the stage where they feel comfortable, some might say, complacent. To the outsider the practice, the business, has plateaued.
‘Happy enough’ is hardly an enthusiastic summation of how things are going. It suggests a degree of reluctant acceptance. But, it’s often seen to be the natural reflection of the complacency coin.
The underlying message perhaps is that things could be better but the accountant is used to things as they are. It’s not so bad that it’s worth reviewing what could be different as there is a concern that this will highlight issues best left hidden. Or that any change will involve more hassle and fuss than seems worth the effort.
I have encountered this view many times over the years. Among the most common examples are those accountants who no longer make much effort to avoid the January tax return rush. They’ve given in to the difficult and late clients, and accept this means the same as it has done for the last 10-20 years. So what? Other than that annual hassle all seems good thank you.
The other time when this complacency can reveal a problem is when retirement looms; that is, when the accountant realises that no one will pay sufficient for the practice as things stand. In recent times it is becoming the norm for higher prices to be paid only for those firms with well established systems and processes. And yet, it takes more than few months to transition an old-style practice into a new one pre-sale.
In 2006, when I first started this blog, I said it was for ‘Ambitious Accountants’ as I thought it was a good title. I thought it would help to distinguish those who wanted to move their practices on from those who were happy with the status quo. I dropped that title though when I learned that many, many smaller firms of accountants are not ambitious – nor do they need to be, if the owner is generating a good enough living, without working crazy hours, and is only doing work they enjoy, for clients who appreciate it, and who pay decent fees without a fuss.
In practice many accountants settle for much less than this. They work long hours, do too much work they don’t enjoy, hang onto legacy clients who won’t pay decent fees and feel under constant pressure to get everything done. There’s no time to review how they run the practice or to take steps to change things. “What will be, will be. I’ll cope, just as I have always done.”
I hear about these frustrations in running a small accountancy practice all the time and it’s not getting any easier. There are a number of new factors that will have an impact in the near future – even though none of them will have an overnight effect:
– new and more aggressive competition;
– recent and prospective changes in the tax regime that will impact the way that accountants work;
– the increasing interest in cloud accounting solutions and the extent to which these will change the accountants’ role;
– the introduction of MTD; and
– other developments and pressures that will change clients’ perceptions and needs.
Most accountants have long heard, and ignored, the predictions of change that will adversely affect their practices. I have long maintained that these predictions forecast a future that will reveal itself over an extended period. There hasn’t been and won’t be an overnight revolution. Many of the forthcoming changes will hit larger firms before the smaller firms are affected. Smaller firms can adapt faster as and will do so only when it becomes necessary to do so.
Having said that, many accountants in smaller firms do want to increase profits, reduce the time and hassle of running their practice and, where appropriate, want to ensure they have succession plans in place and are well set up for their retirement.
How about you? Has your practice plateaued? Do you want to take control, or just let events take their course? One starting point could be the Successful Practice Programme – a low cost series of weekly emails designed to help you move things along so that you are comfortable you are running a successful practice. Full details here >>>