When you need someone to help with client work….

Mar 14, 2023 | Recruitment

For some years one of the biggest challenges for accountancy firms, of all sizes, has been securing reliable support. Whilst there are some crucial differences depending on whether this could be the first recruit or a need to grow the team, some of the issues are the same regardless of the size of the firm.

Issues such as: clarifying exactly what support is required, where to find suitable people, how to make the role sufficiently attractive, weeding out the ‘wrong’ people and retaining the right ones.

Many of the smaller accountants I speak with are struggling to do everything themselves. And those who have regular help, often want more but are reluctant to take on more staff.

There are plenty of sole practitioners and smaller partnerships around who are hesitant about taking on even one employee, committing to paying an annual salary, starting to run their own payroll and becoming subject to employment laws.

These were among the reasons I decided never to employ anyone myself after I went freelance in 2006. Over the years I have outsourced my support needs quite successfully. It’s easier for me though as I’m not running an accountancy practice.

When I talk with accountants who need (more) help and support I encourage them to start by thinking about what they are doing themselves that someone else could do for them – if they could find someone sufficiently reliable.

Then, you need to consider all of your options.  These go way beyond recruiting staff into full, or even part-time, employment roles. How about independent contractors, bookkeepers and tax specialists?

Once you accept, as many do, that not everything has to be done by employed staff, you may become open to the idea of ‘outsourcing’. This simply means sourcing suppliers of work that will be performed OUTside the firm rather than by employees INside the firm.

Here’s the full list of options when you need more help and support with your client work:

  • Recruit a full time employee, a part-time employee or an apprentice
  • Engage an independent contractor on a regular basis
  • Engage an independent contractor on an hourly/daily basis
  • Engage a reputable outsourcing company with a dedicated resource you can ‘direct’ or one with a looser arrangement
  • Source a specific individual with specialist skills to complete a specific project – the obvious solution here is the FindaTaxAdviser.online website run by the Tax Advice Network that I chair.

Independent contractors could be based elsewhere in the UK (or overseas) or could visit your office as and when required. Reputable outsourcing companies can be based in the UK or overseas. Some of the latter have UK based staff. Others have nothing beyond, sometimes, a sales operation here.

The ‘outsourcing company’ route is often identified as one that enables you to arrange for the necessary client work to be performed at a fraction of the cost of any of the other options. However this is only one of the factors to consider.

Which route you choose to go will depend, at least in part, on the work that needs doing, how much you are willing to invest in time and money, and how long you want the arrangement to last. And how professional you require the support to be.

One of the issues we often overlook when thinking about recruitment is whether we can do more than simply list tasks that need doing, the characteristics of the kind of person who could complete those duties and a salary for doing so. It’s almost as if we simply want a robot. Can we instead make the role and opportunity sufficiently attractive to the type of person we would ideally like to recruit? If this is going to be a challenge, then maybe recruitment isn’t the right solution.

If I was in practice I like to think I would have explored the reputable outsourcing company route. My reasoning is quite simple. Chances are I would want regular support and my needs would increase over time. I’d be able to service more clients and make more profits. I wouldn’t be reliant on one person or risking them being available when client work needs to be done. Turn around times should be better – especially as work is often done in another time zone.

And, perhaps, best of all, once you work with a good company, they are the ones who source additional resources as you generate more business to outsource to them. So, once you’ve got a good thing going, you are able to plan for the future with more confidence.

You will notice that I specified using a ‘reputable’ outsourcing company rather than just anyone offering such services. This is principally because I have heard too many stories of woe from accountants. Inevitably what becomes apparent is that they didn’t do enough due diligence before starting to outsource.  They are then put off from trying again with another supplier.  That’s as logical as saying you’ll never recruit another employee if you had problems with your first staff member. Better to examine what went wrong and then to go about things differently the next time.

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