Where are you based? Home, garden, garage, or high street?

May 3, 2022 | Strategy

In the past I believe that a majority of established accountants ran their offices from commercial premises. But is that still true or even necessary? The purpose of this article is twofold. Firstly to support those who are happy with their current choice. And secondly to encourage those who are unsure to make a conscious decision rather than to just do what they might have assumed is ‘right’ .

Although I enjoy speaking at conferences and away days for larger firms, I write this blog to support my work with sole practitioner accountants.

Here are the most common options chosen by sole practitioners when it comes to where to base their operations:

  • Starting at home while deciding whether or not you can build up a sufficient client base
  • Dedicating a room/garage in your home to be your office.
  • Building/buying a garden office
  • Short-term renting of space in a shared office facility, work hub or serviced office facility
  • Longer-term rental commitment to office space, perhaps above a shop or at ground level
  • Buying commercial premises

In 2020 the pandemic and lockdowns forced a reappraisal of the need for longer-term office rental commitments, the need for commercial premises and also the prospect of surplus space generating a regular income stream.

The ability to work in the cloud has also reduced the need for office premises. But equally it takes a degree of self-discipline to keep your home and work-life separate if you work from home. For some accountants it is very important to having a dedicated room for work. The more we adopt the ‘I can work anywhere’ idea, the greater the distinction between home and work-life gets blurred.

Let me be clear, plenty of my clients operate from offices and this works well for them due to the number of staff they employ. But, post pandemic, some have more space than they currently need and have been reconsidering how much space they will need going forwards. Have you thought about how to fill the space you have? Is it cost-effective to keep it long-term?

One of my clients was already operating a virtual accountancy firm with 5 staff long before the pandemic hit. They had an arrangement with a local business hub where they could rent a meeting room and hold client meetings as and when required. Indeed, my first meeting with the accountant was in that hub. Our subsequent meetings have been virtual.

If you currently work from home, garden or garage, please do not follow the herd and assume that you ‘should’ to work from an office – even if you are happy working from home. It’s likely to be far more cost effective to invest in a garden or garage office, if that’s feasible, than to commit to renting a commercial property. And less of a distraction. But, even if you have the space it does depend on your ambitions for the practice of course.

During the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 I did a lot of walking around my local area. It’s a leafy suburb in North-West London. I was really surprised by how many accountants’ offices I saw on local high streets. I wasn’t looking for them, but I guess my eye was just drawn to them. I always took a look in the windows if I could. Rarely were there any people inside – even post pandemic. Rarely were there any effective or welcoming marketing messages on the windows. And, I suspect, rarely was there any likelihood that the shop-front office was paying its way.

A few years ago one accountant who booked a strategy session with me had rented an expensive high street office with a shopfront when he started his practice. He called me in after his first year ended with a big loss. He had assumed that his office would attract passing trade and that was his ‘plan’ to build up his practice. Unsurprisingly, I’m afraid, it hadn’t worked.

We had our one-off strategy session and, as his lease still had a few years to run, I encouraged him to sub-let the front of the office to generate income. This made more sense than hoping he could generate enough clients (and fees) to cover the cost. We also then discussed how he might take active steps to attract a specific type of client rather than just hoping he could get enough of the clients and business he wanted from those people who happened to be passing his office. Frankly that assumption is rarely a great idea – unless you’re part of a national franchise that can afford to advertise, support their high street offices and wants to attract the simplest type of clients and work.

My advice here is only to rent (or buy) commercial space for your office if you cannot operate from home. And then to consider what sort of space you need – both as regards size and location. There may be some good deals to be done with vacant high street shops at the moment, but will you welcome ‘walk-ins’?

If you will have staff (full, part-time or on contract) you will probably need to have at least one distinct meeting room in your office space. This will be for clients and also for confidential staff meetings.

In the past, if you worked from home you had to decide whether to allow clients to visit your home/office. There were good reasons to avoid this if you could. Since the advent of cloud computing and the pandemic, such visits have, in many cases, become less frequent. But still many accountants prefer to avoid giving their home address to clients.

If you would like a comprehensive list of all the considerations when choosing office space for your accountancy practice, just ask!

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