We Run Your Practice

4 Ways Accountants Best Help Their Clients during Lockdown

As we all sit back and stare down the barrel of yet another nationwide lockdown, many accounts are asking themselves how they can best assist their clients through these tough times.

Perhaps they’re also asking how they themselves can survive.

A business that goes under “needeth not an accountant any longer”. Helping our existing clients survive is the easiest way to keep our own bank accounts looking healthy. (Someone famous once said that it’s far more expensive to get a new client than it is to keep one, although I don’t recall who it was.)

Here are some tips on how you can best advise your small and medium-size business clients through these extremely challenging times.

1. The usual advice — understand ongoing schemes

We’ll tackle the obvious first: Informing your clients of the many financial-assistance schemes announced by the Chancellor over the course of the last six months. Here’s a quick list of all of them:

  1. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  2. Kickstart Scheme Grant (job placements)
  3. Statutory Sick Pay claims available for employees sick with COVID
  4. Deferring Self-Assessment payments
  5. Business Rates Relief for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Businesses
  6. Business Rates Relief for Nurseries
  7. SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme)
  8. Business Interruption Loan Scheme
  9. Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme
  10. Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan
  11. Coronavirus Future Fund
  12. Local Restrictions Support Grant
  13. COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility

Goodness me, that’s a lot of schemes. How do the blokes on Downing Street keep track?

Well, Downing Street might or might not have lost track (one must wonder, in these crazy times…) but, as your client’s account, you cannot!

You need to know each of these schemes like the back of your hand and be able to recommend (or not recommend, as the case may be) their use for any of your clients who need assistance. Info on all of them can be found here.

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2. Improving efficiency to lower costs

Never has it been more important to lower costs while still operating at a high level of efficiency.

To this end, it is crucial that your clients adopt ways to reduce their workload. We have a free guide written for accountants on precisely how to do this, but many of the tenets in that guide are equally applicable to any business.

If you, as an accountant, are thoroughly familiar with the solutions the book provides, you will be able to advise your clients on their use.

Sure, such a duty isn’t entirely within the bailiwick of an accountant’s daily chores. But these are extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures.

Besides, in this extremely tight-margin industry of ours, it is imperative that accountants find any way possible to increase their value proposition. If that means you become your client’s tech advisor, so be it!

3. Help with late payments

As the UK hits its deepest recession in a hundred years, it is understandable that a certain percentage of people will be defaulting on debts to small businesses.

These defaulters or late-payers will generally fall into two categories:

  1. Have fallen on extremely tough times and are unlikely to pay without the assistance of a debt collection agency because they simply don’t have the money anymore.
  2. Are simply “holding onto their cash in case things get worse”.

The first is one of those ugly truths the world must face. Everyone is facing difficulties; some more than others. But even for those, there are solutions.

The easiest solution to this type of defaulter is to offer an “instalments” option so that their debt is paid off bit by bit.

Help with late payments

The second, however, is more difficult to deal with. “Uncertainty” is no excuse for defaulting on one’s debts. A business offers services sincerely and should be compensated for those services.

For the latter, a number of remedies can be applied:

  • Assist your clients in setting up automated reminders and emails in their accounting systems to chase up late payers.
  • Advise them on an appropriate debt collection agency that might take some of the burden off while those outstanding debts are collected.

4. “Zoom Rules”

Zoom has gone from being the latest novelty to feeling like a bit of a grind. The internet is rife with comments of Zoom meetings going over time.

As humanity grows hungrier for human contact as a result of perpetual lockdowns, Zoom and video conferencing have been the goto solutions for chit-chat, even if the call is supposed to be “for business”.

You, dear accountant, should also implement some “Zoom Rules”.

Minimise Zoom meetings to no more than 15 minutes and set an alarm to make it so! Tell the person you’re on a call with that you’re “taking care of my mental health” and trying to reduce your time online (perfectly valid reasoning) and, hence, cannot be longer than 15 minutes.

Allow for no more than one hour for business Zoom calls every day. Again, be strict on this.

Your clients will be grateful to you for your assistance and thereby think twice before throwing you out the door if they do happen to fall on tough times.

It’s all about increasing your value to them, and offering genuine assistance because you sincerely care about their welfare.

Accountancy Owners Are Tired. Here’s What to Do About It.

It has been a gruelling six months since lockdowns spread across Europe and then England. Accountants have had to play catchup with one coronavirus scheme after another, advising their clients on everything from Job Retention Scheme to Bounce Back Loans, CBILS, SEISS, and so on.

Just reading the list of schemes itself is exhausting, not to mention:

  1. Understanding the intricacies of each one.
  2. Then understanding how it might dovetail (or not) with your client’s needs.

Just as accountants were preparing to deal with complexities of tiers of lockdowns, Boris J. went and announced yet another nationwide lockdown, adding to the strain of accountants who have fought right along with their clients to prevent their finances from imploding and their businesses from collapsing.

Add to the above that many accountancy owners themselves are also facing the same problem their clients face, wondering if they shouldn’t just cut their losses and run.

We all want to do good by our clients. To that end, Accountants have gone above and beyond in advising clients on the different schemes, assisting them in applying for one if it was a good fit, advising them against another because of their debt profile, and so on.

The task is both mammoth and exhausting. Here are some things you can do to reduce that exhaustion.

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Realise you are not a therapist

Times are tough for everyone. The in-thing on LinkedIn these days is to show your vulnerability and that you’re human as opposed to letting everyone think you’re a superhero.

As with everything in business, a little goes a long way, but too much can make you nauseous.

There’s nothing wrong with being a sympathetic ear every now and then. But your job is to ensure your clients’ businesses do not collapse due to a mishandling of their finances and their accounts, not because of their emotional state.

Taking on other people’s woes will only burden you more. Give good, professional advice but draw the line there. To do otherwise is exhausting.

Triage? Maybe not.

Here’s the hard truth of it: Some businesses are going to go down unless concerted, dedicated, full-time effort is made to keep them afloat.

The burden of that effort falls on the business owner, not you.

Unless you are personally responsible for someone’s failures in accounts and finances, you need to let them bail themselves out. Your job as their accountant is to give them a bucket without holes in it, perhaps even a bigger bucket. Your job is not to sit in that sinking boat and bail.

If you have a hundred businesses in dire straits, but three of them (who also happen to have the least amount of employees) require almost full-time attention to rescue at the expense of the others, who do you tackle first?

You tackle the other ninety-seven first. Or, maybe, tackle ten or twenty, then address one of the problem businesses. Then another twenty of the “quick-fixes”.

Perhaps you’re tired as an accountant because you’re sitting there bailing water out instead of giving advice on how to do it.

Call a daily timeout, install boundaries

Call a daily timeout, install boundaries

Again — it’s tough.

Some business owners might find it difficult to call a timeout for various reasons:

  1. They’re afraid to lose a big client.
  2. They’re genuinely concerned for the client’s welfare (the more usual concern amongst professionals).
  3. A combination of the above.

But your accountancy firm is also important. If you go down, your clients will likely be able to find another accountant — the accountancy industry is glutted. But you won’t have anywhere to turn.

There’s a difference between working late into the night to help the occasional client, and never calling a timeout.

We’re professionals. Work must be done, and it is rare to find a pro who never works after hours during stressful times.

But that doesn’t mean your clients need to have your personal mobile number, WhatsApp number and a direct 24/7-line to call you at their whim whenever they want to.

You need to call a daily timeout for your emails and your business calls.

Part of the problem is that WFH has blurred the lines between what is work and what is play. It’s vital to define these boundaries. Although it’s not possible for everyone, try and ensure that your home office space is located somewhere else from your family/relaxation space.

There are phone apps around that block notifications/usage of other apps after certain hours. Decide that there will be no more work, say, after 20:00 and stick to it.

Then spend time with your family, a good book, or just sitting on your couch and recharging. In this day and age, it’s crucial to work smarter, not harder, and an exhausted executive is no good to their clients. Make sure you get your rest. Your service to your clients will be all the better

Why Selling an Accounting Firm Now Is a Bad Idea

News has been conflicting regarding the UK’s bounce back after the countrywide lockdown. One day the press reports positive gains, the next it covers how the recession is all doom and gloom.

But you don’t need the news to tell you if your accountancy firm is struggling.

Whereas as the hospitality sector got a “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign, the accountancy sector got no such scheme. Too often, when businesses look to pinch their pennies, they look at their accountants — especially if those accountants aren’t in the habit of delivering “add-on” services to their usual fee income.

A business is far less likely to write off its financial advisor than its accountant. But too few accountancy practices have branched out into additional-value services and therefore plenty of firms are now in the position where they’re considering putting their accounting practice up for sale.

Selling an accounting firm — what you need to know

The first thing you need to know about, when looking to sell your accountancy practice, is that it very likely will have a reduced valuation in a post-COVID world.

The value of an accountancy practice is determined primarily from its annual fee income.

But, even if that fee income is high, it won’t take away from the fact that the economy is shaky and people and businesses are looking to save their pennies.

If your clients are primarily small businesses who don’t have to use your services, then it’s unlikely that any evaluator will consider your chances at future profitability very high.

And so your valuation is reduced.

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Specialist Services

The other problem with valuations is that they don’t take into account all the many specialist services that a lot of accountants offer in order to pad their month-ends.

Whether you offer in-depth tax advice, financial advisory functions, or even business consultation on services which are not entirely accounting, these services will not necessarily be considered “fee income” if they are too specialised.

And so your valuation is further reduced.

And then there are the priceless aspects

Whenever an accountancy owner hits the point of wondering, “Should I sell my accountancy practice?”, you know that the decision was not arrived at lightly.

There are all those intangible aspects to the business which no evaluator could ever begin to put a price on:

  1. One’s dreams of being successful.
  2. The relationships one has built with one’s staff.
  3. How those staff will survive (it would be great to give everyone an excellent severance package, but if the practice is already failing, that’s unlikely).

And what will you do once the practice has been sold? In times of such deep recession, sometimes the best option might be to stick with the sinking ship in the hopes of spotting land, not to dive headfirst into a frothing sea.

But every practice and set of circumstances is different.

How to sell your accountancy practice?

How to sell your accountancy practice

Beware the sharks!

There are numerous steps to selling your practice, or possibly merging it with another.

The ICAEW has quite some guidance on it, but none of that guidance discusses the shark in the water.

It’s a fact of life. And as much as we’d all like to believe the modern world doesn’t contain an undue amount of unscrupulous individuals in professional business circles, it is an unfortunate fact that such people do exist.

The act of buying your accountancy practice is a business transaction. Profits and losses are involved, and if you were the other party, would you try to maximise your profits or minimise them?

Whatever steps you take to get your accountancy practice ready for acquisition or merger, keep your eye sharp because you are in treacherous waters during this recession.

A better solution to selling your practice?

What if I told you there’s a better solution to your difficulties than outright selling?

Well, there is.

We came up with the business model for We Run Your Practice after a decade serving as professional accountants in our own successful accounting firms.

We had always been somewhat tech-savvy. We implemented numerous digital strategies in our own practices and thereby reduced our workload while increasing our efficiency.

We honestly thought this was the way all other accountancy practices did it, only to discover that, sadly, it was not.

Whereas our own practices were doing well, marketing intelligently on the internet, using email marketing, working efficiently, we saw that a shocking number of our competitors weren’t doing this.

It is in fact so easy to get an accountancy practice up and running in high roar if you know how to do it that we saw a business opportunity: Making other accountancy practices successful, and then taking only a small percentage of their profits as our monthly fee.

It’s a win-win situation because those practices’ profits would not be high, were it not for our intervention.

Just recently, our highly innovative and unique approach and implementations won us a position as a finalist in the Accounting Excellence Digital and Innovative Firm of the Year Award. It has taken years of testing and trying what worked and what didn’t to come up with the specific formula to turn any accountancy firm into a going concern.

Now is not the time to sell your accountancy practice.

When is the time? Well, whatever the time, do it when your practice is earning a much higher fee income, and you’re selling from the point of success, not the point of struggle.

Why Excel Is an Outdated Tool for Accountants

Back in the heyday of Microsoft Windows — long before the boom in cloud solutions or even of the internet itself — Microsoft Excel appeared full-bloom as the solution to get one’s ledgers and accountancy practice in tip-top shape.

Rightly so. The software was a boon to number crunchers. And when Microsoft added advanced charting features and new formulas, the tool became nearly indispensable for the average accountant.

But then the internet and cloud solutions came along.

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Using Microsoft Excel for accounting — pros and cons in today’s world

Yes, Excel is an excellent tool in itself.

But it’s outdated.

We were recently named as a finalist for the Accountancy Excellence, Digital and Innovative Firm of the Year award. One of the main reasons we were chosen was because of our relentless efforts at modernising and streamlining our firm.

We use extensive cloud solutions in our office. As a result, when COVID-19 hit and the UK went into lockdown, the company was able to keep going and staff were able to work from home without too much disruption. The reason we were able to do this was that we did not rely entirely on Excel.

The main pro of Excel is that it is a tried and tested tool which works well on personal computers. And its biggest con is related: Excel was not designed for the cloud, and so it struggles to play catchup to other cloud-run services.

Another pro is that Excel so versatile — it can be used to do many different things. With a bit of knowledge, one can create a workbook to track personal finances, and then create an entirely different workbook to manage projects.

But without extensive knowledge of Excel, one’s efforts would be second-rate at best, and the workbook would be liable to errors.

Also, it takes time to create each of these workbooks, as well as protecting the cells so they don’t get mistakenly overwritten, adding conditional formatting, on and on and on — plenty of valuable business hours for one workbook.

And that’s not mentioning the cost of every single license needed for each of your staff to run Excel.

Alternatively, one could simply sign up for Monday.com and have project management instantly working. Or, one could sign up for QuickBooks Online or FreeAgent and have instant access to accounting tools.

Alternatives to Excel for Accounting and Finance

QuickBooks, Xero, FreeAgent, Zoho Books — all of these tools offer excellent functionality which is specific to accounting and personal finances.

And there are others.

As for personal finance, there are tools such as Money Dashboard, Buxfer, and so on.

As accountants, our main interest in these tools is that they can be connected to directly so as to obtain financial information for our clients.

The world has gone “cloud”. People want to access services on their phones, on their browsers, and even on Chromebooks. Microsoft came out with a web-based version of Office (and, therefore, Excel) a few years ago to compete with that. But the web-based tools is limited.

Is Excel good for accounting?

Is Excel good for accounting?

Yes, if one knows Excel.

It’s also plenty of “fun” to tinker with — learning different formulas, automating various tasks, making all the cells change colours automatically…

If you have a lot of time on your hands, yes, it’s an excellent tool which takes plenty of time to set up and make useful.

It’s easier to simply sign up for one of the top accounting tools online which already takes care of all the specific features you might need.

Determining what is the best software for business accounting comes down to a matter of taste in many cases. There are simply so many excellent accounting tools for businesses out there, that deciding on one often comes down to (1) pricing and (2) features which align with your specific needs.

But that’s the point: Those tools are designed for accounting. And many of them offer a plethora of features that are ready to use out-the-box. No need to tinker and fiddle and spend hours and hours configuring the tool because all that work has already been done.

How to move from Excel to another solution

Most likely you would need to move to several platforms, not just one. But it’s easier than you think.

The key thing is to determine precisely what you are using Excel for, and then finding which solutions match those needs.

The good news is that we already have a free-to-download book naming all the tools your accountancy practice might need to streamline its workflows and reduce its workload.

In order to turn a profit in this competitive field of accounting, it is imperative that one stays on top of the latest innovations, the latest tech, and even the latest AI developments in order to continue winning in the game.

Too many accountancy practices find themselves struggling to turn a profit after many years of trying to succeed. In our experience, many of them have found themselves in this difficult position because they did not embrace new technologies and methods of doing things.

In the world of accountancy, the dog not only needs to learn new tricks, but it also needs to learn to work remotely and on the cloud!

How to Improve Your Accountancy Firm’s Efficiency

Accountants in the UK are, too often, looked upon as staid old fogies who can’t learn new tricks. Sadly, I have found this to be true of many older accounting practices.

But even some of the newer practices fall prey to this. They look at veteran accountants, or perhaps even to the Big Four, and they see suits and ties and formality everywhere.

Yes, accounting is a formal subject, entrenched in legalese and regulations. But the world has progressed. Even much of the “older generation” is now so familiar with a high-tech world that failing to live up to these expectations of speed and efficiency can lead to people simply not hiring you.

I’m not only talking about tech here. I’m talking about how you are perceived by potential and existing clients.

Whether you like it or not, you will be compared to Facebook and Amazon and even to the local pizza place. Yes, it might sound strange, but it’s true.

Service is service. And speed of delivery is speed of delivery. And, in this world, your business must compete with all businesses in order to be considered “modern” and “with the program”. If a client receives prompt and excellent service from Amazon, that’ll be the first company they’ll compare you to if you fail to deliver that quality of service as well.

Here are some ways to change your accounting practice from a staid, recalcitrant dinosaur to a high-tech, efficient, speed-of-light production-machine.

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Delegate

First and foremost, start shedding your load.

If you want your UK accountancy practice to compete with the best of them, you need time to sit at your office and plan. You need a distraction-free environment. You need space to look at your team with a clear head.

If you are still handling individual clients’ calls yourself despite having a twenty-person team, something is wrong with your delegation.

If delegating makes you nervous, likely you are one of those executives who is totally overworked.

Believe me, I’ve been there. Pick the employees you trust the most and give them some tasks to try out for a month. Don’t come down hard on them if they don’t manage at first. Just guide them along the way.

Soon, you’ll be able to buy yourself enough time to think up the big plans and focus on the larger picture because your own personal workload is lessened.

Implement processes

Whether digital or manual, you need to have fixed processes in your practice.

“When employee A is finished with Tax Return B, place it in basket C for it to be verified by Partner D.”

That’s a crude example, but it’s a factual one. No processes in place = confusion and wasted time.

Once you get the processes in, train your staff on them.

You’ll become more efficient and have less of those “Uhm, yes, I think you made a mistake on my accounts” phone calls which accountants dread so much.

Automation

accountancy firms is automation

Now we can get really fancy!

The way of the future for accountancy firms is automation. There is so much that can be said about this that it could fill a book. In fact, it has, and you can download it for free here.

In a nutshell, almost everything in an accountancy firm can be automated. And if you get your head around how to do this, the savings on time and money can be phenomenal.

Best of all, your clients will notice the difference — they’ll see that you’re high-tech.

Drop hourly billing

Hourly billing is a thing of the past. If a lead comes to you and sees that you charge by the hour, you’re less likely to convert them into a client.

Yes, I know, it can be scary to charge a fixed price. But if you spend some time improving your accountancy firm’s efficiency, you can start to charge fixed prices without too much burden.

I’ve found that charging a fixed monthly fee works well in the long run, provided your accountancy practice is operating at top speed.

How to reduce the load of routine bookkeeping

Bookkeeping is cumbersome, slow work. Once upon a time, an accountancy firm wouldn’t dream of doing a client’s bookkeeping.

Those days are now over. Too many accountants offer bookkeeping as part of their overall service for you to ignore it.

Of course, using tools such as Quickbooks or Xero is imperative if you plan on offering bookkeeping to your clients.

Another option, however, is to outsource the bookkeeping.

Outsourcing accountancy services is tricky business. It can come back and bite you if you go with the wrong company. But it is still an option if you’re looking to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Use relationship managers

A relationship manager

The idea that the accountancy practice’s CEO is the only one who can have a relationship with the client is completely outdated.

There are a number of benefits to using relationship managers.

  1. Matching clients up with people of similar personalities/interests can increase trust on the part of the client, thereby leading to more willingness to work with your firm.
  2. Frees up your time considerably.
  3. Gives the client the sense they are receiving “Premium Service”.
  4. Improves service overall because clients don’t need to wait for your availability when there’s a problem.
  5. Increases a client’s sense of security when working with your firm — they can simply pick up the phone and talk to someone who knows their account backwards and forwards.

The only caveat to this system, however, is that it must be assigned only to employees of the highest trust, and who are deeply invested in your firm. Although you, no-doubt, have non-solicitation clauses in your employee’s contracts, you won’t have a leg to stand on in court if your employee leaves, to start their own practice, and the client follows by their own choice.

The new accountancy practice model

Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. It is the mantra of any accountancy practice that wants to remain profitable in this cutting-edge world.

Unless you can improve your accountancy practice’s efficiency, you’ll be stuck in the old, fossilised method of conducting business, overtaken by new, fresher firms who have embraced efficiency and better methods of doing old things.

Do the above fully in your practice and you might be surprised at just how much it improves your bottom line.

7 Unique Ways UK Accountancy Owners Can Reduce Stress

The stresses of being an accountant are well-documented and known.

Accountancy owners have it even harder. In addition to facing the day-to-day pressures of everyday work, stress can skyrocket during times of HMRC deadlines: VAT returns, company accounts, corporation tax returns. Added to that are HR pressures and all the usual stresses of running a business.

And then COVID-19 and the resultant recession came along. If you’re suddenly thinking of selling your accountancy practice, you aren’t alone.

Here are seven unique ways for you as an accountancy owner to reduce stress.

1. Let off steam with peers

Accountancy firms have unique stress factors which other fields don’t have. Tackling stress in an accountancy firm requires more than the usual general approach to dealing with stress in business.

It is these very idiosyncracies in the field of accounting which make it vital that you surround yourself with peers.

“Going to the pub” on a Friday night has always been the go-to solution for a stressful week. But although alcohol might lead to short-term stress relief, there can be adverse long-term effects which actually increase stress levels.

Instead of rushing off to the pub, create a weekly get-together of you and a few other accountants and just “let it all out”. Tell jokes about the week, complain about the latest IR35 changes or about the latest Exchequer financial aid scheme.

Not only does laughter reduce stress, networking in this way with your peers can give you new insight into how they handle their businesses. It might show you a simple solution to something which you hadn’t thought of before.

You could even do this online once a week using something like Zoom.

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2. Get more efficient

A survey conducted with leading HR professionals revealed that “poor systems” was the leading cause (42 per cent) of poor workplace productivity.

Reduced productivity in an accountancy firm can be fatal, leading to missed deadlines, customer dissatisfaction, and penalties.

Accounting is a tight-margin industry. This is truer now than it’s ever been. Accountancy software providers have taken filing duties almost entirely out of the accountant’s hands.

This makes the accountant’s service less valuable to people.

This is not a bad thing for the industry, but it does lead to lowered margins.

The way to combat this is to become more efficient in the accountancy practice. By delivering better service in less time, you can inch out of the tight-margin paradigm into a more profitable one.

The way to do this is to implement time-saving accounting software and tools in the business, which automate everyday tasks.

3. Embrace staggered working hours

Working hours

Flexible working hours can lead to reduced stress in employees, according to a study by Cascade HR.

Reduced stress in employees can lead to reduced stress in bosses, according to our own experiences.

There’s also the matter of personality clashes and internal office politics. By strategically setting out a staggered working hours plan which keeps the key belligerents apart, you can have a happier workplace, which itself can reduce stress for you personally.

4. Delegate, delegate, delegate!

Too many accountancy owners want to verify everything themselves.

It takes tremendous trust to put something entirely in the hands of a junior, but it must be done if you ever need to step away from things for a bit and clear your head.

Delegating important tasks is something that can be implemented over time. Give employees more and more responsibility bit by bit.

Give them, also, incentives for doing their jobs well. If you reward perfection, you will get perfection.

Make people accountable for things, and reward them for taking on higher responsibilities.

5. Work remotely

The office itself can be a stressor.

The new guidelines on how to set up office spaces might lead to even more stress. Although the guidelines have been established to reduce the possibility of infection with COVID-19, the new office setup will also be a constant reminder of the dangers of the world.

The workplace also has its own distractions, such as people walking into your office to ask questions.

Working from home can be quieter, more peaceful, and therefore less stressful.

This option slots in well with delegating and staggered work hours.

If you delegate important work to employees, all you’ll need to do is pop in to check on their work occasionally. This can be done remotely.

Staggered hours can be implemented with a portion of those hours being worked on from home.

6. Close early on Fridays and have a party

Office party

Not only can this boost morale amongst staff, but you can also use it as an incentive to get productivity up during the week.

It’s a well-known gamification technique: Offer staff rewards (and possibly even a points system) and watch production soar.

Let the staff invite their families. Hire some karaoke equipment and let those with courage show off their skills, so long as you as the business owner go first.

Singing reduces stress, after all.

7. Gamification

We touched on this in point #6, but it merits its own entry.

Not only is gamification a revolutionary way to increase productivity, but you as the business owner might also find yourself getting carried away with the enthusiasm.

Just as one gets transported at a football match, so does one get into the swing of the game at the office when gamification techniques are fully implemented.

Conclusion

Stress reduces productivity, and we are at a point in the economy where stress has the potential of being tremendously high indeed.

Make sure you let off steam with your peers once a week, increase your accountancy firm’s efficiency, give your employees a game they can get behind, and don’t forget to have a party every now and then.

And if all else fails, reduce your stress by following these experts tips or having a good laugh at these 77 accounting jokes.

“Should I Sell My Accountancy Practice during This Recession?”

With the UK racing “towards its fastest and deepest recession for more than a century”, according to the Bank of England, probably the idea of selling your accountancy practice has crossed your mind. With many of your staff likely furloughed, and the end of the lockdown nowhere in sight, selling your practice might seem like the only option.

But what kind of price would you get for it in these highly uncertain times? Doubtfully a decent one.

Times are toughest for those who were not prepared for working remotely. There are so many tools out there for doing this — Microsoft Teams, Monday.com, Slack, Zoom, and others — that trying to navigate through them during the pressures of an uncertain economy is impossible.

Perhaps you’ve decided not to sell your practice, after all. You’ve chosen to hunker down for the long haul, dig into savings and push through until the end of the lockdown, then market like the dickens and get in new business when the lockdown is over.

But leaked information about the UK government banning hot-desking makes going back to the office more complex.

And new rules mean you would have to adhere entirely to the two-metre rule (or the one-metre rule) to be allowed to open the office at all.

What if your office isn’t big enough for that?

You might have to implement other protective measures such as making staff wear face masks or installing Plexiglass at desks to limit the chance of contagion. This means even more expenditure, more use of cash just to be able to open your doors.

There’s also talk of implementing staggered work hours. Even if you had decided to hunker down, for now, it appears you might need to implement some kind of remote-working facilities, after all.

Change, change, endless change. It’s like walking on quicksand at the moment.

But take heart. There is hope.

The world has changed, people will understand if you don’t have an office

The world has changed. People feel it in the air. Things are dim, and we’ve all been through something catastrophic and difficult together.

As a result, we all look at the world differently now. And who’s to say that the changes are bad? Coronavirus is one thing, but what about illness in general — cases of flu, colds, and other diseases? I cannot count the number of times I’ve been shopping at the Tesco in winter only to walk past three people coughing in my vicinity.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, my first thought was, “Stay home if you’re ill, people!”

In today’s world, the thought of women being forced into the life of homemaker with no choice to earn a living in a “man’s world” is abhorrent. It’s difficult for us even to imagine such a discriminating, unjust world. And yet it existed before World War II. The war changed that.

A posh address which starts with “One Canada Square” was the reality of yesterday. Today’s reality is, “Oh, goodness, how do you keep your staff healthy if you work there!?”

Working from home is the new normal. Our kids and our grandkids will not feel the culture shock we’re feeling today. They’ll go to the office, see the Plexiglass, wave at each other and smile from a distance. They’ll think that their parents/grandparents were a lot of fools because we spread so much disease.

So, have no qualms about ditching your office space. No one will care, or at least everyone will understand. There is no shame (anymore) in running your fancy business from your home.

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What to do with staff?

This is a terrible situation for everyone, and times like these make it difficult to do good by everyone. The matter of personnel is a catch-22 at the best of times.

The government has provided us with the CJRS, but in order to qualify, staff must not do any work at all.

Let’s look at that:

  1. If staff do no work, you can’t run your business and stay afloat.
  2. If staff do work, you can’t claim 80 per cent of their salary, and thereby increase your overheads.

To solve that, the UK gov went and gave us the BBLS. More loans, more debt. A never-ending downward trend of reduced income and increased costs.

I cannot advise you on what to do about your staff. This is a personal matter of integrity that every accountancy owner must consider themselves. We deal in numbers, but our staff are people with families and livelihoods.

Still, we do deal in numbers. And the numbers paint a dim picture. If the entire ship goes down because we’re forced to hold onto the whole crew, then everybody suffers. As much as business owners wish they could keep their staff, this simply might not be possible.

I would, however, appeal to you to talk to us first if making staff redundant is your only option left, we might be able to help. This is not a plug of our own services, but a plea to do everything you can to keep your people employed.

The next breath

In times like these, when we are all seemingly at the whim of daily government decisions which encroach directly into our livelihoods, it’s difficult to do more than take your next breath.

We’re allowed to go outside once a day for exercise. I would strongly recommend that you do that. Take a walk, look around, appreciate that the world still exists.

All you need to do is take the next breath, save the next penny, and then get back into business with a roar when we’re allowed to open the doors again.

Until then, look at how to cut costs. Consider your office space first, and your staff as last. We don’t need offices anymore. We do need people.

The world has changed, and we must change with it.

4 Uncommon In-House Departments Your Accountancy Practice Should Invest In

The accountancy industry grows ever more competitive with each passing year. Gone are the days when people considered a “good accountant” as someone who could submit their tax returns on time while possibly also saving them a hundred quid. These days, people want more services, they want flashing lights, they want speed. And, as a result of the gig economy mindset, they also want these things for peanuts.

To compete with this mindset, you have to attack the problem in two ways:

  1. Play a hot marketing game where you have sufficient materials (website, social media following, glittery brochures, etc.) that convince people of the superiority of your service
  2. Invest in more efficient ways to run your practice and reduce your workload

You could pay an external company to do these things for you, but that might get expensive. Instead, here are four in-house departments you should invest in so that you can constantly keep on top of your competition

1. In-house web design team

A website is your portal to the world and how people will look at your brand.

Especially for younger clients who do not remember the days of slow modems or of no internet at all, your web presence needs to be smoking hot. At the very least, the website should be mobile-friendly.

But a website is a living thing. It must constantly be updated and worked on or else it’ll gain little to no traction in the search engines.

Hiring an outside company to do this has its pitfalls which usually fall under the categories:

  1. Low prices but awful website/service
  2. Amazing website but too expensive

When it comes to updating your website regularly, however, the costs can become astronomical if handed to an external company.

Hire some people to do it in-house. You’ll reap the benefits tenfold.

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2. In-house SEO team

While clicks from organic traffic are technically free, companies that regularly get found on search engines for multiple search queries are not there by chance. They have invested heavily and knowledgeably into search engine optimisation in order to be found.

Search engine optimisation is a big subject which encompasses innumerable facets, including:

  1. How mobile-friendly is your website?
  2. How readable is your website?
  3. How good is your content?
  4. How engaged are your social media accounts?
  5. Do you even have social media accounts?
  6. Do you have the right kind of social media accounts?
  7. Are the social media posts you’re making relevant and useful to your followers?
  8. Are you gaining high-quality links to your website from other reputable websites?
  9. Are the inbound links you are gaining coming from relevant websites?
  10. Do the links have the right text in them which will let search engines know what your site is about?

The size of the subject is genuinely staggering. But its results can mean the difference between an accountancy practice that is skyrocketing compared to one which is merely “doing well.”

The cost of SEO, when done properly, can be enormous. Hire an in-house person or team who knows their stuff to do it for you.

3. In-house social media team

Because SEO is such a large subject, and so tremendously vital to long-term success, the reality is that you’re probably going to need more than one person to take care of it.

I mentioned a few things about social media in point #2 above. If you truly want to leverage social media in your SEO strategy, you’re going to need at least one person working on it full-time.

It’s not only about SEO. It’s about engagement with your clients, and keeping them informed.

People access information in wildly different ways compared to ten or even five years ago. Your clients will look for updates on various subjects from different sources:

  1. Twitter for quick updates and news
  2. LinkedIn for more business-related information
  3. Email for information relating specifically to your relationship with them

You need an experienced expert to take care of this full-time for you, either on a subcontracting or employment basis.

4. In-house tech team

I don’t mean an IT team. I mean a team that implements and invests in highly advanced processes and workflows using the latest technology in order to minimise wasted time and improve efficiency.

There are so many tools out there on how to do this specifically for an accountancy practice, that the knowledge would fill a book.

The accountancy profession is traditionally quite terrible at implementing new tech. But even if it’s good at it, there is simply so much choice available that you do need a dedicated team to work on it so that you’re free to run your practice.

The investment is worth it. Accountancy in the UK is a tight-margin industry, and only through efficient use of tech and cloud-based solutions can one reduce workload and increase effectiveness.

Thinking outside the box

There are so many accounting practices in the UK that believing you can compete with them purely through word of mouth is folly. Not only is our industry tight in its margins, but it is also brutally competitive.

Make the above departments a part of your practice so that you can constantly stay ahead of the competition.

3 Tools to Dramatically Improve Your Accountancy Practice’s Email Marketing

Accountants are terrible marketers. Yes, I know that might be a generalisation, but it also happens to be mostly true. In our experience, the accountancy firms we take on either have no email marketing strategy in place or they have a horrible one.

Email marketing can take on many forms — cold emails, emails to subscribers, emails to clients, etc.

Too many firms that we deal with think that email marketing is simply a matter of collecting up your clients’ email address and then blasting out a mail to them now and then telling them about something in which they might or might not be interested. Official guidance on whether this is legal is murky, covered under the heading of “soft opt-in”.

But, whether legal or not, the approach is clunky and cumbersome at best. We’ve seen some practices simply add all the email addresses of their clients into the BCC (or, worse, the CC) field and then simply send the mail out!

How many people opened the mail? How many clicked on links in the mail? How many people marked it off as spam? If someone unsubscribes, how do you handle it? Do you keep the name on a list? How will you guarantee that you never send a marketing email to that person again?

All these questions come under the heading of Marketing.

Sending an initial marketing mail to a client might generally be considered acceptable (if the client is in the UK). Still, it does become a violation of applicable laws if the users “opt out” of such emails.

And what if you’re running a cold email campaign alongside your campaign for existing subscribers? It starts to get a little confusing, and that’s why most accountancy practices just give up at this point.

You need a system that manages mails, subscribers, non-subscribers, opt-ins and opt-outs seamlessly and professionally so that all you have to do is prepare the email and send it off.

The mail also needs to look professional.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tools that make all of the above possible.

1. MailerLite, MailChimp, GetResponse

If you’re looking for a platform which does only emailing then MailerLiteMailChimp or GetResponse might be the answer for you.

When I say “only” emailing, I don’t mean that the tools are not sophisticated. They are. And they offer advanced reporting, which can give you an idea of how each of your campaigns is performing.

The only “problem” (at least with MailerLite and MailChimp) is that they tend to be something of sticklers when it comes to taking on new accounts with existing email subscribers. They want to make sure that their platform is not used to send out spam and wish to know, specifically, where a list of subscribers was obtained from, and whether or not those subscribers are opt-in subscribers.

If you’re planning on sending emails to your client base, this might be a problem when MailChimp/MailerLite start vetting your account. You could contact their support team and discuss the matter with them, but it’s not guaranteed that they will allow you to open the account.

If you plan on getting new subscribers, however, each of the above options is relatively straightforward to use. They offer all the “usual” features of email marketing:

  1. Easy design interface
  2. Advanced reporting of user engagement
  3. Unsubscribe feature
  4. Audience profiles so individual emails can get sent to specific groups

These are the best options if your email campaign is simple. For larger accountancy practices, however, you’re probably going to want something that can integrate with your CRM.

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2. Keap (previously InfusionSoft)

Although there are plenty of email marketing tools out there that only do emailing, an accountancy firm of any respectable sized is better off using email marketing software that integrates with its CRM.

Keap is one of our favourite options in this respect. The software is “robust” and “effectively streamlines your marketing by combining your CRM, sales and marketing automation software and online store into one platform.”

It has all the expected features of an emailing software:

  1. Design-tools for creating professional-looking emails easily
  2. Analytics to be able to tell how much engagement the email obtained
  3. Tools to improve “deliverability”

“Deliverability” is an immense subject which gives every email marketing company nightmares. It is a complicated topic which has to do with ensuring that your email lands in someone’s inbox and not in their junk folder. The issue is out of the scope of this article, but you must know this: If you’re running your own in-house “marketing” campaign with your local email program, your deliverability will almost certainly eventually suffer.

3. Salesforce’s Email Studio and Marketing Cloud

Salesforce’s Email Studio forms part of its trailblazing Marketing Cloud platform which leverages sophisticated AI to best market to your clients. This is a premium offering, and definitely something to consider if your accountancy firm is somewhat large.

It does far more than merely managing email campaigns, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll stick with that feature.

Email Studio offers an easy-to-use drag-and-drop design tool. You can build email campaigns that respond automatically to triggers and send a follow-up email to users depending on the actions they take.

The tool has a steep learning curve because it can do so much, and if your accountancy firm is a high-end firm, this might be the platform for you.

Don’t ignore the tools

The backend and complexity of email campaigns are far more complicated than you might imagine. I touched briefly on the subject of deliverability. But there is far more to know about this:

  1. Where is the mail originating from?
  2. Is it coming from a “trusted” source?
  3. Does the email contain text which might be considered spammy?
  4. Does the email read like some spam currently doing the rounds on the internet?

If you send mail which gets incorrectly triggered as spam, it might have a detrimental effect on your ability to send your clients valid business emails in future, because your business mails will start landing in their junk folder.

Companies specialising in email campaigns go to great pains to provide you with the tools necessary to ensure your emails don’t get marked as spam.

On the subject of email campaigns, investment is the answer. Invest in a solution that saves you time and brings in a high ROI because your marketing emails are actually arriving, being opened, and being engaged with by their recipients.

3 Tools to Improve Your Accountancy Practice’s Advisory Functions

An accountant is not a financial adviser/planner and should not be offering investment advice unless he is qualified to do so. But the tight-margin industry of accounting forces accountants to be able to provide more and more services that our clients consider valuable.

One of those services is to advise our clients as to their cash flow and where we think they might be losing money. This is not investment advice per se, and it is essential to understand that difference.

In this respect, an accountant can indeed be a “Financial Advisor” if that advice relates to where the client might be losing money or spending too much. But if you really want to give your clients value for what they’re paying you a month, you’ll need to come up with something more in-depth in terms of financial advice.

One solution is forecasting and reporting tools.

1. Futrli

Futrli is our personal favourite when it comes to calculating potential cash flow problems for our clients, or to create highly sophisticated forecasts and reports using its “Advisor” features.

It comes in two primary flavours:

  1. Advisor for Accountants
  2. Flow for businesses

This latter is designed for businesses, although accounting practices can also use it. For this article, we’re going to focus on the former.

We’ve used it for years, and I can tell you from personal experience that the forecasts it provides are impressive. It gives “at a glance” insight into whether or not specific business actions might result in a profit or loss — invaluable data for a client to receive from his accountant.

Where Advisor for Accountants really shines is in its reports. In this tight-margin accountancy industry of ours, adding more services to our repertoire too often means adding more workload to our day-to-day grind. That’s not the philosophy here at We Run Your Practice. Our gameplan is all about reducing workload, and Futrli’s reporting features do just that.

Instead of you having to number-crunch the data into a customised Excel spreadsheet and generate homemade reports — or some other clunky solution as that — Futrli generates the reports on your behalf. You can then simply send those reports over to your client as-is for them to pore over.

Professional financial reports and forecasts which are of value to the client build trust and make for long-term businesses relationships — which is the bread-and-butter of an accountancy firm.

Futrli also offers a white-label solution so you can bake your own branding into the reports.

Futrli Advisor integrates with QB, Xero, Excel and MYOB.

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2. Fathom

Fathom is another forecasting giant which provides “Comprehensive financial intelligence, performance reporting, dashboards and consolidations,” to quote their website.

One of Fathom’s features which we consider extremely useful is its Goalseek functionality. Using this component, it is possible to tweak various drivers related to a KPI and thereby figure out how to achieve a pre-determined goal. This might actually mean reducing prices or volume in order to increase cash flow, and the internal algorithm which powers Goalseek and Fathom works out precisely what needs to be done to achieve that goal.

All the data can then be downloaded as a PDF and provided to your clients so they can make decisions about their finances.

Fathom integrates seamlessly with Xero, QBO, QuickBooks Desktop, MYOB and Excel.

3. Spotlight Forecasting & Reporting

Spotlight Reporting is a high-end tool which offers tremendous flexibility in its forecasting functionality. It provides an easy-to-use comparison feature which lets you quickly see differences between forecasts.

Spotlight’s lowest-priced plan begins where the highest-priced plans of the previous two offerings end off. It is definitely geared toward a premium market.

Like the other two tools, the more companies you wish to generate reports and forecasts for, the more costly the subscription will be.

Spotlight also integrates with Google Analytics.

Users report that Spotlight’s dashboards are top-notch.

Accountancy practices must urgently modernise

If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic taught us it’s that accountancy practices which are not up with the latest technology and service offerings will simply not survive unforeseen disruptions. Accountants tend to be a little too “old school”. Like the local DVD store which didn’t recognise changes in the way people accessed movies, and then collapsed, so will accountancy firms collapse which do not adapt to new times.

Even if COVID-19 hadn’t hit, one thing you must be sure of is that your competitors are absolutely making use of more and more tools to reduce their workload while increasing their service offerings.

Accountancy is a tough field to turn a profit in, and the only way to survive these changing times is to continually modernise, continually improve one’s service offerings while also reducing one’s workload.

As an accountancy practice owner, you must continuously look for new and innovative ways to keep your practice alive without working yourself into the ground.