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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
- Frees up your time considerably.
- Gives the client the sense they are receiving “Premium Service”.
- Improves service overall because clients don’t need to wait for your availability when there’s a problem.
- 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.