What can I outsource in my firm?

 

Outsourcing is no longer out of the ordinary. The outsourcing journey begins with accepting that.

We all know that the accounting profession has seen some big changes in the last decade – out with the old and in with the new, the more efficient and the most profitable. 

Some small firms with a handful of tax-only clients may be able to coast along for a while doing things the way they always have. But for those looking to grow and thrive, it’s a case of adapt or be replaced. 

That being said, it seems there’s still some lingering misunderstanding about outsourcing, what can be outsourced, and how it can contribute powerfully to the growth of your firm.

As far as we’re concerned, outsourcing isn’t about just getting some help with compliance.

It’s a tool to help you transform the nature of your interactions with your clients. 

 

Are you stuck hoping the dam won’t crumble?

 

When clients come to us, they’re usually overwhelmed in one way or another.

Remember the story about the little Dutch boy and the dam? 

In the popular fable, a little boy notices a crack in a dam. Since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, a leak in the dam could be a fatal disaster. So the little boy plugs the crack in the dam with his finger. The leaking stops. The little boy knows that if he moves, the hole will get bigger and bigger and the town will flood. 

When he is finally found, the boy is hailed the hero of holland! It’s a tale of bravery. The only problem? He is still the only solution for an imminent flood. 

We find many firms in the same position, stuck recruiting anyone and everyone to plug the holes in their own businesses before an imminent flood. Often we find the business owner is doing their own part to plug the dam. At this stage, we find the same issues stopping you from taking your firm to the next level:

  • You just don’t have enough staff or time to find them
  • Your existing staff are doing work at the wrong level 
  • You’re doing, rather than advising as the Business Owner
  • Your team don’t have the skills required for you to scale up
  • You’re unable to retain staff long term
  • Your top talent are recruited by bigger firms with more to offer

Our solution?

 

Build a damn wall

 

Instead of trying to fill the gaps with anyone who is willing, change the structure of the way you do business. Build a wall so that you’re never fighting floods and you can do the work that is going to be the most profitable for you. 

That being said, you don’t have to be in a tax work crisis for outsourcing to work for you. You can outsource at different levels within your business, to allow you to deliver more than just accounts, or find the skill set to break the barrier into advisory work. 

We created the outsourcing journey, to help you identify where you are right now, but most importantly to show you what’s possible. From all of our experience working globally with firms like yours, we’ve identified that this is the route that leads to scalable growth and profitability.

Start – Everything is being done in-house. You’re maintaining, not growing.

Regular User – We combat capacity by starting with one process and nailing it. By outsourcing accounts and/or bookkeeping, you’re scaling up your team’s hours for higher level work.

Strategic user – Getting to strategic level is exciting, because you’re able to revisit your internal roles and really start to level up your team. At this point, you’re outsourcing reporting and the team are reviewing rather than preparing. Your Account Managers are able to step up and have more conversations with the clients. 

Strategic + – At this point, outsourcing is your default method for accounting, bookkeeping and reporting. You now have the ability to increase your billable rates and your departments capability. At this level, your outsourced team are giving prime delivery, allowing your team even more time for advisory work. 

Growth – You have built the wall. You’re growing at a fast rate, with the right structure for having the very best conversations with clients, and the right team skillset to support your client base.

 

It’s not just about freeing up your time, it’s about what you use your time for

 

Ask yourself why you became an accountant. 

You are the most valuable person to your client, which means that you need to focus on what they value the most in order for your own firm to be more successful. If you’re stuck doing work at the wrong level, you’ll eventually become obsolete in the eyes of your clients.

Whether you need to build a wall to allow you time to find the right staff, or get your existing staff in the right seats for scalable growth, or you just want to do more of what you enjoy – outsourcing to a trusted team can help you accomplish your goals.  

Clear on where you are in the journey? Tell us what you need

We don’t really need to tell you that Making Tax Digital is well underway – it’s been at the forefront of most accountant’s minds ever since HMRC first announced their rollout plans two years ago. 

It has been the focus of most accounting events, many many talks, and countless webinars. But so far, there’s been a lot of negative rhetoric around tax going digital:. 

  • It’s coming
  • Better hurry
  • Biggest change to tax system in 20 years
  • If you’re not ready, you’ll face penalties.
  • How to make MTD pain free
  • Are you ready?

As an accountant and adviser there is a big opportunity in Making Tax Digital, and it’s all about how you frame this change to your clients. 

 

The benefit of Making Tax Digital isn’t digital tax

You might be finding it difficult to communicate the benefits of MTD to your clients because you feel like it’s a burden to ask them to step up and do more, more often. 

It may feel like the only benefit you’re getting from MTD is that it’ll keep your clients on their toes. It’s a good excuse to hammer home that they can’t be late submitting records to you, but little else. 

 

Reframe the value

MTD has big business benefits for your clients. That benefit to them isn’t that tax is going digital. They don’t care about the formalities of submissions – that’s your remit. The benefit is the value they’ll get from moving their accounts over to the cloud.

  • It’ll eliminate their fear of costly mistakes
  • They can transform the productivity of their business and better prioritise their time
  • They’ll be able to predict issues before they arise
  • They’ll cut costs and will have more available cash 
  • They’ll have the tools to grow their business
  • They’ll be in complete control of their business as it does grow

Not to mention that moving to cloud software allows your clients to have an upgraded relationship with you. You’ll become more like a strategic business partner than an accountant. 

 

Your confidence transfers to your clients 

For many business owners, Making Tax Digital is a blip on their radar. They’ve got lots of other things to think about to keep their business running day to day. They’ll likely be leaving all the MTD stuff in your hands, and putting their confidence in you, because you’re the tax expert.

That means that you need to have confidence in the value you’re delivering, rather than fearful of the implications of HMRC demanding more. If you’re scared about your ability to deliver, your message will be wrong. 

The thing is – you can deliver it! You likely already are…

Think about your best client – one who’s already moved to cloud software and seen success. Think of how it has transformed their business. You know the value, because you’re seeing it in the work you’re already doing for your clients. 

You just need to look beyond the features of cloud accounting – the apps themselves or the ease of bookkeeping. Instead think about the emotional benefits – less anxiety, more confidence, more time at home, more control, more money, more status. 

Many of you will already know and be using some form of pricing and onboarding software. Whichever platform you use for generating proposals and automating the process, what these products are really offering Accountants is a tool to price consistently, sell more confidently and grow more profitably. 

What are the top three emotional benefits of moving to the cloud, specific to your clients? Create your next conversation around those next time you talk about tax going digital. 

And if you want further accountability in creating those relationships with clients, then talk to us about our Growth Academy, designed to help you move away from deadline driven work and become a master of deep, systematic change.

 

Is outsourcing the same as offshoring?

 

In short, no. 

But we won’t end the blog there, because this is one of the most common hesitations from firms who are new to the idea of outsourcing, or just starting to dip their toes in. There’s a big misunderstanding that outsourcing and offshoring are just two different words for the same thing. 

The compact answer

 

Offshoring = giving work to a third party overseas, or moving functions of your own business function overseas

Outsourcing = giving work to a third party anywhere

 

Offshoring explained

The word ‘offshore’ has some negative connotations to it, especially in the world of finance. Don’t worry – when we talk about offshoring here, it has nothing to do with international banking. Offshoring refers to a business contracting work out to another country, or moving their own business abroad, in order to take advantage of favourable economic conditions.

Offshoring isn’t exclusive to product manufacturing. It is becoming more common for businesses to offshore processes to companies overseas where the cost of labour is lower. It’s all legit and there’s nothing to stop you doing so. 

Outsourcing explained

Outsourcing refers simply to the practice of hiring a third party or individual to carry out work that has historically been carried out in-house. You can outsource to a service provider anywhere, in order to utilisee greater expertise, or free up more time for you to focus on the work you love, that you’re best at. That service provider may be in the same country or even the same local area as you, or they may be overseas. So as you can see, offshoring is in essence outsourcing, but outsourcing isn’t always offshore

 

The decision to outsource should not be driven by the desire for cheap work

Where the confusion between offshoring and outsourcing is most detrimental is the perceived benefit of cheap labour – that the point of either is to simply deliver your existing services or products at a cheaper cost. Saving money is desirable, of course. Who doesn’t love to save money? But you may find that spending less money results in a higher cost to your relationships with clients. 

Our clients don’t outsource to us because they want us to do the more manual work at a cheaper rate. For starters, how would you go about deciding what your ‘cheaper’ work is?

Your compliance function is your core work – the work that needs to be done well and done consistently. It isn’t something you want just anyone to do. You certainly don’t want to compromise your high level reporting and life-changing advice for the sake of cheap rates either. 

Our clients work with us for our expertise in the industry of accounting, for our desire to make them more proactive in delivering value to their clients – but mostly because they have the right mindset. 

 

Outsourcing is driven by a growth mindset

It’s not about saving money, but it’s also not exclusive to the big firms either. We’ve worked with Sole Practitioners, two office practices, multi-partner practices and major international groups. We’ve found it’s not about the size, it’s about the attitude. The firms that see the most success are those who are able to look at their current offering and say “I want to be able to do more”. Those who don’t want to be stuck doing compliance only. Those who don’t want to see staff leave to do higher level work elsewhere. Those who want to be an integral part of their client’s business strategy instead of waiting on a monthly conversation. 

We wrote more about those kind of firms here.

 

Do you want to:

 

  • Do more of the work you love?
  • Improve the client experience by having the time to offer more value?
  • Free up space to train more of the team to deliver your high level work?
  • Have the processes in place to make more profit?

 

 

Ask yourself what it is you want to achieve, and then take a look at outsourcing journey and to see how you can start on the path to achieving it. 

Premium service will come in useful for practices that use outsourcing strategically

“If you commit to AdvanceTrack, we’ll commit to you.” That’s the message from AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth, having launched a premium “Amazon Prime-style” service for its top clients at its annual conference.

“The new service is aimed at clients that use outsourcing strategically, rather than just an overflow capability,” Sheth told the 120 attendees at AdvanceTrack’s annual June event in London.

“We’re saying to firms that if you see outsourcing as a strategic delivery resource, we will support that with a higher level of service.

“What we’ve seen is that the firms that use us regularly and strategically grow faster and deliver higher levels of service. The irregular, overflow users, haven’t fixed their workflow and process problems.”

The use of outsourcing frees up practices’ best people to spend time with clients, rather than entering data. “As a result, they deliver more and better value to the client base,” said Sheth.

AdvanceTrack has made a number of key investments in recent months. The outsourcing specialist has increased the number of
account managers working with its accounting firms, while upgrading its core systems.

“Investment in tech is helping us manage differing levels of service so we can do so consistently and grow headcount to help,” said Sheth.

 

Grow with our Academy

Also announced at AdvanceTrack’s ‘The Client Journey’ conference was its Growth Academy, in partnership with Paul Shrimpling.

It’s about deep, habitual, systemic change to set up your firm for a bright, profitable future, and is for 1-5 partner firms that want profits and the capital value of their firm to change.

The academy is focused on two main areas: accountability and motivation. You’ll be held accountable with regular calls and visits to review the actions you’ve committed to and to agree any next steps.

Not only that, but the academy will have a profound impact on how you and your team feel about the core work at your firm, which will in turn help your team enjoy the work they do.

Firms that have gone through the academy have experienced tremendous results: increased staff retention, improved profits, extra work and higher fees. If those are the results you’re looking for, and you want to make a change to remain competitive, then this is the next step for you.

Understanding the value you provide as an accountant is the key that opens up opportunities to create a robust and clear pricing strategy. A key theme in AdvanceTrack’s recent ‘The Client Journey’ annual conference, Kevin Reed discovers the attitude – and action – required to increase your fees.

“Accountants, as a breed, are intrinsically embarrassed about having to charge and how much they cost,” states former Price Bailey executive chairman Peter Gillman.

It’s quite an opening gambit in the game that is understanding your value as a practitioner and charging appropriately for it.

There has been a bias towards conservative and “slightly introverted” people in the profession. Clients can sense this, and will leap on an accountant apologising for a cost.

Accountants therefore need to turn things around, and think from a client’s point of view as to what value they provide.

For example, bookkeeping has always been viewed as low value: a manual-intensive process that provides out-of-date information for compliance purposes only. The value comes from being able to produce timely and accurate financial information – data which can be interpreted by an expert to help the business make decisions.

“Can you help a client understand why costs are going up disproportionately to turnover? Can you do that? So many accountants merely shove the [basic information] in front of clients,” suggests Gillman.

This type of thinking is exactly what occurred to Paul Barnes, founder and MD of Manchester-based practice MAP.

“One of the first things I did [when MAP was launched] was list all the services I would like as a business owner – it’s about being in the client’s shoes and what solutions can be made available to them,” explains Barnes.

Then, with each line of service, no matter how small, Barnes set about putting a price against it – and considering how to differentiate it based on type/size of client or their requirement.

Barnes sees that accountants are “scared” about upselling services because clients “won’t pay more”. For MAP, there is a simple and clear message for clients: the cost of using MAP’s offerings is far less than hiring an in-house accountant or setting up a nascent finance function.

“One of the strengths and weaknesses for accountants is that there are so many clients, and it’s easy to win them,” says Barnes. “They’re coming in their droves because they have a fear of getting into trouble. So, the accountant has to break out of signing clients on their fear, and spend a bit longer thinking about what they need rather than what they ask for.

“You can then craft a package that helps the client mature as a business, rather than them clinging on with you at the bare minimum. Any firm can win business but going through the motions of selling the same simple stuff is not inspiring or rewarding.”

 

1. Walk before you run: Start with the basics (accounting and so on)

While most accountants are well-versed in the benefits of cloud accounting, the plethora of information and apps can be hard to navigate and make applicable for your own practice – particularly if long-established.

For Trent McLaren, global head of accounting and sales at Practice Ignition, it’s important that firms walk before they run. And the first step is to get a select number of clients onto the cloud – which creates an opportunity to produce monthly bookkeeping and reporting based on up-to-date income and expenses information.

“I’ll tell a lot of firms we chat to that it’s ‘too early’ for them: we can be the catalyst but they need to start with a smaller bucket of clients they want to work with more often and show them the extra things you’ll offer them, business goals support or regular KPI reporting,” says McLaren. “Then, your pricing revolves around that.

“You have to start somewhere and often it’s breaking down the yearly accounting to quarterly or monthly.”

And, as the practice itself is billed monthly to access tech subscriptions, “it forces firms to think differently about their own pricing” and consider regular client billing – not just waiting until a year-end ‘task’ is completed.

“Once you have the monthly reporting or meeting with the client, then other services come into play,” says McLaren.

 

2. Make sure you have a decent proposal tool set up

What is the experience of an established practice looking to think about what constitutes client value, and whether that means changing both what they offer, and how they offer it?

For Wood and Disney, an Essex-based practice, a discussion at AdvanceTrack’s annual conference two years ago was a pivotal moment.

“We had a chat with GoProposal’s James Ashford,” explains Wood and Disney senior client manager David Rudd. GoProposal is a pricing and proposal technology launched by both Ashford and MAP’s Paul Barnes.

“Historically we used a spreadsheet that contained details of three different pricing models based on turnover and different offerings, but we’d got to the stage where it wasn’t working well,” says Rudd.

Wood and Disney started using GoProposal and since then has adapted the pricing to suit its needs.

“For example, we quote on accounts production a year in advance: they tell us what they’re going to provide us in terms of bookkeeping and then we also price dependent on turnover,” says Rudd.

Historically the firm “gave bookkeeping away”, admits Rudd, “without realising its value”.

“It’s actually the most valuable thing we do as it’s fundamental to everything else,” he says.

Building a quote requires face-to-face time with a client, prospective or otherwise, which drives contact and conversation.

A systemised approach also improves governance, with Rudd’s bosses able to check the pricing overview quickly. “We’ve created a system that’s fair to everyone, transparent and we can explain to clients why and how we do the job – they understand what you’re doing,” says Rudd.

The next, logical, step for the firm has been to move away from timesheets. “We’ve binned those off and now have an hourly average rate, which means we can track roughly the amount is coming in and how much time that will take,” he says. “The next step is for us to monitor capacity.

“We now understand we’re doing a job that helps people and we should value it appropriately. And we needed technology to help us do this in a systemised way.”

 

Vipul’s view


AdvanceTrack’s MD and founder gives his take on practices’ value

I’ve said to many practitioners: Don’t sell them bookkeeping…sell the outputs and the conversations.

Of course, in order to do that you will need technology and it helps if you’re doing the bookkeeping.

The moment it’s just about doing the books, then the client will immediately think of someone undertaking it at the kitchen table, rather than what you can offer: well-qualified and professional staff who analyse and interpret information.

You have to be brave and price on value. If you recognise the value you deliver and the client can see that value, it makes it easier to be brave in that conversation.

For AdvanceTrack, it’s about using technology with our skilled team in India to deliver the processing of data, which frees up your skilled people to undertake that analysis and interrogation.

It’s safe to say that AdvanceTrack’s 2019 conference was a great success, with the most attendees ever at one of our now annual events

This year’s theme at AdvanceTrack’s 2019 conference was about building a first-class client experience. A range of speakers, including Paul Shrimpling, Iwoca’s Richard Sutton, The Profitable Firm’s Karen Reyburn and My Accountancy Place’s Paul Barnes, spoke at length about how digitising processes and thinking carefully about the interactions you have (or don’t) with your client will have a massive impact on how they value your service.

MD Vipul Sheth gave the introductory speech, talking at depth about the “journey that data takes through your organisation”, in tandem with how you deal with people.

“It’s about creating time and opportunity for you to speak to more people, that’s what AdvanceTrack is here for,” he said.

Sheth added that most firms’ staff, in five years’ time, will be technologically adept, and that bookkeeping services and management is “essential in terms of delivering a regular conversation”.

 

Building an onboarding process

The Profitable Firm’s Karen Reyburn gave an inspiring talk on using simple technology to build an onboarding process. She referred to the importance of “drip-feeding” information back and forth between yourself and the client during the process, and is not to be rushed so as not to overwhelm them.

Paul Barnes, founder of firm My Accountancy Place, spoke at length about how to set a pricing strategy.

Using GoProposal methodology, alongside bundled pricing, Barnes spoke about the importance of discussing the needs of a potential client face-to-face. When their needs are understood, the bundle can then be moulded to meet their needs. If required, the offering can be itemised so they can see exactly how much the range of services cost.

“If they were to hire an accountant in-house, we use that to contextualise our costs,” he explained. “You’re effectively an outsourced finance function.

“We’re iterating our services and pricing almost daily. Value pricing isn’t easy,” he added. “So make sure you charge on factors and outcomes.”

Nikki Adams, of practice Ad Valorem, said the conference “was great” for two reasons: “I was enthralled with some of the sessions where industry-leading specialists were able to paint the picture of the next stage of the cloud accounting transition for practices of all sizes; it also helped to benchmark us against, and network with, other forward-thinking accountants. We came away buzzing with ideas.”

Wood and Disney’s David Rudd said: “The AdvanceTrack conference re-affirmed that we’re on the right track but have more to do to digitise and optimise our processes. [It had] great speakers and [it was] good to catch up with friends old and new.”

Accountants hit conference season with a bang at the start of May, attending both AdvanceTrack’s annual event and Accountex. Kevin Reed covers the main messages coming out of a busy but fascinating three days

On 1-2 May, Europe’s biggest accounting and finance show Accountex saw a record-busting 9,063 attendees – an event in which AdvanceTrack was delighted to take part.

We spoke to some of the key participants to find out what their new products and services are, along with views on the current issues impacting accountants’ working lives. Key topics included: how some accountants and clients have moved down ‘the digital path’ while others still delay; and differing views on the direction of travel set by MTD bridging software.

 

QuickBooks

QuickBooks’ Making Tax Digital Product Suite was being demonstrated at the show, including bridging software. These new tools, and their importance to the marketplace, were a key focus of our discussion with its sales director Nick Williams.

Williams said there had been “lots of work” by accountants to bring themselves and clients towards MTD compliance, and bridging software was a step on that journey for many.

Its pre-Accountex research found that 89% of small businesses were now aware of MTD, with 84% believing they were now compliant.

And for those accountancy firms using MTD as a catalyst for transforming into a cloud-based adviser, there was more good sentiment. QucikBooks also found that 49% of respondents believe MTD will have a positive effect on their business – up from 37% since March.

“The transition to MTD was never going to be without its stumbling blocks for accounting professionals and small businesses, but it is pleasing to see increasing numbers realising the time, efficiency and cost-saving benefits that digitisation can bring,” said Williams.

He believes that the bridging technology, which some industry insiders believe should only sit in place for a year, will continue to be used beyond that period by some advisers and their clients.

“We’ll always see customers in need of support – that will remain with bridging,” he said.

Williams also referenced a number of other innovations, including SmartLook – which enables QuickBooks to work quickly and interactively to resolve any problems users may have via a one-way video feed and screen-sharing; and Online Advanced Payroll – enabling accountants and payroll bureaux to manage multiple businesses with complex payroll needs.

 

IRIS

Accountants are “bridging the digital divide”, believes IRIS chief marketing officer Nick Gregory.

IRIS also released new statistics for the Accountex launch: some 215,000 documents were e-approved between accountants and their clients via its OpenSpace document sharing platform in January 2019 – a 328% increase on January 2018.

“Accountants are recognising that they have to be online,” Gregory told InsideOutsourcing.

Gregory said that IRIS’s customers were “pushing” the technology house to enable them to use a more “open” software stack and access via mobile devices.

“We want to use data to deliver more from a productivity point, and to link with third-party applications,” he said.

A key part of this process will be an online “platform” from which services can be accessed – the first application it will make available is an anti-money laundering solution this summer. “You’ll be able to onboard clients and run all the necessary checks,” said Gregory.

 

MyFirmsApp

“Many accountants are thinking: ‘I’ve got my cloud clients and they’ll be fine with MTD… but what about the great unwashed?’,” said MyFirmsApp head of product management and customer experience Mike Page, when describing how to deal with swathes of clients that still haven’t moved to digital bookkeeping.

Page sees the app as providing a simple solution to get accountants’ clients moving on the digital path. Its new platform will launch in the summer, providing a new user interface for both accountants and their clients. A new version of receipt capture will also be introduced.

MyFirmsApp has also produced “The Definitive Guide to Bridging Software”, after viewing what it described as a “baffling array” of options.

 

CountingUp

Millions of pounds could be flowing into the coffers of CountingUp, with up to £12m sought in the near future to drive more product development and marketing.

The bookkeeping and banking app is “100% on board with accountants”, chief commercial officer Andrew Garvey said, viewing them as “the most important part of our business”.

“With 4.5 million microbusinesses out there we know how hard it is to get them to use accounting tech,” said Garvey.

Accountants still have many clients “not using anything” to manage their bookkeeping and tax data. “We’re trying to make accountants’ life easier,” he concluded.

In the next year Garvey expects to see greater convergence between accounting and banking from a technology perspective.

 

AdvanceTrack

A new way to help you transform your firm has been developed by AdvanceTrack. The AdvanceTrack Growth Academy has been launched to guide practice owners and seniors towards positive change for their practice.

In partnership with well-respected consultant Paul Shrimpling, the academy aims to have a profound impact on how you and your team feel about the core work at your firm, in turn helping your team enjoy the work it undertakes.

The academy is focused on two main areas: accountability and motivation. You’ll be held accountable with regular calls and visits to review the actions you’ve committed to and agree any steps.

AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth said the programme would not only inspire accountants to make change, but provide them with the support to deliver. “It can be very lonely at the top,” he said. “We believe that the academy will provide both a strong support network, accountability and ongoing practical advice to help you take positive action to improve how your firm operates.”

 

What has technology-driven change meant for practitioners at the coalface? We get the detail from four accountants about how their role has evolved as part of creating a fit-for-purpose and modern practice.


Stephen Smallwood is managing director of Herefordshire-based practice Thorne Widgery.

What’s your current role?

As managing director, I try and run the business ‘as a business’. For the running of the business, the fact that I’m an accountant is almost incidental. I do much less client work than I used to.

I’ve always enjoyed tech work more than compliance. I get a great deal of satisfaction from making IT systems work and delivering value, rather than filling in a statutory report.

We’ve been actively involved in moving from a traditional practice to one of the leading proponents of IT systems – not hardware and cables, but systems for how you run your business. We were awarded Small Firms Innovator of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards last year.

How has your role developed, and why?

In the past five to ten years, I’ve moved from being a typical, though progressive, accountant serving clients, to being a director of a business that operates in the professional services sector.

We’re using Xero and its practice management module (XPM) and have converted to the cloud. We love it for our clients, but to my astonishment we’ve also ended up helping other accounting practices get the best out of modern and accessible software by helping them evolve their own back office. Altogether it has completely revolutionised how we go about things.

What has that meant for the running of the practice? Is it part of a broader strategic change?

I’d say that supporting other practices is now 15% of our business, which has developed from ‘Xero’ over the last three years. No accountant is normally allowed to get close and personal with other firms of accountants, but we do because of our knowledge of XPM. The result of that is we get to see some really interesting, good examples of practices, and we learn as well.

Our screens are full of pictures and graphs that allow us to analyse up-to-date information and find trends.

Do you prefer what you’re doing now?

It’s so exciting and so much more fun. Hereford is a small pond for us to fish so it has got us out and about and we’ve become a national practice.


Nathan Lewis is a client relationship manager at Bristol-based d&t Chartered Accountants.

What’s your current role?

As tax senior within the practice, I look at tax compliance and returns – along with some advisory work as well. I help junior members of staff, alongside dealing with HMRC enquiries – my background as someone who worked for the Inland Revenue and then during its merger to become HM Revenue & Customs helps.

How has your role developed, and why?

I see it as an evolution of tasks. The first online tax returns filed at the Revenue were printed off and then manually entered. And then, as I went into practice, tax software meant that boxes of clients’ receipts were no longer required.

Tech has also changed us from being a local company to an international one, where we can communicate over Skype. With Xero and QuickBooks you can even ‘take over’ a client’s desktop to show them how to use the software.

These tech platforms allow us to have much quicker access to client information. This allows us to review it more quickly, and plan for the future, rather than view information retrospectively.

What has it meant for the running of the practice and client service?

The tech enables one-man-band-style accountants to do more; so we have to use information and increase our value to clients – show them the extra things we can do.

The tax landscape is going to continue to change – HMRC wants to reduce the number of returns it receives – so we will look to offer more advisory-focused services and tax planning rather than looking backwards.

Up-to-date information is going to become even more important. Look at IHT for example, having the ability to see a client’s position and plan things such as gifts out of income for the years ahead.


Andrew Perrettis cloud accounting manager at TC Group (formerly Taylorcocks).

What’s your current role?

It covers lots of different things: the main role is to review cloud software and help staff and clients use technology. For clients, I help them with the scoping process to best choose tech solutions, then onto implementation and training.

As there’s only one of me, I’m also training team members so they can offer basic advice around accountancy software and add-ons.

How has your role developed, and why?

The role began officially in January 2018. I’ve been at TC for more than 11 years, qualifying as an accountant and then working with another manager to support a partner with their portfolio of clients.

I was looking after fewer clients than the other manager but my clients required more work: bookkeeping, monthly accounts, management reports. And then we looked at a way of managing my clients more effectively. Between the partner and myself we developed a process to get clients onto Xero using automated invoice capture, through to bookkeeping and reporting. With every client on the same process it made the whole thing much smoother.

Once we had 30 clients onboard, we looked to take it out across our other offices. I became more internally focused during 2017 as this process went on – and so I transitioned over my clients to other staff towards the end of that year.

What has it meant for the running of the practice and client service?

All bookkeeping across offices is done on Xero – we had shied away from the service because it wasn’t profitable. Now we actively go to win that and their whole process.

We do very much report back to clients – adding value through meeting people and discussing their up-to-date information.

Do you prefer what you’re doing now?

It’s exciting: working with staff and seeing our offices; working with clients on projects that provide value to them, teaching them about tech they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.

My work is less accountancy-focused now, but clearly I retain the fundamentals. I do lots of CPD-accredited training related to my role – so it’s not a problem keeping that up.


David Rudd is senior client manager and business growth accountant at Colchester-based Wood and Disney, an AdvanceTrack client.

What’s your current role?

If a client has any issue I’m there to help them deal with it. Sometimes that can be historic compliance issues, but more recently it’s about ‘where they want to go’, ‘what will be the impact of me doing A, B or C’.

I’ll try and get to the heart of it – to understand what they really want to do; often their direction is not tax-related at all.

How has your role developed?

I’ve been here three years. At first it was similar to what I’d done before: accounts; corporate tax; and returns. Now everything’s in the cloud and in one place it becomes much easier to project forward for our clients – this leads to project work that isn’t about just compliance.

One client had 50% of turnover tied up in debtors – we then became their back office so they could focus on the business. Now they’ve progressed and have their own bookkeeper, and we have moved onto strategic analysis at board level – they have a bigger team and the next set of issues to deal with, but their financial performance has skyrocketed.

I now look at tech and see if it can break… then, if it works, how can we evolve it to make it even better for us? We’ve looked at every process, every single thing we do – can we do it better, find a way to evolve it, or speed it up to get a better result for the client?

What has that meant for the running of the practice?

It means we’re more goals-focused, which leads us to ask clients where they want to get to.

Using AdvanceTrack to take on accounts preparation and bookkeeping has freed us up to do other things.

While this created the opportunity for us to do different things, we then had to structure the team to work suited to them. We created an organisational structure to work out where we needed to head. Then we underwent DISC profiling to understand what people liked and what they should be doing.

If clients need specialist advice we now have strategic alliances in place… nearly every decision they make, they ask us first.

If we solve those problems then the tech will never replace that, because it’s about trust and helping people, that’s how we look at it. Tech’s not enough to solve the complex problems people face.

Have you had to learn new things?

It’s certainly taught me how to better speak to clients, and then I flipped it [onto managing director Peter Disney and operations director Brendon Howlett] and did it to them…

I’d never had or taken a board meeting or ‘taken charge’ of things – so that’s been transformative for me. That’s all from Brendon and Peter pushing me. I’ve also had some soft skills training, which was massively important – to better understand people.

AdvanceTrack is gearing up for a busy time with two big events coming up

It’s events-frenzy for AdvanceTrack, with attendance at Accountex and its own conference just around the corner.

Accountex London is held on 1-2 May at Excel. AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth will once again be at the show with his team, on stand 516 (by the entrance).

Sheth expects Making Tax Digital, which has been in force from 1 April, to be front and centre of conversations across the two days.

“Practices will be talking about MTD and the knock-on effects of the legislation,” says Sheth. “Their clients will be saying ‘we don’t want to do the bookkeeping’… but the accountants can’t really create value out of doing it themselves.”

That is where AdvanceTrack can step in. “Practitioners will ask us whether we can take on this bookkeeping – of course we can,” says Sheth. “We agree with the practice what the technology stack will look like and then get down to the detail.”

  • It’s not all about Accountex, of course. AdvanceTrack’s Client Conference 2019, held on 30 April, is also one of the big dates in the calendar. For those of you that have read our main feature, you will have seen that expert speaker and author Paul Shrimpling is talking at our conference. Other speakers include Ashleigh Lambert, Karen Reyburn and Matt Flanagan.

The ‘client journey’ will be the central theme of this year’s event, which will cover pricing, marketing, onboarding and more. We hope that attendees will learn about taking action and driving change in their practice.

Our next issue will cover some of the highlights of the show.

A year’s a long time…

… In the accounting practice space! Last year’s AdvanceTrack conference saw more than 100 practitioners and tech experts discuss our theme: the business growth accountant. MTD and GDPR – those dreaded acronyms – were front and centre of discussions. In a world of great change and uncertainty, alongside legislative-driven pressure, how can you structure your operations to best serve clients – and at a profit?

Last year’s event illustrated to accountants the importance of building client relationships by having more up-to-date information about them, particularly on the bookkeeping front. While much has moved on in the last 12 months, this thread will continue in our next event.

“I’m driving home the message about our investment in technology to run an efficient and reliable service to our client firms, and an increasing focus on building a scalable bookkeeping service,” said AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth. “What you really need to consider is you have a set of skills that can change clients’ lives. You must understand the finances, their industry and the whole thing put together – that’s really your role.”

The accounting profession is sometimes accused of lacking creativity. But before compliance and process, there comes ideas. Kevin Reed has curated key words of inspiration from some of accountancy’s expert commentators to help set a path towards practice transformation

“Create a life of freedom”

Amanda Watts is a business and marketing coach, founder of The Pioneering Practice Programme and creator of the British Accounting Marketing Awards.

You’re not in accountancy for the sake of it – it’s to give you the life you want and the life your clients want.

I often have accountants and business owners say to me, “I can’t attract the right staff or clients”… Well, as the leader you have to show up to the game – you have to set the culture and direction, then share it.

If you think everything you need to do to promote your business is just about marketing, then you’re missing the point. Create a life of freedom for you, your staff and your clients.

It’s about being true to yourself and creating something that you want. You haven’t set up an accounting practice for the sake of it, you’ve done it because of other goals, such as going sailing or to have a great life with your children.

 

“The next ten years in the accounting profession will bring greater profitability… for the lucky few”

Mark Wickersham is a chartered accountant, public speaker and author – he is well known as a profit improvement expert in the accounting community. His 2011 book, Effective Pricing for Accountants, was a number 1 Amazon best seller.

Accountants work too long hours for too little profit with increasing pressure on price. That has been the case for the last two decades. But things are changing.

The rapid pace of change in technology, cloud adoption and automation is forcing the profession to look to new ways to add value for clients. The future is advisory, not compliance. The future is interpreting the data, not recording the data.

This future lends itself to a different business model, a model of leverage and scale, not billing based on time.

And when we combine that with pricing based on value (not time spent), accountants will find they are earning more than ever before.

I say “for the lucky few” because unfortunately, many in the profession don’t want to change. They cling to the past. They keep their time sheets. They continue to focus on compliance services.

Yes, if you are one of the few ready to grasp change, the future is looking rosy.

 

“Don’t create a strategy without the detailed operational plan to deliver it”

Peter Gillman is the former managing partner and chairman of Price Bailey, leading it through a period of growth and development to become a Top 20 firm.

A practice’s executive board needs a mix of skills: creative; pragmatic/commercial; operational; and people-orientated.

I worked with a brilliant board that combined these attributes. It included inspirational creatives that were sometimes high maintenance, but so important to creating an ambitious and successful business.

Not all colleagues could understand their value and needed me to be an intermediary at times.

The commercial people and the pragmatists would see the ideas that have client/colleague value, or were unlikely to work. The operational people would understand the detailed steps required to deliver the plan. The people-orientated folk would understand the sensitivities and communication needs to enable colleagues to accept change.

As for ‘perspiration’… It is really hard work to operationally deliver change. It’s remorseless – but sensitive management is required to say “this is where we need to get to and this is the timescale that we envisage to get there”.

Accountancy firms, in broad terms, employ above-average intelligence people. That can be positive (they are thoughtful, receptive and understand business needs), and less positive (they have ideas of their own that might work for them but are inconsistent with the strategy/operational needs).

Respect for the executive is key to implementation and that respect is achieved through treating people the right way, aligned to commercial success.

 

“Manage self-belief. Do that and everything else follows”

Paul Shrimpling is the MD of Remarkable Practice. He has advised owners and managers of accounting firms for more than 16 years, and recently wrote The Business Growth Accountant.

I’ve had to take managing partners to one side and say: “Your job is to inspire your people and your clients.”

As a client or staff member, do you want an optimist in the room or a pessimist? Of course you want someone that’s going to help them achieve greater things. They want positive support.

The role of an accountant – either for the client or their team – is as the promoter and arbiter of certainty.

To help clients increase their certainty about the future, you’re someone who can interpret numbers. Part of analysing numbers has been to look at those in the past, but now it’s about looking forwards.

And once you’re interpreting that information and having those conversations, then how do you habituate it? That’s the perspiration bit…

  • Paul will be speaking at the AdvanceTrack Client Conference 2019. For more details, email advice@advancetrack.com.

 

“Accountants will become an unstoppable force for good”

Steve Pipe (pictured right) is a researcher, adviser, business author, speaker, trainer, strategist and FCA. He describes himself as “committed to helping accountants run their practices in ways that serve their clients and the world better”. The following is an edited and abridged extract from his upcoming book, When Good, Then Good.

The ground-breakers have shown how easy, quick, affordable and rewarding it is to help the world achieve the UN Global Goals by making a small change to their business models. The goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

That simple change is to ensure that when something good happens in your business, something good also happens in the world. For example:

  • When something good happens in your business, such as receiving a referral, winning a customer, making a sale, delivering a service, getting paid on time, receiving a testimonial and so on…
  • Something good also happens in the world– because, for example, you give a child access to food, water, sanitation or education.

Because we are numbers people, the profession will soon realise that the cost of being a ‘Business for Good’ is tiny. It will also recognise that the tiny cost (for instance, such as the $1.85 it costs to provide grain seeds that will grow into a year’s worth of food for a child in Africa) of making something good happen in the world can easily be funded out of the much larger amount of money and other benefits generated when good things (such as new clients, sales and on time payments) happen in their businesses.

Some parts of the profession are leading the way in rising to the challenge of the UN Global Goals. Regardless of whether they use the label ‘Business for Good’, they are showing us a better way that is already making life better for us all.

Soon, the rest of the profession will follow them, spearheading a movement that really will change the world. And accountants will become an unstoppable force for good.