A phrase heard at an accounting conference led Nikki Adams, director at Ad Valorem, and her managing partner to change tack in their approach to running their practice and now, with AdvanceTrack’s help, they’re reaping the rewards

Nikki, tell us about your practice

We were a traditional practice in terms of our offering – although myself and managing partner Nigel Adams came from industry. Our practice did the same as others for the first eight years, but we got fed up – we weren’t making enough money and it was hard.

After attending a national accounting conference, we changed our focus, and our mantra became making the business ‘scaleable and saleable’. We set out to create a £2m practice… clients wanted tax so we looked to build that as a specialism.

Our practice is more advisory-led and includes a strong R&D tax claims service. We also consider ourselves more commercially-focused than many other practices.

 

When did you start using AdvanceTrack, and why?

As a practice we’d struggled getting our head around ‘the cloud’ at the start, and how we’d implement it. We were frustrated and a bit behind the curve. Then we set up a ‘Millennial Club’; under-25s who said what they thought the practice of the future would be – and they’ve led our cloud offering.

In 2016 we started bringing in cloud clients and convert existing clients. We now have ten new clients a month coming in.

The only way to handle this was having the AdvanceTrack offering to manage our rate of growth.

We’re very open with clients as to how and where the work’s done. If clients want advisory, we’d rather them spend money on advice than their bill being simply for putting a set of accounts together.

 

What impact has AdvanceTrack had on the running of your practice?

It has enabled us to allow more junior members of staff to access clients earlier in their career – becoming ‘client managers’ as ‘assistant accountants’. Even a trainee will have a portfolio of clients for whom they’re responsible. Our consistent message is we want to have client contact.

We see our teams as having a client manager, assistant accountant, trainee and then AdvanceTrack supporting them as part of that team.

 

What is the future for your practice? What are you looking to achieve, and how?

We know that offshoring didn’t work for us, so the benefit of AdvanceTrack is that it is up to (AdvanceTrack MD) Vipul to get the right people – we don’t directly have that concern about talent.

We also know that the accounts production side of things is taken care of. We can fill the ‘client hopper’ without worrying about capacity. It then enables us to pay our staff well, which is crucial in a very difficult recruitment market.

We want to get to £10m in revenues seven years from now. We wouldn’t be able to contemplate this without knowing that AdvanceTrack is by our side every step of the way.

This issue we are delighted to speak to an office manager for a successful accounting franchise about his work with AdvanceTrack, including how its growth plans will be easier to implement

Q: Please tell us about your practice

A: I have worked with my practice for nearly eight years. We have four staff, 500 clients and are based in northern UK. We have grown steadily year-on-year.

Q: When did you start using AdvanceTrack, and why?

A: We had previously used another outsourcer, but it was time to change. We needed an alternative that could provide a great service level. We are using AdvanceTrack for accounts preparation.

Q: What impact has AdvanceTrack had on the running of your practice?

A: It has been a significant help to us. It has created a very systematised approach to transacting through AdvanceTrack’s portal, so even the small matter of an out-of-office will see the transaction details sent to another one of my staff.

Q: How are we better/different from other service providers?

A: In summary, I would say that it has been much easier to work with AdvanceTrack than our previous outsourcing provider. The information we receive back from you is in an easier-to-use, simpler and understandable format. And we would absolutely consider outsourcing other areas of our offering to you.

Q: What is the future for your practice? What are you looking to achieve, and how?

A: Technology is moving very fast – and we have Making Tax Digital around the corner. We need to be quick to respond to change and embrace technology – and that fits well working with AdvanceTrack. Tech is moving towards the cloud for keeping records, and then there is the enforced changes from HMRC to content with. I wouldn’t actually say that what our clients want is changing rapidly, although it is evolving. But both we and our clients want growth, and information presented to us all in an easy-to-use format.

Paul Barnes is the managing director of My Accountancy Place, which provides accounting and finance services to digital agencies. The practice, which operates with two directors and 15 staff, uses AdvanceTrack® to free up its team to provide deeper and more valuable services to clients. He explains the practice’s strategy, and development beyond compliance work.

Paul, tell us about your practice

We are a niche firm based in Manchester. We only service one industry: digital agencies providing marketing, creative and digital services, predominantly in the North West. We turn away those that don’t fit that. Our practice works using Xero technology.We have moved from being a ‘good, proactive firm of accountants’ to a full finance outsourced function. Rather than clients building their own finance team, we provide the full finance function. This encompasses strategy, financial control, making sure their systems run smoothly, and bookkeeping. My team works across clients (from our office), but spend a lot of their time with those clients in their offices.We can do just compliance, but we can do the whole lot. We bring industry expertise and systems expertise to the table as well.

When did you start using AdvanceTrack®, and why?

We started My Accountancy Place in 2014, and began using AdvanceTrack® in mid-2015. For the compliance function and historical accounting services that we provide, these are becoming more and more commoditised. It was an opportunity for us – we have real skills to grow and improve our clients’ businesses but were restricted by the amount of compliance and bookkeeping work.So, we streamlined that offering and outsourced, allowing our team to spend more time on the more rewarding and challenging work that truly makes a difference to our client’s businesses. For the value provided by AdvanceTrack® in terms of cost and service level, it was a complete no-brainer. It has removed the headache of managing that service, and we can use highly-qualified accountants from the start with our clients.

What impact has AdvanceTrack® had on the running of your practice?

Everyone in the practice has moved up a gear or two in terms of what they can give clients. When you sign up new customers, the on-boarding process can be challenging and you’re under pressure to provide value straight away. Now we can map out clients’ processes straight away – then that becomes an ongoing task run through AdvanceTrack® and it just repeats.We then get on with our job of advising clients. Anything non-client-facing goes to AdvanceTrack®; some of that is complex work but AdvanceTrack® can do it. Straight away we can start improving the clients’ business.

What is the future for your practice? What are you looking to achieve, and how?

There is still a lot of confusion in the accountancy market around what ‘advisory’ is all about. For us it’s about simplifying the journey the business goes on. We want to illustrate that journey through our own IP, delivered through workbooks, guides and workshops… moving the client away from the office and allowing them to focus on strategy and growth and to help them short-cut the mistakes and bad investments. We’re seeing small businesses now starting to expect what big businesses expect from their professional advisers, and they have every right to. Speak to AdvanceTrack® about helping you create a modern and pro table practice. Call us on +44(0)24 7601 6308 or email advice@advancetrack.com.

AdvanceTrack client Wood and Disney is a two- director practice based in Colchester, Essex. The practice badges itself as ‘real-time accountants’, using cloud accounting technology to access client data in real-time – so it can provide proactive and timely advice. We spoke to operations director Brendon Howlett about how AdvanceTrack® has helped his practice develop.

Brendon, tell us about your practice

Peter Disney and I set the practice up in July 2013, and we head up a team of eight. We’ve been paperless for years – we love innovation – and won Most Innovative Practice (2-4 partner firm) in 2020’s Innovation Awards two years ago. We took the decision six months ago to focus solely on the cloud.

We use various cloud accounting packages, having taken the view that clients with paper bags of receipts, spreadsheets, hybrids are not the sort of clients we want. This is especially the case particularly when you consider Making Tax Digital, with four times a year reporting. Any client we take on, we say: “You have to be in the cloud.” We facilitate – all staff are Xero and QuickBooks certified advisers. There are training sessions for clients if needed, or we take on the bookkeeping as well, which is where AdvanceTrack® fits in.

When did you start using AdvanceTrack®, and why?

We’d seen [AdvanceTrack® founder] Vipul, had a good chat, then decided to use it as resource that will free up capacity. We commenced in June 2016. At the time, we couldn’t afford to give the client a competitive service to do the bookkeeping – we’d found a couple of bookkeepers locally, but they also reached capacity.

Our practice first outsourced accounts prep to AdvanceTrack®. It was a flexible arrangement at the start, but we loved it. We took it a step further with the bookkeeping.

What impact has AdvanceTrack® had on the running of your practice?

We had one client in London who was always last-minute on VAT returns, accounts ling, tax. We said: “This can’t go on.” They wanted to find someone to do the bookkeeping – we said that approach would cost them a lot and be an unknown quantity. They became our first client through AdvanceTrack®. We now have a weekly fee with the client, and we’re all happy.

That job, for example, runs itself. It frees up so much of our time from mundane historical data and getting it right – we’re now on top of it on a weekly basis.

Another example: a bank we speak to had a client that wanted a loan, but their accountant hadn’t sorted out their previous year-end data. We showed the bank examples of how we can keep up-to-date records, and now they’re our best friends.

What is the future for your practice? What are you looking to achieve, and how?

When the noise got louder on MTD, we took the view to write to all clients and say: “This is going to happen, how will you cope?” Part of the solution is to use cloud accounting and if we can get the data right at the basic level – we’re working with AdvanceTrack® to get that right – numbers can then be analysed. From good analysis, the client and us can make better decisions. This should lead to better results, giving our clients better businesses and all of us a better life.

This 15-partner regional practice needed to free up time for tax staff.

The major problem the firm had, as with many firms was a peak of work from around September to January. This meant that advisory work suffered delivery delays during this period.

How did AdvanceTrack’s approach appeal?

Experienced UK Chartered Accountants and Chartered Tax Advisers run the business. The secure AdvanceTrack® system enabled the client to manage the work

So, were the client’s expectations met?

The jobs have been coming back this week, we’re really pleased with the quality and find the working papers very useful. Once I import the file back into CCH, all the standing data re-appears…”

On discussing the service with the client manager, they confirmed jobs were approved within 5 minutes of receiving them. The firm sees ongoing value in using this service as the firm has used the service since 2008.

Having completed their due diligence, AdvanceTrack® were selected. With tax returns for c£30 – £35, our teams allow your team to add extra profits and/or drive better client service.

 

AdvanceTrack selected in a competitive process as long-term outsourcing partner for this multi-partner multi-office practice.

This Top firm conducted a review of all the major outsourcers. Having completed their due diligence, were selected. Some of their reasons are listed here:

Why was Outsourcing important to the future of the firm?

  • To provide additional capacity at certain times of the year
  • Recruitment in the area is difficult so to reduce the number of new staff required in the future
  • To provide a more process-driven approach to exercises such as accounts production
  • To offer trainees and staff more interesting and challenging work
  • To save money as a result of the above

Why were AdvanceTrack® chosen?

  • The fact you were based up the road, in the UK and accessible within an hour or so
  • The fact that having trained with Rabjohns and then worked for other UK practices you fully understand the type of work that we do and the pressures and issues facing us as a firm
  • The simplicity of your AdvanceTrack® system
  • The professional attitude of the staff

Sole Practitioner sees professional results by moving to AdvanceTrack.

We approached this firm about Outsourcing.

They were sceptical given their previous experience.

Here are their thoughts:

“Prior to using AdvanceTrack® we did use another outsourcing provider. The frustration was the lack of understanding of UK accountancy and basic principles. We would receive work back to have to spend a great deal of time unravelling what had been outsourced. We finally chose AdvanceTrack® due to the attention to detail and superior tracking system. Having used AdvanceTrack® for some time now we have been very impressed with the level of professionalism and understanding of UK accounting principles. We feel we are dealing with professional accountants for the first time.”

We asked this two office partnership for some feedback on their reasons to outsource and why they selected AdvanceTrack®.

1. Why did you decide to outsource?

The decision to outsource was made primarily as a result of a lot of maternity leave hitting us at the same time, together with our historic curiosity surrounding outsourcing as a potential option for our practice that had never been acted upon.

The time seemed right therefore to give it a go.  The advancement in scanning technology was also instrumental in making the decision as this was no longer the administrative burden that it was previously.

2. Reasons why you hadn’t tried it before.

We had heard some good stories but also many bad experiences from other companies who had used outsourcing.

3. The reservations you had before trying it

The quality of the work which would be returned, the administration burden of scanning documents, the unknown, we are accountants and we don’t deal with change very well

4. What made you overcome those reservations and why AdvanceTrack®?

Having known Vipul for a few years made the decision to outsource a little easier. AdvanceTrack® using the same accounting packages that we used also helped make the decision easier as we would not have to load the returned data onto our system ourselves.

The trial jobs went very well and the quality of the work exceeded our initial expectations.

5. How have the staff taken to outsourcing and where next in the development of outsourcing with your practice?

Initially there was a mixed reception amongst our staff as some obviously feared for their own job security, however once it was explained the reason why this decision was taken and the change in their roles to one of more value added work rather than pure compliance their opinions quickly changed.

Our next steps are therefore to utilise our own staff more efficiently on client work and look to outsource the pure compliance function wherever possible allowing us to become a more profitable firm.

6. What’s the greatest benefit you have got from using AdvanceTrack®?

The obvious answer would be the cost benefit which is of significant importance, however by outsourcing the compliance function, it is now allowing us the opportunity to give our existing staff more exciting work on clients allowing them to personally develop and maximise our return on our existing client base.

“We have used AdvanceTrack since 2014, and we have been pleased with the outcome.”

Like so many new relationships, it takes a little while for both sides to understand clearly what each other wants and is able to give; in the early months, we found that we had not explained clearly enough what our expectations were, which led to some misunderstandings.

However, in my opinion, the mark of a good business is not necessarily what goes awry, but how they deal with it once it has. In this respect, I cannot fault Vipul – he came promptly to our offices to listen to and understand our challenges, and since then, the process and outcomes have improved dramatically, and we now get good quality work in the format that we want from them.

They are also very attuned to using IT to help make the process easier – we are avid users of Xero and Xero work papers, and they are quite happy to work with us using this technology. Looking forward, I think Vipul has some great ideas on using Xero to help support us accountants, and I am keen to explore how we can do this better – once we are through our busy season!

In a sentence: they are a good bunch of guys, dedicated team, flexible, competent, and a good cost; a worthy additional resource for us which we use month in, month out. Try them.