take time make time

Being able to fight clients’ fires, or support their growth plans, are key steps in increasing your practice’s value to them. We cover how you can build this capacity within your accounting firm

The most successful accounting practices are those that have the capacity to either react, or be proactive, with clients. Ultimately this enables a firm to deliver a higher level of client service. If AdvanceTrack looked at our top clients, they have some 15% of spare capacity to deal with issues or broach things with their client.

But how do you achieve this? Well, first you have to take a step back and consider how your firm currently works and your attitude to technology.

 

Practice drivers and technological advancement

There are a range of drivers of change in an accounting practice, and these will vary in value dependent on the varying challenges it faces. However, there are key areas of which one or more will be on your radar most times. These are:

  • Number of staff/utilisation
  • Timing of service delivery
  • Use of offshoring/outsourcing in the practice
  • The pricing model used (fixed or variable)
  • How work is delivered to your clients
  • Frequency of invoicing

All these drivers can be impacted by the adoption of technology. But firms adopt technology at different rates, even in different parts of a single practice. Martec’s Law sets out pace of technological development versus change in an organisation. Most organisations are held back by the speed at which the technology is introduced into the business, and later have to ‘reset’ – in other words, effectively to start again. This ‘reset’ might mean reorganising a department or function – for some practices it might mean their natural end.

Consider within your own practice how quickly some teams or individuals have adopted change or new processes and technology. A prime example is a client using cloud accounting such as Xero, but the year-end process is an annual one that is completed months after the financial year end. If that feels like how your firm engages with clients, then neither party is benefitting from the technology improvements that software companies are introducing.

So, what are firms – namely you – going to do to respond? There are varying approaches, but it’s probably best to adopt and utilise the technology that will have the biggest, most positive, impact on the practice.

 

Help your teams, or the practice as a whole, build capacity

Press the reset button intermittently across the organisation. Consider where there is a wholesale change in the systems and/or process as a way of speeding up change.

The image (on page 3) shows the typical difference in perception of cost/value between an accounting practice and the client. Accounts processing and ‘being compliant’ for audit are allocated a lot of value by the firm, but the client attaches little or no value to them. The most valuable part of the service from the clients’ perspective is your meetings with them, and implementation of advisory services – plus the follow-up meeting.

So, if the compliance part of the business is perceived to have the least value, shouldn’t this be delivered at the lowest cost and in the fastest possible time?

As the MD of an offshoring/outsourcing business, I’d put the case that all firms need to look at the capacity required to not only deliver the service, but leverage any change to grow the firm. Our most successful accounting clients have ‘spare capacity’, which they achieve through a mixture of technology and strategic use of our outsourcing/offshoring solutions.

The question you should ask yourself, then, is: “How much capacity can I free up?”

 

Calculate your capacity plan

Using a ‘top-down’ approach, consider:

  • Predicted client billings
  • Write off allowances (plan should be zero)
  • Special work

Using a ‘bottom-up’ approach, consider:

  • Available hours of staff
  • Expected productivity of staff
  • Budgeted rates of staff

Any difference will be a surplus, or shortfall, of capacity.

 

Improving processes will increase the capacity of your firm

There are a number of tasks that need to take place to improve your processes, which will in turn help you build capacity.

First, you must identify your internal ‘champion’ to lead the process change, who must build a framework for change. Identify key leaders and their role in the review of this process, ensuring that non-compliance with the process won’t be tolerated.

Then you can build detail around the new process, once compliance has been signed off and key leaders have agreed on the changes. You’ll never make everyone happy, so consider the majority view. Also consider key risks and impact on clients.

 

Building an efficient team

Next you must make sure your team is fit for purpose. Training is the key to this, and this is done by building a training culture. The main areas to consider are:

  • Process training
  • IT training
  • Personal skills training (e.g. negotiation or presentation)
  • Product training (e.g. Xero, etc)
  • Share your training plan with a wider group (internal/external stakeholders)

 

Delegation skills

Build a delegation plan. Consider the skills needs in your business and ensure the team have the training to do the job. They must focus on solutions and ensure you hire and keep the best talent.

By having the right team balance with appropriate skills and experience you minimise rework, minimise errors and write-offs, particularly if work is otherwise delivered by senior managers and partners. Finally, if senior staff are freed up, they can be more client-facing, delivering more to the clients and bringing in new business.

Based on your client behaviour, it’s then key to try and smooth your workflow over the year. How do you do this? Well, build faster turnaround times within your production teams. AdvanceTrack has been building this for firms using their offshore outsourcing capabilities. And then ensure that there’s free capacity across the year, not just certain months, allowing the firm to grow and deliver based on client demands.

 

What are you measuring within the firm?

I know from personal experience when working in larger firms that KPIs are given to staff they have little or no control of. As a result, if you measure them against these, it is demoralising as seen as unfair. So, ensure you measure people on things they have the power to manage. You must also give honest and regular feedback.

Team members should be encouraged to advise management if job budgets can’t be met. An earlier conversation may reduce the write-off through open conversation with the client and team. Finally, ensure each team member has a job budget and delivery deadline.

Bear in mind that feedback from staff and clients will be critical. Review successes and make improvements where necessary. Can you recommend any advice to the clients based on the information your team has reviewed? Consider if that advice is billable, and whether a fee discussion is required.

If a client has poor bookkeeping or other issues, these must be communicated. If these are not communicated, they believe they provide good books. Firms across the industry are guilty of correcting the errors without communicating this to the client.

Make the client accountable for their actions around timeliness, accuracy of information provided, query resolution and payment terms. Consider the purpose of an engagement letter and ensure it focuses on the client relationship and not legals, which can be dealt with separately.

 

Clients

You’ve built your capacity plan. You’ve trained your teams and most importantly, you’ve adopted technology and have a plan to take the most benefit from this, so you are closer to the technology line in your improvement process.

You then consider how outsourcing/offshoring can help deliver more. Like all things, you need to consider the people in your business and ensure that they buy into the vision you paint of the firm and this will be driven by the type of person and possibly age profile of the team members.

 

Ready to start growing your firm? CLICK HERE

scaling for growth

It was ‘accountants galore’ on AdvanceTrack’s latest webinar, ‘Scaling for Growth? Building an Advisory Mindset and Firm’, which discussed the cultural and strategic approach towards making a practice invaluable to its clients.

AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth started the conversation by highlighting the key challenges of changing how a practice – or any organisation – operates. These include altering mindsets, successfully adopting new technology and embedding change into the new normal.

“People are fearful of change, and will look to maintain the status quo,” said Sheth. “So leadership is required to change doubters to believers, and champions are needed to keep it all on track.”

Joe David from accountancy firm Nephos said that his background as an accountant in industry gave him a mindset that creating and analysing good data was key in supporting the making of decisions. This led him down the path of creating an advisory- and technology-led practice.

Clarity’s Aynsley Damery said that established firms have to go that bit further when it comes to driving change, particularly if ingrained in providing services based purely on clients’ historical information. “It’s about looking forward as a firm, and looking forward on behalf of your clients,” said Damery. He said that ‘champions’ within the firm, who will help instil that mindset while managing change projects, were vital. “They’re so important in terms of connectivity between management and the team – interpreting the vision and how it will work.”

Practice Ignition’s Trent McLaren said: “You must set out from the top, across the entire firm, the direction and why you’re changing. You also have to let them know about progression, or you’ll inevitably end up with silos of knowledge.”

Click here to access the webinar.

 

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. 

At AdvanceTrack, we offer both offshoring and outsourcing, and the model that works best for you depends on the stage you’re at as a firm, and how your processes work. 

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

It is becoming more common for businesses to offshore processes to companies overseas

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. 

The benefits of our offshoring model compared to others:

  • You can scale with confidence: Build a team knowing that you can scale it, without the day to day IT and Training challenges
  • It’s secure & quality is assured: It is managed and controlled by international Quality and Security Standards audited by BSI. 
  • You have holiday and sickness cover: You can save yourself time and HR hassles and never lose a day of production.

You can find out more about why we outsource to India here.

You can outsource to a service provider anywhere, in order to utilise greater expertise

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 utilise 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. 

The benefits of outsourcing:

  • Years of expertise – without having to take on a new employee and train them up to the level you require, you can give the work to a specialist with years of experience under their belt. 
  • You have more time to focus on more important areas – you won’t have to spend all your time and energy on the process you’re outsourcing, freeing you up to focus on the areas that need your attention. 
  • You can save on tech – you can rest assured your expert has the tech they need to do the job. If you’re not having to provide the infrastructure to support the work in-house, you can save on technology expenses. 
  • A difference in time zone may be advantageous – you may find outsourcing outside of your time zone works better. You can go to sleep and wake up to completed work!

You can read more about why we suggest outsourcing here

Saving money is desirable, but 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. 

The most successful 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 types of firms here.

Choose the engagement model that works best for you

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?

Great! All you need is a little help figuring out which model suits you best. 

Scalable Delivery Model (Outsourcing)

  • You have a standardised process
  • You have fluctuating demand across the year
  • You understand deadlines and will work with our teams to get the process right
  • You understand that a team supports you

Dedicated Offshore Delivery (Offshoring)

  • You don’t have a standardised approach
  • You have steady workloads across the year
  • Your service is quite bespoke to your clients
  • You want to speak to the same team members every day

Ask yourself where your business is right now, and what you want to achieve. Then let us help you figure out which option is best for you. Take this short questionnaire to tell us about your outsourcing needs. It only takes a few minutes. 

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.