36 percent 

We submitted 36% of our self assessment returns in January! 

Last year I submitted only one in January so what changed? 

Well, I acquired Longhill Accounts in June and we spend three months meeting, greeting, and onboarding nearly 200 new clients May – July. For the most part this went through smoothly although some had problems signing up to Accountancy Manager as they weren’t used to technology. Poor rural internet service means that many clients still do things manually as it’s more reliable. 

Once they were on board we then had to set each new client up on Xero or Xero Ledger in order to use XeroTax. And, of course, each client takes longer in the first year as we had to familiarise ourselves with them and their business. Because no two businesses are identical. 

But we don’t just do self assessment returns, we also has to keep up with limited companies’ accounts and corporation tax, bookkeeping, VAT, and management accounts. So when we had caught up everything that clients had sent in proactively we STARTED to send the annual reminders. Usually we would send reminders in April, June, and September with final reminders going out in October. This year we didn’t send the FIRST reminders until the end of November.  

Then Accountancy Manager rebranded as Bright Manager AND CHANGED ALL THE LINKS! So our poor new clients now had to handle a second set of instructions from us (once we realised that this was the problem!). 

In spite of all that the team worked their socks off over weekends and evenings in December and January and we finally submitted the last return with 3 days to spare.  

But this fabulous team shouldn’t have to work so hard and neglect their personal lives.  

We’re busy celebrating now but today we had our quarterly planning meeting to make sure that we have a much better tax return season this year. I intend to go skiing in January 2025 so we need everything submitted before Christmas. Watch this space … 

Software efficiencies

When you started up your business you probably ran it using a spreadsheet or a Word document. But now you’ve filled your time and you’re trying to grow you need better to software to ensure that everything runs as efficiently as possible. Here are some things that I use in my businesses:

Marketing – I use Active Campaign as both my CRM (customer relationship management system) and to email things like this top tip to our clients and prospects. Active Campaign links to forms on our website and to our scorecards.

Process management – Minerva Accountants has lots of beautifully repeatable processes so we use Bright Manager (formerly Accountancy Manager) to manage those processes, client documents, file client emails (so anybody on the team can see all the communication), and automated reminders. My coaching and consultancy business has fewer repeatable processes but it is much smaller so I manage my to do list on Trello

Cash collections – as far as possible we use recurring monthly invoices on Xero and collect payments through direct debit using Gocardless. Any invoice on Xero is automatically fed to Gocardless and, when payment is made, the receipts are matched to the invoices on Xero. Clients can also pay by card using Stripe which also matches the invoices. These save hours of debt collection time and bookkeeping in a small business.

New year clear out

You don’t have to wait until the new year to do it (see also Spring cleaning and back to school flurries of activity) but I do like an excuse for a good declutter.

Here are some things you might want to look at:
• Stationery – we run a paperless office and don’t have a printer but it still amazes me how much stationery we have around that might be useful to somebody else
• Poor clients – yes, we have a clear out of these every February after the big tax deadline. You probably have a few clients who could be moved on to make room for more suitable ones
• Inbox – how many emails are you subscribed to that you don’t read. If they’re not useful to you (including this one) then don’t just delete them but unsubscribe
• Wardrobe – not a business one but, unless you already do Project 333 you can probably get at least one bag of clothes and shoes to the charity shop or bin
• Client files – archive any paper or digital files you no longer need

Make space to plan your year with our budget workbook and video.

Success is not a solo sport 

I like to think that I work hard but nothing that I have achieved has ever been done alone. 

Both Hudson Accountants and now Minerva Accountants owe a lot to my fabulous teams. When starting out I learned so much from other accountants and coaches who generously shared their ideas and experience.  

I have used a fabulous business coach to help me clarify those ideas and apply them to my own business. And to hold me accountable for getting things done! 

I’m pretty sure that my books wouldn’t have won the awards they did without the skill of my publisher gently helping me to share my expertise in my own words but also in a form that is easy for you to read. 

As a parent I was fortunate that my children had a wonderful father and, although I chose the traditional female role of primary carer, he did a lot to support me. 

I’m currently doing Couch to 5k for the umpteenth time to recover my running fitness after my operation earlier this year. It’s the first time that I’ve done it with a group of people and it has been great for keeping me motivated on rainy evenings. 

To everybody who has helped me along the way, a big thank you.  

But what can I do for you? I provide individual and group coaching sessions which have helped clients to develop award winning businesses themselves. And, for those just starting out we have free webinars each month.  

Is remote working right for you?

Gone are the days of everybody in the office. Since covid most businesses operate some sort of hybrid system but I’ve been working remotely since 2017 and, although my old business had physical premises, we all had the ability to work remotely since 2012. We also all work different hours to suit our lifestyles.

So how do we make this work?

• We run a paperless office. All clients have access to a secure portal or they can email things if they prefer. Most clients are on cloud based software and they can upload invoices etc using Dext or Hubdoc.
• All our software is cloud based and we can all access documents remotely on our shared Onedrive.
• We have a virtual office where we can receive mail from HMRC which is scanned for us to log into our system.
• All engagement letters, accounts, and tax returns are signed electronically using XeroTax or our secure portal.
• We all have VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phones which can be answered via an app on our laptops or on our mobiles.
• We all have laptops rather than PCs so we can work when travelling. (Although I find it much easier to have two screens when I’m in my home office)
• Our calls all come into a central answering service who act as our receptionist and distribute calls to named individuals or according to who is working that day.
• We have a shared email address where everybody can see what is going on. These are flagged by colour to indicate who needs to deal with them.
• All incoming emails are automatically copied to the client account on our practice management software, Accountancy Manager. When a client calls up, or when we are working on their accounts, we can see what emails and notes have been made throughout the year.
• All deadlines and tasks are held on Accountancy Manager so that we can see who is working on what.
• We have an online meeting at 9am each morning for whoever is working that day. We discuss what we will each be working on and if anybody needs information or help
• We have a face to face (where possible) planning meeting and brunch once a quarter to plan the next 90 days.
• We don’t have a printer. On the very rare occasions when we need to print something (usually a letter to HMRC) I have to take it to the local post office on a USB stick. This is the only thing that isn’t easier!
• We contact clients by email, telephone or Zoom depending on their preference.

Remote working gives us all the benefit of better work-life balance and saves us commuting time. For me it means that I can work around the country when busy with speaking engagements or ICAEW meetings. The money saved on offices is invested in modern software to improve communication and efficiency within the business.

Do you prefer to work remotely or from a shared office?

The difference between spending and investing 

Oscar Wilde once said that “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” and this is often true of accountants who are associated with cost cutting. 

Here at Minerva we prefer to see spending as investing. What do we get in return for the cash? 

As a small business ourselves working for small business clients it is important that every pound we spent generates future value. It’s why we invest in things such as marketing, training and business coaching (yes, as well as being a qualified business coach I also see the value of using a coach myself). These are things that many business owners see as overheads but, spent wisely, that can help to generate future profits through growing your business or operating more efficiently. 

What is your wisest investment in yourself or your business? 

Making flexible working work

One way to recruit and retain good staff is to offer flexible working. Flexible in terms of hours and location.

Many people are uncertain how to make the change to remote working and struggling to recruit high calibre people. At Hudson Accountants we offered flexibility over hours and, to a lesser extent, location but Minerva Accountants is fully remote. So how do we do it?

Cloud software is a necessity but the less obvious key is to have good communication.

1. We use a shared inbox. As long as you use the hello@minervaaccountants.co.uk email address anybody can pick up the query or task even if the regular CAM (client account manager) is off. If it will wait until their return we use coloured flags to allocate the emails to a particular person. As well as ensuring that the best person can help with your enquiry it also reduces our digital footprint.

2. Emails are also logged by Accountancy Manager so that they are available to the whole team. We can each follow conversations. For this reason we prefer emails but notes are added of any telephone conversations.

3. We use a central receptionist to answer and allocate all telephone calls. We use VOIP (voice over internet protocol) and Webex phones to enable remote working.

4. We have a brief online call at 9am each morning to discuss what everybody is working on and if they need somebody else to do something to help them.

5. We meet up (in person if possible) once a quarter to review the results of the last quarter, plan our next three months’ targets, and spend a little time chatting.

Do you offer flexible working?

Tax Tip 

Don’t forget to claim the VAT on business mileage.

You can’t claim VAT on the full 45p but you can claim on the fuel element. You can find out the current fuel element Advisory fuel rates – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

For instance my care has a fuel rate of 14p. This means that, for every mile, I can claim 14p *20/120 = 2.33p in VAT. There is no VAT on the remaining 31p as that is deemed to be for insurance, maintenance, wear and tear etc.

All you need to do is to keep a VAT invoice* (not a credit card receipt please!) for fuel around the date of the journey ie when you you fill up before or after the trip.

*If you’re interested then it’s because the 45p is an allowance and EU/UK law states that you can’t claim VAT on allowances. The EU did one of their usual accommodating moves and agreed that, as long as there was a valid VAT invoice for fuel around the same date (eg filling up before or after the mileage) then the company could claim VAT on the fuel element of the 45p.

Who can you delegate to? 

Last week we looked at what you could delegate. This week I want to consider who you can delegate to.

-An employee. But what if you are a solopreneur?

-A subcontractor. Lots of people have left employment and are happy providing their services for lots of smaller clients

-An expert. As a technophile I consider myself pretty good on the IT front but it is still often more efficient to use a local IT firm when nothing is immediately obvious (we use PCDial.com) as they come across these problems all the time and usually know exactly where to look straight away. It’s the same reason we encourage our clients to delegate their bookkeeping to us; we’re faster and better than them.

-Automation. We use a lot of software in our business. Whilst it doesn’t replace people it does save our time on the mundane chores. Accountancy Manager handles all our deadline and client reminders, Stripe collects card payments for clients that don’t already pay us by direct debit through Go Cardless. Dext and hubdoc allow clients to submit their bookkeeping to us electronically without having to print out every single invoice. We can usually find software to help clients improve their business efficiency too.

Should you be delegating more? 

The answer is almost certainly yes.

There are certain things that only you can do in your business but there is probably a lot of admin or other work that can be delegated to somebody ‘cheaper’ than you.

When coaching busy clients I recommend that they keep a timesheet for a couple of weeks. This can be on paper or using one of the free apps such as Toggl.

At the end of the fortnight look at all the work that isn’t profitable.

-If it is for a client should you be charging more or perhaps somebody else can do the work instead?

-If it isn’t customer work then is it the sort of thing that somebody else can do instead (next week I’ll talk about who you might delegate to)

-If it is work that you don’t enjoy then it might make sense to delegate it anyway. This is the main reason we encourage clients to delegate their bookkeeping to us as we can do it faster, and better, and we have people who actually enjoy the work.