An unlimited market?

In accountancy there seem to be far more businesses than good accountants and it is possible to take on unlimited clients (assuming you had the resources). So why wouldn’t you?

Because you want clients suited to YOUR business.

You want clients from the industries you know well and that will fit well into your processes. This will enable you to provide a better service with your enhanced knowledge.

You want the clients who fit you personally so that you enjoy working together. This will enable you to provide a better service that you enjoy.

You want the clients who can afford your fees. This will enable you to provide a better service as you won’t have to take on too many clients all vying for your time.

Keep an eye on your client list and your fees to ensure that you can provide high quality work.

The ‘Icarus’ budget 

I set up my first business with the intention of doing a few sets of accounts from the kitchen table to fit around my kids. But my background BC (before children) was running larger businesses and, if you do the right things, you get the right results. I needed to decide whether to limit my activities or to deliberately grow the business which would entail taking on staff and premises.

In the meantime somebody talked me into running the Bristol and afterwards, high on endorphins, I wrote my ‘Icarus’ budget. Yes, I really did name it that as I didn’t know if what I was planning would be achievable on just 25 hours per week (because I still wanted to fit it around my kids)

The rest is history*. Stay off the endorphins kids, you never know what might happen 😉

What would you do if you were feeling brave?

*If you haven’t heard the story then ‘The Numbers Business: how to grow a successful cloud accountancy practice’ is available on Amazon and Audible

Is it your husband’s business?

When I set up my first business in 2009, I lost track of the number of times that I was asked whether it was my husband’s business or mine!

Initially I ran the business from home in order to be available for my small children. But it didn’t look like a typical house because it was a former Post Office where we had two rooms set aside for me and my staff.

When we reached a team of 5, we had to move out to commercial offices in the next town in order to grow further. This had the benefit of a large meeting room where we could host our Money Matters events and Xero training courses. (It was also above a Domino’s which was great when the whole team got together for our monthly lunch and learn sessions) With larger premises and running events I was clearly the public face of the business, and nobody asked about my husband anymore.

Since I sold that business in 2017, I have started 3 more businesses, all of which operate remotely with no permanent office space. The Money Matters events are now a series of monthly webinars to help business owners and the Xero training is also online.

Once again people are unable to judge the size of my business from any physical premises. Now I get all sorts of subtle questions probing for how big the team is. (In case you’re curious Minerva Accountants currently has a permanent team of three people plus regular and occasional sub-contractors but watch this space)

How do you think your business is perceived and what can you do to change that?

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?

How to tell if your prices are too low 

If you’re crazy busy all of the time, not just at peak periods, then it is probably because your prices are too low. You can either increase prices to make fewer but more profitable sales or you can raise your prices enough to increase your workforce. 

The other way to know that your prices are too low is if nobody ever says “no”. If everybody you quote says yes, or if nobody bounces when they see your prices on your website, then you probably have scope to increase them. 

Why it may be best to stay small

Small is beautiful. It’s also less hassle and much more agile.

As the sole director of my business I can hold my board meetings in the shower and, if I come up with a bright idea, I can often have it implemented by evening.

The downside of a small business is reduced cover for holidays and sickness. Especially if your business is just you. On the other hand even the best team will take up your time in managing their time and workload.

Before growing your business beyond you it is worth considering whether this will best suit your personal goals. Instead of taking on more clients and higher overheads you could look at taking on better clients and providing them with more profitable services. Before recruiting staff you could investigate software and other automation.

Bigger isn’t always best.

More than one tool in your toolbox

When it comes to improving your business you need to have more than one tool in your toolbox.

Although we often start with getting the pricing right we also like to look at other things. My books give you some examples of these but they are broadly:

Efficiencies – implement systems, checklists, automation and delegation

People – get the right people in the right place, suitably trained and equipped, and all pulling in the right direction

Marketing – a baseline level of marketing going on at all times so that you have clients/work already lined up for quieter periods

What else do you do to improve your business?

Would you buy a discounted parachute?

It’s a question that Brad Burton asked which got me thinking. (So I hope it will get you thinking too)

Why do we assume that we need to be cheap to be attractive?

Quality is often more important than price. Yes, at Minerva we can use software to churn out accounts fairly cheaply but business advice is much more valuable and that takes time to understand the client’s business. It’s hard to be reactive, let alone proactive, on a tiny budget.

What could you do better in your business if you had a little more time or money to put in? And how much more valuable would that appear to your ideal customers?

Your business, your goals

When I talk to accountants about how to have a ‘better’ tax return season my assumption is that they want to avoid having to do all the work in a short period but I am aware that some accountants choose to work this way. They deliberately set aside December/January to do nothing but work, and then take most of February as holiday, and work part time the rest of the year.

And you will all have different goals for your businesses.

Most goals are a mixture of profitability, work-life balance, and final valuation on exit. But you might have a specific aspiration to drive a particular car whereas I’m happy with my battered old Skoda when it’s too far to walk/cycle or public transport isn’t suitable.

When we take on new clients the first thing we discuss is what motivated them to set up their business. We do this for coaching clients as well as for Minerva Accountants clients so that we can give the best advice. Not everybody wants to grow an empire. Other people are happy to put in longer hours short term in order to accelerate their new startup.

We run Vision and Values sessions for business owners and/or their teams. But you can read ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek to ensure that you are clear about where you and your business are heading.

You can order ‘Start with Why’ here.

Are you too available?

Emails, phone calls, texts, messaging systems of every kind! Are we making ourselves too available at the expense of actually getting the work done?

I know lots of accountants suffered from this during covid with Friday evening announcements raising lots of client queries via multiple channels but it is often and issue even now.

We’re often encouraged to be available to clients the way THEY want to communicate but it’s a lot easier if we can streamline those communications.

This is how we control incoming communications at Minerva Accountants:

Mobile – This is not on my business cards. I guard my number and rely on voicemail when I’m in meetings or deep work. I block people who ring repeatedly but don’t leave a message.

Landline – this is a VOIP number which goes straight to my answering service (Answer-It.co.uk if you need a recommendation). They answer it professionally, get rid of sales calls, and email any genuine messages.

Calendly – I encourage people to book calls directly in my diary using calendly.com and so far only one person has abused this to book a sales call. Calendly links with my diary and only offers times when I am free. It emails me when a booking is made as well as putting the appointment in my diary. All bookings are for a phone call unless there is a reason to Zoom.

Webchat – this is run by real people (MeluChat.com) not bots so they can deal with some queries, book calls via calendly and email me messages.

Social media messaging systems – I’m careful who I connect with and block people who spam me this way. My usual response is to encourage people to book a call via Calendly or refer them to my website. As we have a lot of scheduled posts (we use Smarterqueue) people assume that this is an easier way to contact me but emails are always best.

WhatsApp – I don’t use this for business at all.

Course signups – these are all automated through the main website or through Thinkific. I only speak to people that we need to vet for our coaching and more expensive courses as I don’t want them to waste their money. Sign ups are forwarded to me by email and also linked to our CRM system (Active Campaign).

Emails – my favourite as I can review them when I’m free, forward them if I choose to delegate the task, link them to our practice management software, and there is a written record of what was said.

I don’t have notifications set for any of these systems as I log into emails and social media at least once a day to check for messages at a time that suits me.

To simplify outgoing communications we use helpsheets and videos. Clients often have similar queries. Whenever a client asks a question that I think may be asked again we create a Helpsheet or a training video that we can send to everybody who asks in future. It saves a lot of time and allows at least some of the replies to be delegated.

How do you control your communications in and out?