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 ( 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 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 ( 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?

I want you to pay more tax

If you make more profit you will usually end up paying more tax BUT you also get to keep more for yourself so everybody wins.

Whilst Minerva Accountants is mainly about the compliance work of keeping businesses legal and providing management information the main business, Hudson Business Advice, is about helping business owners to build a better business.

Whether you want more profits, more time, or to increase the value of your business prior to sale you need to do the same sort of things,
– Systemise the business so that it can run independently of you and can be scaled more easily
– Automate where appropriate as this will minimise manual errors and save time
– Let go and delegate, whether to employees, outsourced services, or experts

You can come along to our free webinars or join me on one of our courses or group or individual coaching. The accountability ensures that you will take action to improve your business. And pay more tax.

Late payment? It’s just not good enough!

Most of my clients pay me by direct debit on a monthly contract but I recently took on a speaking engagement at short notice to help somebody out. It was a substantial fee but there wasn’t time to take a deposit so I squeezed in 4 days of preparation, rehearsal, travel, and delivery before I finally invoiced the full amount.

When the due date passed I sent a polite automated reminder from Xero and then rang the organiser in case there was a problem with the invoice. Just as well because it turned out the bookkeeper had paid the wrong person!

Mistakes happen and the other supplier who received my payment had immediately notified my customer. But the company hadn’t bothered to contact me to explain or to offer any apology.

This made me ‘a bit grumpy’ but I got even grumpier when I had to keep chasing each week. This was definitely not a business that I wanted to work with again. I always pay my own suppliers promptly as they are usually small businesses like mine.

So, as the law allows, I raised an invoice for interest on late payment of 8% over base rate plus £70 debt collection charge. Eventually the original invoice was paid and, after further chasing, the penalty invoices were paid too.

Even if people know that they are entitled to claim this interest and debt collection charge not many people actually bother. And many cancel the interest once the main invoice is paid. Why?

It is important to ensure that small businesses are paid promptly and part of that is making it more painful for the defaulters than for the unpaid victims. Let’s all make sure that we charge interest and collection fees so that we gradually get larger businesses to comply with their agreed payment terms.

Details of your payment rights are here.

Paperless at last!

Finally we’re a 100% paperless office. A nice man came and took all my archives for bulk shredding yesterday. I’m now giving away so much stationery that I’ve accumulated over the years of three businesses.

Top tip with going paperless is to start TODAY as the old stuff will work its way out in 6 years and you can get it all securely shredded in bulk as we did. We didn’t waste time and money scanning paper just to archive it. The fact that we’ve never looked at them since shows that this was the right decision.

We scan anything coming in and save it in the appropriate client or admin file. We sign everything online and have Signable for anything that doesn’t get signed through our accounts/tax software.

I have no printer. In an emergency I can take a USB to my local post office and pay 50p per sheet. (It makes me laugh that ICAEW needed to approve my letterhead before granting my practising certificate.)

What’s holding you back from going paperless? Or have you already done it?