Building an accountancy practice that works for you (not the other way round)
Too much work, too much stress, too little time.
I speak to accountants in practice on a daily basis and I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this complaint. Well, it’s not really a complaint - it’s more of a desperate cry for help. I hear it from accountants who have been in practice for decades, from new start-ups, from multi-partner firms and from sole practitioners. These accountants are working long, long hours for low fees and little satisfaction, missing out on precious time with their family and friends as a result. Does that sound familiar?
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In this series of articles I’m going to show you how you can have an accountancy practice that gives you better profits than now, takes up less of your time than now and is far more fulfilling than now. Each article is based on a chapter of my best-selling book, Putting Excellence Into Practice, which sets out a seven step methodology for building a profitable, sustainable, value-driven accountancy business (if you want to find out how it works, you can download a free copy of the book).
So let’s start with why so many accountants are in this situation.
Inadvertently, far too many accountants run their practices inefficiently. They dislike change and procrastinate over taking important action.
In an ideal world, your waking hours should be fairly divided between work and home, so that running your accountancy practice leaves plenty of time to enjoy with your family, your friends and on your health (by health, I mean keeping active and fit, pursuing interests, and keeping your mind on things outside work).
The sad reality
Sadly, the reality for many is that work is all-consuming. You take on ever more clients who expect you to be at their beck and call, but however hard you work, they show little if any appreciation.
Each morning, you arrive in your office with a plan: to cross just 10 items off your to-do list by the end of the day. But each evening you’re lucky if you’ve ticked off six. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing, clients have bent your ear and your email inbox has been crazy.
Your employees often bring more problems than solutions and you always have to double-check their work because it’s simply not to the standard you’d like.
There are legislation changes and the endless new technologies to get to grips with. For many people, it’s simply overwhelming.
All in all, the money isn’t great either – especially when you consider how much time you put in. Worse, you’re often challenged on fees and negotiated down. And even when you’ve won the work, the client goes on to dispute the cost of every piece of additional work you do for them as they 'assumed it was part of the package!'
Most importantly, the result of all this is that what should be an exciting, enjoyable and emotionally rewarding experience – having your own business – isn’t.
One of the saddest parts of my work is hearing just how many of the accountants I speak to deeply regret missing out on important times with their children as they’ve grown up or with their life partner as the relationship has died. Their pain, as they acknowledge that they’ll never get those opportunities again, never gets any easier to bear.
In all the scenarios I’ve outlined above, the accountants have exceeded their working capacity by far – and yet it’s an inefficient capacity.
Of course, this isn’t true for everyone. Some of you reading this will be working a manageable number of hours and taking home a reasonable income. No doubt you’re asking yourself, ‘Why change?’
The answer is: because the world around you is changing.
Firstly, there’s that ever growing number of ‘cheap accountants’ who are driving your clients away or forcing you to negotiate your own prices down. Their numbers are only going to increase and negotiating on price will get even more difficult – especially if you fail to differentiate yourself. Clients will simply think you’re delivering the same services, but charging a higher fee for the sake of it.
Then there are the advancements in technology. In a process that’s only going to accelerate, software is automating more bookkeeping and accounts production than ever before. Many business owners, for example, already think you simply click a button and – voilà! – finalised accounts appear. That may not be the case just yet, but in reality, how long will it be before it is? It’s nearer than you dare to think.
Compliance accounts were once highly valued by business owners; today few of them care about having their accounts produced. It may be a legal requirement – just as it’s a legal requirement to take your car for an MOT every year – but most of us simply want to fulfil our obligations in the cheapest, least painful way possible.
Many traditional accountants, however, haven’t yet woken up to this. They’ve been happily producing accounts for many years, talking to clients as little as possible, sending out the draft accounts by post, and they don’t want to change.
In fact, they’re often working through so many sets of accounts that they simply don’t have a chance to analyse them to find out where each business’s strengths and weaknesses lie. And, because they have so little meaningful contact with clients, they don’t get the chance to understand what each of them really wants to achieve for – and from – their business. As a result, they don’t get the opportunity to work with them and help them achieve those things either.
A mistake that many businesses make is not to evolve their product or service until demand for it has already begun to wane. In other words, they don’t even think about change until they realise that no one wants their product anymore. Unfortunately, by this time it’s often too late and their clients have moved on.
Your accountancy practice is no exception to this and the core services you offer have a lifespan too. The practice of the future then is one that will be happy for computers to crunch the numbers, while the role of the accountant will be directly client facing. In other words, your role will be to sit with clients and to go through the real-time data with them: identifying strengths and weaknesses, producing trends and forecasts, and carrying out ‘what if’ exercises to examine the ways in which their businesses could be improved.
Over the coming weeks and months I’ll take you on a journey that will enable you to overcome the challenges I’ve described so far. Here’s a brief insight as to what you can expect:
why it’s so important to change the way you run your accountancy practice – not just to improve your own life, but the businesses you work with
based on over 20 years' working with accountants, I’ll share the typical inhibitors they face in making fundamental changes and give you mechanisms to overcome these
how you can attain a new, efficient capacity enabling you to work less hours, for more income, while delivering greater value to your clients
help to change your mindset from building an accountancy practice to building an accountancy business, creating scalability by developing a team of people as committed to growing your business as you are and performing to consistently high standards
you’ll then be ready to attract even more of the right kinds of clients in a way that requires little effort, yet keeps a steady flow of new business coming in
throughout your journey, your sense of fulfilment will have been increasing and we’ll build on that. Most accountants I know have a genuine desire to make a difference. If you’re one of them, this section is for you
what does excellence look like in an accountancy practice? I’ll explain exactly what it means.
If this resonates with you and you’re already fired up to start making changes, that’s fantastic! Download my book right now and let’s get going.
Shane Lukas – MD, AVN
Next month you can read Do your clients see you as ‘just’ an accountant?