7 steps to running a successful accountancy or bookkeeping practice

7 steps to running a successful accountancy or bookkeeping practice

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When I set up my accountancy practice 18 years ago, I knew nothing about what I needed to do to be successful – it was all trial and error! I had worked in practice for 16 years prior to this, but when you set up on your own it’s completely different. You may have found this out yourself!

I thought it would be useful to look at some areas where I know accountants and bookkeepers struggle. When I gave some thought to how to run a successful accountancy or bookkeeping practice, I came up with 7 steps for you to consider. When you read these give yourself time to ponder the answers and be honest with yourself. If you do, you will reap the rewards.

1. The starting point

It’s crucial to know yourself and understand your current situation in order to have a successful business. If you don’t know you and what you want to achieve, how can you help and support others?

Ask yourself:

  • Am I enjoying my work?
  • Is my work life balance as I want it to be?
  • Are there any areas I’m struggling with?
  • Do I need help?

Jot down your answers. Do they tell you anything about yourself that you didn’t know? Are there any changes you need to make now you know this about yourself and your current situation?

2. Getting clients

  1. Is your system for getting clients working for you? You may get clients by word of mouth, referral, website, speaking, etc.

    Ask yourself:

  • How many clients do I want?
  • Do I have enough now, or do I need more?
  • If I want more clients, what is the best way for me to get more clients?
  • Can I work more for my existing clients?
  • Is it better for me to aim at a specific type of business? Would a niche suit me?

When I spoke at Pro Mobile recently, one of the speakers, Alan Berg, an international speaker and expert on the business of wedding and events, had perfected this to a tee! He was speaking to DJs about their DJ businesses, and he knows so much about their business it was incredible to hear! Obviously if you’re a DJ and need help with your selling you’re going to go to him if you can.

3. Onboarding

Once you have met a client, either virtually or face to face, and you want to take them on as a client, then you need to follow your onboarding process.  Your aim is to get them to agree your quote, sign your letter of engagement and give you authority to act for them. 

You will probably have your own process set up already (if not, you need one!), so ask yourself:

  • Does my onboarding process work for me?
  • Am I quoting high enough and including all the work I’m going to carry out?
  • Is my system efficient, or do I spend ages chasing?
  • Does it include setting up monthly payments?

If any of your answers is having a negative impact on your business, what can you do about it? Is it better for you to use a software package for your onboarding, such as James Ashford’s Go Proposal? Always loads to think about, isn’t there?! But it makes a difference!

4. Pricing

Getting the pricing right for your practice is the crux to your success. It’s always a balance between charging an amount that reflects the amount of actual work you do (including chasing) and not overcharging. You want clients to feel that you are doing what they need and that they are confident in your ability to deliver. As I’ve progressed with my own practice, I’ve come across some accountants who say the aim of the day is to make your client so scared of making a mistake they will pay whatever you ask! Personally, this approach has always seemed unethical.  It fits my ethos better to aim to give clients certainty and peace of mind.

You many find my recent pricing blog useful.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I still pricing based on time worked?
  • Is my cashflow good?
  • Do I end up spending so much time doing extra work and chasing that the fees I’m receiving aren’t enough?
  • Is my practice profitable?

5. Chasing

I have mentioned this a few times already! This is what comes up, across the board, whenever I talk to any accountants or bookkeepers about their practices. Maybe it’s the same with yours?

Ask yourself:

  • Can I do more before I take on a client, so they understand the ground rules? Remember you need to be in charge from day one!
  • Do I explain to clients why it’s important for them to reply to me and give me information on time?
  • Is my system set up to make it as easy as possible for clients?
  • Is my payment system easy?
  • Do I charge enough for chasing?

Is there anyone within my practice who can help with the chasing or improve the chasing system?

6. Team

For many practices, especially the smaller ones and start-ups, it’s frequently the case that you do everything yourself. Sound familiar? However, it may be a false economy to do the work yourself and therefore not pay for help.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I need more help?
  • Is my team working well for me or do I need to make changes?
  • Do I need to employ a person(s) to help or would using subcontractors work?

In my experience, many accountants and bookkeepers are run ragged trying to do everything themselves: the client work, the organisation of the systems, the marketing, etc.

Remember my first question – am I enjoying my work? Are there areas I need help with? You’re not failing if you admit you need help. Also, it may make economic success as you could be paying someone else to do tasks that free you up to do other tasks which bring in more income.

7. Time management and organisation

The previous steps will help you be less stressed and more successful. However, the biggest things you need to do are look at your time management and the systems you have in place.

Ask yourself:

  • Are there any systems I can put in place to help me? There may be apps you could use depending on your specific problem areas.
  • Is there a practice management system I could use?
  • Is there someone I could brainstorm this with to put efficiencies in place?

Remember, if your practice isn’t running as smoothly as it needs to then this will impact on all of the work and chasing(!) you do for clients. It’s worth spending the time and energy now to see if any changes need to be made.

There’s lots to take in – there always is, isn’t there! Give yourself time to think about your practice honestly and decide what changes you need to make – if any.  Don’t try to do everything in one go as this will cause overwhelm. Make a plan and work through it step by step. 

Good luck and if I can help you to improve the way you run your practice and therefore your work/life balance, then get in touch, I’m happy to help!

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