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Time management

I have been in practice for over two years and grown the practice well in terms of client numbers and fee income. Client base started at 5 and is now just over 100. Fee income has reached approx £80k. I have a full time technician doing the guts of the work (payroll, VAT, accounts prep, tax returns) although I still meet the clients, finalise some cases myself and look after all the practice management/development side of things such as:

  • Practice accounts, admin and compliance
  • New client meetings and sign up procedures
  • Marketing

Recently things have been fairly hectic and I feel it is down to a number of things:

  1. Poor time management by me - I haven't set aside time to review jobs and get these finalised with clients, especially the SA tax cases. My wife and I are expecting our first child soon and I want all my SA tax cases done by Xmas if possible so I'll need to focus on these for the next 4-5 weeks.
  2. Need to get my technician to do more, which means a bit more time now to be spent with her getting tax returns finalised, but worthwhile in the long run.
  3. The admin/compliance/accounts side of things is taking more time. All clients are on monthly SO which is good but needs closely monitored. 
  4. Jumping to client requests too quickly at the cost of more important/urgent work.
  5. Replying to client emails probably too often/quickly.
  6. Allowing too many client meetings for trivial issues.

The changes I am considering are as follows:

  1. Block out specific time in my diary to review SA tax cases only with my technician.
  2. I've considered hiring someone for part-time admin work, maybe one day per week (or two half days), to take over the practice accounts, admin, new client sign up documents etc. (it takes 2 hours or so to get all documentation in place for new clients!)
  3. Allow client meetings only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with maximum of 3-4 meetings per day.
  4. Check emails first things every morning and respond/delegate accordingly. Then, turn on an "Out of Office Response" even when I am in the office to say something like "Thank you for your email. Our firm responds to all email communication from our customers within 24 hours so you will hear from us again before this time tomorrow. If your request or issue is of a more urgent nature, please contact our office".
  5. Using the phone a bit more to resolve client queries rather than email, especially to determine whether or not a meeting with me is absolutely necessary.

Anyone got any further thoughts or experience or my current situation?  All advice greatly appreciated!

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You are doing well

Yes, you need to improve your time management but I wouldn't try to be too unapproachable. I don't like the out of office thing especially when the client phones and you are in the office. I would concentrate on more staff and ensure you deal with the right level of work.

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I can sense that you are feeling under pressure at the moment. I dont think that anybody can get perfect time management, just the nature of our business demands a certain amount of flexibility, so any formal structure will be unsustainable in the long run.

For me the one thing that has always helped is being a very early riser. Two hours of work in the morning before the phone rings and before staff arirve is more productive than the rest of the day. Clients even ring into the night, but they wont ruin their sleep to catch me in a morning.

One other thing I do is make calls from the car (using hands free). If I am busy, but know I am going to be driving in the next 30 minutes I will get reception to take a message and then use the time driving to return all the calls.

I know I will get attacked by all the other people on here for saying this, but accountants were born to work long hours, this shows that time management doesnt really work.

 

 

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@sparkey999
... a book that is really valuable is 'Do it Tomorrow' by Mark Forster, it's been really helpful to me...

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In the same boat!
I also struggle with time management. We have 2 young children (toddler and new born) so working before 10 am (up much earier obvoiusly!) and after 5 isnt really easy. The way I see it is we don't have a nice shiny product at the end of our work - the client isn't buying something . So the only thing we reallycan sell is customer service. I get nervous about too much "she's not in right now" and out of offices and slow email replies. That's why I hate to not take a call etc. I feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place cos too many disturbances and I can't get anything done!

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You are human after all

I've come full circle and am now in the enviable position of having "just" 75 clients compared to 140 3 years ago and suddenly have much more time on my hands. 

I've read loads of books on time/work/life management but because I'm not a robot I found that trying to keep to "the rules" just added more stress, so, as hinted at above, you have to find the bits that make sense to you and that fit in with how you work, leaving yourself flexible to dip into your work and others on a day (or two day) basis.

Unnecessary client meetings are the biggest waste of time, because you are wasting their and your own time.  I used to work with a a partner who had always discussed every set of accounts face to face but chances are most clients saw this as the least valuable of meetings and even a chore, compared to the many phone calls & "pop-ins" during the rest of the year.

I too have always kept just 2 days for meetings or even client catching up (long phone calls) but make it Monday/Tuesday rather than a day in the middle, in which you will tend not to work that efficiently.

Saying "NO can't do but will be able to do it..." is a great thing to get into the habit of doing.  I used to give a presentation to groups of accountants years ago called "looking after number 1" in which you should ideally be giving just as much attention to what you and the firm needs as you do to the clients' needs, for me "the customer is always right" went out with Sparticus!

The other obvious area is efficiency, there is always a better way to do things but you give yourself no stand back time to consider it.  Even since I've been back out on my own I still take 2-3 days every 6 months away with just laptop & thoughts to consider how I do things, what's in store, how to make better use of what I have.

Until you have got things working efficiently, adding someone else into the mix is likely to cause you more grief than relief, so I would not suggest you take on an admin person till you are sure you have your admin working smoothly, chances are you then won't need them.

On emails, think of it the other way around, how do you like to be responded to?  If I can't look at it for a day or two, I just flash a reply thanking them and saying "tied up for a couple of days will get back to you on Thursday, or early next week..." that takes all the pressure off and 9 times out of 10 the urgency you feel to respond is yours not the client's.

Efficiency, ie doing more with less, is also an antidote to the mantra that you must have growth, I'm earning only slightly less than I did 3 years ago, with nearly half the clients and 60% of the fees and this goes hand in hand with probably the most important "rule" of only dealing with clients that match how you want to work and who you can do the best job for.

This means grading them A-D but initially just ID the D's and find a way to get them to work better or ask them to move on, if you haven't done this already then youy'll be amazed by the relief of knowing that you'll never have to deal with them again.

Am only to happy to chat over stuff, via PM, I've worn out the T shirts!

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Direct Debit not Standing Order??

Have you considered direct debit oppose to standing order to deal with variable as well as fixed amounts?

The ability to pull agreed variable or fixed amounts from a clients bank account ensures your debtor days are reduced, cash flow improved and credit control streamlined.

However, setting up an in-house Direct Debit facility requires sponsorship in to the Bacs scheme from your bank, as well as expensive Bacs approved software, back office capabilities to manage admin.

A Bacs approved Bureau can offer this facility as an outsourced solution. Offering a fully managed Direct Debit processing service without any requirement of sponsorship from your bank. Collections can be made in your name, managed in the most secure of environments, paper or paperless sign up's etc. making Direct Debit viable!

If this isn't an attractive collection method to your accountancy practice then I'm sure it will be to many of your clients in an economic climate where cash flow is extremely important. Offering advice to adopt payment methods that improve cash flow adds value to your service offering in a competitive market.

Check out first capital cashflow for more info

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Direct Debit

Simon is with First Capital and so will, presumably, have a vested interest in making these and his previous posts on the topic, but I agree, now that they are available to us mere mortals, direct debits are a great way to manage practice finance and cut down on time.

We use Gocardless which charges 1% per transaction to a max of £2, with no setup fee.  By chance they now also link to FreeAgent (Iris Openbooks) invoicing making them even more useful for us.

Not sure what First Capital charge, it's not obvious from their website, but would be interested to know.

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Idea

Yeah, work 14 hours a day 7 days a week

 

My record when I was the same sive as you was to work 117 hours in one week...lets see if you can top that...

 

Oh and next time you hire some one as you grow, hire an ACA or and ACCA....not a technician.... The amount of supervision work becomes negligable and they can help with other stuff too as they will be dead clever...

 

Its what I did and now I ahve 10 of them and run 1500 clients...youll get there if you follow my model. The hardest time for me was at the stage where you are now...your next staff member will be crucial on the future strategy of the co

 

Als get the technician to put 100 hours in too at overtime rates...they should be up for it...well if hes money orientated...or give him a bonus on each job he finishes...I do something similar, productivity heres off the scale

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Organisation is the key

I am a sole practitioner with 150 clients , I dont have the luxury of someone working for me.  I find the best way to organise things is to collect and complete the information through the year, so that you dont have a last minute panic.  You do have to work hard to educate your clients to have their records early but you can sell them many benefits for doing this.  As to who to employ, I would employ a technician as you can train them to the way you want them to work and they will be more flexible, more qualified and they will have their own ways and might not fit in so well. I am 92% through mine as you always have the last minute stragglers you cant educate, but thats life.

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o/s tax returns

I still have 614.....

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Welcome to the family.

As Queen Victoria said,

Lay back and think of England.

We all go through this. Trouble is, many of the solutions involve annoying the client. There will always be those clients that wait until 29th January to give you their stuff. Otherwise you have to train your clients. Also, a small discount on fees, or a bottle of booze,  for timely submission of papers works wonders.

As regards debt collecting, many years ago I moved to having all new and most existing clients pay by monthly standing order. This may be difficult at first, but if you put it off, it will get harder. It really does make for a more peaceful existence.

Assuming as an accountant you know how to manage budgets, then as far as employing staff is concerned, this is a personal decision.

You should know from your experience of clients that our world is divided into those that are able to be "Partners", and or manage staff, and or grow companies, and those that are psychologically "Sole traders".

You have to find your own place in this hierarchy, but do not drive yourself crazy over it. Life is too short.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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oops I just noticed

I read the comments about direct debits.

I believe professional rules state that we may not take fees from clients money accounts except and unless the client has approved.

Besides I wonder how long one will keep a client, when the client realises you may swipe money out of his personal / business account without his express approval?

 

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David - couple of points

We don't "all go through this", we get over 90% of our information in within 3-5 months of the year end and we have 2 returns & 2 sets of accounts just being finished of now.  I think we are waiting for 2 clients to show up but they already know we don't do late tax return or accounts work in January and so if they come in, and if we do the work, it will be in Feb-April.

With regard to Direct debits, the Gocardless system sends the client a weblink and they login in and tick OK, this enables our bank to take the money, in one hit or over a period.

 

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