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Turn up the heat on summertime strategising

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It is too easy to get lost in the hurly-burly of day-to-day life. So in the quiet days of summer, Philip Fisher encourages accountants to forget client and staff problems and consider strategic issues.

14th Aug 2023
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As highly respected professionals, we can inadvertently become victims of our own success.

Clients and staff often regard us as the founts of all knowledge, insisting on speaking to the man or woman at the top when, in many cases, they have less direct understanding of an issue than those working at the coalface.

Ironically, this can cost those paying by the hour too – given that partner charge-out rates will always be significantly more than those for managers or seniors – while the cost is often multiplied since the partners will consult those managers or seniors before responding.

Sometimes, being king or queen of the castle can be pleasurable, demonstrating the respect in which you are held, thereby boosting the ego.

It is also great for control freaks, who never need to concern themselves about potential disasters caused by colleagues who probably can be fully trusted but often aren’t.

Fighting the fires

There are two primary problems with consistent firefighting. First, it can be very wearing leading to excessive stress, especially when more than one fire needs attention and each client regards their own as the overriding importance.

Secondly, if you spend all day, every day dealing with inconsequential client queries and minor staffing issues, it leaves no time to run your business.

That is what August should be for. Given that most clients and colleagues are likely to be away, transactions will have stopped and phone and email communication drops from a flood to a trickle. This means that, unless you are planning to go away for the duration, the summer presents the perfect opportunity to stop and think about your practice and your personal goals.

Whether you are a partner in reasonably large practice, something much smaller or a sole practitioner, many of the issues that need to be considered are common.

You will be in a very lucky minority, if nothing needs to change. Typically, there could be parts of the business that are unprofitable and need to be fixed or ditched. Similarly, some colleagues may be past their sell-by dates, while others must be rewarded and retained at almost any cost.

Most accountants like the idea of growing their businesses, since that should help them to fortify their own bank balances. This doesn’t just happen. Perhaps you need to introduce a few new niches, expand staff numbers (if that is possible in the current tight employment market), open additional offices or do something a little more drastic like buying a block of fees, taking over a smaller operation or merging with like-minded fellows running a complementary practice.

After three years of flux resulting from the pandemic, you might also be in the position where it is time to close an office, downsize or, at the very least, have a chat with a landlord or two to negotiate more favourable terms.

Positive action

While many of these issues will have been in the backs of partners’ minds for months, if not years, it is only by focusing on them when there is a little bit of mental space free that positive action can be considered, discussed with fellows and brought to fruition. Indeed, brainstorming is often neglected in the hurly-burly of office life and can be extremely valuable, whether with fellow partners, more junior colleagues or even friends from other professions.

If you are moving into or even out of middle age, retirement and succession should also be in the forefront of your mind, since ploughing into your 80s because nobody will pay enough for your business might appeal to the workaholic in you, few accountants want to work themselves into their grave and you probably aren’t one of them.

The alternative to taking positive action in the next few weeks is to bury your head in the sand at the seaside, forget all about office life and then spend the coming year suffering from all of the blights that you might easily have resolved with a little careful thought.

If this makes sense, block out a couple of hours in relevant diaries and make what could be the best investment of the year.

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By Hugo Fair
15th Aug 2023 22:32

"Typically, there could be parts of the business that are unprofitable and need to be fixed or ditched. Similarly, some colleagues may be past their sell-by dates, while others must be rewarded and retained at almost any cost."

The only thing that surprise me with this article is the idea that *now* is the time to contemplate these (and other similar) issues - as if it's an annual exercise!

Whenever I've worked with one or more other directors/partners, we have always:
1. Met every month to review general performance (the numbers), but ALSO reviewed the 'softer side' (people, clients, projects, offices, etc) to identify emergent potential issues; and
2. Booked a weekend away from the office once per quarter, where we discuss and/or 'model' how those potential issues may play out or be tackled.

The commitment in time is miniscule if you're serious about your business (and you get to know your colleagues and their concerns better in a relatively calm atmosphere).

If you wait a year you'll either be annoyed at 'the wasted time' in making the changes, or mourning the fact that it is often by then too late.

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