From Haines Watts to practice owners (with a little help from AccountancyManager)
Christopher Blunn, Alex Shall and Pete Heslington met as partners at Haines Watts in London - and became firm friends. Discovering a shared ambition, they became friends with a firm in late 2020. Chris talks to AM’s Jonathan about Praxis’ first six months and how they’re finding AM.
A pandemic, an acquisition and a launch
In 2019, Chris, Alex and Pete were seriously considering setting up their own practice. “We started exploring the potential for doing so and handed in our notices just before lockdown hit.” Praxis went live on 1 October 2020.
“Obviously we weren't anticipating a global pandemic but our confidence didn’t waver. We had great relationships with our clients and they are mostly established, innovative, and relatively stable businesses - including some of the country's largest architectural practices.”
Just before Praxis went live, Chris and his partners acquired Grace Frank - a small accountancy practice owned by Morisha Christy, a friend and former colleague of Chris. “So as well as going live as a new practice on the 1st October, we completed the acquisition of Grace Frank.”
Finding a practice management software up to the challenge
Faced with two client sets, an existing infrastructure and staff from Grace Frank and high-profile clients used to the highest level of service, finding the right practice management software was critical.
So far we’re incredibly pleased with AccountancyManager.”
“We needed something that was relatively easy to get data into, manipulate and export from and so far we’re incredibly pleased with AccountancyManager. We're definitely not using it to its full potential yet, so it's only getting better, but we're easing ourselves into it. It's been a busy six months, but we're already ahead of budget in terms of targeted new business income.”
Christopher Blunn, Partner
Trying out every cloud option under the sun
Chris, Alex and Pete have always worked at established firms, with on-premise systems, like IRIS and CCH. One of their primary reasons for wanting to set up a practice was to start with a clean slate. “We could see how the cloud market was developing for practising accountants and it seemed like a real opportunity for us to jump on board with that.”
We were pretty close to going with Senta… then I found AccountancyManager and instantly thought, ‘Oh, wow.”
“We looked at various options before coming across AccountancyManager... Onvio and Senta, quite a few startup offerings and the more established suppliers too. We were pretty close to going with Senta. I liked the way the interface was set out and they had some good integrations. Then I found AccountancyManager and instantly thought, ‘Oh, wow’.
...AccountancyManager ticks more boxes than anything else. It looks really good and it's reasonably priced.”
“One thing we did know was that any software we committed to needed to integrate in some way with Xero. AM ticked that box, and ticked the boxes of workflow management, tasks, document management… and we love the automation features. It doesn't tick all the boxes, nothing does yet, but AccountancyManager ticks more boxes than anything else. It looks really good and it's reasonably priced.”
Nervous about automation? Just pause the queue by default.
Chris and the team took to most AM features - such as the task list, client portal and onboarding - like swans to the Thames, but were a bit reluctant to switch on the automated record request and reminder emails and texts. AM sends these out to the right clients at the right time - based on their Companies House dates. You can customise what the emails and texts say and choose how often to automatically chase clients.
We were nervous about emails going out without first being vetted. Then I realised that you can just pause the entire queue by default.”
“We were nervous about emails going out without being first vetted. Then I realised that you can just pause the entire queue by default. Now we’ve started to use a lot more of the automation for things like chasing records, HMRC agent codes, mailshots - like, technical updates to clients - because the ‘email all’ feature is really good too.”
A leap of faith worth taking
So was it worth it? “Automated emails are great.” Chris says. We’ll take that as a yes. “In the past, to chase records, you’d either find last year's email, click 'forward' and adjust it - or you’d set up an email template and tailor it once a year.”
“But what AccountancyManager does, more importantly, is the automation. I can go into AccountancyManager now and it's automatically generated those 'records chasers' because the year-end has passed.”
Automated emails are great… they’re really, really valuable.”
“Now, I don't have to schedule time once a month to look at our total client list, sort by year-end date and see who I need to contact. It's all of those little nudges. They're really, really valuable.”
A personal assistant for everyone at the firm (for only £39 a month each)
“It's a little bit like having a PA.” Chris mused. “I've had a couple of really good PAs in the past. They're not accountants and don't know the technical stuff, but they know the workflow. They know the clients. They know when things need to happen. And they’ll just remind you - because you're busy trying to win new work or deliver work and AccountancyManager is doing that to a large extent.”
It allows us to focus on the relationship more than the process.”
“It's not about taking people's jobs away. It really isn't. We want to run a firm that has people in it, but we want those people to be focussed on client service and talking to clients, not hassling them or remembering to hassle them or sending stuff out and realising you’ve sent the wrong thing. It allows us to focus on the relationship more than the process.”
Using AccountancyManager to control whole firm’s workflow
Chris reports that AM has been adopted well by his team, with the task list forming the basis for weekly team meetings and helping to prioritise each of their day-to-day workloads.
“Everyone is adopting it very quickly as it's so easy to use. In terms of workflow, we update job stages and progress notes, monitor deadlines and feed those reports into our weekly team meetings. We’re using AccountancyManager to control the whole practice workflow, certainly in terms of compliance and recurring work which is allocated to different staff members, it's brilliant.”
Onboarding and an online portal - fit for the techiest of clients
Chris appreciates the ability to onboard new clients entirely using AccountancyManager.
“We simply tick the services the client needs, send the proposal email, it all goes into the portal, and they sign it on screen. It makes the turnaround faster and client experience better. We don't have to remember to go and tick that they've signed the engagement letter because it's automatically done.”
“We have a lot of tech clients so it’s important to be able to collaborate with them using cloud software - like we do with Silverfin. And that's where AccountancyManager portal is quite handy. It would be great if we could brand it though so that it's our portal rather than them logging into AccountancyManager…. I know you guys are working on that”
We certainly are Chris, our portal white labelling feature has just been released to a limited number of users to test it before it’s launched in a few weeks’ time.
A ‘really clever’ approach to help and support
We’re quite proud of our support team, they frequently get shout outs from users on social media, consistently maintain a 98% - 99% satisfaction rating and provide a great deal of support internally too. Chris - and his admin consultant Annie - have had similar experiences.
The help menu is fantastic, the little video clips... and the walk through navigations. It’s a really clever way of approaching help and support.”
The software is intuitive anyway but the help menu is fantastic, the little video clips that you've put together and the walk through navigations. It’s a really clever way of approaching help and support. Presumably, that helps reduce your support desk requirement, but whenever we have had to go to the support desk... fantastic.”
So help's easy to find, support desk is great, it’s intuitive in any case, easy to import data, easy to set up a new client.”
“Annie has been increasingly helping us with some of the admin processes like AML and creating custom fields for things like - have we signed clients up to the newsletter? So she's been working with your support team to navigate that. I spoke to her yesterday and she said she’s really glad she started talking to them because they're so helpful, which was always my experience too.”
A final thought from Chris
The value of AccountancyManager is hard to put into words, especially if you’re trying to avoid the old ‘save time and money’ line. So we like to get our users to try instead.
“It's all those little things that you could mention to someone and they'd just say, ‘well, how long does that take anyway? What's the problem?' But it’s those little things that end up taking over your life. Ten times a week you might think 'oh I must do that' - that's mental capacity that you could’ve been spending on something else.”
“I'm all about reducing friction - a box being automatically ticked rather than me manually ticking it. The time saving is one element, but it's having a system that you trust, that’s making things happen, so I don’t have to think about it.”
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