From humble beginnings in 2009 as a one-day-a-week accountant, Della Hudson has grown to managing a five-person firm in Bristol, with over 100 clients, within in six years.
Back in 2009, Della returned from four years living in France, seeking a good work/life balance with two small children. Unable to find part time work at a suitable level, she decided to take the plunge and go it alone.
Fast forward to 2015, and she is a fully certified Xero practice, with five staff and over 100 clients. But how did she do this, and what does she do to balance her firm, Hudson Accountants?
Della visited AccountingWEB offices last week to catch up with the site she says helped her during her early days, and shared her progress with us and how she achieved this.
Keeping the dream alive
Della said she has successfully kept her ideal practice, a professional, lifestyle one that allows her to spend time with her children, alive. A notebook she has kept from her start up days keeps her on track with this.
Back in 2009, and again the following year, Della gave us an interview. She imagined herself in five years' time to have two-home based staff, and spending less time on marketing.
However with a team of five and a very proactive marketing strategy, she appears to be surpassing her expectations.
Della said she "fell into accountancy, like many others", due to her interests. In school, she enjoyed numbers, people and computers - a combination that led her to pursuing the career after studying a chemistry degree.
Training in a small practice, coupled with this scientific background, allowed her to get to grips with more than just numbers and really be analytical about delving deep into what makes clients' businesses tick. And her aptitude for socialising and a general interest in people leads her to being a quite effective marketer.
“This is typical of the new breed of accountancy coming through. Now the KPIs are not just financial – for example elements such as writing articles, attending network events aren’t money focused but are important parts of running the firm," she said.
Focus on people
Something that is very important to Della, is the people and talent within the firm itself.
"If you have great people internally, eventually you will win the right clients. Having lots of clients is no good without the right support however. And we're not just bean counters, we're bean growers," she said.
As such, Della seeks people who are not only numerate but who do have the soft skills necessary to communicate effectively with clients.
She also operates via flexible working and flexible hours, which allows her staff to take care of their family lives outside work as well as get the job done. However she says there does have to be a manned office between the hours of 9 - 5 P.M. as clients do expect this.
Della said in terms of clients, she does not want to go down the road of specialising in a particular niche area. But in a way, many of her 100 clients are a specialism; that of business owners who are not solely interested in maximising profit but rather who care passionately about what they do.
However she does have quite a few "bread-and-butter" consultancy work clients, too. In terms of fees, Della's firm works on a fixed fee basis so the clients she is dealing with "know exactly what is going out each month". This also allows them to invoice and collect electronically on a monthly basis starting before the year end.
Della's firm is a Xero using firm as she says she finds it is "marginally better" than other products on the market. However, she will offer clients a range of cloud solutions depending on what is right for them.
Add-ons are also offered on a client-need basis. Della adds that she almost always recommends Receipt Bank and is looking into rolling out some others, such as Spotlight Reporting.
She first tests the add-ons out within her own firm, then to a few select clients, and afterwards rolls it out as part of her standard service.
All of her staff are Xero certified, and in addition they will support clients during their first month of using it.
Spreadsheets in Della's firm have been replaced by Xero's Practice Manager, which she has just finished implementing.
According to Della, all software and processes within her firm have to ensure "anything that happens regularly, happens easily."
Della is a firm advocate of using social media sites such as Twitter, which she uses not only to talk to clients, to network and keep abreast of industry information but to track her local competitors.
But while she is a social media butterfly, usually at around 7am and again in the evening, she's not shy of face-to-face conversation. She markets to clients in her local area as she said she'd be "bored not meeting clients."
In addition to the traditional forms of social media, Della has been an active member of AccountingWEB since 2009, and says the emails and Any Answers section played a big part in her start-up journey: "The users on this site are very generous, both at sharing and at entertaining."
Managing self assessment
Something Della spoke about in her previous AccountingWEB interviews was how she manages self assessment season.
She appears to have mastered this art somewhat, as she says it's "busy but not dreadful." This, perhaps, comes down to her firm's no-nonsense approach when it comes to latecomers.
"We do our best for clients," she said, "we send them three reminders but if they can't be bothered getting returns in on time to us, then why should we put ourselves out?"
During January, her firm will also not hold meetings to avoid having to work overtime to get everything done on time. This year, they were all finished days before the 31 January deadline.
Maintaining a work life balance
As the mother of two children, although more grown now, there is still a balance between work and family life to maintain, especially as Della's offices are in her home, an old post office.
Clients do email, which Della keeps an eye on, but outside of business she doesn't always answer right away where it isn't urgent and where she suspects someone may be trying to take advantage of her always switched-on approach.
"I will train them not to expect an answer all the time - for example, if it is during the weekend I will get back to them Monday morning unless it's a quick one to answer or very urgent," she said.
Della also has quite a proactive marketing strategy formulated. Although self-admittedly not a natural public speaker, Della holds local events called Money Matters for her clients and others.
These, she films and turns into three-four different sections, to be sent out in emails, hosted on her website and shared via social media.
These are also turned into articles for a local magazine Della writes for, in addition to sending out a monthly email with team news to clients and bulletins curated with 2020 content.
If you're a firm that has been in practice for a while, what does it look like now? Have you kept your original vision or moved on to a different track?