Freeing up time to build a start-up practice

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Mark Lee
Mentor and Speaker for accountants
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It’s often a shock to the system when you start to run your own practice. There’s so much to do and so many conflicting priorities, says Mark Lee.

Few start-up practices look to take on employed staff from the outset. Many avoid it even further down the line too and find alternative ways to secure the support they require.

Most accountants who look to start-up their own practice come from one of two specific backgrounds. They either previously worked in practice or they worked in-house for a business. Rarely will they have had cause to consider all of the options available to secure support for the business or practice owner.

To an extent it’s fair to assume that the choice is simply to take someone on as an employed member of staff or to engage self-employed support. But this is not the whole picture.

Let’s start by considering what motivated you to start your own practice.

Did you perhaps:

  • Consider it was the only way forward after redundancy
  • Act on your long term dream to be your own boss
  • Simply feel that you could provide a better service to clients than was possible in a larger firm?

I doubt anyone starts out with an overriding desire to do everything all by themselves. Everything, including all the administration required to run a small practice, handling all phone calls and all the practice’s bookkeeping as well as all of the payroll, bookkeeping, accounts prep, calls to HMRC and tax return work for all clients.

And yet, when you start out there’s rarely anyone else around to help you with any of those things. Did you really slog your guts out to train and qualify as an accountant to spend large parts of each day doing all of those things? Or maybe you enjoy them. That’s fine.

Full time v part time

One reason why we tend to avoid taking on staff initially is that we rarely need full time support. We think it would be costly and that there wouldn’t be enough for them to do.

It’s easy to forget that part time support is an option and there are plenty of people around who will gladly commit to provide their services for anything from a day a month to a day or two a week.

What type of support?

What do you need? A telephone answering service, a virtual PA, diary management, website management, blog and article writing, specialist advice or bookkeeping help for clients or just for your practice?

Yes, I know you can also outsource social media engagement but this strikes me as a contradiction in terms and I’m not a fan especially for start-up practices. I doubt it will often prove cost effective.

Sources of support

Identifying potential sources of support is important and a key lesson should become apparent from what follows below.

Let’s assume you want to find out more about what a virtual PA could do for you and how you would find one.

What would you do? – beyond reading any comments added to this article. 

You’d probably ask around your friends and family and anyone else you know who might use a virtual PA. You would probably also look up the concept on line. Having found out what it means and decided you want to try out the idea, you’d either get in touch with someone recommended to you or you’d search for a virtual PA in or near your local area. Perhaps you’d click on a relevant advert that appears among the search results. Or maybe you’d ask around at your local networking group.

Why is this important? Simply because it’s much the same approach that prospective clients will take when they want to find a new accountant. Which option most appeals to you? Which is easiest and likely to be most reliable? We won’t all agree of course, and your preference may not be the same as that of your prospective clients.

Outsourcing v offshoring

Just a quick word here to stress that you can engage either UK based or overseas based people to provide any of these support services. It is a mistake to assume that ‘outsourcing’ is synonymous with ‘offshoring’.

If you have a preference and the location of the support service isn’t obvious from their website, simply ask them.

Virtual PAs

Shortly after I first appointed a virtual PA I realised I had made a huge mistake.

My mistake was not having appointed a virtual PA much sooner!

Previously I had wasted so much of my valuable time doing things that my virtual PA could do faster and more efficiently. She wasn’t expensive I wasn’t committed to paying her for more help or time than I needed on a month-by-month basis.

I have also found a valuable side benefit of engaging an experienced virtual PA. She often listens to what I want to achieve and suggests ways in which we could progress such ambitions. She has even more experience than do I in terms of online tools and techniques. So I spend less time searching online for specific solutions, recommendations and reviews.

Are you being productive?

It’s very easy to be continuously very busy when you start up your own practice. There’s so much to do every day. You have to set priorities and manage your time carefully.

How often though are you simply busy doing simple tasks or admin related tasks that could easily be delegated to a virtual PA? This would give you more time for productive work including:

  • Attending regular networking events
  • Following up with the people you meet
  • Visiting prospective clients
  • Building relationships with clients, introducers and influencers

These will all be more worthwhile uses of your time. But perhaps you choose to avoid doing such things because you are busy with admin. You don’t have to be. Often it’s just an excuse to keep you busy even if such work is not very productive and isn’t helping you build your business.

Have you used any outsourced support like a virtual PA or phone answering service? Or, indeed, any other form of support? Please share your experiences as comments below.

Related reading

Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB. He also facilitates The Inner Circle group for accountants, entertains as a conference speaker on ‘How to STAND OUT and ensure you are remembered, referred and recommended’; and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists providing help and support to smaller practices.


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18th Jul 2014 10:40

Other options

It really is challenging isn't it!

Gaining the first few clients is the easy bit, but a few months down the line, when the accountant is bogged down with bookkeeping, accounts prep, tax work etc where are the leads going to come from to grow the practice?

Where do they find the time and skill to be a Marketing Director? Operations Director? HR Director? Finance Director? Office Manager? etc

Maybe consider a franchise? They will help support in all these areas. This then leaves the accountant to do what they do best, service and retain their hard earned client base.



Thanks (0)
18th Jul 2014 11:26

When I set up I found a lot of clients wanted to finalise their current year's accounts with the old accountant, which meant that there was a year delay before having to start work. At that point whether to employ someone was an easier question to answer because I knew we had a good base of clients to fund their salary. But for the first year I was constantly seeing potential clients and setting up the infrastructure of the business. 

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