Practice Talk: Phil Bessant from Phil Bessant Ltd
Joining Practice Talk this week is Phil Bessant, the director of the eponymous accountancy firm based in Newport, South Wales.
With a career spanning 43 years, Bessant has worked in both industry and practice. He started as soon as he hung up his school bag for the last time at 17, when he joined British Steel. Some 12 months later he was working at the company’s Sheffield HQ helping to control cashflows and performance.
Since then, Bessant has worked across a variety of industries including aerospace, cosmetics and engineering, before he launched Phil Bessant Limited in 2012.
Bessant’s approach towards working with and supporting clients is that it should be a good experience rather than one that fills you with fear and trepidation.
A look at his typical day shows that Bessant achieves this through integrating himself in his clients’ day-to-day work life. And this close relationship is strengthened through Bessant’s belief in the importance of a work-life balance. He has given his staff the opportunity to work from home whenever possible or at their clients’ premises.
“There is someone answering the phone in the office, but other than that, the rest of the team are either working out with clients or from home. It's made a massive difference to our efficiency.”
Without the shackles of timesheets which Bessant did away with in 2012 since the “client couldn’t care less if it took one or ten hours”, the flexible work-life has also had a positive effect on the staff’s work-life balance. And last January the staff enjoyed the benefits of this close client working relationship during tax return season by having days off, which was always forbidden.
“They’ve got a family and a life outside of work and the happier you are outside of work, the happier you are at work,” said Bessant.
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“First thing is to make sure that all of yesterday's emails have been responded to before the telephone starts ringing. I leave the office somewhere between 8am and 8.30am to go see a client or welcome clients into the office.
One thing I've established over the years is that clients are a lot more relaxed in their own premises than yours. Getting information out of them to enable us to develop their business is much easier if they're feeling comfortable in their own place.
I spend 80% of my time with clients talking about how we can improve their figures and the other 20% is making sure that everything is ticking away nicely in the office and the staff are happy.
In the last eight months, we've taken two big steps: we shut the office from 2pm on a Friday and the other step we've made is to give the opportunity to work from home. The staff control their own diaries, they control their own time, and we don't record time in any way – we do is record tasks.
We have a Tuesday morning meeting at 9am. Every member of staff, including me, is tasked with bringing to that meeting three things that they're going to achieve this week. If you say those three things you're going to do, then no one else can stop you from doing them other than you. There was a time when some staff members had a to-do list with 40 items. We then use Trello to make sure we all keep on top our tasks and don't get anything late.
It may not be lunchtime but I will always have a break. I only live a mile away so I often head home to see the wife and dog. It's harder when you're working from home because it's easy to carry on working. Yet, on the other hand, there are not as many telephone interruptions or nobody there to chat to.
I go home at 5pm and spend time with the family. If I have a little work to do, it's usually an hour between 7pm and 8pm. I might turn the laptop on and check one or two things and move on. But I am not spending as much time working outside of hours as I used to.
Since we've started remote working we’ve all worked an awful lot fewer weekends. You always get the odd client who wants something done by Monday so you have to work the weekend to get it done, but they are fewer and far between because we work so much closer and educate the clients that you can't leave it that late.
Answering emails after work is something I discourage. You tend to find clients start to expect that as the norm. What you find though is clients who email at 6pm do so because it is on their mind, not because they're expecting an immediate answer.
In the last 12 months, I've got to the point where I don't take my phone out in the evening. It used to be that if it buzzed in my pocket I had to answer it. But often I'll go out and leave my phone in the house.”