Each week, AccountingWEB’s Practice Talk series catches up with a different accountant in practice. This week we speak with Sarah Sallis, the director of the Accounting Excellence award winners The Accountancy Office.
Sarah Sallis started her practice in 2009 after working predominantly in industry. But after becoming frustrated with the red tape and the difficulty of implementing changes, she realised she missed working on a close level with people.
So, she took the leap of faith. The first few months included lots of late nights to get the website set up, networking and marketing. But the hard work paid off. She managed to gain clients, many of which are still with her today. The secret to her success goes back to why she wanted to set up her own practice in the first place.
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“In our area of Evesham we have quite a number of high street accountancy firms but I wanted to try and bring in a more personalised service and one where we are working with clients. Not just year-end but throughout the year,” she said.
It’s this personal touch that helped Sallis win the 2018 Accounting Excellence award for client service. The judges were impressed with her passion for client care which includes welcome gifts, weekly calls, dedicated training and an invitation to join her online community group.
And this is what she envisioned when she wanted to get back to basics and help small businesses grow. “It's never been about having this big practice, or reaching an income level, it's been about generating a firm which will work closely with clients.”
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What's the first thing you do when you start your working day?
When I start my working day I will come into the office, and if I have a drink it will be a hot chocolate on a cold morning. And then I'll log on to our practice management system, see what tasks are scheduled for the day and check the calendar and make sure everything is organised for the day ahead, such as any appointments or meetings.
Alongside the practice management software, it is logging on to the Xero, the software. I'm now using Xero and checking the core clients that we're monitoring the bookkeeping and bank reconciliations.
Do you check emails outside traditional office hours?
Yes, hands up. I find it very difficult to switch off, or I have done in the past. Mobile technology is fantastic which is now integrated into our lives, it makes things so much better but the downside is that we're permanently attached. It's very difficult to get away from it.
Up until very recently, it's just been me as a sole practitioner, I've found it important that I stay on top of emails. Even when I've been on holiday I've monitored the emails.
However, I had to take a backseat due to a death in the family. So I am now supported by my business manager Jane. She’s helping me step away. Knowing that somebody else has access to the email is a weight off my shoulders. I don't feel like I have to keep checking. If you've got the staff and support network it's a case of being disciplined.
Was it hard letting go?
It was very hard especially when Jane first came on board because I've always worked closely with my clients - it's me who they expect to see too. I know what's going on in their business. So yes, it was hard letting go, but I have managed to do that to some extent.
So, do the office hours ever really stop?
Even with the Christmas break ahead being always readily available is one of the services we offer. Clients know when our closed periods are but they also know we will continually check emails throughout the break. It's that peace of mind. Even on my mother's last few days, I had my MacBook with me and still keeping on top of things.
What do you do to unwind and escape the world of tax and accounts?
It's spending time with my two children - they're pony mad. So we're often stuck out in the middle of a field come rain or shine. We live in a beautiful area of the Cotswolds. So there are plenty of nice long walks with our absolutely manic springer spaniel. We’re also doing a bit of a renovation project on the property - that's taken up a lot of time. The free time I have is always pretty easy to fill.
Can you remember your first calculator?
Yes, and I've still got it. I can remember purchasing the Texas Instruments calculator from WHSmith many years ago because I was just starting a bookkeeping course. It doesn't come out that often now because it’s looking a bit worn - it's got to be 25 years old. It’s looking battered but it still works and still does the job. I've hung on to it for sentimental reasons.