As the government’s push towards tax digitalisation edged over the horizon, medium-sized practice Raffingers realised it needed to do something sooner rather than later.
Before HMRC had even inked a Making Tax Digital consultation document, the partners at Raffingers assembled a cloud team. This cloud team had one objective: to make life easier for their clients, especially the ones who will be disrupted by these sweeping digital changes.
Through the assistance of a cloud enablement team member, the firm aimed to soften the inevitable cloud mandation: “We've started to migrate as many clients onto the cloud as we can so it's not like we're saying 'you've got to be on it next week,’” Lauren Aston of Raffingers told AccountingWEB.
This proactive approach is not unusual for Raffingers; a firm that has such a bold mission statement: “We are life changers.”
Before they were helping their clients and they were helping businesses to grow and get more out of their finances, but they never stepped back and saw the benefit of what they were doing
It is this mission and the firm’s desire to be instrumental in the success of its clients that helped them win the Practice Excellence medium practice of the year award.
The mission statement grew out of a brainstorming session where the firm tried to pinpoint what it actually did for its clients. “Before they were helping their clients and they were helping businesses to grow and get more out of their finances, but they never stepped back and saw the benefit of what they were doing,” said Aston.
Look to the cloud
And now, this 'life changer' ethos feeds into everything they do (how could it not? After all, this is the firm that launched its own charity foundation).
The cloud team was partly born out of this. The firm saw an uptick of clients adopting Xero as their chosen accounting software. Rather than just leave these clients with the general accounts team, Raffingers thought these clients would benefit from a dedicated person who could explore different add-ons with them, and to find new ways to streamline their processes.
Aston said how the cloud team started with just one person who was anointed as the firm’s cloud expert. Accepting the digitalisation of tax and the adoption growth in their own client ranks, the firm recruited more team members to this rapidly growing team.
Now, the cloud team visits client offices or trains them over Skype. On top of that, Raffingers has launched monthly webinars for the people that don't want the training, but want to find out how they can do it themselves.
“We're giving everyone plenty of time,” explained Aston. “It's making it as easy as possible for them. With all the training and managing it all in-house or one-on-one training they can do it themselves.”
But the firm’s client commitment doesn’t end with their MTD strategy. “All of our clients get a direct line to our partners so they can contact them whenever,” explained Aston. “If we sign someone up we won't give them to a manager, so they will always have that partner.”
All of our clients get a direct line to our partners so they can contact them whenever. If we sign someone up we won't give them to a manager, so they will always have that partner.
In fact, the partners are tasked with a KPI to meet all of their clients three months prior to their year-end to carry out a business review. This focus on partner accessibility has enabled 96% of their clients to always be able to contact a partner.
Also, the firm’s renewed focus towards putting the client at the heart of everything they do influenced their decision to overhaul their website. "The old website was very 'typical accountants'" said Aston. Of course, this staid presentation didn’t reflect the firm’s new forward-thinking and approachable stance.
However, the revamped website boasts more visuals, tools and resources for clients, and is fuelled by the partners writing more articles. Instead of leaving it there, Raffingers targeted their SEO to get the website listed for the services it wanted support: probate and recruitment. And this led to an increase of inquiries: the firm attributes 50% of its leads to its website.
Next on their website agenda is sending a photographer to some of their clients’ offices to help entice other potential clients in the same sector. But the firm has dipped into another targeted method of attracting their ideal sector – partnering with estate agents Winkworth.
“The estate agents found their clients were not coming into their offices or utilising their services, so they wanted to provide something extra to their clients,” said Aston.
Raffingers embraced the opportunity to speak about business and property, how to save tax, buy-to-let, and what the laws are. “This was one of the easiest events we did,” said Aston, “because they targeted their database and called it a tax information evening... it managed to boost our landlord and property clients and got us in front of so many people.”
Such was the demand for these events that the Greenwich session was spread across two days to accommodate the interest. The Ealing event rivalled that attendance when 120 people turned up, causing the organisers to hire out a local hotel.
And Raffingers is not just focussed on being life changers for their clients and new business. Raffingers recognised that in order to grow their firm that they had to listen to their employees. In order to do this, the firm brought in external help to gauge the team’s thoughts about working life – no matter how brutally honest the team were. “It was good therapy,” Aston laughed.
The work culture quickly changed following these one-to-one meetings. Gone were the regimented lunch and work hours, and in their place, the firm welcomed a more flexible approach. Breaking away from the disciplined nine to five work day not only led to a revitalised workforce, but with more people in the office later and earlier, the firm can fit around their clients’ working habits.
The mentoring sessions have helped people who have ideas and are unsure what to do with them. One partner helped one team member draw up a plan of what she wants to do and she will present it to the partners.
The other issue clear from these meetings was the communication divide between the team and partners. From this, Raffingers set up a mentoring scheme where everybody in the team is allocated a partner to meet every three months. During these mentoring sessions, the team members discuss their goals, personal achievements and the partner helps achieve their aspirations.
“The partners have dedicated themselves to it,” said Aston. “The mentoring sessions have helped people who have ideas and are unsure what to do with them. One partner helped one team member draw up a plan of what she wants to do and she will present it to the partners.
“The mentoring scheme gives everyone an opportunity to have input in the firm,” she added.
Again, everything Raffingers does filters back through that mission statement.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.