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Sarah-Jane's second blog: the tax consultant returns

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2nd Oct 2008
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Sarah Jane Sinnott could not believe her luck when she won £10,000 worth of practice development consultancy from TAX UK in a competition carried by AccountingWEB. Over the next few months we will be following her progress as she looks to bring on her practice, helped by Lesley Stalker of TAX UK. This is her second report.

The second visit from Lesley seemed to come around in super quick time and I was still striving to complete her action plan from last month:- in summary:

  • Recruitment – find the right person or have a firm vision of the perfect person (we now have this).
  • Prepare a checklist list of our services to be used for quoting purposes. This will ensure that we offer all of our services but only quote for the services our clients want (this is working really well and we are picking up additional work).
  • Arrange current staffing responsibilities and review our current appraisal system (this needs further development and careful monitoring).
  • Review our marketing strategy and ensure that our current referrers are sure of the services we can offer (our new marketing campaign kicks off next month).

The day before I had ticked off each point on my action plan either as achieved or in process. However, if I had not had Lesley visiting the next day I might have taken a month or two to get around to it!

Our second meeting with Lesley centred on staff and workflow management. We discussed the practice, the people and what expertise was missing. The conversation flowed easily – then came the killer question – Sarah, what does your dream practice look like? I felt like I was 10 ten years old. Errr… the people are happy? Urm… they like working for us? And they are knowledgeable?

Lesley had hit upon something very interesting – I had no idea what I wanted my practice to eventually look like, although I had a firm idea of what I wanted to achieve financially. I was aiming at nothing and hitting it with amazing accuracy! I needed to imagine the perfect practice and take steps towards it by setting myself goals.

Taking that on board we continued to discuss staff management and Lesley suggested an appraisal system linked to our business plan, which we will be developing later. I was, and still am, finding staff management an issue and one that I find difficult to grasp. However, I am fully aware that I cannot accept responsibility for every action taken in the office and it is time for me to empower my staff and let them take more responsibility. Ok, so I will become less important but my life should be so much easier!

Some further background on my firm – until fairly recently I had a team that I had developed over six years, that knew me and my business very well. We were using basic but effective software packages and spreadsheets to meet deadlines. In the last year we lost all of those employees! They all left good reasons, one found love on the Internet and moved 200 miles away, but none left because they hated working for me. On reflection, I think, they left because they saw no future in our firm and saw growth but no change in what they would be doing or any personal development.

The new staff are young, more able to take on change but are inexperienced. We have also lost that ‘this how we do things’ ethos and the firms work is subject to confusion and relies heavily on me to meet deadlines.

Lesley and I agreed the first thing to do to remedy the situation was to put great working systems in place and manage the workflow. The first goal I was set was to find out if Sage (my current software) could help me manage my practice better. On investigation, it could help but not as much as Iris practice management software.

The software looks great and we are all very excited especially my practice manager. By sharing the issues of the practice, members of the team have come forward to help solve them and at times have more enthusiasm then I do to complete the task. My practice manager can’t wait to get started and systemise, whereas I can see the benefit but lack excitement about the task in hand.

We are installing Iris in the next few weeks and it should reform our practice. You can set deadlines, tasks, run various reports, etc but the great thing is it manages jobs, step by step and this reinforces the ‘how we do things’ ethos.

By managing workflow and systemising our jobs, my staff will know what is expected of them, they should be happier because they’re reaching their targets, I will have more time, and clients will be happier because there is system to each job and a contact requirement. It will also be transparent when we need new staff and new clients can be brought in easier without the worry of how we can service the work. I will update you next month on our progress.

Although I have not enjoyed this part of the businesses development, I do see that without superb management of the workflow and staff, my practice will not go much further. Therefore, I am committed to getting it right no matter how much it kills me!

Working with Lesley means that I am still excited about my practice and if I have bad days, I know that they are just blips and I am still working towards the bigger picture.

Sarah-Jane

If you want to see the bigger picture read Lesley Stalker's article on Appraisals: Managing the talent in your practice

Read Sarah-Jane's first blog here.

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