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Businessman sitting on the Hourglass

Save an hour a week, gain one extra week a year

19th Jun 2018
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Jennifer Adams discovers how you can find another hour a week out of your busy working life if you follow five simple steps.

Whatever anyone says about being bean counters, accountants have a demanding job. Open your management programme on any day of the week and a list of reminders brought forward from the previous day is guaranteed to be on the screen.

The items will obviously vary in both description and/or time it takes to complete the task from ones that will take minutes (eg Companies House Confirmation Statement) to ones that will take hours (eg accounts for a new client who should have been VAT registered some months ago but hasn’t).

Fast forward to the end of the week and however many hours your timesheet says you have spent, there will always be a carry forward list.

Two points to consider:

  1. By the time you get to 55 years you will only have 800 weekends left on average
  2. When you die you will always have a list of things remaining.

Life is too short.

So saving an extra week a year must be an attractive concept. Whether you will be allowed to use that extra week as time off from office work will obviously depend upon how far up the ladder of your firm you are, but an extra hour is an extra hour.

The list of five options in order of greatest impact and relevance is as follows:

'Say no'

It is extremely hard to 'say no' not least to the client who rings on a Monday wanting their SA302 and tax overview today as they are finalising their mortgage tomorrow. You possibly can't 'say no' to the submission of a set of accounts when the deadline is this week (or tomorrow) but it is easy for clients to get in the way, so there is no time left at the end of the day.  

Should you say no in this situation? If you do then at least the client would have been taught a lesson to get their figures to you in time for next year's submission date.

 As ever the one that shouts loudest....

You might think “I'll just download and email this SA302 - it will only take a minute” but you are not doing yourself or the client any favours. Give in and other clients will be pushed to the back of the queue automatically and importantly, you will be showing that you will drop everything such that that client will expect such immediate service in the future.

As a trial 'say no' at least once this week – you may feel guilty the first time but you will find it gets easier. The 'no' needn’t be forever just a deferment to another day or week.

In deciding when to 'say no' think about what is the worst that can happen if you don’t. A £150 penalty for non submission of accounts to Companies House when the deadline is tomorrow would not necessarily come under this heading but 'saying no' to a client who has rung twice already to chase their accounts that are not due in for a few months must merit a possibility.

An email sent to all self assessment clients in say May and again in September, reminding them that 'first in first dealt with' is a must as is saying that you can't guarantee submission by 31 Jan if accounts are not with you by October.

Sometimes clients need to be taught that you are not at their beck and call despite your website saying that you give a 'personal service'. However, you must also carry out your threats. If you tell clients that you will be charging extra should your self imposed deadline be breached then always carry through your threat. You can always give a personal service but on your terms and timing.

Think 'do I want to do this'?

When you first set up in business the temptation is to say 'yes' to any prospective client who comes through the door but this can be counterproductive.

Make a list of the type of clients that you feel you can service and stick to it. Don't be swayed because you will end up spending more time and ostensibly money in researching on the internet when really it would have been better to direct the client to another accountant who does have the specialism.

Have you dealt with a similar client in a similar business previously? For example, if you haven’t dealt with IRS returns before or companies limited by guarantee do you want to?

Time is money as they say and spending time learning the process will be less time towards your one hour.


Under this heading use the words 'I can do this for you but...'

  • 'I can only stay for an hour rather than to the end of the meeting'
  • 'I'll have to charge extra'
  • 'it will have to be next week'

Again this teaches the client that you will not be at their beck and call. Invariably the client will concede. What is the worst that can happen?

If they leave then you will invariably find someone to take their place that is less demanding.

Delegate and restrict.

Anything routine then delegate – payroll, opening post, answering the phone, loading new client details onto software, the accounts of clients who deliver scrubby receipts in a plastic bag (what are they going to do when such bags are banned?), Companies House Confirmation statements – you can find many more such tasks depending upon the size of your firm.

Do you really have to show so much detail in a set of accounts? Ignore whatever has gone before (eg prior accountants' account listings) and use a set template per business type. Use HMRC's page SE1 as a basis. You will reduce time and money spent on paper (if not produced and sent to the client online).

Do you have to have a meeting with clients to go through your accounts? The answer to this question will depend on a number of factors not least company policy and client expectations. However, some clients may prefer discussions over the phone – ask them.

The golden rule: if someone else can do the work 70% as well as you then give it to them. The other 30% is in your mind - the 30% balance won't be missed by clients.

If you are a small firm invest in more efficient systems. You should have a system for any repetitive task. All accounting software has templates that can be modified to suit.

So look for help. Think about the cost and wastage of your time if you do the work rather than giving it to someone else who can do the work 70% as efficiently as you would but at a cheaper cost.

If the task is something out of your comfort zone then give to a specialist. Use your indemnity consultancy services and software support more if you get stuck; they won't mind how many times you call – that is what they are there for.

Be less fussy

Don't spend time on matters that are less important. Do the most important items in the morning and the lesser items in the afternoon or whichever suits you. Do you have to deal with your emails immediately you get into the office? Possibly set client meetings for the afternoon (or on specific days only) rather than throughout the day every day; you will be surprised how many clients accept such restrictions.

Aim to get better at all five options rather than good at just one then your extra hour will be in your sights.   

Based on a talk given by Chris Croft from Chris Croft Training Ltd

Replies (14)

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Lone Wolf
By Lone_Wolf
19th Jun 2018 15:02

Surely at least one of the suggestions would be to spend less time on AWeb?

Thanks (4)
Replying to Lone_Wolf:
By Justin Bryant
19th Jun 2018 15:11

Yes; I honestly thought cancelling your AWEB subscription would be the number one recommendation here.

Thanks (2)
By FirstTab
19th Jun 2018 16:37

Oh no, Jennifer.

Thanks (1)
Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
19th Jun 2018 19:21

FirstTab.. not sure what you meant by 'Oh no, Jennifer'? Enlighten me!

Thanks (1)
Replying to Jennifer Adams:
By FirstTab
19th Jun 2018 21:08

I meant that it did not even occur to me that I only have ab0ut 800 weekends left. Some of it will be taken up in old age. Not many weekends left after that.

Thanks (2)
By ohgoodgodno
20th Jun 2018 09:05

I'd also add in turn off your email

I'd fallen in to the trap of checking email each time one was received, which distracted from the current task in hand and made me inefficient

i now only check at three times per day - first thing, lunchtime and end of the day

the amount of time saved is massive

Thanks (3)
By waltere
20th Jun 2018 09:56

Hang on a minute! Only 800 weekends?

According to the Office for National Statistics:

"In 2014 to 2016, life expectancy at birth in the UK was 79.2 years for males and 82.9 years for females..."

"Life expectancy at age 65 in the UK in 2014 to 2016 was 18.5 years for males and 20.9 years for females. In other words, a man aged 65 in 2014 to 2016 could expect to live to age 83.5 and a woman to 85.9."

I can't find the figures for life expectancy at age 55 on the ONS website, but the website says 82 and 84.7 for men and women respectively, which seems about right. So, say 83.5 as an average.

From the perspective of a 55 year old, that's an extra 28.5 years or, wait for it... 1,482 weekends.

I'm feeling better already!

Thanks (2)
By possep
22nd Jun 2018 09:14

And how would you download an SA302? I don't believe that HMRC even issue them to the client in most cases and they certainly are now available online. Terminology trouble.

Thanks (1)
Replying to possep:
By johnjenkins
22nd Jun 2018 10:18

What lenders like to see these days is an SA302 from your computer software and the "overview" that you can print off of their account with HMRC.

Thanks (1)
By mkowl
22nd Jun 2018 10:11

I spend most of my time answering queries from the staff I have delegated tasks to. The mortgage one we would deal with straight away, or credit reference checks. The client needs a quick response if they are sorting out their life or finances, why disrupt that

Thanks (0)
By Tom 7000
22nd Jun 2018 10:16

I wouldn't ever say no to a client. Always say yes and if you are too busy hire someone else., or stay late at work, my record is 117 hours in a week.

We do 1000 sets of co accounts a year. What made a difference was not printing and posting accounts anymore.... send them electronically and have them returned electronically.
Stationery bill right down
Ink bill right down
Printer replacement down
BUT best of all it saves an hours work so.... x 1000

Clients got accounts quicker, they are signed and returned sometime same day and get paid quicker.

A iaways make yourself free to the client at point of contact or they wont call you. Then when they call up and say, can you just do this for me - then you go yep that costs £x after a 10 minute free chat. Think like a salesman generating work for the operations centre.

There are 3 secrets to success:
1. The more staff you have the more money you make
2. Never tell everyone everything you know

Thanks (1)
Replying to Tom 7000:
By Justin Bryant
22nd Jun 2018 10:26

Very good. I only just got that!

Thanks (0)
Replying to Tom 7000:
By rememberscarborough
22nd Jun 2018 10:54

I think you'll find it's never tell everyone what you DON'T know....

Thanks (0)
By johnjenkins
22nd Jun 2018 10:27

What happens, Jennifer, is that you start off with all good intentions doing everything possible for the client (this is not just in our profession). After a while you realise who is taking the Michael. You never say no unless you want to get rid. You normally throw the ball back in their court if necessary.
The point you seemed to have missed is that we are in business. We should know what our business entails and so plan for it. If we can't plan for our own how can we hope to advise others.

Thanks (1)