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What I wish I’d known when starting my practice

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Starting up a practice can be a daunting thing to do. The AccountingWEB community understands this first-hand and shares the best advice they received – or wish they had received – when they were starting up.

12th Feb 2024
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Whether you’re just thinking about starting up a practice or whether your journey is well underway, it’s always useful to gain insight from seasoned professionals who’ve all been there before. 

AccountingWEB took to Any Answers to get some great tips ahead of the Festival of Accounting and Bookkeeping where there will be four sessions each day for those who are interested in starting up or have recently started a practice. 

We're also going to be running an online webinar after #FAB24 on 21 March, where we'll be speaking with Sam Mitcham and Jonathan Goff, two practitioners who've been through it all, we'll be joined by Chris Downing from Sage and we'll be sharing the best insights and tips on which will discuss how to start a practice. You can register now for the free webinar.

AccountingWEB therefore wanted to know what advice our members had been given or wished they had been given before they started their practice and whether they could offer some words of wisdom to those thinking about taking the leap. 

The community bares all 

Commenter Dougscott rallied off a list of tips that they had learnt over the years which included: 

  • Don’t feel like you have to take on every client that approaches you;
  • Treat all clients with respect;
  • Refer clients if you do not have the knowledge to advise them properly;
  • Respond quickly to clients. 

However, as with much advice, its relevance depends on various strategies and approaches. For instance, AccountingWEB member, adam.arca disagreed with Dougscott’s point that you don’t have to take on every client. 

Adam.arca said that he was told by his father’s accountant to take on as many clients as possible and not to reject any because they seem too small. 

“He wasn’t being absolutely literal but I’ve broadly followed his advice and ended up with some absolute dogs for clients along the way. On the other hand, one of my very best clients came to me as a 17-year-old wannabe landscape gardener and he’s now a multi-millionaire,” he commented. 

Another member, Jdopus agreed with a different point that Dougscott made, emphasising the importance of good client communication. They said that this was the most important factor for client retention. 

Jdopus wrote, “Always return client calls and reply to client emails and you will rarely if ever lose clients. Nothing will annoy a client more than feeling ignored or that they're not worth your time.”

Some other main points that the Any Answers community came up with were: 

Get your pricing structure right from the start 

AWEB commenter spilly said, “It’s easy to be a busy fool, wondering why you are always working, but still not making much money. Make sure clients know from the outset that you will be charging them for extras such as letters, references, CGT calculations etc. These things are more time-consuming than you think.”

Find a niche 

Finding a niche in accounting not only allows differentiation in the profession but also allows you to offer more valuable insights and services to clients.

A niche was encouraged by Maslins who wanted others to learn from his mistake. “I ignored that advice because I didn’t want to eliminate lots of potential clients. However, I regretted ignoring that advice because I struggled for a year before I finally fell into a niche.”

Don’t take things personally 

Regular contributor Mr Hankey shared a piece of advice commonly offered to accountants who deal with difficult clients. 

He wrote, “Grow a thick skin, you’re going to need it!”

If clients decide to leave or if they lack professional courtesy, it can be easy to think it was your fault and it takes time to not take these situations personally. However, remembering that it’s a business relationship can help maintain professionalism and a good reputation.

Have more questions about starting up your practice? Sign up for our webinar on 21 March in association with Sage. And book your free ticket for the Festival of Accounting and Bookkeeping on 13-14 March at the NEC, Birmingham.

Replies (4)

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By Ruth75
13th Feb 2024 10:10

Things I have learnt along the way.

Ensure you have good systems in place. We rely heavily on software. A good practice management system is a must even for a small practice.

Don't neglect compliance. The AML requirements can be onerous, but assessing risk has helped us avoid problem clients as well.

A good business relationship is key. Out first client is still with us after 10 years.

The difficult clients are very hard to deal with. They can be very stressful and suck up so much time, so a good screening technique for taking on new clients is helpful although not infallible unfortunately.

Getting the pricing right is tough. This is something we are still working on. It can be quite hard to benchmark pricing as a small practice. It is far to easy to encounter scope creep and it can be hard to manage this.

A good engagement letter that covers the terms of the work and the responsibilities of each party is essential, particularly when in dispute with difficult clients. We learnt this early on.

It's important to have access to a library of resources and knowledge, particularly for tax. We also have access to a helpline for tax queries which has been very useful over the years.

I found this site a goldmine of information when starting out, I really appreciate all the advice on here.

Thanks (5)
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By johnjenkins
13th Feb 2024 11:17

Accountancy is one of those professions that you can't just go into.
You need years of training with a company that has a varied client base. You need to be confident that you can advise a business (not just taxation). If you have doubts about your own confidence and advisory communications then how can you take on clients. These qualities are built up over years of training and experience. Most of all, you will know when it's time to start your own practice.
Accountancy is not a piece of software that you iron the bugs out as you go along, it is a highly skilled profession that you live and breath. Of course there are a few that are gifted and spend hours down the golf course drumming up business.

Thanks (2)
Replying to johnjenkins:
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By wilcoskip
14th Feb 2024 08:39

Or you can just go on a 2-week training course and buy a franchise…..

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Replying to wilcoskip:
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By johnjenkins
14th Feb 2024 09:25

Which no doubt comes with a certificate of competence.

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