Recruitment: Look offshore when staff are shortby
When it came to recruiting new talent to help cope with the pandemic workload, necessity became the mother of invention for digital pioneer Alex Falcon Huerta.
Digital accounting pioneers sometimes look like swans swimming gracefully across the water. But if you look beneath the surface, many of them are paddling as fast as they can to keep afloat. Running an accountancy practice, or starting one up, isn’t as simple as it looks.
When I started my firm, I devoted many hours to setting up new systems and making sure we got it right the first time. Then more hours were devoted to trialling and testing software to achieve the most efficient business model possible.
The point of implementing technology from the outset was to save costs and reduce admin, so at the early stages, I avoided thinking about the need to recruit.
At that point, I’d stay up late and work hours on end and cancel plans with friends and family.
The accounting world is driven by hard deadlines and time-sensitive delivery and in that environment my friends and family became tasks I just needed to get done.
There is an excuse for everything, but eventually I realised I needed to change my mindset; this is one of the biggest things I have learned from being in business for myself. If I didn't think the way I did, I wouldn't be where I am today.
One of the reasons many startup accountants don’t recruit early is cashflow: “I don't have enough clients” or “I'm not earning enough for myself yet.”
it's important to lay the foundations in order to grow, but devoting all that effort to setting up and testing leaves little time to spend on business development and growth.
Hiring is scary
The truth is, taking in your first hire is pretty scary. Being responsible for someone’s income, mortgage and family can add pressure when you're a new entrepreneur. I started off by doing anything I could to avoid hiring someone to take the pressure off. I soon realised that delegating some of my tasks to someone else would allow me to work on other areas.
The pressures of growing your own business and juggling all the hats can be exciting, but you can’t be an expert in everything. Taking on all of the tasks yourself slows you down, so the sooner you recruit, the better. I prepared the cashflow forecast and updated it often to see when I could afford the next hire.
Recruit as soon as you can
My thinking switched early on to recruiting as early as possible to have two heads instead of one. But at the time digital savvy people were as readily available as they are today. I had various people come and go and staff turnover was high.
Having the right people can be a challenge with any business, but when you are creating a new model, getting the right people to support your plans is even harder. Today, at least, there are more digital accountants around who have experience with tech and the way we work today.
Who to recruit?
Who you recruit depends on your clients and the services you required to deliver. Hiring a person will take some of your time initially, but you will get that time back once you have brought the new person on board.
I've tried qualified accountants, trainees, outsourcing services and consultants. If you have high end clients with high turnovers, then ideally you want qualifieds and not trainees.
I loved training and nurturing employees, but in a small firm like ours, the size of our clients and effects of the pandemic made it challenging to continue this approach. In the early stages, trainees were great for the day-to-day checks once the processes were documented for them and they had a checklist to follow. But they were not experienced enough to deal with heavy workloads and urgent deadlines.
This workload fell back on me to manage and prompted me to think about how I could create a sustainable environment where I could bring back trainees into the mix and help develop them into qualified accountants within my own outsourcing project (see below).
I've always reached out to third parties and consultants. No matter what stage you are at, knowing there is a backup can be reassuring when you’re facing tight deadlines. I’ve tapped into this resource many times over the years and kept hold of freelance CVs and tracked people on LinkedIn who have the skills I needed. For one-off projects, I also sometimes tap into specialist consultants.
Most outsourcing firms are geared up to helping and supporting the more traditional accounting firms where the client is used to getting a delivery of three to four weeks.
I tried outsourcing a few times with providers in India, the Philippines and the US, but these attempts were unsuccessful.
Each time I learned what I needed to do to improve the process on my side. At the same time, I tried to understand what the outsourcing company was lacking. I didn’t give up on this because I remember I had the same feeling of when I set up Soaring Falcon. The outsourcing companies I approached were behind the times and didn't understand the enhanced requirements of supporting a fully digitalised accounting firm and its clients. Outsourcers have to be able to cope with this way of working.
After the years of ups and downs with existing companies, I resolved that setting up my own offshoring company was the way to move forward. I met two accountants based in Sri Lanka, Naja and Hassan, and shared my ideas about how a digital offshoring service should operate and we co-founded Smart Offshore.
Many people still may think offshoring isn’t a good idea. Many accountants felt the same way when cloud technology came out. There are pros and cons for every scenario of hires, irrespective of where they are based. But the hiring process starts by thinking about what is right for your business model.
After working 15+ hours per day for several months during the pandemic, I needed to find talent to help me through the workload we faced. These weren’t going to be roles for inexperienced staff. And I needed to make a change fast to help with my own wellbeing.
I considered several things and what I needed:
- Experienced staff
- Able to turn work around as quickly as possible
- Keeping costs as low as possible (for a while there things were so uncertain we were offering work for free to some clients)
- People who understood the UK working culture
- The right mindset to get through the pandemic.
These are the people requirements that Smart Offshore is helping me to fill and with my own accounting firm in the loop, I can take new systems and processes out for a spin and share what I have learned.
The offshore team is up and running and all of them have had direct training with technology partners including Fluidly for cashflow forecasting and Fathom for monthly reporting. We are now also able to look ahead and think about bringing in trainees again and poised to be a team of 30 by this month.
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The founder of Soaring Falcon Accountancy, Alex Falcon Huerta FCCA is a Xero MVP and former member of ACCA's international assembly. With a background as an accountant working with some of the most agile and progressive small businesses in the UK, Alex is an early technology adopter who set up her practice to accelerate change both for her...