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Grow your firm the Kinder Pocock way

15th Mar 2015
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AccountingWEB visited Hereford-based firm Kinder Pocock. Its owner, Sharon Pocock, was shortlisted in the Practice Excellence Awards Tech Champion of the Year category last year. 

The firm is currently experiencing impressive growth. During the last financial year alone, Kinder Pocock grew its fee income by 41% increase and profits by 61%.

As part of AccountingWEB’s ongoing Practice Excellence Programme, we asked Sharon to describe the factors that are driving such growth.

Around 80% of Kinder Pocock’s activity is now managed online, using Xero’s cloud accounting software and various add-on programs, in addition to Google Apps and other software such as EventBrite and GoCardless.

Sharon initially “fell into accountancy” in her early 20s, after doing a maternity cover stint at an accountancy firm as secretary. Instead of leaving to go travelling as she had planned, she ended up staying. After going through her training she was offered a partnership seven-and-a-half years later.

Sharon turned this down however and after a period working in accountancy elsewhere, set up her own firm when her now 12-year-old was still a baby.

“It all just slotted into place. I started working from home and after a year, I moved into these offices. It was just me, but then I took on a part-time assistant. We’ve grown since then.

“Over the last three years, everything has just catapulted. It’s fit in with the children being in school and me having more time to work. But we also have a really good local reputation from networking and getting involved in local business.”

In addition, Xero’s help marketing her practice has opened her eyes to a number of other solutions. She has just overhauled her branding and website that have helped tie together her new approach.

Growth acceleration

Sharon has been helped along the way by Rachel Carr - an associate of the Growth Accelerator’s Business Growth Initiative - and took advantage of the £2,000 available to match her investment from the Growth Vouchers initiative.

Carr came to Sharon’s attention through clients who had also used the business coach and she is now booked in to deliver five days’ worth of advice on the firm’s future strategy and other elements such as marketing and HR. Pocock plans to use her Growth Vouchers to take part in Carr’s eightBusiness VIP Programme. 

Client service 

Kinder Pocock operates a tiered service for clients she describes as “passionate business owners” and entrepreneurs. The Bronze package starts from £50 per month for a sole trader’s annual accounts, Xero support and training, one meeting per year and unlimited advice and support. This rises to £400 a year for Platinum, which covers monthly payroll, pre-year-end tax planning, monthly or quarterly management reports, meetings throughout the year and three or more personal tax returns.

As the firm grows, it is seeking to look at, develop and report on each of the different client levels to see what other service they can offer them and ensure their pricing is correct.

Sharon spends a lot of time on her Platinum clients, but she says also providing an appropriate level of care to those from Bronze upward is vital. 

“We want to ensure clients are happy, otherwise they’ll walk. Even if they are clients who naturally tend to complain a lot, you have to give them the right level of care - this is because they will either walk or complain about you to someone else.”

Sharon is a keen believer in receiving client feedback. She uses AccountingWEB’s Practice Excellence survey every year to gauge and follow up on what her clients think of her firm.

In addition, she is beginning to answer FAQs within blog posts on her website. 

And in terms of availability, this depends on what package the client has paid for. For example, she will drop “pretty much anything” for Platinum clients and is available on the phone and email whenever they need her. 

However she warns of a balance to be struck between personal and work time. 

“You need to get the right balance between meeting their expectations and managing them. Clients shouldn’t expect they’re going to get me every time they phone – there’s giving the right level of care and being realistic with it and managing expectations as well.”

Technology tools

Sharon’s firm works primarily with Xero, which she switched to from a desktop-based product three years ago. She says getting on board with the cloud was easy as she was “fascinated” by what the software could do.

 IFrame“I couldn’t imagine how it works but I am fascinated with how easy it makes for me to do things, and communicate and interact with people,” she said, adding that she completed a lot of the additional work learning the software on weekends and during the evenings.

“Being a smaller practice with less staff meant it was easier to mould and adopt new practices, such as cloud accounting,” she said.

Not long after, she got her firm using Google Apps, then Receipt Bank. Now she uses a whole host of add-ons, from credit control management tool Chaser to Spotlight Reporting to point of sale software Vend. For accounts production she is moving from Sage to Digita. 

Not all clients Kinder Pocock clients use on Xero, but the ones that do are given software support, training and demos. Clients who are already smartphone/tablet-savvy have been very receptive. “There’s something like this for accounting?” she said many of them would ask.

A genuine interest 

Sharon demonstrates a genuine interest and excitement for her clients and their projects - and in addition has a great reputation locally which she has built through networking and social media, particularly Twitter. 

“The more interesting the client, the more fun it is to be involved with them,” she said. 

Instead of promoting her firm on Twitter, Sharon engages in local Hereford business conversations and provides interesting links and re-tweets to local goings-on and client news. This has generated her some referrals, she said. 

She has also built local relationships banks by regularly meeting and discussing what she can do with bank managers and they in turn sometimes pass business her way.

The future 

Pocock has ambitious plans for the future, but doesn’t want to grow too big and lose the firm’s personal touch. 

“I want to stay small enough that we don’t dilute what we’re doing. It is all about being user friendly and approachable and having fun. I want to grow and need to grow as we’re taking on clients organically.” 

“So the plan with the Growth Accelerator is that we will double our turnover each year until 2017.”

Work/life balance

One challenge Sharon admits she has yet to crack – as do many accountants - is that of balancing working and home life.

Planning ahead and stopping to take stock of what you’re doing is central to making the two run in harmony, she says. But with a very busy December through to March, she has found it difficult to make time for her children and for her own personal activities such as going to the gym and sleeping properly – though in part due to the excitement she feels at where she’s going.  

“I’m still working over 50 hours a week. We’re meant to be quiet this time of year!

“You carry on, but every now and again you should take stock and plan it better – it is hard. It’s a constant thing you need to be aware of.” 

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Replies (9)

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By Ghostbusters
16th Mar 2015 13:33

A year?

I think those fees might just be per month, not per year.

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By GuestXXX
17th Mar 2015 18:08

.

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By sharon.pocock
19th Mar 2015 17:29

Well spotted

Ghostbusters wrote:

I think those fees might just be per month, not per year.

 

Per month, well spotted.

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Pillow May Ltd
By pillowmay
17th Mar 2015 12:36

Work Life Balance

I really appreciated your coments on work life balance Sharon.  Definitely something that I struggle with as well, despite my best efforts.  At least with cloud software, you don`t have to be in your office all the time to help clients :)

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By sharon.pocock
20th Mar 2015 18:13

Work life balance

Thank you Jessica.  I agree it makes it much easier being online, so why am I still at the office on a Friday?

 

Have a great weekend :-)

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By MC1
17th Mar 2015 15:53

Increase percentages 41% and 61% etc

I am trying to understand what the percentages and other third party recommendations indicate. I always think that if percentages are quoted then they should be meaningful and in context (was taught that at school).

I wonder if the turnover refers to annualised recurring turnover as adjusted by work-in-progress? 

And how, with all that upheaval, change in systems, consultancy advice, down-time, implementation of new software and costs relating to incorporation, the profit increase could be that large and that much higher than the turnover percentage increase.  I haven't done the numbers but I guess anybody could do so.  I see the company was dormant up to 31/12/13 so are figures being compared like for like?

Were the past trading results reasonably good but have now gone into the really good category? Or have they merely gone from poor to acceptable?

Has more time been spent working in the business in the growth year?

Finally, are some clients happy to be in the 2nd class seats category?  (I would think that all of my clients think and hopefully feel that they are in the first class seats.)

Could Sharon share some more information by any chance to get things into perspective?

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By sharon.pocock
19th Mar 2015 17:50

Happy to share

Thank you MC1 for your comments.  Happy to provide more facts to put your mind at rest.

Turnover relates to invoiced fees, and reflect the growing client base.  Work in progress is very low as we invoice monthly, and we work throughout the year on client data in Xero, so the year end compliance work is minimal.

How did I keep the costs down with "all the upheaval"?  I think you may have missed the point. The solutions that I have implemented have made incredible time and cost savings across the business.  The different softwares are all integrated, and some processes are automated.  As an example, all monthly fees are automatically generated and sent out to clients by Xero while I'm sleeping, payments are collected and matched to invoices automatically using GoCardless and Directli.  Quotes and letters of engagement are sent out using Practice Ignition, and once the client accepts, I have an audit trail, jobs created in Practice Manager, and invoices sent to Xero.  

My business has been trading for just over 10 years, but as a sole trade up until 31 December 2013.  We are therefore comparing the most recent years.  I'd say the business has gone from OK to great, but there's always room for more improvement, I'm sure you'll agree?

Yes more time has been spent in the business, but only on implementing the new online solutions out of hours, which has been quite an enjoyable experience, to be honest.

And finally - all of our clients are equally as important, client satisfaction and good client relationships are our topmost priority, otherwise there would be no business.  However a client on our platinum package is paying for perhaps a day or 2 of me each month, depending on what has been agreed, whereas a client on a bronze package is paying for one meeting per year, so it is only natural that I am going to spend more time with my gold or platinum clients. I think clients are happy with this, our packages are on our website for all to see, and our quotes are very clear as to what is included.  We also go above and beyond for every client (feel free to have a look at our testimonials on the website).

I hope that satisfies your concerns.

 

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By AndrewV12
01st Apr 2015 10:52

Fees agreed in advance

Why not agree fees in advance, from £50 to £400 per month (Bronze to Platinum) the fees seem reasonable enough, you should not get caught out by under charging.   

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By PPritchard
03rd Jun 2015 13:51

Excellent Post

Hi Sharon,

Excellent post, and very inspirational! Thanks very much for sharing your tips and expertise with us all.

All the best,

Paul

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