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How to smash the £1m barrier

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Who wants to be a millionaire? Our panel of experts shared their advice on how to hit the £1,000,000 mark in your practice, and stay there.

7th Jun 2021
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Whether you’re focused on fees or just looking to grow your firm, breaking the million pound barrier is still a big goal for many accountants.

But where do you realistically start with hitting that target? And if you’re already on your way, how do you build sustainable growth into your progress?

In an AccountingWEB Live webinar, accountancy experts Alistair Barlow and Chris Downing shared their secrets to attaining million-pound status.

This episode is the latest in our Accounting Excellence Talks, a series that brings you premium insight and advice from award-winning practitioners and thought leaders in the profession. You can catch up on all of our episodes available on demand here.

The time to strike

“Now is the best time to think about what your operations are going to be looking like because, yes, it’s been a horrible 12 months, but from that the sentiments of your clients have significantly changed,” commented Downing. 

The support provided by the profession throughout the pandemic has been astronomical, prompting more appreciation from struggling clients and stronger client relationships. Satisfaction has never been so high.

Going forward, this support will continue to transform the accountant-client relationship. This year is an incredible opportunity to assess what is and isn’t working within your teams, operations, and services, Downing added.

Overcoming barriers

“As you get to a million, you become stretched - your processes, your ability to bring on new clients, to deal with quality assurance, to support the team - that is more of an impact than the psychological concept of a million pounds,” said Barlow.

As your practice grows, so does your need to invest more back into your work. Focusing on your infrastructure will allow you to achieve your goals and beyond, he continued.

Top tips for making the million mark

Plan: Have a clear step-by-step plan in place that breaks down your strategy with realistic goals and time frames.
Profit structure: Leading on from your plan, focus on what exactly is required in order to accrue the profit you’re working towards.
Client relationship: Explore your client base - figure out who you’re servicing and what they really want so that you can really deliver the specific results they’re after.
Practice growth: As your relationships with your clients strengthen, you’ll have a good basis on which to expand your firm - increasing your client base will work to increase your revenue.
Systemisation: Steadily progress your systems and tech to keep up to date with current client demands.

Set realistic goals

“It wasn’t so much salary - it was a revenue goal,” said Barlow. “Vision for us is about transforming and owning the sectors.”

In his practice, Barlow focuses on vision, objectives, and tangible key results to map out where he’s headed and what he needs to do to get further.

“The challenge a lot of firms have is how well they actually know their clients and where are they going,” added Downing. “It’s the 80/20 rule - think about 20% of your best clients and the additional services they may be seeking. It’s a case of how do you reach their business goals, and the best person to talk about their business goals is the accountant.”

Think about who is going to do what for each client, and the way they’re going to go about it to get the results the client wants. And then delegate responsibility to those people to make it happen.

“What people really want to pay for is value, and value comes when the accountant discovers the PAINT points and paints a vision and delivers,” Barlow continued.

Focus on your systems

“As firms move towards the million pound mark they might see a greater churn of clients because they don’t have the processes in place for quality assurance,” said Barlow. “They probably have a higher churn of staff because they can’t look after everyone and have the same conversations they were having before.”

As you grow, you won’t be able to get around to everything in the same ways you used to. You need processes in place to support your team, and technology is a huge enabler to do this, Barlow advised.

“You need some form of self review,” added Downing. “Learn from mistakes - maybe the tech that you have today isn’t the tech which is going to be right going forward. Experimentation is always going to be fundamental in terms of practice growth.”

It’s never been so easy to make mistakes, he continued. With everything in the cloud, you can quickly make a mistake, review it, change it, and pull all your data across to a different and better system infinitely faster than a few years ago. Taking advantage of this benefit will be key in driving your practice’s growth and efficiency.

Sustaining million pound success

Barlow advised focusing on three main pillars of sustaining your success: your clients, your team and yourself.

“The first million is always harder, but you’ll likely accelerate after that if you focus on the people, the process, and the structure.”

It’s never been easier to track your success with customer satisfaction mechanisms such as net promoter score (NPS), client feedback and social media interaction, Downing added: “You can have a strong indication of are you doing the right thing, are you in the right direction, are you following the trends in how accountancy firms should be operating?”

Be brave in accepting that you might lose clients along the way to the million pound mark, he continued. Allowing yourself room to grow will ultimately help you achieve your financial goals.

“As you grow, your role as a partner, founder, proprietor or director should change, and you need to be able adapt to what that change is,” added Barlow.

Click here to catch up with the full AccountingWEB Live episode on demand.

Our next episode of AccountingWEB Live will be available live at 2pm this Friday (18 June) - register now to make sure you don't miss out on our expert panellist's advice on emerging tech trends. We'll be exploring how to manage a modern accounting practice post-pandemic, with an overview on emerging apps that will allow your firm to be agile and provide better service to your clients.

Coming up, we also have our Accounting Excellence Talks streaming live at 2pm on 16 July, where our expert panel of Accounting Excellence all-stars will cover how you can make flexible working successful in your firm. Click here to register and discover how you can keep your work culture alive remotely and support your employees when they're out of sight.

All of our webinars are also available to catch-up on demand any time.

Replies (5)

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By Bruce Roberts
08th Jun 2021 10:19

One can only assume the £1m being discussed is turnover rather than profit as it really doesn't seem to say.

There is also a huge difference between a £1m sole practitioner practice and a multi-partner practice with the same turnover.

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By meadowsaw227
08th Jun 2021 12:34

Why on earth would anybody want a million pound practice.
I will leave that to the megalomaniacs.

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Replying to meadowsaw227:
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By Alastair Barlow
09th Jun 2021 09:39

This is an extract of a webinar where it was made clear at the beginning this definitely isn't every practitioner's goal - others were to maximise profit, work fewer hours etc.

However, generally with growth comes the ability to favourably support and influence more businesses, develop and nurture more people into talented accountants both of which help the economy. I think many that are keen to grow have this as the underlying passion. However, the webinar did recognise each business leader may have different ambitions and vision for their firm.

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By Arcadia
08th Jun 2021 12:52

I am not sure the regulators would be very happy with the acceptance that with growth comes a loss of quality. Also not so great to accept the loss of staff because there is no-one to talk to them properly any more. £1m turnover would be about 10-20 staff? Not impossible to keep up standards I would have thought, unless you are cutting corners?

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Replying to Arcadia:
alastair_barlow
By Alastair Barlow
08th Jun 2021 16:49

I think the article is trying to highlight that without evolving processes to cope with growth, you would run the risk of these impacting the business. I certainly don't think it's highlighting these are acceptable practices but more how to think ahead to mitigate this happening. Also, many firms hold their quality thresholds higher than regulators so while quality expectations levels may be at risk if processes and controls aren't put in place, they still meet the minimum thresholds required by regulators.

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