Practice automation: Sam Mitcham, SJCM Accountantsby
Steve Ash sat down with Sam Mitcham from SJCM Accountancy to find out how having the Sage platform at the heart of her firm helped her to embrace automation.
When you’re setting up as a sole practitioner, it can be tough acclimatising to the fact that the buck now stops entirely with you. If you’ve spent years in practice, you’ll be used to focusing on your client portfolio, without too much distraction from the day-to-day operations of the firm. But when you’re a sole practitioner, there are suddenly a thousand operational tasks to fill your day.
In the digital age, this needn’t be an issue, with all the benefits of cloud technology, artificial intelligence and software automation to help lighten the operational workload. But if you’re going to get the best from automation, you need to know what you’re automating, why you’re automating it, and how it helps you to spend more face-to-face time with your valued clients.
How big a part has technology and software played in the formation of the practice?
Sam: I set up SJCM Accountancy in 2019, after 12 years of working in practice since leaving school and starting my training. Now that I have my own practice, I don’t outsource anything and I provide all the services that my small business clients need.
One of the things that made me want to set up my own firm was offering a really high level of client care. I liked that personal touch and I think that’s disappearing a little in the industry. That’s how I pitch myself to clients – bringing back the personal touch alongside offering all the efficiencies of cloud technology and software automation.
I use Sage Accounting software and that’s been vital to my message from the start. Having that personal touch and a week-in, week-out connection with my clients is so important, so having the real-time information in Sage has been vital. I can dip in and see the numbers and that keeps me up to date with the client’s business.
What’s your basic tech stack for running the firm and interacting with clients?
Sam: I don’t use a massive amount of tech, but what I do use has to be right for the job. Sage is my main accounting workhorse, and what I use for my accounts production, corporation tax and personal tax. I also use AutoEntry for the bookkeeping side, and that’s become a crucial part of the accounting product for me and my clients.
By automating data entry AutoEntry has made the relationship easier for us and the clients, and makes the bookkeeping much easier. Some clients might feel AutoEntry takes away the personal touch – not having that bag of receipts to bring in at the end of the year. But they soon realise that it’s giving us a lot more time to talk to them about the business and to advise them on higher value challenges.
Younger clients see the apps and software as a given, though. They want to snap the receipt and take a pic on an app, and that’s just what that generation is used to.”
How big a part does automation play in your processes?
Sam: My bookkeeping is all automated as much as possible, using Sage and Auto Entry and I also use a few software payment gateways to automate the payment of my invoices. GoCardless is fabulous for taking recurring fees automatically by direct debit and my Sage invoices have the Stripe direct payment button built in, which is fabulous. When I send you an invoice, it really does speed things up if the client can press the pay button. That’s worth its weight in gold.
I’m looking at options for practice management and onboarding at the moment and Senta and AccountancyManager are my two main options. But I like to do the demos and think hard about the choices. There’s so much on the market to choose from.
During the pandemic, I think accountants have become much better at talking to each other. I have quite a few contacts I go to to ask their opinions on new apps and software tools. If you ask people for their app recommendations in the AccountingWEB forums, there’s usually a conversation running that you can join.
Has the tech allowed you to grow the practice?
Sam: At the moment, I’m running the entire show by myself. But I’m looking at outsourcing maybe the bookkeeping or the payroll, or potentially taking on a member of staff. I’m realising I can’t do everything and I think the software will be able to help me a lot with the practice management side and the onboarding.
I can automate things like signing up clients to save some time, but I don’t want to lose that personal touch. I don’t think I’ll ever have a website where you see a price and package and sign up without talking to me.
Automation is not going to take over my job. If I can take on more clients because of the efficiencies of automation, I can take on more staff and provide more careers, So that’s got to be the way you look at it – as an opportunity to do more and to get closer to clients.
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