Practice Excellence small, medium & large nominees
There has been a sea change in the behaviour of UK practitioners since the advent of cloud computing that has been accompanied by firms adopting the “trusted adviser” business advisory model.
Looking at entries to the 2016 Practice Excellences Awards small firms category, judge Tony Margaritelli noted, “Cloud accounting has to be there as standard and it’s good to see they are all picking up on it. I was buoyed that quite a lot of firms were saying similar things, it’s good to see them doing and saying the right things.”
But the cloud/advisory revolution isn’t confined to the lower end - mid-size and larger firms right up to the Big Four are jumping on this bandwagon. And the same principle applies: those firms that are concentrating on delivering a high quality service closely aligned to their clients’ business and personal needs are prospering.
But this has posed a difficulty for the judges this year. With so many practices adopting the New Accountancy, several of our experts noted that it the differences between entries were getting harder to measure.
After all their hard work, the nominees chosen for the three central categories - small, medium and large firms - are listed below. Thanks are due to our independent judges Paul Shrimpling and Heather Townsend as well as the representatives from our 2016 Practice Excellence Awards sponsors: Tony Margaritelli & Alex Wilson (ICPA) and Alex Tucker (PracticeWEB).
Small Practice of the Year (supported by the ICPA)
The widely predicted demise of the small practitioner is exaggerated, said Practice Excellence Awards judge Tony Margaratelli after assessing the 28 entrants to this year’s category.
The ICPA chief executive was pleased with what he saw in this year’s entries, but also agreed with fellow judges Heather Townsend and John Stokdyk about how difficult it was to pick an ultimate winner.
After an epic debate, these are the nominees who convinced the judges that they were thinking beyond cloud and business advice to take a more rounded view of Practice Excellence that incorporated superlative client care, a clear vision and marketing strategy, managing referrals and leading staff and clients along the same journey.
Coalesco Certified Accountants
As the reigning Practice Excellence champion in this category Coalesco Certified Accountants can teach the profession a lot about how to align the firm’s ethos with client aspirations and giving them the ability to take charge of their own growth. The firm also knows that the secret to impressing awards judging panels is to let clients do the talking for them. Here’s one excellent example: “In the two years we have worked with Coalesco… sales have increased by over 400%. Linda attends our quarterly strategic meeting to offer advice and presents our business performance in comparison to our budgets, providing detailed commentary that allows us to change our plans.”
Fitton & Co
Fitton & Co marked itself out by offering a “holistic” bookkeeping and accounting service for subcontracting-led businesses. This year, it started communicating with clients through WhatsApp and an in-house app that clients use to capture and submit their receipts and mileage claims. “This means they are more responsive and collaborative with us, we speak to them more often, and we can raise the profitability of their businesses sooner,” the firm explained. As well as mentoring firms and guiding a business network in the Calderdale area, teh firm offered a 25% discount to clients affected by flooding last winter.
PaperRocket Accounting clearly positioned itself as a specialist in the competitive market supporting contractor clients. It showed its commitment to the sector by gaining accreditation from IPSE and was rewarded with superlative client retention figures. Founder Sarah Solo is one of many Practice Excellence accountants turning their hand to content marketing, for example by helping existing clients and attracting new prospects with a ‘Field Guide To Freelancer Finances’ that identifies common mistakes freelances make and how to avoid them. The entry was supported by client testimonials and survey results documenting the firm’s client recommendation rating.
Having moved during the year to a shared serviced office full of entrepreneurs, SRK focused its growth strategy on client and partner referrals and content marketing with impressive results. Thanks to “a captive audience” that sees the firm as a member of the community, the practice is getting an average of four new business enquiries through the door every week. The practice is one of those that has adopted a helpdesk FAQ database system that allows it to respond to any client enquiries within four hours. And it continues to look for new ways to improve at hour-long team meetings every morning.
Medium firm of the year (supported by PracticeWEB)
The medium firm entrants marked themselves out not just by a genuine commitment to client service, but also the clarity of their approaches. The entrants presented performance indicators from different sources to support their lofty intentions.
But just as effective were the avenues that firms are now exploring to broadcast their brand values to wider audiences. Marketing strategy is a key differentiator in this sector and the entries presented an imagninative array of client workshops and events as well as web-based content marketing strategies.
“People and talent right at centre of this,” noted PracticeWeb’s Alex Tucker. “The best entries talked a lot about coaching, staff development and talent rather than just efficiencies and streamlining.”
Here are the three nominees that fulfilled these criteria and made it to the 2016 shortlist:
A4G attributes its success to maintaining a good reputation with its clients. While the practice boasts a 95% retention record and sees its ex-clients returning, the firm is underselling the reason for their growth. Over the last year, it has launched webinars, hosted weekly morning workshops with its tax partner, and introduced an inbound marketing strategy. Its growth strategy has generated an extra £210,000 worth of new business, with over half made in the last four months. The firm recognises that its homegrown talents are responsible for its success, and continues to develop new staff with a bespoke training guide for with the skills they need to develop over the year.
Raffingers call themselves “life changers”. Client communication is strengthened by yearly comprehensive business reviews and client meetings every three months, a required employee KPI. The firm boasts a 93% client retention rate and an expanding client base. To continue this growth, the firm linked with an estate agent to stage a property event for more than 300 people; it also offers cloud open evenings and client drop-in sessions, all supported by its new cloud team. The practice has launched a charity, which as well as doing good helps its staff develop their skills.
Unlike many accounting firms Sayer Vincent pledges to “put people before profit”. The firm specialises in charities and community interest work and understands its role is not just to help clients, but the wider charity sector, for example actively encouraging clients to tender their services, which is good governance for charities. The practice has developed a “four dimensional” approach to client needs to ensure it is responsive rather than making their clients fit around them. Alongside tailored charity accounting and tax advice the firm recently launched a new low cost service aimed at start-ups and smaller charities, and a charity DIY audit toolkit.
Large Practice of the Year
Technology will flatten the playing field across the profession, according to Paul Shrimpling. With the application of tech becoming consistent across all sectors, he adds, “My view is that relationship management will dictate future success of all accounting firms.”
Shrimpling criticised the largest entrants for the lack of facts and figures to support their entries: “Smaller firms did a better job of evidencing what they achieved”. But what he did spot was the way the bigger entrants were investing heavily in soft skills. “On the grounds that relationship management is becoming more important, that was very reassuring. These firms setting themselves up for positive optimistic future.
Menzies has gone through a significant period of growth and expansion, but was able to demonstrate it can think and act like a small firm when it came to clients. The firm has made great efforts to better connect with its client base by carrying out its own market research. With strong year-on-year growth, Menzies has also taken a holistic approach to performance along with its ‘Brighter Thinking’ rebrand. Through this is has connected the dots between marketing, what their people are doing and system development process improvements.
Practice Excellence Awards judges were impressed by Ensors’ workshop strategy, demonstrating that they’ve taken thought leadership in their business seriously. Backed up with meaningful customer quotes, the firm showed clear evidence of how it has driven forward strong marketing initiatives in the profession. Ensors has a rounded view of its financial performance by focussing on people and fees. The firm was also able to demonstrate the significant progress it has made in the corporate finance arena.
Lincolnshire-based firm Forrester Boyd focusses on client service and was clearly able to demonstrate how it puts clients at heart of what they do. With lots of initiatives going on, the firm showed real results from its telemarketing activities, new service offerings and staff development programme. The firm has a focus on soft skills and with its rising stars programme showed a serious commitment to the future of the firm. Along with other key marketing activities, the firm has also grown as a result of organic referrals and recommendations.
For more details about the award categories and the ceremony taking place in London on 20 October, visit the Practice Excellence website.