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Secrets of a successful accountancy firm

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21st Jul 2014
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“What is the purpose of a business?” In this preview of his first whitepaper in AccountingWEB’s Practice Excellence Programme Mark Lloydbottom considers what it takes to become more successful.

Whenever I ask a workshop or seminar about the purpose of a business, someone invariably suggests, “to make a profit.” But focus too directly on making a profit and the business is likely to lose its customers – and profitability. This is a lesson that Marks & Spencer had to learn in the 1980s as its fashion range failed to meet the expectations of its customers. 

If an accounting firm performs well with its clients in the areas of service excellence and value then the secrets of a successful accountancy firm (SAF) are well on the way to being unveiled.

What are some of the core attributes of a SAF?

Delivering outstanding quality service lies at the core of a SAF. Yet there are very few firms who would raise their hands in response to the question, “Hands up, how many of you deliver a service of poor quality?” I have never advanced the alternative question, which is, “Do you offer an average quality service?” The point is that the responses are subjective and opinions rarely tested. So let’s look at a few key areas:

Timeliness

Take your car in for a service and you probably expect to pick up the car – and bill later on in the day. Order a book online and you probably will expect to receive this within two or three days – the online service provider will at the very least advise when delivery should be expected. And you may well be asked to rate the service, which will largely be based on the timeliness of delivery. From the moment the client’s records are in your possession to the moment the financial statements are prepared – do you know what percentage of time you are working on the client’s records? A target of 30% should be your first target.

What do your financial statements look like?

If your accounts comprise the basic profit and loss account and balance sheet then your souvenir of your service lacks the edge that some firms have achieved. Why not include a series of pages with bar charts, histograms, and doughnut charts. Maybe some help sheets such as ‘10 ways to improve profits’. Compliance services have served the profession well for more than a century but it is now time to go far beyond the presentation of historical data and create systems and processes that enable you to work more with the client to position you as an integral adviser concerning the client’s future.

Do you use an agenda?

One way of doing this is to craft agenda for client meetings and include questions that explore what is current and future. Questions such as, “What is our greatest challenge?” “What are your competitors doing that presents a challenge?” and “What does the current year look like?”

Could you become more valuable?

On a recent visit to a stately home I joined a tour but did not stay long as the guide’s monotone voice and lack of enthusiasm made me think he was giving the same talk he had given maybe a thousand times or more before. So, how fresh and inspirational are the times you spend with your clients? What could you do to freshen up client meetings?

Your own expertise – how is it developing?

What have you learned in the last year to make yourself more valuable? Now, I am not thinking of technical updates but more the development of specialist industry or service expertise with which you can engage with clients. How you engage with clients is important to the delivery of a personal service that client’s value. 

Mark Lloydbottom specialises in management planning and strategy for accounting firms. His latest programme, ‘Deeper - Advanced practice management strategies’ is based on developed over the past 25 years as a practitioner and consultant.

SAPThe 2014 Practice Excellence Awards are sponsored by SAP: “We know exactly how important accountants are to helping businesses grow and we want to do all we can to support that. That’s our business too and we’re focussed on developing technology innovations that not only help businesses run like never before, but also improve the lives of people everywhere.”

Replies (7)

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By Billy Kang
23rd Jul 2014 03:43

Value That Can Be 'Seen'

Your suggestion of using 'bar charts', 'histograms' etc as a tool for discussion with the clients is spot on. I often use % analysis and charts in my audit exit meeting to highlight client's performance. Even though its historical facts, still this approach impressed clients. Its simply letting the clients know that 'I understand your management style and business'. I suppose this is the way to 'visualize' the value of our audit and justify our fees. 

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By johnjenkins
23rd Jul 2014 10:22

Not only M&S but

Tesco now also.

A good article but let's not get carried away. How many clients really want "techno" stuff thrown at them, perhaps 10%.

When producing articles of this nature you have to realise that all don't fit in one box. In fact most don't so "adapting" to the individual clients needs is of paramount importance and not have a "one size fits all" approach.

There is no secret to a SAF. Common Sense and flexibility.

I look forward to the next article.

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By Thaya10
23rd Jul 2014 11:32

Secrets of a successful accountancy firm

OUR CLIENTS ARE FAIRLY SMALL. THE SECRET TO OUR SUCCESS IS BEING AS INFORMAL AS POSSIBLE AND EXPLAIN THE ACCOUNTS IN SIMPLE LANGUAGE SO THAT UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ARE SIGNING AND HAVE A CASUAL CHAT OF SUGGESTING WHAT NEW IDEAS THEY CAN TRY WITHOUT COSTING A FORTUNE. THEY LOVE US. SURELY IT TAKES A BIT MORE TIME BUT HARDLY ANY CLIENT LEAVES US.

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By johnjenkins
23rd Jul 2014 14:00

@Thaya10

You've just hit on what an Accountant should be. None of the "sales gimmicky crap" that some would want us to participate in. Long may you prosper and if you do expand take the basics with you.

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By Kaylee100
23rd Jul 2014 14:49

Communication

If they ring, take the call or call them back as soon as you are available. And follow that rule - always.

The number of clients that thank us for doing that is amazing - should be the first rule of service, in my view.

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Man of Kent
By Kent accountant
24th Jul 2014 11:16

Happiness equals success

If you're happy, clients are happy and you're making decent money then I'd say you're successful.

If you're not happy, what's the point?

Life's too short.

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By AndrewV12
06th Aug 2014 09:29

Its all very well, but all clients want to do is pay less tax

Added value, agendas, expertise, all very well but do clients want to pay for it.... probably not.  They do not even want to pay for basic services offered. 

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