The top five mistakes made by small firms

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Mark Lee talks to accounting consultant Jason Dormer about the key areas where small firms of accountants and bookkeepers consistently fail.

Having founded his own award winning accountancy firm in 2005 - starting as a sole practitioner working from home, and growing it to a company of six trading from its own purchased premises – Jason Dormer knows a thing or two about making it in practice. His latest project, Seahorse (UK) Ltd, is an advisory service aimed at helping start ups and existing small firms of accountants and bookkeepers through the difficult first stages of establishing themselves, right through to growing and developing their client base.

“Being a good accountant or bookkeeper isn’t enough to make you a good business person”, he says. In the early stages, it’s important to recognise your limitations, as well as what you can do well, and try to work on those. While many issues are unique to the individual setting up their practice, there are a few common errors that Dormer has seen time and time again. Below, he outlines the top five slip ups.

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About Mark Lee

Mark Lee 2017

These days Mark Lee focuses his business actiities on  two key activities:

1 - He loves being engaged to speak on stage to audiences of accountants in all size of firms. His latest keynopte talk is: The rise of Robo-Accountants - and how to beat them. He is an accountancy focused speaker, futurist and influencer with a positive reputation for entertaining, engaging and enthusing his audiences.

2 - He loves supporting savvy sole practitioners who want more out of their practice.  More clients, more money, more time, more satisfaction - or everything!

An accountant by profession, Mark moved away from the provision of professional advice in 2006.   He is now a professional speaker, mentor, author and debunker.

Mark is passionate about helping accountants generally so is a keen blogger and commentator in the accounting and tax press. He has been consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and has written hudnreds of articles here that have been viewed over a million times.

Check out how he could help you here:

Mark no longer gives tax advice despite being a past Chairman of the Chartered Accountants’ Tax Faculty. He is however Chairman of the Tax Advice Network - the UK's highest ranked lead generation website for tax advisers and accountants. The network also publishes a weekly practical tax update for accountants in general practice and full tax support, on demand too.  You can also use it as a lead generation resource for local people seeking tax advice from an accountant.

Mark has extensive network reach through his blog, talks, social media activity, articles and his regular 'Magic of Success' tips and tricks email that goes to thousands of accountants every week.


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By Anonymous
11th Sep 2009 22:43

Sorry, Mark Lee's credibility is falling fast....

Despite his comments on Accountancy age, at this link...

....why are we receiving new clients thick and fast?


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12th Sep 2009 11:22


Unfair to say that on the basis of a point of view on another website but i'm sure that Mark can stick up for himself so i'll move on to your question regarding picking up clients thick and fast.

Obviously more information is needed but if you are picking them up through the price comparison site mentioned in your link I would argue that individuals and businesses likely to choose a price comparison site for professional services, be they accountancy or legal, are not the type of potential clients most professionals would be looking for.

Such leads would usually (with exceptions) have at least two of the following traits:

 - Want to pay less than the service is worth, resulting in reduced profit and demotivation;

 - Be higher risk;

 - Use up a disproportionate amount of non billable time;

 - Be poor payers;

 - Not take their responsibilities seriously;

 - Not value your time;

 - Be quick to point the finger

 - Not refer, or even worse they do refer but to similar types resulting in more unsuitable clients

 - Have no loyalty and will move on if they find someone else at lower cost.

If you are picking up clients purely by offering lowest cost then if that suits you and your business then great, personally I would rather pick up 5 suitable clients per month than 20 unsuitable ones.  From a quality of life, business and profit point of view.

Regards, Jason












Thanks (1)
15th Sep 2009 01:23

Jason, accept change! Otherwise how can you help others?


The new concept has been welcomed by so many Accountants and Businesses across the UK in just our first 2 weeks of trading. Price matters. I'd encourage you to read my experience at this link on accweb to understand why.

Best regards,

Tom Bishop.

Thanks (0)
15th Sep 2009 10:56




I am all for change - I embrace change!  However, only if it is for the better.

Whilst I can see what you are trying to do here, respectfully I do not see how this service can benefit either the buyer or the seller of the accountancy and related services.

The seller will be forced to compete purely and soley on price, so whilst the lowest price wins and client numbers go up, the danger is that quality control, profits and service will go down.

The buyer will be selecting purely and soley on price without any regard of whether there is a good 'fit' for him/her or the business and will be at risk of reduced quality and service, probably disclaimed to the hilt within the engagement letters.  The T&C's may be on show for the world to see but how many price shopping clients will read them, and even if they do, UNDERSTAND them? 

You also mention your vetting procedures but do not detail what they are - could you elaborate?

My other concern is that the services being compared are not like for like and never can be.  Within your link, Anon 07/09/09 @ 11.43 makes many excellent points, amongst them being the VAT scenario - how would you respond to this?

I do not mean to be negative about this as I think that any innovation to bring buyer and seller together for mutual benefit should be applauded, however at first glance this looks flawed so would welcome your responses to the above.


Jason Dormer












Thanks (1)
16th Sep 2009 16:12

Hi J

Not sure why I deserve a personal attack - will assume you didn't mean it to come across that way.

For completeness - here's what I said when first made aware of the new site:


I'm not convinced

This is not really a price comparison site - nor could it be. It's a pitching facility for accountants who are desperate to secure work by quoting low hourly rates. I speak as someone who isn't in practice any more so I have no axe to grind. 

Whilst I entirely understand the thinking behind this site I'm afraid the concept may be fundamentally flawed. 

It seems to require accountants to pitch for work solely by ref to hourly rates AND is only available to those who will also share their terms of business. It then requires clients to compare prices and terms of business. In practice they will only look at the fees and choose the lowest. 

I'm not convinced that there enough accountants who both have standard terms of business and who want to compete on price to provide accounting and tax services to strangers searching online. 


Thanks (0)
18th Sep 2009 01:08

Superman, See my comments on the subject:


Best regards,

Tom Bishop.

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17th Apr 2012 17:39

Accounts for free

@Tom - great that you are cranking up the pressure on firms to prove their value and I am not surprised clients are switching providers when there is a recession and most firms cannot be bothered to differentiate and add value.

@Jason - they are not all PITA clients - when clients seek a lower price they really mean they want better value. They don't know how accountants can add value so they try to get better value with a lower price.

Bob Harper

Crunchers Franchise

Thanks (1)
12th Jul 2012 09:16

As we approach the third anniversary of this popular article....

I wonder if anyone can comment on the longevity of clients generated by the site in question and  indeed on why the site seems no longer to be active.


Thanks (3)
14th Feb 2013 18:37

On the topic of generating new business

I read this thread with great interest. Price is always a relevant part in the decision making process - and its influence obviously varies for different people. However there are so many other factors - for instance locality / proximity. 

Generating New Business Locally

A number of people choose the accountant for their new business because it is nearby. It still astounds me that typically 10,000 new limited firms register on Companies House every month. There are new firms opening up near every accounting practice every week - and the current economic climate only fuels this further as people experience redundancy or the inability to get the job they want.

Here are two things. I've worked with to help capture this opportunity:-

1. Optimise a Google Search For You Area

Where ever your business is located, a common internet search is 'Accountants in XYZ'. Here's a little article of how a business with offices in Cottenham and Soham in Cambridgeshire is now is number 1 in the Google search results when prospective clients search their area - 'Accountants in Cottenham'

2. How Many Limited Firms Start in My Area?

Here's a simple service, Recently Formed, which shows the number and details of new limited firms starting up in an area each week. It offers free 14 day trials and the ongoing service is £10 per month - no long term commitments required.  

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