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What we learned at: FreeAgent Practice of the Future roadshow

22nd Nov 2018
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FreeAgent roadshow
AccountingWEB-Philip Fisher

FreeAgent’s 12-venue roadshow has been mainly focussed on Making Tax Digital, with only five months to go until HMRC’s mammoth digitalisation venture goes live, but also covered a number of other bases, including marketing, growth and business modelling. Philip Fisher reports back on the London leg of the tour.

Making Tax Digital

The roadshow opened up with FreeAgent’s Kris Sawford and Tony Stevenson addressing a topic that they described as “a bold vision” – understandable considering they were from the home team.

The pair were keen to emphasise the need for accountants to plan for MTD in advance and, for practices that have not already done so, get cracking immediately.

Using estimated conversion hours provided by AccountingWEB, they observed that on average it takes seven to 11 hours to convert a single client, meaning that a mid-size practice will require four staff members working full-time between now and the launch.

They suggested a sensible approach which comprises

  1. Creating an overall strategy
  2. Appointing a project manager
  3. Evaluating internal systems
  4. Communicating with clients at the earliest opportunity
  5. Offering webinars and/or seminars

From FreeAgent’s perspective, the Edinburgh-based vendor expects the transformation to be almost seamless, at least from the client and their accountant’s perspective. That is because their existing VAT module is being refocused to provide the necessary data and certifications to file online under the new MTD code. They were at pains to point out that this service will come at no extra cost for clients.

The client attraction blueprint

Guest speaker Amanda C. Watts cogently presented her vision of a client attraction blueprint.

In plain English, this is a methodology to enable accountancy practices (and almost any other business) to flourish. At a headline level, this will enable exponents to grow their business and, much more importantly, find extra time, take holidays and a boost to their bank balances.

What was initially supposed to be a nine-point plan eventually expanded out into something containing the following components.

  1. Growth
  2. Visibility
  3. Valuable business involving high-value clients
  4. Making your business vital (and beating back her bête noire, the business coach)
  5. Attracting clients by finding a USP
  6. Converting leads to business
  7. Connections ie relationships
  8. Positioning in the marketplace
  9. Unpacking IP ie developing “products”
  10. Platforms of which LinkedIn is usually the most appropriate for accountancy practices
  11. The funnel (having a database of prospects)
  12. Authority (or expertise)
  13. Automated marketing
  14. Events
  15. Supporting campaigns
  16. Maximising high-quality referrals

Amusingly in the context of the last point, she divides clients into vampires and radiators, suggesting that all practices should stratify their own clients into these two categories and recommends losing the bloodsuckers as soon as possible while promoting services towards those that radiate goodwill and willingly pay for good service.

Growing your business

Bob Widdrington, a Business Growth Enabler at NatWest, spent the first part of his presentation explaining his job title.

Broadly, his role is to integrate customers into the business and provide the necessary services that they require. In particular, he is clearly excited about the new connection with FreeAgent and the opportunities that it offers.

Any businesses that sign up as NatWest clients will find that FreeAgent is free, as the bank will waive the standard charge.

From NatWest’s perspective this is a great chance to develop new business from clients that they might not otherwise manage to attract, while it is providing FreeAgent with the kind of financial underpinning that most software developers can only dream of.

Chart accountancy case study

Teodora Dimitrova of Chart Accountancy closed the event with a practical presentation on the ways in which accountants can incorporate the FreeAgent software into their business model, providing clients with a low-cost service that takes out much of the tedium of day-to-day accounting, freeing up your team to provide high-value consultancy services or develop the business.

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