What exactly are the biggest hurdles small accounting firms currently face in growing their business?
I believe that the biggest hurdle faced by small accounting firms is that they believe they have to service every client that walks into their office. They want to be all things to all clients. Fortunately for myself, I started my business 15 years ago as a sole practitioner and from day 1, I set myself limits to the types of clients I was willing to work with. I was very up front with clients if I felt that they would be better serviced by a larger accounting firm and didn’t let the notion of how much in fees I was missing out on by not accepting them as a client sway me. For the individual and SME clients, I must say I worked with most that came through the door as long as I believed they had good ethics and morals. Over the years however, I have perfected client selection in this space and only take on clients that are up to date with the ATO lodgments.
Optimal client selection is critical if you want to grow your business. I have relied very little on advertising over the years and have grown my client base by word of mouth referrals. My clients refer like-minded clients that myself and my staff are only too happy to work with and this perpetuates.
How can these hurdles be overcome?
Firstly, the practice needs to become clear on the type(s) of clients that are the best fit for their firm. This in itself can be quite hard if the practice has a number of partners as their views in this area may be conflicting.
This is a specific example on how my program can be really effective. It is becoming somewhat of a trend that younger accountants are buying into practices and as such they invest a significant amount of capital. They want an optimal return on their investment but they also want a life!
They may have some great ideas for change, including an optimal client type, employing more technology in the practice, implementing flexible work practices or incentive schemes, however they face resistance and reluctance from their older, more experienced, fellow partners and staff. I can be the independent intermediary in this situation, identifying the reasons for the resistance and then provide practical examples and solutions. Believe me I have had resistance from some staff and clients but there are amicable ways to implement change successfully.
What do you think is the greatest opportunity small firms can take advantage of over the next two years?
What I am seeing is that practices are employing more and more technology but partners and staff are still not finding a balance. Is it our mindset as accountants that we must work a certain number or hours and do things a certain way? Do we have to accept that certain clients or staff will not embrace technology and keep doing it their way when we know there is a better way?
I believe technology is one of the greatest opportunities over the next two years.
As the trusted adviser to our clients, our clients respect and value the advice we provide and this is no different as we manage their transition to cloud-based accounting software systems. This also is a perfect opportunity to offer clients more than just a compliance service and start offering advisory services, thereby interacting and engaging with them during the year.
I recently held a client seminar on understanding your financial statements where I explained the basic concepts, the reasons why clients should be producing monthly financial statements, how to ensure these statements are accurate and then explaining educating clients on other value added services we can provide during the year to ensure that they achieve the best financial outcome for their business.
What made you get into consulting for accountants?
Small to medium-sized accounting practice principals and owners face many challenges in their businesses and if unresolved these challenges inhibit their work-life balance. They often feel isolated, they don’t have the time and resources to participate in structured long-term mentoring programs and really just need someone to support them in making positive changes in their businesses to enable them to have really successful accounting practices, but one that they are not slaves to.
I am very proud of my achievements over the last 15 years in business and over 20 years as an accountant as being a trusted advisor to so many individual clients and SMEs. Certainly I have done things the hard way as I have juggled many hats but I am pleased to say I now have a fantastic work-life balance. I would like to share some of my experiences and strategies with practitioners so they too can have it all. My brother joined my firm as an equity partner last year and fortunately for him, he was able to get down to business from day one. Unfortunately, many young accountants are not afforded the same luxury.
My Abundant Accountant Program runs for a six-month period and quite often this is all that is needed to empower business owners to make changes.