Workflow management- how to ease the pain whilst increasing profitability and client service

Thoughts are turning to autumn and the looming end of year deadlines fast approaching! Now is the best time to ensure your workflow management and production systems are robust. Too many practices are still ‘firefighting’ as standard; trying to meet billing targets and deadlines under pressure with stressed staff and unhappy clients. Running a practice in this way doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the management skills of the partners!

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Succession planning - how to make the most from your practice

Some of us may have been fortunate enough to enjoy a summer break and take time to reflect on what we really want from our businesses. At some point we have to consider our exit strategy and plan for that eventuality. Without a plan and timeframe we risk selling ourselves short and not receiving the return on our investment for building a successful practice over many years. This of course will directly impact when we can officially retire, work less hours and enjoy the lifestyle aspired to.

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How to be the FD of your own practice and why it matters

Last time we looked at what are the key areas in your practice to manage and measure. You will have taken stock of where you were at the start of the year, where you are now and where you want to be going forward. Hopefully, you will have systems in place to ensure you are booking time to work on practice management and hold regular partner meet-ings which are documented with an action plan every month.

In this feature we are looking at what makes the best practices successful and prize winners within the profession. The most progressive practices treat their own firm as if it were their top Grade A best client! They ensure time is made to act as their own business advisor or quasi-FD. This is the key to success.

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Mid-Year review

July and we are already over half way through the year. Talks of summer holidays will soon turn to Christmas and tax return deadlines once more!

For many practitioners this is a quieter time of year and a good point to focus attention on practice management. Earlier in the year you will have set out your personal and financial goals for the current year with an action plan of what you were going to change. Now is the time to take stock and update that action plan.

Given the daily stresses of meeting the demands of clients, managing staff and client service levels it is all too easy to think you simply didn’t have any time to look at your own business plan and to feel nothing has improved. We often over-look the simple things that we have changed and don’t recognise or measure the impact. The more progressive practitioners book time in their diaries every month and take a couple of hours to appraise their own business as if it were a client.

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Cash flow management: Common pitfalls

Going forward

Include your staff in what you are doing. In order to agree fixed fees you will have to prepare accurate budgets on compliance work. Budgets must be contingent on the quality of records you expect to receive at the start of the job. Explain to staff this will make their lives less stressful and help them achieve monthly billing targets.

Avoid the common pitfalls of not pricing work correctly and not being able to recover time spent. Agree with staff and clients what the process is when a job is taking longer than budgeted. You need decide if it is due to the fee being inadequate and records not as expected and/or is there a training requirement for the person doing the job? Check that your planning systems are in order and address these areas as soon as possible. Staff should know who to talk to and what to do when they realise there is a budget overrun. Managers should be checking in with staff daily to see if work is going according to plan and supporting when it isn’t.

Clients should never be presented with an unexpected bill after the event. When bills are expected then they are most likely to be paid. Where you perform work outside the scope of the fixed fee; for example, HMRC enquiry, business advisory, questions of whether to buy a new vehicle in the business’ name or personally, ensure you agree upfront with the client how much the fee is likely to be and bill them each month ongoing if it is a project that will run on.

There remains a small number of firms who still bill annually on completion of annual compliance work. This is a very outdated approach which doesn’t help manage cash flow - both for the practice and for the client. Even the smallest of clients prefer to pay a monthly standing order in advance so by the time you come to complete the rump of the annual compliance work you have been paid in full. Many successful firms have direct debits in place and when clients feel confident in what and how they are being charged for it is never a problem.

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Client year end planning and business reviews- the essentials.

The more successful and truly proactive firms start planning 3 months ahead of a client’s year end. Like fixed fees this is now fast becoming standard best practice. For those of you with client March year ends looming it is still not too late to change the way you do things and increase both client service and your own efficiency and gross margin as a result.
All grade A and B clients should have a meeting with you 3 months pre year end. You are likely to be having regular contact with these client anyway. Agree an agenda, send it to the client in advance and ensure you cover the following points at that meeting;

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How does your client service offering measure up?

In January we looked at what you need to do differently in order to beat the post 31 January client service cycle. This month we look at how you can measure results. Most practitioners say ‘client service’ is our main focus but when asked what that actually means it is often a challenge to answer. Can you prove what you hold to be true?

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What you need to do differently on client year ends in 2017

Once again you have survived the 31 January deadline and are drawing breath for the first time in 2017! Wondering what next to focus your attention on or simply look forward to a quieter February? This is the perfect time to review how well you service your business clients and change the way you deal with year-end planning systems.

Whilst December year ends have passed, use this as a checklist to confirm you have done what you should in order to deliver best quality client service and in the process make your own life easier too. Then apply the same system to all business clients with year ends coming up during 2017.

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Systems - Part Two

HR Systems-why they matter even for the smallest practice.

In Part One we looked at basic but essential systems for planning and budgets which are key drivers in improving gross profit margins. Here we look at HR and people systems- without the resource of people to do the work a practice will fail! Many sole and smaller practices believe HR systems are for the larger firm. This is not true. With an ever increasing competitive market for good quality recruitment candidates now is the time to check whether your own systems are up to standard and in line with what your competitors are doing.

These simple and inexpensive systems will help attract the best candidates as well and ensure you keep the existing staff you have. Don’t fall into the trap of being so focused on winning new clients and daily work production that you lose sight of what you should be doing to develop and support your employees. Make sure you know what they think of your firm and are the best advocates for wanting to work there.

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2016 Review and why client communication
is so important

As 2016 draws to a close and we are focusing on deadlines, it’s time to remember why client communication is increasingly important. For many businesses uncertainty still reigns post Brexit and the US Elections as well as the recent Autumn Statement. More so than ever before Clients are looking to their advisors for advice and re-assurance in terms of business and financial planning. See this as an opportunity to generate additional fees and client retention rates.

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Systems - Part One.

Budgeting and planning -why they matter.

It’s time for back to basics and the simple stuff which we often can overlook. If you don’t have proper budget and planning systems in place then you will be left feeling as if you’re pushing water uphill!

These essential processes underpin the operational success of any firm. This means they drive client service, gross margin and profitability as well as team morale and stress.

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Is your firm an award winning practice?

Every year we read of amazing firms who win awards, read their stories and ask ourselves ‘Could we stand a chance of winning that too?’ If you have the basics in place within your firm any award entry takes very little time and it is a wonderful way to reflect on what you have achieved.

Entering awards is a key success driver for boosting team moral and a valuable marketing tool. Sharing such news with clients will reinforce why you are the best advisor for them. Your firm will be perceived in a more positive way and it helps with recruitment and attracting stronger candidates.

Here are 4 key areas which can set a practice apart from the rest and take minimal time or money to implement;

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Referral systems as part
of your marketing plan.

Last month we looked at referral systems and how effective they can be in generating new business. Every practice is currently focused on maintaining, if not increasing, profit levels and winning new clients.

Given it is a very tough and uncertain economic climate at present for many, there is even more focus on keeping up with competitor accountancy firms and getting the best return on the time you invest in growing the business.

Referral systems should be an integral part of your marketing plan. Even sole practitioners and the smallest of firms should have a marketing and business development plan. It is a good use of your limited time resources and gives you a clear focus and action plan to work on- remember, little by little and small chunks of time each week will ultimately yield results. A marketing plan should be shared with your team- they will ‘buy in’ to the firm more when they feel part of what the future plan is and know what is going on.

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