Have your ever felt like this with your practice? For every step you take forward, you tend to take two steps back. You know you need to spend time working on increasing your practice efficiency and the bottom line of your firm. But where to get that time? Particularly when it seems that if you drop the amount of client work you do personally, your practice income plummets. Perhaps you and your firm are stuck in “The Work In/Work On Trap”?
In this article, Heather Townsend, founder of The Accountants Millionaires’ Club, reveals how to successfully avoid this trap, and enable your practice to sustainably grow.
In doing so, she shows how GI Outsourcing can provide crucial flexibility to enable business owners and managers to step away from the coal face and lead the business towards consistent growth through our flexible range of outsourcing solutions.
What is the “Work in/Work On” Trap?
Growth for an accountancy practice is never a linear straight line (or for any small business for that matter.) This could be because a key resource such as cashflow is running low. Or critical members of the business, often you the practice owner, keep on getting pulled back into being the business; rather than running or leading it. As a result, the practice falls into something I call “The Work In/Work On Trap”. Even the most well-run accountancy practices can get caught out by “The Work In/Work On Trap”. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic probably had all the members of your practice at the coal face, speaking and reassuring clients for days on end. And as a result, key projects to move the practice forward are likely to have not happened. Or were delayed? This is an example of “The Work In/Work On Trap”.
COVID-19 has proved that regardless of the size of your practice “The Work In/Work On Trap” can happen at any time or size. But usually, the trap tends to start when a practice gets to £150k turnover. The practice is always in danger of falling back into the trap until the firm gets to over £500k turnover.
How to avoid “The Work In/Work On Trap”?
Business Enablement is key to avoiding “The Work In/Work On Trap”. But let’s take a step back and consider exactly what Business Enablement actually means. (Rather than just flinging another business buzzword around for the sake of it)
Here is Clay Oslund’s definition of Business Enablement from his blog post “Business Enablement that extends beyond technology:
Business enablement occurs when the individuals who understand the current state of business as well as its future opportunities, have the ability to initiate the necessary changes to make that happen systematically, with intention. It’s about alleviating the bottlenecks to growth and progress without opening the business up to safety and security concerns.
Therefore, if you are going to use Business Enablement to avoid “The Work In/Work On Trap”, there are several mindset shifts that you need to make.
Mindset shift 1: No-one else is going to do it for you
I hate to use the ‘unprecedented’ word, as it has very much been overused since March. However, it is rather apt. None of us, hopefully, will live through such a turbulent time in history again. However, it doesn’t matter how hard it has been. Or how uncertain it has been (or still is). Or how much confusion there has been with grant schemes, loans and the new ‘F’ word; flexible furlough. There is only one person who can create the time to understand the current state of your firm and future opportunities; you. At the end of the day, it’s your practice. Blaming the government, staff, clients, or home-schooling commitments isn’t going to help you move forward. It may help you feel better in the short term, but it isn’t going to assist you to get out of “The Work In/Work On Trap”.
Mindset shift 2: Creating headspace each week is as important as client work.
If you have been in practice for any length of time you will know that one of the holy ‘accountancy’ commandments is ‘client work always takes priority’. And that is correct, to a point. If you are truly going to give your clients the best service, you need to be able to take some time out each week to think. To think about what really matters to you, the clients and your staff. To see where there are problems looming on the horizon. If you don’t take this time, then you will get tripped up by things and dragged back into the “The Work In/Work On Trap”.
Mindset shift 3: Stop running your practice too leanly
The reality is that many small but growing firms are being run too leanly. Often because the practice owner hasn’t had the time to step back and think about what is required going forward. For example, not having enough resource going into a busy period, or not having the cash reserves when needed to hire the right person at the right time. When a firm is being run too leanly it doesn’t have the resilience to bounce right back out of any ‘bumps in the road’. And very often the solution to get through this ‘bump in the road’ is to drag the practice owner back into working within the business.
How do firms get themselves out of the “Work in/Work on” trap?
“The Work In/Work On Trap” is one of the challenges that any growing business owner needs to deal with. It’s also the reason that many practice owners decide to stop growing their firm. After all, if this stuff was easy, everyone would be growing a practice!
- Find opportunities to cost effectively increase your capacity
When you are growing, there isn’t always the money in the bank to hire a brilliant employee who will seamlessly take stuff off your hands. This is why outsourcing can really make a difference. Particularly with a company like GI who can be switched on or off at will. (No paying for a fixed seat which you may not need for half of the year.)
- Invest in automation
Automation is a great way to increase your practice efficiency, i.e. do more with less. The areas of an accountancy firm which are ripe for automation are:
- Onboarding new clients, using tools such as Practice Ignition
- Bookkeeping, both for your clients and your firm. E.g. using GoCardless for direct debit payments and the bank and supplier rules which come with Xero, Quickbooks, Receipt Bank, Hubdoc
- Investing in platforms and dashboards so you can see exactly what needs your attention. For example, the practice-wide dashboards that Receipt Bank, Xavier, Chaser and Fluidly provide make it so much easier to know which client to contact or prioritise.
- Start delegating like a ninja
This is where you take a long hard look at exactly what you are doing and decide on what can be delegated, delayed or ditched. You may find that using outsourcing is a way of freeing up your time to work on the business.
Every accountancy firm owner at some point in their journey will experience the pain of “The Work In/Work On Trap”. How you get out of the trap rests on your mindset and being able to bring about change.
GI Outsourcing provides a highly flexible range of solutions for practice owners looking to spend more time working on, rather than in their business. Please contact us today to find out more about how we can provide the support to enable you to grow your practice.
Heather Townsend is the author and founder of The Accountants Millionaires’ Club