How to grow your practice – part 2

The economy is flat but businesses have gone over the top of the waterfall, survived the fall and life is settling down. So says Russell Geary, partner in RDG Accounting Ltd, in what is a typically upbeat and positive approach to the future.

At this practice, located in Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire and Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, a belief in the importance of being earnest – a quality associated with what he describes as ‘the old school accountants’ – has been largely ditched and replaced with an emphasis on proactivity and enthusiasm.

‘These days clients buy into you as a person,’ Russell says. ‘We offer a very individual service, holding the hands of our clients all the way in everything they do. Of course a lot of firms claim they do that. But a lot of people talk the talk but don’t deliver. We really do provide what we promise – a service based on need. We will talk issues through with anyone but if a potential client doesn’t need any of our services, that’s fine. We don’t try to push anything on them.

‘There is a payback for this honesty. We are not in business to take a lot of money from people. If you do that, it will come back and bite you. But if you invest time in people, it brings its own rewards.’

Move with the times

Russell feels strongly that a lot of accountancy firms are held back by their old-fashioned image. ‘I really believe their days are numbered,’ he says. ‘Typically, partners in these traditional outfits have always done business in a certain way and see no reason to change. They are going to struggle in the future. Clients don’t want to deal with firms stuck in the Dickens era – they need to see them moving with the times.’

An example he gives is a perceived reluctance to engage with the latest IT. ‘This has been a sticking point for many firms, who have been driven out of their comfort zone by the speed of developments in this area,’ he suggests. 

‘Another is a failure to respond to clients’ expectations of constant communication through a variety of formats. This means providing a service out of hours and firms who don’t provide it may lose business. The nine-to-five days are long gone – we provide a 24/7 service 365 days a year and it give us an edge over many competitors.

‘We like to think we look at life differently to many of them and flexibility is key. This is reflected throughout the way we work. For example, we only maintain small offices. Our IT infrastructure means that our team can connect to our server and work from wherever they are or need to be. Some employees work part time because they have families. We allow them to work the hours that suit them – 8pm at night until 2pm or any unusual combination of hours which works for them – because that’s the way to ensure they perform optimally.’

While Russell stresses the importance of moving with the times, he also cautions against rushing headlong into every new networking opportunity. ‘For instance, we recognise that social media offer great potential for building a client base, but we also think it can be very time consuming,’ he says. ‘People rave about Twitter and Facebook, but if you don’t have time to invest in them properly they may not work for you. So we are taking a ‘dipping our toes’ approach to them.’

Like Russell, Alan Woods, Director of Woods Squared Limited, believes a genuinely proactive approach to clients and their businesses is also what sets his firm apart from others.

‘We are different from other accountants because we don’t just concentrate on the numbers and the past but we proactively help people to achieve their business and personal goals,’ he says.

Bespoke, tailored service

‘This was the message we wanted to get across to potential clients when Tracy, my wife and the practice manager, and I set the firm up five years ago. I think there are sometimes low expectations of accountants in that, although clients would like day-to-day support, they are not used to getting it. The traditional accountant processes facts to get through as much work as possible. We were looking at offering a bespoke, tailored unique service and I think we have achieved that.

‘Clients come to us through networking, referrals and word of mouth. We are now growing our client base steadily and aim to have 100 business clients by 2015.

'Our team has expanded to five – three qualified accountants and two trainees working towards the ACCA qualification.

‘2012 has been great for us so far with several new clients, all of whom want that extra something from their accountant. However, rapid growth in terms of turnover is not what we are aiming for. We want to get the right type of client. We have a varied client base and the common trait is that each is clear about what they want us to do for them. Our strength is to understand their business strategy and help them meet its aims and objectives – so effectively we are business consultants and accountants wrapped into one.’

Alan acknowledges these are tough times for business owners. ‘The double dip has been disheartening, but we aim to give them the confidence to trade through it by making their tax planning, revenue payment plans etc as efficient as possible,’ he says. ‘It’s important to remain upbeat. We have a 100% success rate in finding finance for businesses, which is becoming more difficult in today’s economic climate. And if a client has a viable proposition we are confident that we can help them to move forward.’

RDG Accounting Ltd

After 17 years working in both small and large accountancy practices, Russell Geary, who is partially sighted, decided he could do a better job himself. He set up RDG Accounting Ltd in 2004 and was joined four years later by Katrina Turton, with whom he had trained 20 years before. Katrina brought with her extensive experience in industry.

The firm offers accounts, taxation and business advisory and support services to a wide range of businesses and individuals.

Woods Squared Limited

Set up in January 2007, Woods Squared specialises in offering a range of business growth accountancy services to small and medium-sized, owner-managed businesses in all sectors across Wirral, Merseyside and Cheshire. It has been nominated for and won a number of awards, including the accountingWEB UK Small Practice Award 2011.

Director Alan Woods qualified as a chartered certified accountant in 2002 and practice manager, Tracy Woods, in 2006.

Jill Wyatt is a freelance business journalist