Successful practice growth

Shane Lukas from AVN brings you key insights from seven award winning accountants

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Last month I had the privilege of hosting the final of the 2023 AVN Most Inspiring Accountant Awards. And what a brilliant event it was. Every year, I think it can’t top the previous event – and every year it does!

These awards are open to the entire AVN membership, so we get entries from right across the board, from sole practitioners to firms with dozens of team members.

Each finalist was a winner in one of seven different categories, and they had each focused on a specific aspect of their business. But each shared at least one golden nugget that any accountant could adapt and use in their own firm.

These are the key insights that I took from these fantastic accountants:

You need to have clarity of purpose

The winner in the Business Clarity category was Milton Keynes-based Alexander Rosse. They have defined their purpose as to ‘help clients create extraordinary businesses by connecting them emotionally with their numbers’. Being crystal clear on this has helped them to understand exactly what they’re aiming to achieve and what it means in practice. It’s helped them to identify the kind of clients they work with and how they can best help them. It’s also helped to bring their team fully on board, all of them dedicated and inspired by their purpose.

Having this kind of clarity helps you to make sure that every action you take, and every decision you make, is aligned with your core mission.

You can’t be everything to everyone

When it comes to positioning your firm in the market, MSP Finance Team know exactly what they’re doing. The winner in the Practice Differentiation category, this Essex firm realised they weren’t getting the kind of fees or the kind of clients they wanted; there was nothing to differentiate them from any other accountant.

So, they took the leap to focusing on clients in the IT sector. This has been extremely successful for them, with better clients and better fees (to the point that they feel confident in quoting a fee of £45k to one prospect).

While it may be tempting to cast a wide net to attract a broad range of clients, trying to appeal to everyone more often leads to mediocrity rather than success. Focusing on a niche or specific target market enables you to develop expertise and tailor your services to meet their unique needs.

Start small and give your clients a framework for your advisory services

Accountants tell me all the time that they can’t get their advisory services off the ground. Xeinadin Murray Associates, the winner in the Business Advisory category, has nailed this with a clear framework for offering their advisory services.

The Paisley firm starts by talking to the client about their hopes and dreams and the kind of lifestyle they’d love to have. They then connect this to the numbers in their business, looking at what they need to do to get the results they want. So, rather than baffling the client with a confusing range of options, everything is brought back to the client’s personal desires. From this starting point, they can introduce the services that are most important to them.

When you give your clients a step-by-step roadmap – and hold them accountable for taking action – they’ll be much more willing to engage with your advisory services.

To perform at their best, your team need to understand your purpose

When your team aren’t on board with your firm’s goals and values, making progress is very tough indeed. The winner in the Customer Committed Team category, Clear Vision, discovered this to their cost.

Without clear direction at the Wiltshire-based firm, workflow was out of control, service levels were dropping and team turnover was high. Once again, defining the purpose of the business and clarifying their values made a huge difference. The team now understand which services are important, who their ideal clients are and have regained confidence in the firm’s leadership.

Be explicit about the purpose and values of your business so your team understand what you are trying to achieve – and can help you get there.

One person can’t do everything

This might seem obvious, but far too many accountants end up trying to do everything themselves. That was the situation for Usman Sial of Sial Accountants in London, winner in the Consistently High Standards category. He was working too many hours, which was starting to affect his health, and his firm wasn’t progressing since everything relied on him.

Realising that this couldn’t go on, he put systems in place to make it easier for his team to take on more work and implemented technology to improve and streamline customer service. With his time freed up he now focuses on better supporting his team and growing the business to where he wants it to be.

Accepting that you can’t do everything is the first step to creating a sustainable, valuable accountancy business.

Sometimes you have to face your inner demons

The winner in the High Profile Practice category is no stranger to awards. Michael Hemme of MDH Accountancy in Croydon has already won the overall AVN Most Inspiring Accountant Award twice before and continually works on developing and improving his firm. But he had a huge lack of confidence about speaking in public or creating the kind of marketing videos he knew would attract new clients.

When enquiries started to dip, he realised he had to tackle this fear if he wanted to keep growing MDH. So, he took the bull by the horns and engaged a speaker coach. He admits that he was terrible to begin with, but with his coach’s help he made so much progress he actually reached the finals of the Professional Speakers Association Speaker Factor competition!

Michael is now creating and promoting videos that give real value to prospective clients. MDH is getting 20-30 new enquiries each week, they have taken on new team members and most significantly, they have smashed their targets by £75k.

There are actions you can take to improve your business that are simply operational or financial. But often the big returns come when you can face and overcome your personal demons.

Believe that you can make a difference

The Changing Lives category can cover so many different areas – from finding more time to spend with family and friends, to supporting charities, to helping clients become more profitable. This year’s winner, Norwich-based Triple Bottom Line Accounting, has an even bigger agenda – tackling climate change.

Their core belief that businesses can (and must) be part of the solution dictates the way they run their business, the services they offer, the clients they work with and even the building they occupy. The firm was founded as an example of how an accountancy firm can make a difference and with the passionate commitment of all involved, it’s doing exactly that.

Once again, defining a clear purpose for your firm brings everything together. It helps you to develop your service offering, recruit the right team members, identify the clients you will and won’t work with and make your marketing more targeted. It becomes the guiding light that keeps you on the right course.

And overall, that’s the message I took away from these award-winning accountants. Once you have clarity and know what you want to achieve, everything else falls into place.

The AVN coaches and I are happy to have a call with you. We’ll take a look at your individual situation and identify some first steps to help you get clear on your purpose. Just book the time that suits you best.

Shane Lukas – AVN for Accountants