Silvia Merchant

Silvia's LinkedIn profile

I started my practice at the beginning of the pandemic having previously worked in large companies in industry and then in a small accountancy practice. To get a better work-life balance, I moved to Sage but then the pandemic kicked in and the job disappeared. I had an ACCA practising certificate in place and was scared at the idea of starting of a practice but decided that this was the kick in the backside that I needed to start a practice. It turned out so well – it was the right time and ACCA’s resources were brilliant starting with its template engagement letters, and whenever I needed support, ACCA provided it.

We work with small businesses to help them to achieve their vision. We work mostly with service industries – those providing services such as marketing, recruitment, business consultants and software – but we have been getting more ecommerce clients recently - people who are selling on TikTok and Shopify. 

I have over ten years’ experience from working in larger organisations and small practice.  The small business owner might not be able to afford consultancy or advisory advice. Having that experience, I can bring that in-house and give them a second opinion on how they should be looking at things.

Starting this practice was about work-life balance – I’m a long way to retirement and I don’t want to do anything else so if I can do this and enjoy it then why not? It’s not a race to millions for me – its more about having a comfortable income stream and having a balanced lifestyle. It’s the same for my team members and I think because we all believe in the same thing, it works. We try to fit everything within the working hours and not work overtime. If that doesn’t work, then we look to improve and find efficiencies. That’s one of the reasons I went to the Xero roadshow event recently - I always learn many things at such events, and it gives me an opportunity to speak with other practitioners as well and see what they’re doing.

There’s a lot going on in the accountancy industry at the minute and it’s difficult for accountants to keep up with it all – both in terms of legislation changes and software. Obviously, you have the automation with AI, and everyone is trying to embrace it, but if eventually compliance is going to end then where do we go next from there? We have the compliance side nailed – we’re proactive and returns are always filed well before the deadline. The message we’re communicating to clients at the minute is just around their tax liabilities and due dates, but we’re moving away from that to ask the right questions and talk more about how the business is doing. 

I’ve started a programme called The Leap Programme which is a 6-week programme delivered by The Gap and Fathom on how to build an advisory business. As accountants we have so much data at our fingertips but we don’t use it, or if we do use it, we use it in a way that is not beneficial for us – we provide free advice to clients. You can transition from compliance to advisory, but in a way that makes a massive difference for them. 

I’ve learned to ask the right questions of my current clients that I do compliance work for, and I can see it slowly growing into that advisory work because I’m asking the right questions, they’re becoming more engaged, and they can see the value.

The practitioner community is so important – I heard about the Leap programme from a fellow accountant who was already on the programme while on the train to Accountex Summit Manchester. So many people need accountants that there are plenty of clients to go around, so practitioners should feel able to share their learnings with other practitioners so that the industry improves and we’re providing better services.

Recruitment is one of the biggest issues for practitioners. I’m looking to recruit someone right now so that I can focus on the advisory side of things but it’s very difficult and I know that other practice owners struggling with recruitment as well. Unfortunately, we have to rely on outsourcing in the short term but that isn’t going to keep the economy going in the UK indefinitely. 

Not everyone knows about taxes and accounting, so I think our job is to help people to sleep better at night knowing that they’re doing the right thing. My clients know that I will tell them exactly how it is and what they need to do. That reassurance is so important for clients who are often scared that they’re going to get something wrong.