Build a best-in-class accountancy practice

Mar 29, 2018
Ahead of her presentation at the Chartered Accountants Ireland Annual Conference, Anne Brady reflects on what is important when building and developing a successful firm.
I set up my practice in 1992, starting from nothing and building it into what it has become today. Its success is down to a number of factors – from having staff that are both valued and supported, to being a huge advocate of technology while understanding that traditional methods such as always carrying a business card can be just as important.
I started my practice from my mother’s back bedroom with just one employee after qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with Stokes Kennedy Crowley, now KPMG. Clients were mainly from referrals through family and friends but as word spread, our reputation was established and we were able to move into rented accommodation and eventually, I bought my own premises. Fast forward to July 2005 and Anne Brady DFK merged with McQuillans DFK to form Anne Brady McQuillans DFK. McQuillans DFK was established by the late Ken McQuillan in the 1960s. Natalie Kelly trained with McQuillans and was subsequently appointed partner in 2003. Natalie and I have very similar core values, so the move made sense. I’m pleased to say that we have continued to go from strength to strength.

Put staff first

Meeting the needs of our clients is extremely important and we are committed to building strong relationships and providing quality advice. I’m often asked who comes first, the staff or clients. It’s an interesting question, but I would certainly say my staff because happy staff members look after the clients.
I have a huge interest in training, with CPD being a focus within the practice. Line managers hold monthly support and supervision sessions, which give colleagues an opportunity to speak about any training or support that would benefit them. We also run a continual improvement programme so our staff can make suggestions that may improve the practice. We always take these suggestions on board and often implement changes based on them. It’s a way to show our staff that their opinions are valued and that they can shape the future of the practice.
Social events are another part of achieving staff satisfaction. Our social club organises regular outings throughout the year and it gives staff members an opportunity to spend time together outside the work environment.

Innovate to elevate

I’m very technologically driven and like to think that we are ahead of the game in the practice when it comes to technology. We utilise the latest software to benefit our clients and have also been in ‘the cloud’ for eight years, which has allowed us to work remotely. This is a very important asset in today’s fast-paced world. It also proved very useful when we were up against heavy snow earlier this year and, despite having to close the office, we were all able to work from home so our clients received exactly the same level of service. It’s certainly something I would recommend for any successful practice.
Marketing is something else that always pays off, whether it’s marketing your business or marketing yourself. Social media is an incredible tool, which allows you to instantly connect with people and promote your services. Being active on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn enables you to connect with different audiences and actively engage with them. But despite being a big fan of technology, one of the simplest pieces of advice I could give is to always carry a business card. I carry one in my pocket absolutely everywhere I go – something that my family finds quite funny, but you never know when you might meet a new contact.

Build your networks

Another huge part of building a successful business is networking. A big part of this for me is being a member of DFK International, a worldwide association of independent accounting firms. This membership enables the practice to provide advice on international business and tax matters. Its conferences and events are held across the globe, giving members an opportunity to network, share best practice and make contacts in other countries that will benefit the firm and our clients. 
Personally, I am highly involved in the association and have just taken on the role of Vice President of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. I also champion the development of young professionals and future leaders within member firms, assisting with the organisation of conferences to help equip delegates with leadership skills and competencies as they progress to a senior level. It’s important to invest in young professionals as they are the future of the profession.

Give back

As an advocate of women in business and achieving gender balance in the workplace, I chair the new DFK Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee and we hope to not only advance women in the workplace, but also redefine opportunities for future generations of women. Developing more female leaders is simply better for business. Companies and firms with greater gender balance outperform others in terms of profitability, winning new business and attracting and retaining talent.
I also sit on the board of the Timoney Leadership Institute, a not-for-profit educational institute whose mission is to develop competent, responsible, people-centred leaders who aspire to have a deep, positive and lasting impact on people, organisations and society. I’m a great believer in leading from the front in my own organisation and strive to continually improve. Everyone can be a leader, even if it is not their official title, and I hope that in turn I inspire others to continually better themselves. The Timoney Institute is not only excellent for my own development but through its alumni association, it is also great for meeting different people from different sectors. This in turn helps me to better assist my clients.

Make an impact

Making an impact is essential when leading a successful business, be it writing an article or giving a presentation. It always pays back.
Many years ago, I gave a presentation on selecting an integrated accounting system and eight years later, someone got in touch to ask for my advice. This shows just how simple and important it can be to make a lasting impression.

Look to the horizon

From day one, I have been involved in Chartered Accountants Ireland and have volunteered my time to sit on various committees. It is extremely important to not only grow a successful practice, but also to develop the accountancy profession in general. I am also a member of Toastmasters International, which helps members brush up on their public speaking skills and give a polished presentation, and I would recommend anyone to go along to Society Toastmasters, which meets every second and fourth Thursday at 7pm in Chartered Accountants House.

Anne Brady is Vice President of DFK EMEA.

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