Nine things to make your life easier in practice

Dec 01, 2018

Orla McGahan writes:

1. Join a network

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

There are 1,730 Chartered firms in practice in Ireland. Of that, around 950 are sole practitioners; and yet, there are only 40 listed networks. Even with an average of ten members per network, there are a lot of people out there going it alone. Don’t isolate yourself.

The benefits of being part of a network are copious:

  1. A case study group – for those times when a case needs to be talked out. 
  2. A forum to benchmark – to benchmark fees, charge out rates, overheads, staff salaries, and so on, can be invaluable. Consider joining a network outside your geographical or competitive area if necessary. 
  3. Knowledge sharing – share experiences on dealing with Revenue, CRO and other areas.
  4. For that moment when you are just having a blank, being able to run it by a trusted colleague.
  5. Referrals – often within a network various members specialise in varying fields, industries or disciplines. This can lead to additional work through referrals.
  6. CPD and training – organising training by network offers more flexibility to custom make the course, attendees, and location, while gaining cost reductions.

2. Don’t underestimate the value of your work

I was lucky enough to be shown early in my practice life (by a client!) that the value of your work is not the time it took to put together the relevant documents and submit them to the appropriate authority. But rather, and more importantly, your fee should reflect the time, effort, knowledge and experience you have gained over the years which gives you the technical and practical knowhow.

For a lot of practitioners, our work revolves around solving problems or doing work our clients do not have the time, knowledge, skill or experience to do.

Make sure the price you put on your work adequately reflects value to both you and your client.

3. Stock control - record your time

How often do we criticize clients for inadequate stock control and yet how many of us, particularly partners, do not record our time?

We sell time. Fact. And yet quite often we have no control over it. There are many good CRM packages available to practitioners offering time recording systems with simple reporting facilities. Invest in one and use it. It will pay for itself, and then some. Find the discipline to record your time, every day.

4. Organise your time and stick to it!

As the saying goes – “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
If I were to pick one thing that will make a difference, it’s time management. This is crucial to creating and maintaining an easy (easier) practice life.

Plan, systemise where possible, and stay on top of

  1. The annual return and compliance review - do this when it comes in or as it falls due;
  2. Anti-money laundering compliance;
  3. Engagement letters;
  4. Practice housekeeping – A Chartered Accountant I know, who runs a very successful practice, has developed the habit of spending the first hour of his day, every day, without fail, to practice housekeeping. And his success is testament that it works;
  5. CPD and your CPD record;
  6. Staff mentoring records.

5. Embrace technology and update your software regularly

Efficiencies leading to higher profitability and better cash-flow can be achieved with regular investment in software and technology. Incorporate this cost as an ongoing overhead.

6. Value your staff

I’m sure this is not the first time you have been told this, but your staff are your most valuable asset.

“We are only ever as good as the people around us”. Invest in your staff.

The cost of losing an experienced staff member goes far beyond the financial cost. Added to that, a new staff member will take at least six months to become comfortable and familiar with the position. The cost of this should never be underestimated.

Invest in training, talk to your staff openly and regularly (maybe over a nice lunch) about the things that make a difference to their enjoyment of the position, and it’s not always about salary.

Particularly in the current environment, taking care of your staff should be a high priority.

7. Self-care

In the words of Stephen Covey (The 7 habits of highly effective people) – “sharpen the saw”.

Take care of yourself, your health, your mental health and your private life. As a practitioner, the pressure to develop, to stay up to date technically, meet deadlines, manage staff, and still live your life can sometimes be overwhelming, not to mention managing the expectations of clients. We carry a huge responsibility.

So take time out regularly and routinely to take care of yourself.

8. Get involved in your Institute

For some members “The Institute” may seem like an anonymous entity from which they can feel somewhat disconnected.

But the Institute has many more facets than members realise and offers many valuable services. In addition to the staff, many member volunteers are lobbying and working away for the interests of its members. Volunteers are always required in many areas. The benefit of involvement and having an active role is that you can help shape and change the world in which you work, influence policy and changes in legislation, education, membership and many other areas.

And as an added bonus, involvement gives you a sense of belonging to the Institute of which you are a member.

9. Agree fees upfront and in writing

When you make this routine a habit, it is second only to time recording in revolutionising your practice, your fee recovery and your cash flow.

It focuses your mind in identifying exactly what service is required, what the client is willing to pay for that service, and the timing of when you will get paid.

It opens the doors for a discussion on what work the client wants done, and identify any work they are willing to do themselves. Make a list of the steps involved in the work and use this as a template to assist in the conversation.

The benefit is that it saves a lot of stress and bad feeling when you think you’ve done a great job only to find that the client does not appreciate it and is unwilling to pay for it.

Orla McGahan is the principal of McGahan and Co, and is a member of the Members in Practice Committee of Chartered Accountants Ireland.