How to make the most of your junior accountants

Junior accountants – fresh out of university, £50,000 in debt, and wanting to impress. 

So why does the profession seem to slowly crush the life and the enthusiasm out of them so quickly? 

If they join a big firm, they tend to specialise in one or two niche areas becoming experts in their field eventually but their desire to have a much wider and deeper understanding of the profession is left unfulfilled. 

If they join a smaller firm, it’s generally not as well organised, there are too many clients on the books (who are normally angry or upset at something the rare times they speak with clients), the pressure on them is intense and unrelenting, they often don’t really feel like part of a bigger team, and the hours are crushing. 

What unites junior accountants working for big firms and for smaller firms is the feeling that they’re not making a difference, they’re not learning fast enough, and they’re not getting the chance of promotion they feel they deserve. 

To millennials and Gen Zers, company culture is important as is working with the latest technology. 

Many want personal development programs in place for them at the start and nearly all of them want personalised feedback at least once every six months. 

They want to move around the businesses they work for to find the position that suits them the best to help them decide on their eventual career path – 70% of millennials join in the hope that you will create a job rotation program for them. 

This is quite a tick list for any small accountancy firm. 

However your junior accountants are the future of your practice and, in many cases, they’ll have extra energy and vitality to develop the practice that Generation Xers and Baby Boomers just don’t have anymore because they’ve got mortgages, kids, responsibilities, and so on. 

Accounting: the next generation 

To many Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, the attitude of younger members of staff can be summed up by a line delivered by an anonymous millennial member of staff to a PWC researcher in a survey of that generation’s attitude towards work: 

“My career will be one of choice, not one chosen out of desperation. It will align who I am with what I do.” 

Through a combination of watching their own parent’s experiences and from years of exposure to the news, they believe that being loyal to a company doesn’t bring any rewards or long term security to them. 

They may have a very valid point. 

Therefore what might appear to older generations to be an unreasonable and self-centred attitude makes sense with the way in which they perceive the world and how it works. 

So, what can a small accountancy practice do to first keep the junior members of staff they manage to attract and then encourage them to focus on adding value to your business and what you deliver to your clients? 

1. Give them the widest variety of tasks and be there to support them 

This is true for all of your staff but less so for more senior members of staff who statistically are more likely to be contented on further honing their expertise in areas they’re already very familiar with. 

Junior accountants are taken on by many practices to fill immediate gaps in capacity and they often tend to get stuck doing the same thing again and again. 

In addition to their general responsibilities, try to set aside a day or more every week to give them hands-on experience of, for example: 

  • preparing client accounts part way through their financial reporting period,  
  • analysing clients financial performance to look for warning signs, 
  • examining opportunities to reduce costs and increase profits for individual clients which they could then present to the client as a report, and 
  • trickier bank reconciliations to give them an appreciation of why it’s important to encourage clients to keep their financial records up to date. 

Give your junior accountants an opportunity to demonstrate their level of knowledge across particular disciplines. Congratulate and reward them when they do well and be generous with your advice, time, and support when their work doesn’t meet the required standard. 

If you have the time, show your junior accountant how you do it first with one client and ask them to do the same with other clients bringing what they’ve done back to you for feedback. 

2. Explain the importance of each function they perform to a business 

“Millennials work for a purpose and not for a pay cheque”, according to Forbes Magazine – dozens of surveys in the UK and around the world have confirmed the same. 

The best run businesses survive and prosper because their management teams work off accurate and up-to-date information. Those businesses provide their employees with jobs and they pay for the services we all rely on like the NHS, the education system, and more. 

There is a wider and greater purpose to accounting and demonstrating the value of their work to clients and to society at large will contribute to a junior employee’s sense of self-worth and increase the level of satisfaction they have working for you. 

Accounting ensures that companies compete on a level playing field and, for businesses with the potential to generate significant revenues in the future, the work done by accountants can be used to secure finance to bring forward to creation of new jobs and new opportunities. 

Accounting is a profession to be proud of. 

3. You’re their boss – take time every day to interact with junior accountants 

Three of the main reasons for unhappiness among accountants are: 

  • Expectation to work long or extended hours 
  • Lack of recognition of the work done  
  • Lack of support from managers 

Employees of all ages need to be told that they’re doing well at work – they need you to recognise the contribution they make to the practice. 

If a junior accountant feels that you, the boss, sees them every day at work and you take time out of your day to find out more about them and what they’re interested in learning, that interest and support together with the recognition for the work they’re doing will mean that, although they may not like it, they’ll work longer and harder for you because you see their quality. 

Sincere praise and congratulations are natural highs you should not deprive any of your staff of. 

Unlike more senior accountants joining your firm, junior accountants are a blank canvass. In any practice, experienced team members are needed but remember that experience also means that a member of staff is burdened by the expectations and working practices of previous employers. 

Your junior employees are, with work experience excepted, yours to mould. Your working practices will be “normal” working practices to them and you set the expectations you require from them. Take advantage of this. 

4. Partner them with senior members of staff 

To some degree, there has always been intergenerational conflict at work and today is no different. And, as in the past, it’s an overblown fear most of the time. 

The greatest gain for any small accounting practice in partnering junior and senior accountants together is the creation of camaraderie between staff members leading to the feeling that everyone belongs to the same team. 

Junior accountants benefit from knowing that senior and more experienced members of staff are approachable if they need help. And senior accountants know that, as their junior counterparts gain more experience and better insights, they’ll have their back if their workload experiences a temporary spike. 

A happy team stays together and, as long as they believe that they’re being led in the right way by you, your practice’s productivity and organisational resilience will be very strong. 

5. Encourage them to interact with clients directly 

Some people are more outgoing and gregarious than others – this is true for accountants too. 

For some junior accountants, the idea of phoning a client to speak with them is daunting, particularly if they’re ringing up to tell a client some bad news or they’re gently encouraging them to start uploading their invoices and receipts more regularly to their online bookkeeping platform. 

For your practice to be as durable, strong, and flexible as possible, clients must not feel that, if someone other than you within the firm gets in touch with them, they’re somehow being fobbed off because they’re not speaking to the main man or woman. 

Building individual relationships with clients is a learning opportunity for junior accountants and it takes the pressure of you as the head of the business to be there for every eventuality. 

And these conversations give newer team members a much better feel for the people and businesses they’re serving than analysing financial records on a computer screen ever could. 

Make sure that you’re there in the early days – practice calls with your junior colleagues prior to them picking up the phone. When they are speaking with clients for the first few times, make sure that you or a senior colleague (preferably you) are sitting next to them in case they need to ask a question. 

Following the phone call, get them to follow up with an email thanking the client for their time so that the client knows that there is more than one person looking after their account. 

As time goes on, assign more and more clients to your junior accountants to build their confidence and their portfolio making sure that there is a summary of every phone call and email so that you can make sure the relationship is progressing as it should. 

And, when it’s time to visit a client’s premises, make sure to take the junior accountant assigned to them along with you on an appointment so that your new colleagues can appreciate the business they’re working for and the jobs they’re supporting. 

6. Review their performance and ask for their opinions 

Try to review your junior accountant’s progress every six months at a maximum – let them know which areas they’re doing well in and which areas you feel they need further support in. 

But make sure that your performance reviews are just as much about listening to their opinions as sharing your own. 

In particular, ask them what the practice needs to do to make their work easier and more enjoyable – it must be the goal of every practice owner and every business owner to remove as many obstacles as possible stopping their employees from doing the best work they can do. 

Working with you, they’ll have an opportunity they won’t have working for a big firm or a large company’s internal accounting team to broaden their knowledge and their range of skills.  

At the performance meeting, ask your junior accountants which assignments they’d like to work on to both widen and deepen their general knowledge and to provide additional experience in those areas where you feel that they have not excelled yet. 

Getting your practice ready for junior accountants 

Above is a large tick-list and you might be wondering just how you can fit so many activities into your practice’s overcrowded schedule. 

We developed Hindsight over 18 months to make the business of running a small accounting firm easier by: 

  • automating many of the tasks you and your colleagues already do, 
  • allowing you to see which clients need additional training and prompting to keep their financial records up to date on Xero, and 
  • providing notifications to you and your team when a client may require help together with guidance on the type of help which you could offer. 

Hindsight has been designed to free up much more of your and your colleague’s time by making sure that the bulk of the work needed to complete a period end, year end, or Self Assessment is borne by the client over the year. 

You can use the time you’ve gained with Hindsight to make colleagues’ workloads more manageable, to delegate more of your responsibilities to colleagues, to create a better team atmosphere, and to free your practice’s dependence on you. 

You and your colleagues will have the time and the mind space to improve your relationships with your clients, offer advisory services with the support of Hindsight’s tips, and to charge a fair rate for the value you deliver. 

To find out more, please click here.  

Why small businesses need accountants and how you should pitch your services

Temporary periods of success or failure in how a client is running their business can be determined quickly by an accountant reviewing their Xero account. Sales minus expenses and taxes, is the amount left in a client’s bank account going up every quarter or is it not? 

This is the most simplistic measure, of course, but the analytical skills of an experienced accountant can reveal so much more to a client. 

You can use statistical analysis to give clients an idea of the size of forthcoming tax liabilities and whether they have the cash to afford them.  

You can interrogate last quarter’s figures and compare them with the same quarter in the previous year to examine whether turnover and profit margins have increased, remained stable, or declined. You then share with them the course of action they need to take to make more money. 

With nearly 6,000,000 businesses out there in the UK and 16,000 accountants competing to serve them, how do you position your practice to win as much business as possible while charging a rate that’s fair and commensurate with the effort you put in? 

To do this, you need to get your marketing and selling right. Marketing is the activity by which leads are generated and sales is the activity by which leads are converted into paying clients. 

Before any lead is generated or package sold, clients need to perceive and appreciate the value of what you’re offering them. That’s because, without the perception or appreciation of value, there will be no lead or sale.  

Why small businesses need accountants 

Small business owners need accountants to prepare their tax returns and ensure that those tax returns are submitted on time to HMRC and/or Companies House. 

When preparing their tax returns, clients need the re-assurance that their accountant is doing as much as they can legally to reduce their liability to HMRC. 

Clients also expect accountants to be able to answer their questions on the methodology used to calculate the amount of tax due and on other day-to-day accounting questions. 

These are the main reasons why small businesses need accountants and you’ll notice that, above, what we’ve covered are essentially only your legal requirements. 

What small businesses want from their accountants 

But clients today actually want much more than that and the way you’ll be able to charge a fair fee for your service is by appealing to and following up on clients’ actual desires. 

According to ClearBooks, 68% of clients want an accountant who’s in regular touch with them, someone they can get along with easily, who’s down the road from where they are, and who has a bank of knowledge they can tap. 

For only one in five clients, price is the most important thing – this means that, for four out of five of the potential clients you pitch on average, they’re after something more but what exactly? 

When questioned by surveyors, the type of assistance clients want the least help from is on tax – only one in 25 were particularly interested in that. 

42% of respondents said that the assistance they wanted the most was on business strategy and general financial advice – a clear indication that they’re after a partner on a journey of company growth where you can help them make the greatest return possible while being exposed to the smallest amount of risk. 

One in four respondents wanted advice on budgeting – they’re looking to you to help them save money on their fixed and variable costs. They might not really be particularly bothered about growth – instead all they want to do is make more money from the same amount of work they’re doing now. 

Around one in seven want help with payroll – that’s great for you because it’s another service you can charge for. 

From the results of the survey, it’s clear that your clients want you to be more than a filer of tax submissions – they want you to be a lot more to them and you have every right to charge more for your time and expertise. 

Being selective about who you work with 

Your accountancy practice is your business and, in the way you’re in charge of the terms and conditions of doing business with you, you’re in charge of the type of client you work with. 

One quarter of businesses still rely on paper-based accounting. Around one-third use non-cloud software (like Excel) for financial recordkeeping. 

These types of clients will be more difficult to manage unless you can sell them on-site bookkeeping services as part of your monthly fee structure. 

Very small businesses may use Xero or another online bookkeeping package but they tend to have the same person responsible for doing the books, managing the day-to-day of their company, human resources, and a lot more. 

Some clients, like these, are more difficult to service than others.  

If you feel that a client won’t update their online bookkeeping platform regularly enough or you feel that there would be too much work for one of your bookkeepers to manage two systems at once (for example, a paper system plus Xero), are you sure that you want to take that work on? 

Likewise on turnover. Two companies turning over £1,000,000+ may require very different levels of management from you and your team if one sells high-ticket items and the other fast-moving consumer goods. Do you have the capacity to manage a client with hundreds of weekly transactions and aggregated payments from multiple sources which need careful bank reconciliation? 

The type of client you want to attract will dictate the marketing and sales approach you take so we would strongly advise you to think about who you want to deal with first before you find yourself with a dozen or more clients who take up an inordinate amount of time for little or no extra recompense. 

Marketing your accounting firm 

Once you’ve decided on the typical client you wish to work with, you then need to know which services they are likely to want the most and ensure that, when you sign them up, you’re capable of delivering those services to them. 

Those services should form the core of your marketing message as they will demonstrate the value you offer to future clients. As mentioned earlier, if a recipient of your marketing does not see the value in your proposition, you give them no reason to contact you. 

There are three main ways to market your practice other than networking and word-of-mouth: 

  • online marketing – optimising your website for Google, adding articles and blog posts to your website, collecting email addresses from visitors not ready to become a client yet, 
  • social media marketing – building an audience on LinkedIn and Facebook through daily posting and creating downloadable content in exchange for contact details, and 
  • direct marketing – unsolicited contact by email, phone, and mail promoting your services to the audiences you target. 

Selling your accounting services face to face 

Pre-COVID-19, most clients signed up with their accountant following a face to face meeting. Although this has been temporarily replaced by Zoom and phone calls, we’re certain that face to face meetings either at your offices or at your clients’ premises will continue post-pandemic. 

As you do already, make sure that you listen to the client with a view to understanding their business as much as possible, gaining an insight into what personal and professional success means to them, and assuring them that you’ll successfully serve them in the ways they desire and they perceive that their current accountant is letting them down. 

Let your client know as much in advance about what you’ll expect from them with specific mention of keeping their online bookkeeping platform up to date as possible. 

You may choose to take the approach that, because of the extra backlog created by clients who don’t keep their financial records up to date as much as you’d like, you will only be happy to serve them if they employ the services of one of your bookkeepers to visit them once a month, fortnight, or week. 

In sales, you achieve more by being absolutely clear on the value that you offer and by assuring the client that they will get the service promised as long as they carry out their promises to you. 

Adding Hindsight to your practice as your workload grows 

As you sign up more clients, it’s important to make sure that they use the bookkeeping package you supply them with. By doing that, the work required by client is much more evenly spread out during the year and it avoids you and your colleagues having to deal with near-impossible backlogs at key times of year. 

The Hindsight plug-in to Xero has been designed to do just that. 

Instead of you and your colleagues logging in periodically to each client’s Xero account and running multiple and various reports each time to analyse each client’s key metrics, Hindsight does that automatically every morning. 

You and your colleagues are then presented with a list of tasks and insights related to both financial recordkeeping and business performance for each client. Better still, there are notes with each task on how to explain the importance of each message so that it makes sense to the client. 

Clients particularly appreciate accountants who they believe are monitoring their performance, know their businesses well enough to suggest improvements, and intervene to stop them making mistakes. 

To find out more about Hindsight and how it frees up your and your colleagues’ time and delivers a better service to clients, please click here to arrange a phone call with our team. Alternatively, please click here to email us. 

How an accountant can help a business succeed

Gone (thankfully) are the days of clients dropping in dozens of plastic shopping bags containing the year’s outbound and inbound invoices in no particular order a few weeks before the submission deadline. 

In recent years, this annual ritual has been replaced thanks to the widespread adoption of online bookkeeping and accounting platforms. 

The theory goes that, every morning, your clients will dutifully sit at their desks inputting their invoices and receipts onto these online platforms. 

When period end or year end comes, waiting for you is an accurately-filed and up-to-date set of financial records whose information you can use to complete HMRC and Companies House submissions. 

That’s not the case however most of the time. Sorry for stating the obvious. 

Three types of client, one shared perception 

Some clients rarely update their online bookkeeping platforms meaning that, in essence, you and your colleagues are involved in a similar scramble to complete submissions on time like the old days. 

With other clients, they have kept their records up-to-date to a fashion but entries are misclassified in many cases and getting the entries to reconcile with the bank account takes hours of your and your colleagues’ time up. 

Finally, with a handful of clients, the quality of their bookkeeping is thankfully nearly there and the amount of work you and your colleagues need to do is minimal. 

The problem is however that each of the three types of client believes that they have taken a lot of the donkey work away from you because you sold them an online bookkeeping platform as part of your service, regardless of whether they regularly use it or whether they use it correctly. 

Nature abhors a vacuum. 

Clients expect you to replace that time by providing extra value to them even though, in some cases, the amount of work you have to spend in time and wages sorting out a client’s shoddy financial recordkeeping might be more than is greater than the fee income you receive from them. 

If they don’t perceive the value in the services you deliver them, then they’ll happily drop you for another accountant providing their services for £50 a year less. 

This has led to a race to the bottom for fees and no-one wins when this is the case. 

The problem with online bookkeeping platforms 

As accountants, we do save varying degrees of time spent on most clients’ accounts because the vast majority of clients do use the bookkeeping platforms we sell to them albeit not particularly well. 

As a result, the early promises made to us by the online bookkeeping platform salespeople did not come into full fruition. 

More often than not, these platforms are built for the benefit of the small businesses and not their accountants.  

When we as accountants log into client’s online accounts, they’re not always the way we need them to be for us to do the work we need to do. 

Many of us found this out too late though. 

The supposed extra time we would benefit from through clients’ use of these platforms led to many of us rapidly doubling or trebling the number of clients we served because we thought we’d have the extra capacity to do so. 

We didn’t and, as a result, this led to an unexpected and unwanted decline in the standard of service we provided to clients because there just weren’t enough hours to complete the work we needed to complete. 

Particularly at those times of year where there are spikes in workload, it’s very difficult to manage an estate of 100-500 clients even with bookkeeping software because we’re working to immovable deadlines. 

The opportunity with online bookkeeping platforms 

However, online accounting platforms actually hold the key to successfully charging more per month for our services as well as giving us the time to find opportunities for additional work. 

The key is automation and workload management. 

Whether you have 100 or 500 clients, you should make a checklist of points of concern or points of opportunity for each. From that checklist, decide what it is that you need to see when you log into your clients’ accounts which would qualify as a point of concern or a point of opportunity. 

Share the points of concern and opportunity with your members of staff.  

Set a timetable for you and your colleagues to log into each client account once a month – more if possible but once a month at least. If you have 500 clients and 5 members of staff, each member of staff would only need to check 5 client accounts each day during the month. 

Areas to look out for include: 

  • changes in transaction volumes, 
  • when the last invoice was issued, 
  • changes in average invoice value, 
  • last bank reconciliation and the number of unreconciled transactions, 
  • high credit card or overdraft levels, and 
  • size of bank balance. 

Your staff can check whether there is a problem with an individual client by using the guidelines you set for each one and by running a handful of reports on the online accounting platform. 

The 21st century accounting business model 

Taking this approach solves a number of issues. 

For clients, this is the added value. 28% of clients look for a communicative accountant – a professional who knows them and their business well.  

By examining client accounts for problems or opportunities once a month or more, reasons to communicate regularly with the client present themselves. 

And through that communication, you deliver what clients want the most – business strategy, budgeting advice, and more. 

Your client gets the chance to talk with you or your colleagues about themselves and their businesses. Through these conversations, you get to better understand what they want and you can adjust the definition of “problem” and “opportunity” accordingly when later logging into their online bookkeeping platform to check the health of their businesses. 

In addition, by helping clients better use their online bookkeeping platforms, the amount of remedial work you’ll need to do at period end or year end will be far smaller and the results you deliver to clients when measured by tax saved will be greater. 

For members of staff, you vary their workday and you have the opportunity to train them. 

Behind the financial records of a business are the hopes and dreams of a client. Teach members of staff not only what these numbers mean from an accounting perspective but from a business perspective. 

You and your members of staff can share ideas during these client conversations and ask your clients for feedback. 

36% of accountants admitted they were unhappy with their working environment, reports the ICAEW. 

42% of unhappy accountants said they were unhappy because of a lack of opportunities for development. 

For junior members of staff, behind every accountancy degree is a £21,000 price tag in tuition fees. 

Encourage your junior and senior staff to look past the numbers to see the person and, by doing so, you’ll demonstrate the true value of the work they do for clients. 

Share your knowledge, be generous with your experience, and make sure as much as you can that your staff do not feel neglected by giving them a wider variety of work to do and the knowledge they need to do it well. 

For you, the change will be profound. 

Yours will be an accounting practice which takes a bookkeeper’s approach. You’re not just there at period end or year end, you’re there once a month. 

Unlike other firms, you and your team will truly be in command of your workload – not the other way around. 

Certainly, there will be pressure points, particularly in January, but, because there has been active management of each client’s account, it will be a much less intense time. 

Value, for the owner of a small accountancy practice, is not just measured in the money you pay yourself or the number of clients you have. 

The real value in running a business is freedom. 

By installing a system which keeps you and your colleagues up to date with every business on your books and which delivers opportunities for your colleagues to make meaningful, regular, and helpful contact with each client, your business will not need as much of your time and effort as it did before. 

You won’t have to compete on price either – you can be the accountant which chooses to model their business around looking after 200 clients superbly for £750 a month rather than barely coping managing 750 clients for £200 a month. 

You’ll have a well-motivated and well-trained team your client base values – they won’t see speaking with one of your colleagues as being fobbed off speaking with a junior. 

This is the 21st century accounting business model which makes for higher paying and more loyal clients, a settled and happy workforce, a supremely-manageable workload, and an owner who can lead more effectively but have the option of stepping back every now and again. 

This is how an accountant can help a client’s business succeed and their own business succeed. 

The app supporting the 21st century accounting business model 

We believe in the potential offered by online bookkeeping and accounting platforms but we’re not blind to their problems either. 

We built Hindsight – Hindsight logs into each of your clients’ Xero accounts automatically and flags up what you deem to be potential client problems and opportunities automatically. 

As well as saving you and your colleagues the time needed to access each client account and quickly run reports, it also provides users with prompts on how to speak with the client about the issues or opportunities uncovered. 

You can divide responsibility by client and by issue/opportunity raised between you and your colleagues and, at all time, you’ll have full visibility on how each client and each issue/opportunity is being managed. 

To find out more, please click here.