Future-proofing your practice: a five-step guide
We draw inspiration from the recent ICAS Practitioners' Conference in defining key factors for the long-term success of your practice.
Think 'tried and tested' is the way to go? Think again. The industry is undergoing a major transformation that will leave all but the nimblest of firms behind. Rest assured, it's not about abandoning years of experience. It's about channelling your collective skills into a responsive, client-focused service. Here's how.
1. Look long-term
"The tide of change cannot be stemmed – we are all learning together." This was how Michelle Mullen, ICAS Executive Director of Regulation, summarised the evolution of the industry at the ICAS Practitioners' Conference last month.
The bite of the recession, the easy availability of digital tools and the growth of cloud computing have all resulted in clients taking a DIY approach to basic compliance.
As the market squeeze continues, how can you craft a strategy to see you through the next 20 years and beyond?
First, consider these questions:
- Could you restructure your practice into market or sector specialisms?
- Could you add new services to differentiate your firm from your competitors?
- Do you need to invest in new technology, training or personnel to realise your vision?
Think creatively. Now is the time to brainstorm and inject fresh energy into your business.
2. Lay the foundations
This is where you need to invest to make your vision a reality.
Be smart about where and how you invest. It's not about buying the latest tech toys, nor is it about scrimping where it matters.
Instead, it's about understanding how your clients do business. Take the time to talk to them about what they need and expect from a modern accountancy practice. Pay attention to industry trends.
Speaking at the Practitioners' Conference, Dan Richards, head of client services at Insight Group, revealed that mobile has eclipsed desktop as the number one device, with approximately 1,900 million global users each day.
That mobile use was dominated not by the web but by apps, which account for 86% of time spent on mobile devices in 2015. Smart apps take care of many laborious accountancy tasks leaving clients free to focus on growing their business.
3. Invest in your people
The tools are nothing without the right people in the driving seat. It's important to invest in training your team so they can make the most of the new technology at their disposal and capitalise on any new leads.
Data analysis, social media and information security are all highly valuable services to offer to clients.
The advantages filter through to your practice too. According to John McElwee and Jenny Wallage of Total People Solutions only one third of the UK workforce feels 'engaged' at work.
The right tech can deliver flexible working patterns, create opportunities for continuous professional development and free up staff time for more rewarding and challenging advisory work.
It also supports succession planning, a major issue for many practices. A highly trained and engaged workforce is one that will help secure the future of your business.
According to Total People Solutions, firms with high employee engagement record twice the annual net profit and 18% higher productivity.
4. Think Big Data
Data runs two ways – it's both a professional responsibility to protect and a business opportunity to leverage.
If you're taking advantage of cloud accounting you must also consider how to protect your clients' information.
Speaking at the ICAS Practitioners' Conference, Lugo's Ron Weatherup (pictured above) urged firms to consider how prepared they are for Disaster Recovery, stressing that 'it's not if but when'.
Under the UK Data Protection Act (1998) all UK businesses handling personal data must have conducted a risk assessment and have appropriate security controls in place.
To help with this, ICAS has developed an Information Security Framework specific to members' requirements, and it's an important first step in protecting your clients' data.
The good news is that daunting as all that may sound, handled correctly Big Data could be a major weapon in your business armoury.
What is Big Data? Simply, it's the information that's too big for a spreadsheet. It's your clients' business information, browsing history, social media exchanges and interests.
Used correctly, it can help you to create and run targeted campaigns, design bespoke professional services and pre-empt client needs. Big Data is big business.
5. Learn to sell
One of the biggest ironies of accountancy is that a profession which often revolves around money is historically very poor at talking about it.
Consultant Chris Hughes argues that we all need to learn to sell. The good news is that modern sales techniques aren't about pushy patter or golf course handshakes. It's about clear and engaging communication, on a website, on social media and in person.
It's about analysing a client's business and taking proactive steps to support them by sharing relevant information, advice and services.
It's about highlighting the value of your services through client endorsements and positioning your business as a thought leader at professional events.
Put simply, it's about being useful. "Think about the benefit to the client, not the product or service itself," Chris said. "Say the right things and see the right people. Most of all, never get complacent."