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8 lessons from the 2023 ACCA Autumn roadshows

Reflections on the recent, 2023 ACCA autumn roadshows, and some lessons learned that accountants can take away and apply to their business right now.

Give yourself time

At the recent ACCA roadshows themed 'Start, Grow, Scale, and Sell', there was an undeniable emphasis on the need for businesses, especially accounting practices, to treat themselves as genuine businesses. For many, it felt like it was a revelation. It’s not just about being an accountant anymore; it’s about being a virtual CFO for the companies, individuals, trusts, charities etc., that you work with.

Attending events like this can sometimes stretch you in both directions – you attend with the best intent of learning new ideas, making changes, checking out the new and existing software that might be on offer, but then it can also be quite easy to feel quickly overwhelmed, which then unhelpfully can create a sense of inertia.

But the biggest thing you need to afford yourself and recognise is that you need time. You need to give yourself and your firm time and work on the business, as well as in the business doing the actual work for your clients.

Remember, no firm wide change happens overnight, but nothing will happen if you don’t even start. You need to spend time planning, experimenting, and investing – and the kicker is the more mature your business becomes, the harder it will be to make tweaks and changes, because that “just the way you’ve always done it”.

Getting out of the trenches of your business and investing in, or considering the following 8 lessons will help your firm — and just to reiterate, they will take time, but you have to be willing to invest that for the long term benefit of your business.

8 lessons you can apply to your accounting firm

1️⃣Invest in Your Business

Every stage of your business's lifecycle, be it starting, growing, scaling, or selling, requires dedicated time for planning, research, and execution. Procrastination only makes processes harder to implement and less efficient in the long run.

2️⃣ Shift your perspective

Stop perceiving your firm solely as an accounting practice. Instead, adopt a business mindset. This shift can make all the difference in how you scale and grow.

3️⃣Time is the catalyst for change

Major firm-wide transformations don't happen overnight. They require time spent in planning, experimentation, and investment. It's paramount to earmark time for these activities to ensure the right changes are executed seamlessly.

4️⃣Empower and trust your team

Recruitment plays a pivotal role. Attract individuals who align with your firm’s vision and whom you can trust. This trust allows you to step back when needed, ensuring you can oversee the broader business landscape. To further deepen that trust make sure you genuinely listen to your team's insights about client needs. They interact with clients regularly and understand their pain points, which can inform business decisions. Offering some sense of ownership or an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) can help motivate employees and give them a clear reward, or something to aim for – there’s a reason ESOPs are popular amongst high growth SaaS companies.

5️⃣Client selection is crucial

It’s easy to say “Yes” to everyone, at the end of the day the way you make money is by either bringing on new clients or scaling up services you offer to existing clients – but it’s actually really important to consider more than the bottom line, you want to choose clients who can scale with your business and don’t cause internal friction or challenges. A good way to do this is align your client selection with a set of internal values, and be quite ruthless if the new client doesn’t meet them – when both you and your clients are in sync it’s much easier and more enjoyable. 

6️⃣Invest in the right tools

When considering new business solutions, thorough research is crucial. Ensure that the chosen solution aligns with your firm's workflows. Software investments can be game-changers, provided they are the right fit for your business — we often want speed or implementation, or “integrated” solutions. Both are very valid expectations but it’s important to take the time to really understand the problem you’re trying to solve with software otherwise you can end up with “quick” bandaid solutions just because they were the cheapest, or quickest to set up.

7️⃣Prioritise mental health

In the modern day workplace, hopefully this is not a surprise, it’s easily forgotten though. Taking breaks for mental health ensures clarity in business decisions and fosters a healthier work environment. Investing in mental health in the workplace can be just as valuable to your business as the next game changing technology you implement.

8️⃣Structure and organisation

Choose a structure and organise your business earlier on – bring some “future thinking” to roles and your overall structure, taking the time to do that earlier on in your firm's journey means enjoying the benefits for a longer period, and avoiding the pitfalls of poor organisation later on as your firm scales.

Underrated skills to have in your accounting firm

There’s no denying that Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to grow in popularity, and in impact on today’s businesses. It’s probably a discussion for another time, but it is worth noting that it could be an important factor in your firm moving forward – but just like any tech it pays to have the skills in your team to understand, leverage the technology and also implement it.

Project management skills are extremely important skills you should strive to have in your firm – whether you have them, or someone else in the team, or you hire a dedicated person, having an individual who has those skills is a bonus, and they’ll get even more brownie points for being a tech expert or adopter, as that’ll help smooth the process of adoption any new tech, not just AI engineered solutions.

Ok, so you’re sorted on the project management and tech side, but what about from a leadership perspective? Not all of us are born to lead companies, some of us do it purely out of necessity, typically because it’s our business. But as you scale, or grow, it can pay to bring in an advisor or someone in your peer group who can essentially play a CEO type role – why you ask? Well if you’re so focused on the day to day of just being an accountant, having someone who has that elevated perspective can really boost your firm's growth and make the transition from starting out, to scaling much more seamless. It’s a really great super power to be able to recognise that you might not be the right type of person to lead your company into the future.

Reflect on what stage you’re at

We’ve spoken a lot about time, and almost every lesson has an element of time and investment involved, and that’s because if you want to make change, regardless of your stage, the biggest lesson we’ve learnt from the ACCA autumn roadshows is to afford yourself a little extra to work on your business.

The journey from identifying a problem to implementing its solution involves many steps. Central to this journey is the need to take a step back, evaluate your business from a macro perspective, and ensure that all changes align with your long-term business goals. 

If the first thing you do is simply analyse where your business is at, and map out one or two steps to move you forward, that’s a great start, keep doing it.

Remember, it's not just about running a business; it's about running it right. 

What did you learn at the ACCA roadshows this Autumn? We’d love to hear your thoughts if you’d be kind enough to share them.

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