How to get your accounting practice established

12th October, 2015

Back in 2008, I started my accounting practice here in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, from scratch without a single client. Now my practice is thriving and attracting new clients virtually every week. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Experience matters

There’s a lot more to establishing and running a successful accounting practice than just preparing a set of accounts. Clients take for granted that you are able to prepare accounts and tax returns; they are looking for other factors like your overall business experience, whether you’re interested in their business, offer a fair price, the ease of communication and the absence of jargon.

If you lack experience and a well-rounded background, you may consider waiting a little longer before you establish your practice.

Find tax support

Tax can be very complicated and Murphy’s Law says that as soon as you open your doors to clients you’re going to get involved with clients with tricky tax situations. This means you need to have a good tax background.

In addition, especially as a sole practitioner, you need access to tax specialists to call on when the situation is particularly tricky. As I tell my clients, a local practising accountant is like a doctor who will know that something is wrong, but will be the first to refer you to a specialist to make sure your problem is properly dealt with. Seek out a tax specialist who you can keep on a retainer for second opinions.

Get your systems right

If you are starting your practice from scratch you will have some time on your hands initially to set up all your systems. Getting the right systems in place is absolutely essential. In my view, systems are to business what location is to real estate.

When your business is established you want everything ready and in exactly the right place to pick up and work with, whether they are templates, standard letters, spreadsheets, document management systems, your MYOB practice solution and all the other things that you need to run your practice successfully.

Become a marketer

Accountants aren’t usually known for their extroversion, especially tax accountants. However, an accounting practice is like any other business and if you cannot market yourself or your practice successfully you are not going to succeed. Just as a fantastic plumber or a great architect won’t get anywhere unless people know about them, you won’t be able to demonstrate your expertise if people don’t know you exist. Learning how to market effectively is crucial to your practice’s success.

Consider premises

Premises are always a dilemma for a new business. Can you work from home? Should you work from home? What is the image you’re trying to portray? Could you share premises with others, perhaps other professionals so that you can support each other? How can you find the sort of professionals that you wish to be associated with?

Moving too often isn’t ideal, so try to take a long-term view and look at your premises through the eyes of your clients. If your offices are away from your home it’s a lot easier to see clients – they can just drop in without invading your personal space.

Be selective with clients

In the short term, it’s tempting to take on all clients who come through the door, especially if you have limited resources and not much to do. Bear in mind, however, that in the longer term that may be a mistake. Not all potential clients’ businesses or accounting issues may suit your preferences or expertise.

Think about your ideal client and write down the characteristics your ideal client should display. Use this ideal customer profile to vet any potential clients who approach you, and use it to target your marketing towards groups of people you think would suit you as clients. In the long term, you want to build a client base who will provide you with ongoing work and recommendations, and who will pay their invoices in a timely fashion.

Set clear goals

Setting clear goals will help you envisage where you ultimately end up. The most successful business people write down their goals and look at them every day.

Being goal-driven makes it easier to operate on a day-to-day basis and make decisions. When faced with one of the many challenges a business owner faces on a daily basis, making a decision based on which outcome will advance you more quickly towards your goal will make your life easier.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you like doing?
  • What will you do when you retire?
  • Do you want to travel or do voluntary work in the islands?
  • Work towards perpetual summer by living in two countries?

Whatever you want to do, you can get there with a positive mindset and a clear set of goals.

Find a point of difference

Doing exactly the same thing as your competitors won’t do you any favours in the long run. Differentiate your business!

When I set up my practice my detractors said that I would fail because I wasn’t born and bred in Hawke’s Bay. Not being from Hawke’s Bay ended up being an advantage because I approached things differently. For example, I got out of the office and visited clients to get to know them and their businesses. I also helped clients with their businesses, instead of just preparing historical accounts and tax returns for the IRD.

Establishing an accounting practice takes time and is a labour of love. Approaching things in the right way will save you much pain and hassle as well as enhance your profitability.

Best of luck!