First, a little history (don’t worry, it starts in 2017)
In 2017, James Byrne – AccountancyManager CEO – was a practicing accountant with familiar frustrations: Writing repetitive emails and constant reminders. Always reprioritising work according to deadlines and information received from clients. And having no time to spend on developing the practice or giving proactive advice to clients.
Built by an accountant. Shaped by thousands more.
So, James and software developer, Alex Hawke, built a system to automate his practice’s most time-consuming tasks. Turns out it was a good idea. Now we have thousands of accountants (and their frustrations) helping us design the future of AccountancyManager.
One such accountant is Barry Adams, Director at Focus Accountancy Ltd in Bristol.
Be careful what you tweet…
In the lead up to the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, Barry tweeted that AccountancyManager was helping him and his team stay connected and on top of their work. Our ears naturally pricked up and we found time in Barry’s busy schedule for a Zoom meeting – and a few questions.
Focus Accountancy – where the focus is on you
Focus Accountancy specialise in accountancy services for the contractor, consultant and freelancer market. However, Barry adds (somewhat proudly) that some of his clients have become directors of small to medium enterprises and employers themselves. One in particular generating an annual turnover in the millions. Not bad for a practice that began as Barry’s spare-time hobby 13 years ago.
It’s clear this is where Barry’s true passion lies: getting to know people and their ideas, then helping make those ideas both a reality – and an ongoing success.
At AccountancyManager, it’s always humbling for us to hear. A reminder that accountants are working on the frontline of business and economic growth and that our role at AM plays a part in that, every day.
The quest for a ‘best of breed’ fully digital practice
Focus Accountancy began the shift to a tech-based work pattern five years ago, which included moving everything onto a cloud-based server, hosted by HDUK. Although this has allowed Barry to opt for the less expensive – but no less powerful – server-based version of Tax Calc, he notes that it does take up space on the HDUK server.
“…That’s where AM comes in, we want to reduce the amount of databases we’re using”
The majority of Focus Accountancy’s clients are in the IT sector, freelance developers and digital consultants for example. So for Barry, using the best tech there is and giving his clients the efficient, responsive experience they’re used to is crucial.
A secure way to share documents and get client details
Barry was already using an online client document portal before AccountancyManager, but many of his clients had struggled to use it. He then found out that the software company wasn’t planning to develop the portal further. Even more worrying was the lack of two-factor authentication – and no plans to introduce it. Considering Barry’s clients, this was a deal-breaker.
“The primary thing that AM replaces is the online portal clients use to sign their documents.”
A CRM, plus call logs, job progress and personal task lists
For the last five years, Focus Accountancy has been using Capsule as their customer relationship management (CRM). Barry states “It’s great, but we need something new from a team management perspective”.
Alongside Capsule for storing client details and call logs, Focus Accountancy had been using spreadsheets to manage the progress of jobs moving through the practice. With AccountancyManager, all of this is included – and linked together. One shared database of client details (synced with Xero and FreeAgent) and a timeline of any emails, texts or calls from and to your clients.
As for the progress of jobs, that’s tracked through task lists, built automatically from all Focus Accountancy’s clients’ deadlines as well as their own custom tasks. (You can also track time, productivity, profitability and create invoices from logged time. But back to Barry…)
A busy 2020 – and it’s only May
Following the annual Self Assessment whirlwind, Barry was looking for a new accountant to join his team and cope with the abundance of work. This was when he lost a long-term employee to pastures new, increasing the workload further.
IR35 & Covid-19
As any accountant with freelance clients will know, March began as ‘IR35 month’. In fact, when arranging this interview, Barry’s out of office still warned of longer than usual response times due to IR35. Little did we know, March 2020 will be long remembered for a different reason.
The hurry to support clients in the lead up to the new Off-Payroll Working rules (IR35) on April 6th, came to an abrupt end on the 17th of March when the Government announced a 1-year postponement. This reduction in workload of course, was short-lived.
As Barry’s office is in his garden, working from home is no change, although he usually shares his office with his colleagues. The transition to remote working has been easy as they’ve been “shifting this way for two years now and most communication between the team and our clients is done online anyway”. A little (blue) bird tells us Barry’s enjoying having the kids around though.
Welcoming new clients during the pandemic
It’s heartening to hear that Focus Accountancy are still onboarding new clients in the current climate. A process that’s been transformed thanks to AccountancyManager.
We’ll let Barry tell you how it works: “The really great thing for us is the onboarding process. To get a client on board, you put a little bit of information into AM, and then it sends out the letter of engagement and the clearance letter – and we can do the proof of ID in AM too.
“I wasn’t expecting how easy it is to send clearance letters, which sounds like a small thing, but with clients being able to input their own data, that obviously saves us a lot of time.”
“When a client can’t remember a UTR, which is most clients, the fact that they can input it into AccountancyManager [through their portal] rather than email it to us and we have to input it – it’s really nice”
Onboard remotely – and the world’s your oyster
Barry has always onboarded new clients at a meeting, but he says that’s changing.
“We’re onboarding an awful lot more clients without a meeting which makes AM even more important, as you don’t get as much information when onboarding remotely”
And it hasn’t taken him long to realise what that means for the reach and growth of his practice.
“Because we’ve been adamant on meetings with every client once a year, we have a lot of clients in the South East. Now, with Zoom and the technology we have, we’re thinking – why limit ourselves?”
Beyond streamlining the onboarding process, Barry says he uses AccountancyManager to communicate when confirmation statements have been completed and invoiced, and chase VAT return information – automatically.
As far as clients of Focus Accountancy are concerned, Barry and his team are definitely doing a few things right: