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Advice for setting up shop

Recently I’ve been speaking with accountants moving from larger firms to launch their own accounting practice. The common concern they’ve raised with me in these conversations is – where will I find my first client?

Advice for setting up shop
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Here are a few elements I suggest they consider when thinking about who their client will be:

What industry would you like to work in?

What type of clients give you energy, and will keep you interested and focused. Life in your accounting practice will be so much more enjoyable if you are working with clients you want to work with. Once you identify an area, I suggest you further refine it. So if you liked animals, perhaps you could focus on being a veterinary accountant. According to the Australian Veterinary Workforce Survey 2016, there are 11,418 registered veterinarians in Australia. You only need a small portion of that market to run a thriving accounting practice.

Where will your clients be located?

Your clients don’t need to be in your local area. I’ve set up and supported a dozen businesses over the years for a client, who until recently, I’d never spoken to or met. Cloud accounting enables us to work with people across Australia and beyond. While the tax is specific to jurisdictions, accounting is an international language. Depending on what services you’re planning on offering, you may be open to working with a global client base – insurances permitting!

How many clients do you really need?

Let’s say you are planning to work a 38-hour week. You could see one client for 38 hours per week, which would be equivalent to a job – so pointless! Break the 38 hours in half, and you could see two clients for 19 hours a week. Split it up further, and you could work with 5 clients for 7.6 hours per week. It comes back to what services you can offer them and how much support they need. Many small businesses can’t justify a full-time accountant, but they would benefit from regular accounting and business advisory support. I think contemplating finding five clients, is a lot less daunting a prospect than trying to find dozens of new clients at the commencement of your business. Of course, if you are the boss and running your own show – you can mix it up a bit – maybe Monday and Tuesday are full day clients, while Wednesday and Thursday you consult with multiple clients and Friday is “beach day” with a bit of admin thrown in.

Also, it may dawn on you that you don’t need to work a regimented 38-hour week….

How will your clients pay you?

Money of course! What a silly question! Yes, in most instances it will be money, and when ruminating over your ideal client, “can they afford to pay you” needs to be a factor you consider. However, there are clients you want to help, but, clearly, they don’t have the money to pay you. I’ve seen this situation navigated in a few ways. I’ve seen tech start-ups offer equity, and businesses offer Brisbane CBD rental space. I’ve even heard of clients swapping services in exchange for access to holiday homes on Stradbroke Island!

It’s worth keeping track of potential grants clients can access to help them pay for your services. You can search for Australian government grants here: www.business.gov.au/assistance. Sometimes applying for a grant is far more effort than it is worth – however, I have benefited from some sizeable projects run off the back of a grant application. Once you get in the rhythm of applying for them, they can become bearable.

What services do you want to offer clients?

I recently visited Williamstown, Melbourne, Victoria and because I’m an exciting person, I took photos of all the accounting practice signs. You know what? They all offered the exact same standard services except for this one guy who offered ‘Tradesman Bookkeeping Training’. The general public assumes accountants offer the same services. So you can either play that game or the services you want to offer and refer work to fellow colleagues or explore outsourcing or offshoring options.

It’s completely understandable that during the early days of running a practice, you’re constantly worried where the next client will come from, or how the overheads are to be paid. However, you’d encourage your own clients to outline their plans at each important stage. It’s sage advice – that you should take yourself. Think about what the perfect week for your accountancy practice could look like.

Talk to other accountants who are in the early stages of their business, about how they are navigating their client base.

It’s important to recognise that you do not need to replicate a mini version of the corporate existence that you came from or that you are familiar with. This is your venture, and you have the ability to define what you want for your own practice.

Heather Smith, director, ANISE Consulting

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