Why we need to be constantly evolving as accountants

Georgia Duffee has created a dynamite one-woman accountancy business by committing to continually streamlining her strategies alongside the ever-changing economic landscape.

She tells us how she has embraced change and why she adapts her business to fit in with the rest of her life.

How did you get started in accountancy?

I started studying AAT at college when I was 16. I’d done a careers quiz at school which had said I should go into accountancy or horticulture, so I decided on accountancy because I felt it had more career options. I also got an allotment to fulfil my love of gardening.

How did you get your first job in accountancy?

In 2013, I got a job as an Accounts Assistant in a well established firm of four partners on the first Monday after I finished college. It was in my hometown and the job advert was in the local newspaper. I worked for two of the partners as their junior doing payroll, accountancy and admin. I also started studying AAT Level 4 as an evening class. I’d always recommend AAT as a career route because everyone studying it in my college went on to get a job in the field.

When and why did you make the move to go self-employed?

It had been on my mind for a while to go out on my own. I was always very driven and hard-working. I had moved companies and in this role I was working weekends and studying ACA. One summer I didn’t see any sun and decided I needed to make changes to my work/life balance for my own happiness.

At the same time, there was the Real Time Information (RTI) change happening with lots of new systems and automation being implemented. In general, accountants found it a big upheaval and were not very supportive. Making Tax Digital (MTD) was coming soon too. I could see there was a big opportunity for businesses and the UK economy with these updates and there was an opportunity for me to pioneer these changes and get ahead of the curve, so in 2016 I set up my own business. It’s called Benedetto Accounts & Tax, named after economist Benedetto Cotrugli who wrote the first manuscript on accountancy in 1458.

How did you go about setting up the business?

I see myself as a partner to my client’s businesses and I take time to educate my clients on the benefits of having real-time dashboards and things like having a separate business account. As a start-up, I understand the journey they’re on and I want them to feel in control.

At first, I was paper-based and I had one member of staff but now I’m committed to implementing systems and automation where I can to make everything as efficient and streamlined as possible. This all feeds back into me creating a business that gives me the life I want. I finish work at 6pm every day, I don’t work weekends and I can be there for my family and live my life without feeling guilty. This is one of the best gifts of being self-employed.

What other changes have you made to the business since you started?

At first I split the brand into three, for bookkeeping, accountancy and consultancy but then I brought them under one personal brand and also realised the power of putting my face to the brand.

By loving what you do it’s easy to over work or over deliver. Scope creep can be a huge problem and it was for me. I created an in depth spreadsheet with all the services I offer and the costs and now I price everything properly. I thought about clients I was overdelivering for and I explained to them that I’ve been offering this added value but it needs to be charged for going forwards. I lost a couple of clients but got more profitable and made work less stressful. 

I’m good at quickly diagnosing what the client needs and saying how much it will cost to complete the work and checking if the client is happy with that. You shouldn’t be worried to talk about pricing, it’s what we’re in business for.

Did your business strategy change during the pandemic?

I started a monthly newsletter to answer frequently asked questions for clients. I picked up the phone to two other accountants and we supported each other, checking in, sharing our newsletters with each other and talked about how we were communicating with clients and business strategies.

There were lots of enquiries coming in due to the pandemic and I wanted to help everyone and add value but I knew I couldn’t do that at the expense of me. I automated more tasks by creating templates for emails and making Google forms for onboarding. I used to onboard all my new clients in person, wherever they were in the country but I moved it to Zoom. And now I spend one hour a day replying to emails.

I streamlined more of the business, looking carefully at everything I was doing and asking what value they add to the business and client. I told clients that they couldn’t give me paper records anymore (they couldn’t with the pandemic anyway). I decided to cut out payroll which was getting really time consuming with all the furlough calculations and found a payroll bureau who took on my payroll clients.

I’m very focused on time management now so I can put all my energy into whatever task I’m doing. I have time blocked in my diary to manage calls and meetings.

I added an alignment fee to bring billing cycles from April to April and I charge an overtime fee for clients who give me their records late and a bonus back if they submit early. This means I get a reward if I have a heavy workload over winter, but it encourages clients to submit early which gives me time to grow the business in winter when lots of people are looking for a new accountant.

You’ve got to keep evolving and keep setting boundaries. It’s good for clients too. They like me and I have really good conversion and retention. It’s amazing to get the gratification when the plan we’ve put in place for them works. I’ve had clients cry on the phone with happiness. I love helping people follow their own self-employed pursuit.

Could you tell us more about your volunteer work for the AAT Council? 

The AAT Council is a committee who meet regularly throughout the year to talk about the different areas of AAT. They recruit once a year (I saw it in the AAT magazine) and it’s a three-year term. I’m still quite new to it but it’s already opened doors for me. It’s incredible to be helping accountants evolve in such an important way and I would really recommend volunteering for AAT whether at your local branch or for the Council. You’ll get connected with like-minded people and you’ll have a part to play in educating other members.

Further reading:

Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.

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